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?

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.