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?

McAfee + Teddy Roosevelt on dissent (and Enterprise 2.0)

HBS prof and Enterprise 2.0 thinker/blogger Andrew McAfee back in July, commenting on the implications of people being fired for what they say on personal blogs or otherwise (as in the Axsmith case).
Andrew McAfee

Smart organizations will accept and embrace the fact that Enterprise 2.0 tools will be used to voice dissent within the community. And they’ll realize that this is more than just OK; it’s important.

Let’s close this post with a quote from Theordore Roosevelt, who wrote about dissent and the American President in a 1918 Kansas City Star editorial:

“… it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

I’d love to hear a presidential candidate quote that in the coming months.

Foley business and petard hoisting

First of all, I have to admit, it’s kind of fun to watch the Republican House chewing away at its own extremeties trying to free itself from the bear (elephant?) traps it’s found itself in since the weekend. Schadenfreude indeed.

But this story (here’s a bit of it, but pieces of it keep coming out and it’s everywhere) worries me too.

To some degree, the fact that Foley is gay is delicious irony that has short-circuited a huge piece of the Republican power to get people to the polls… although it’s arguable that their Gay-Scare tactics were starting to lose steam in the face of Iraq and other debacles. Still… even for lots of people who might quibble with the administration’s foreign policy and whatnot, if you just remind them that Democrats luuuuuv “the gays” and that being gay is essentially the same as being a pedophile and/or bestiality fan, it gets their people to the polls like nobody’s business. (I am, of course, parroting their bigotry, not agreeing with it … just to make that clear… it’s godawful ignorance at best but more likely just plain evil bigotry.)

The fact that Foley is gay, then, could just be used by his Republican bretheren as an excuse to excommunicate him and say they knew nothing of it and are ejecting a bad apple. But they can’t, because evidently tons of them knew about his antics. Because of their coverups, the GOP is in for a real sh**storm and probably a loss of power (unless Diebold can win the elections for the GOP again). Basically, they’re being hoist by their own petard — the petard, in this case, is their homophobia.

Great, right? But I wonder if all this press about Foley going after 16 yr old boys is only furthering popular misconceptions about homosexuality? You can hear it in the voices of the conservatives who are calling for his ouster — especially people like Bay Buchanan — who see this as nothing less than confirmation of their beliefs that homosexuals are out to “convert” and/or molest their perfect little churchgoing children. In fact, this backlash has already begun.

So I hope that the media makes a clear distinction between “gay” and “inappropriately stalking/wooing teenagers.” Not that the media are known for their grasp of logical nuance.

Still… my god the fireworks are fun to watch.

(Edited to add: I don’t want to sound like I getting sadistic pleasure from seeing individuals in personally wrenching, life-destroying situations. I don’t wish that on anyone … it’s the neo-puritanical hypocrisy being brought to light that I’m celebrating.)

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?

Flavia nicely disses the 9/11 movie.

Philadelphia Daily News | 09/12/2006 | Flavia Monteiro Colgan | ABC’s ‘9/11’: Clinton was right

The tragic events of 9/11 are not something to be trifled with. Putting words into people’s mouths and showing them doing things they never did is not acceptable.

The docudrama portrayed Clinton as a president who didn’t care about terrorism, but his record tells a different story. He had daily briefings on al Qaeda and meetings three times a week. Compare that to a president who couldn’t break away from clearing brush to read a memo that said, “Bin Laden Determined to Attack America.”

The fact is that Clinton proposed an additional $1.1 billion in anti-terror efforts. Clinton was acutely aware of the financial aspects of terror and wanted us not to do business with international banks that held al Qaeda money. A bill that would have mandated that was called totalitarian by some Republicans – and they gutted it.

It’s incredible to me how blatantly people can manipulate the record in the public mind and get away with it. I’d like to think that all the voices that have said this movie is wrong will keep most people from being affected much by it, but I’m not that optimistic. Narrative storytelling is always more powerful than logical exposition. Always. I even find myself sometimes believing a particular ‘fact’ that my intellect should know better than to think only because the story was so compelling.

Coulter's shovel problem

In my last post, I opined at excruciating length about how so much of what makes one’s message in corporate life effective is the context and how one plays that context. It has to do with much more than appearance, which is just one factor; it’s about presence. That self-assurance that in some people seems arrogant or cocky but in others makes you want to defer to their judgment automatically.

Con artists use this very well. It’s a ‘confidence’ game, after all, and the con artist understands intuitively that confidence in oneself is necessary in order for others to have confidence in you.

Ann Coulter is one such con artist. She’s peddled her (relatively speaking, when compared to other political pundits) photogenic looks, rapier tongue and unapologetic attitude into a lucrative, powerful career as one of the most televised dilettantes alive. Oh, and she writes books too.

