David Milch's new gig

One of many articles out in the last few weeks about the new show from David Milch, the man who brought us the glorious Deadwood.
David Milch mines his imperfect past in ‘John From Cincinnati’ – Los Angeles Times

Milch was quite a mess, according to him, for about 30 years, but then got above it. I liked this quote:

Milch got sober 8 years ago through “God’s grace,” he said. “To me, sobriety is taking the world as I find it. Trying to glorify it in its complexity, its reality, its beauty, its horror, and not try to judge it.”

It’s not just a great way to define sobriety; to me it sounds like the best definition of Faith I’ve possibly ever heard.

I’m not a fan of surfing movies or shows, I hate beaches, and “surf-noir” sounds like, I dunno, Beach Boys in a minor key? But I’m going to give “John” a chance — after all, before Deadwood, I never thought I’d watch another TV Western.

Wills on Paul

Slate reviews Garry Wills’ “What Paul Meant”

If anyone can wean his fellow liberal Christians from their historic habit of denigrating Paul, it is Wills, whose translation of Chapter 13 of First Corinthians, tying Paul tightly to Jesus as a preacher of love, is characteristically fresh and gripping. The last six verses read: “Love will never go out of existence. Prophecy will fail in time, languages too, and knowledge as well. For we know things only partially, or prophesy partially, and when the totality is known, the parts will vanish. It is like what I spoke as a child, knew as a child, thought as a child, argued as a child—which, now I am grown up, I put aside. In the same way we see things in a murky reflection now, but shall see them full face when what I have known in part I know fully, just as I am known. For the present, then, three things matter—believing, hoping, and loving. But supreme is loving.”

I may need to read this book. It’s been years since I studied Paul in college (with a relatively ‘liberal’ professor who, unlike the stereotypes this reviewer refers to, was very balanced on Paul). I constantly find myself in conversations with friends and family over the New Testament and references to Paul’s letters. I guess a refresher wouldn’t hurt. Plus I completely love Garry Wills’ writing.

Gary Wills on the Bush Administration's Radical Religious Agenda

Stunning article.

The last paragraph:

The New York Review of Books: A Country Ruled by Faith
There is a particular danger with a war that God commands. What if God should lose? That is unthinkable to the evangelicals. They cannot accept the idea of second-guessing God, and he was the one who led them into war. Thus, in 2006, when two thirds of the American people told pollsters that the war in Iraq was a mistake, the third of those still standing behind it were mainly evangelicals (who make up about one third of the population). It was a faith-based certitude.

Funny, if it wasn't so scary: inerrantists condemn the latter-day Billy Graham

I was looking for the verification of a quotation from Billy Graham (evidently it was in a David Frost interview in 1997) where he says, “We’re not a Christian Country. We’ve never been a Christian Country. We’re a secular Country, by our constitution. In which Christians live and which many Christians have a voice. But we’re not a Christian Country.” (Originally saw the quote over at Andrew Sullivan.)

And in looking, I ran across various mentions of Billy Graham and how his articulation of his faith has evolved over the last 10 years or so. Among them I found the page linked below, and its ensuing comments, where a certain Rev Josh Buice derides Graham for not having frozen his faith in amber at the age of 20 and kept it there until death. (I wonder which servant Buice would praise in Jesus’ parable of the talents, since Jesus didn’t seem to have much truck with the servant who buried the sum entrusted to him in the earth so as to avoid all risk…)

He maligns Graham as an apostate, doddering and weakening in his faith. This seems, to me, the absolute height of self-righteousness, that one might not learn a subtle lesson from someone he professes to be a lifelong ‘hero.’ It makes me wonder if he ever learned anything from Graham earlier, or if he just saw what he wanted to see in him?

The post and discussion are here: When a Hero Falls.

Here’s the ironic and funny part to me: the post is essentially an inerrantist making a statement on the motivation, meaning and intent of the statements Graham made in an interview with Newsweek back in the summer. Basically, he’s looking at a text, interpreting what he thinks Graham means by it, and reacting to that.

I think, personally, he gets Graham all wrong on this, but I can see how he’d read what he sees into it — but of course I would since I’m not an inerrantist and I think human beings read their own meanings into texts all the time. We can’t help it. It’s baked into how we process communication. Human language is as flawed as humanity, and our own mental processes are as unique and varied as we are as individuals — it’s simply impossible for everyone to understand a single text in exactly the same way. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have conversations about coming to shared understandings, but it does mean we can’t measure that kind of meaning the way we measure drill bits and shirt buttons.

Anyway, what then ensues is a debate among a bunch of people (who essentially agree with each other on inerrancy in general) over the various ways in which to interpret Graham’s apparent dismissal of inerrancy. It seems to me that the fact of their disagreement is itself proof against their assumption.

Well, I thought it was funny. Then I realized: these are real people, and they actually believe the tripe they’re typing. And they’re willing to essentially excommunicate Billy Graham for saying these things, and at least ignore him and be undeterred by his newfound understanding of the subtleties and complexities of scripture.

It’s that attitude I find horrific: the arrogance and dogmatic self-righteousness that says, “My faith is a good faith if it remains untouched, unchanged.” Because they really do believe that faith is equivalent to a list of codified ‘beliefs.’ When, to my thinking, any list of codified beliefs is essentially idolatry — a graven image not of a god’s face but of human words worshipped in place of the god they supposedly point to.

If these guys check their Gospels carefully, I think they’ll find a Jesus who reserved his most vitriolic condemnation (what little there was of it) for the self-righteous, those who judged others without looking hard at themselves, those who would have contempt at best and condemnation at worst, for those of a different point of view or place in life.

[Edited to add: yet more irony from the inerrantist camp — Albert Mohler, itching to further dismiss Richard Dawkins’ new book, The God Delusion, gleefully quotes at length from a review written by Terry Eagleton in The London Review of Books. I guess Mohler has no qualms swallowing the opinions of a Marxist literary theorist as long as they’re in the service of discrediting another heretic.]

So-called faith-based initiatives

I’m a big believer that money talks and bs walks. I used to be more idealistic: that money wasn’t everything, and that (outside of very healthy friendships and family relationships) how someone values you wasn’t necessarily dependent on the money they were willing to give you or trust you with.

But the older I get, the more I believe that unless someone is willing to put up, they should shut up. This goes for employers, for example: they can talk all they want about how great a place theirs is to work and how much they want your talent. But if they aren’t willing to pay the price for your talent, they don’t value it as much as they say.

The same goes for talk about political “values” stuff. Which points to what I think is the Bush administration’s biggest lie exposed in David Kuo‘s book “Tempting Faith.”

Kuo is coming under massive fire from all fronts, including the supposedly ‘liberal’ media. Personally, I believe the guy when he says that he really wanted to believe in the administration, and was disillusioned by the machinations he found within. He keeps trying to tell people that this isn’t a gossip book, but a memoir reflecting on what it meant for him to mix faith and politics and to grapple with that question.

I haven’t read the book yet, but I keep hearing things about it, like this post on Faithful Democrats that explains how the administration, while it wouldn’t shut up, definitely didn’t “put up.”

Faithful Democrats – Slings and Arrows

When it came time to send the budget up to Capitol Hill, however, “those charity tax credits weren’t listed by the White House as must-haves,” writes Kuo, so they were left out. Senator Charles Grassley put them back into the Senate version, because “he assumed that the White House had omitted the charity provisions by oversight.” Alas, no. During negotiations over the final budget bill, Bush’s chief congressional liaison told Grassley “to get rid of the charity tax credits….The White House didn’t want them anymore.”

To make things even worse, the tax credits were bumped aside in order to make room for elimination of the estate tax. One popular way of getting around the estate tax for many wealthy individuals has been to donate money to charities and write off the gift. Eliminating the estate tax not only prevented $16 billion of new giving from being stimulated, but it cost more than $5 billion per year in charitable giving by those wealthy Americans who could keep their money to themselves now.

I wonder where, in the Gospels, Jesus says to take promised money from the poor and give it to the rich — and to do so in a way which discourages the rich from giving to the poor either?