I have a hard time imagining Coulter sitting at a laptop surrounded by piles of meticulously perused research. I have an easier time imagining her spewing vitriol into a tape recorder and paying some hack(s) to edit it into something coherent, and run out and find anything in print that might be used as evidence. At least, that’s how her prose reads to me.

There’s a big difference between thoughtful, reasoned prose based on thorough research and crude polemic dressed up as respectable political opinion. That’s why I doubt Coulter would’ve gotten far in her career if she’d just written books. Like a trashy pop singer, it’s her TV appearances that make her career.

And it’s in those appearances where she performs brilliantly. Not that I think she’s brilliant. She’s a brilliant performer. She’s smart, certainly, but I think she actually believes she’s making intelligent, logical arguments, which signals to me that she’s not really as smart as she thinks.

That said, the lack of logical argumentation in her rantings doesn’t seem to be a problem. She knows she can get away with so much because she’s amazing at manipulating conversations. For example, on the rare occasion that someone argues with her or contradicts something she’s said, she weasels out of it by one of several strategems: 1. impugn the honor of the other person by making some outrageous, straw-man assertion about them because they would even think of contradicting her; 2. impugn the intelligence of the other person by quoting from “facts” that the other person doesn’t know, pointing to her book and squawking “I have XX pages of footnotes on this,” leaving the other person stammering and wondering if maybe they haven’t really done their homework; 3. making some other outrageous claim about someone not even in the room in order to derail the conversation. (This last one was evidenced most recently when she asserted that Clinton was a latent homosexual.)

Why does she get away with it? I think it’s in her delivery. In her utter and complete confidence. Couple that with a very quick mind (again, brilliant and quick are two different things) that can pop a comeback at an interviewer faster than the Williams sisters can nail a poorly lobbed serve, and time and time again you see people stumble over themselves trying to get around her. And she thrives on it; you can see it in her face. The television interview is her favorite element, and she plays it like a virtuoso.

This combination for an honest person would be admirable. But in someone who twists others’ words in order to fuel her unfounded pronouncements and allegations, it’s insidious.

The second trick works especially well. Claiming that you have numbers and research to back up your claims is a great way to shut other people up, especially if it’s during a TV taping or live interview when they can’t go and check your facts. She does it a lot, according to Media Matters.

This was hardly the first time Coulter and her defenders have offered the large number of footnotes contained in her book as “evidence” of the quality of her scholarship. Also on July 7, Terence Jeffrey, editor of conservative weekly Human Events, defended Coulter’s book on CNN’s The Situation Room by citing her “19 pages of footnotes.” And when similar questions were raised about her 2002 book, Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right (Crown, June 2002), Coulter repeatedly cited her “35 pages of footnotes” as evidence that her claims were accurate.

The same Media Matters article goes on to check these oft-cited footnotes, and finds them lacking.

Media Matters’ analysis of the endnotes in Godless revealed that Coulter routinely misrepresented the information of her sources, as well as omitted inconvenient information within those same sources that refuted her claims. Coulter relied upon secondary sources to support many of her claims, as well as unreliable or outdated information.

In addition to demonstrating her poor scholarship, this analysis also made clear Coulter’s lack of respect for her readers, who she clearly assumed would believe anything she wrote, as long as there was a citation attached to it.

That last bit is awfully accurate. People really do swallow a lot if it has the appearance of authority, and they rarely bother to look beneath the veneer. I’m guilty of it frequently. Who has the time? And if you’re predisposed to believe the points they’re making anyway, why not roll with it? We all walk around assuming that big publishing houses would never publish something that wasn’t well-documented.

I’m sure there’s plenty of left-leaning stuff published with similar weaknesses. What steams me about Coulter, though, is that she’s so hateful. She delights in polarizing people, and in objectifying and criminalizing her opposition. What she does is only a couple of tiny steps away from the sort of hate speech people use for minorities when they call them “vermin.” Calling ‘liberals’ things like “Godless” and “Traitors” is the sort of talk that one uses to start wars or pogroms.

What really disturbs me is that this woman is paraded as a real expert, as someone we should listen to, along with the other professional windblowers from both sides of the political spectrum, just because her antics grab viewers.

Obviously, the woman shovels a lot of crap; she’s got a real problem with that shovel. But nobody’s going to talk about it. I’d love to see the networks and news shows jumping on her about this stuff, but they didn’t do it about the last books so why this one?

It makes me nostalgic for the days when we had no 24-hour news channels that had to fill their hours no matter what. Back when the nightly news was 30 minutes, and that was it, there was at least some vetting of sources. Can you imagine CBS circa 1975 wasting even 15 seconds getting an opinion from a hack like Coulter? Not that things were perfect in 1975, by a long shot.

I don’t have a pithy wrapup for this post… just a pleading hope that, in the same way people get sick of so many other things and then move on, maybe we’ll all get sick of this and leave people like Coulter to the dust heap of “what were we thinking?”