I’m pretty sure it’s not in there. Neither is any mention of homosexuality — and yet the Republicans have managed to galvanize such fear of sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular over the last eight years, they’ve had scared Americans voting in droves.

I suppose championing the poor with your dollars and not just your mouth doesn’t motivate people to vote?

Edited to add: Here’s a good interview with Kuo at Newsweek. In it he says the following, which I think sounds very sensible, and like the kind of thing Christians I’ve looked up to all my life would say:

The Christian political leaders have been seduced. If you look at their comments that they know what they’re doing, I’m not quite sure how to read that—is it wonderful or a little troubling? That’s one of the reasons I call for this fast from politics. I’m not saying that Christians shouldn’t vote, which is going around on Christian talk radio. But for a period—I personally think it should take two years from after this election to the presidential election—evangelical Christians should take a fast from giving their money to political causes and from giving much of their time as well. Take that money that is currently fueling all those wonderful hate-filled ads, the hundreds of millions being spent, and spend that money on the poor and inner-city kids. Instead of spending time lobbying, spend your time with your neighbor, saying love your neighbor as yourself.

How can you argue with that?

The Pro-Torture President

Why on earth are more people not completely gobstoppered over the fact that we have an administration that is PRO-TORTURE.

Let me say that again … “Pro-Torture”…

If this were a movie, it’d be a very very dark political satire. Imagine the storyline if a political party got into power and continued (as everything else was falling down around their ears) to fight for the right to murder? Or to steal? “Hi. I’m Candidate Whatsis and you should vote for me because I’m in favor of murder. *big smile*”

But we’re living it now. With the incredible incompetence of this administration, and all the positive things they could possibly still do to pull this travesty of a foreign policy out of the muck, they focus their will almost completely on preserving the President’s right to torture other human beings, even though many in their own party are against it, all five former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have come out against it, and nobody has a convincing case that torture even produces trustworthy intelligence.

In spite of all of that, Bush & Co. can’t seem to stop thinking about doing awful things to other people’s bodies. (If intelligence were that important to our administration, you’d think they wouldn’t be firing so many Arabic translators from the military because of sexual preference … but I digress.)

The amazing thing is that this President claims to be a committed Christian. I wish someone would ask him outright how he squares his faith with torture — this bizarre, sick commitment to something that, even if it wasn’t completely destructive to the moral fabric of our country and our moral authority in the world (the little we have left), isn’t even a trustworthy method for learning facts.

Anyway, Andrew Sullivan put it better than I’ve seen it anywhere so far:

Andrew Sullivan | The Daily Dish

And yet so many seem to. Why? Torture is not a hard issue for any Christian. It is an unmitigated moral evil. There is no theology on earth which can make it a less grave moral matter than, say, gay marriage. And yet it has been enforced by this president for five years and where is the outrage? You would imagine that James Dobson would have organized a massive phone-in or email blitz to Capitol Hill on the detainee legislation. You would imagine that every theocon from Ponnuru to Neuhaus would be writing about this every day and night. But nah. Gays getting married in one state out of 49? Massive, coordinated outrage, sermon after sermon, direct mail blitz after direct mail blitz, and a threatened constitutional amendment. The president authorizing torture? You can hear a pin drop on the religious right. Tells you something, no?

David Byrne on "Jesus Camp"

This is unbelievably creepy …

David Byrne Journal: 8.2.06: American Madrassas

Saw a screening of a documentary called Jesus Camp. It focuses on a woman preacher (Becky Fischer) who indoctrinates children in a summer camp in North Dakota. Right wing political agendas and slogans are mixed with born again rituals that end with most of the kids in tears. Jesus CampTears of release and joy, they would claim — the children are not physically abused. The kids are around 9 or 10 years old, recruited from various churches, and are pliant willing receptacles. They are instructed that evolution is being forced upon us by evil Godless secular humanists, that abortion must be stopped at all costs, that we must form an “army” to defeat the Godless influences, that we must band together to insure that the right judges and politicians get into the courts and office and that global warming is a lie.