Also sometimes referred to as secular, modern, or humanistic. This is an umbrella term for Protestant denominations, or churches within denominations, that view the Bible as the witness of God rather than the word of God, to be interpreted in its historical context through critical analysis. Examples include some churches within Anglican/Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ. There are more than 2,000 Protestant denominations offering a wide range of beliefs from extremely liberal to mainline to ultra-conservative and those that include characteristics on both ends.
|•||Belief in Deity |
Trinity of the Father (God), the Son (Christ), and the Holy Spirit that comprises one God Almighty. Many believe God is incorporeal.
Beliefs vary from the literal to the symbolic belief in Jesus Christ as God's incarnation. Some believe we are all sons and daughters of God and that Christ was exemplary, but not God.
|•||Origin of Universe and Life |
The Bible's account is symbolic. God created and controls the processes that account for the universe and life (e.g. evolution), as continually revealed by modern science.
|•||After Death |
Goodness will somehow be rewarded and evil punished after death, but what is most important is how you show your faith and conduct your life on earth.
|•||Why Evil? |
Most do not believe that humanity inherited original sin from Adam and Eve or that Satan actually exists. Most believe that God is good and made people inherently good, but also with free will and imperfect nature, which leads some to immoral behavior.
Various beliefs: Some believe all will go to heaven, as God is loving and forgiving. Others believe salvation lies in doing good works and no harm to others, regardless of faith. Some believe baptism is important. Some believe the concept of salvation after death is symbolic or nonexistent.
|•||Undeserved Suffering |
Most Liberal Christians do not believe that Satan causes suffering. Some believe suffering is part of God's plan, will, or design, even if we don't immediately understand it. Some don't believe in any spiritual reasons for suffering, and most take a humanistic approach to helping those in need.
|•||Contemporary Issues |
Most churches teach that abortion is morally wrong, but many ultimately support a woman's right to choose, usually accompanied by policies to provide counseling on alternatives. Many are accepting of homosexuality and gay rights.
Saturday, July 31, 2004
By Pamela Sampson
July 30, 2004 | Paris -- Europe's deep disdain for President Bush seems to be the engine behind John Kerry's growing appeal here, even though he is still an unknown quantity in Paris, London and Berlin.
Antipathy to Bush has translated into enthusiasm for the Democratic presidential nominee, whose speech Thursday at his party's convention in Boston was broadcast in much of Europe.
Daniel Thouw of Berlin, who has been observing the U.S. election campaign on Web sites and television, said he does not know where Kerry stands on many issues, but still thinks he would make a better president than Bush.
“I know, for example, that Ronald Reagan's son spoke for him, and so did Bill Clinton,” said the 28-year-old graphic designer. “Everyone is better than Bush.”
Alfred Gusenbauer, the chairman of Austria's opposition Socialist Party, said Friday he thinks a Kerry victory “would lead America back into the international community of nations.”
Gusenbauer said he considers Kerry “a very respectable presidential candidate,” reflecting broad support for the senator in Austria, which scorned the United States for going to war in Iraq despite the grave misgivings of many European countries, especially France and Germany.
Some analysts cautioned against viewing Kerry as a magic candidate with the power to heal the trans-Atlantic alliance.
Bruno Tertrais, a senior research fellow at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, said Kerry's rhetoric -- such as his convention pledge to continue the “global war on terror” -- was uncomfortably similar to Bush's.
Many Europeans believe Bush has made terrorism an even greater threat by expanding the war against al-Qaida into a “global” one that included enemies like Saddam Hussein, Tertrais said.
“The French and the Europeans should not expect a Kerry president to change everything,” said Tertrais. “I would caution about expectations on both sides.”
In Britain, some commentators think Kerry has one main asset -- he's not George W. Bush.
“It is not just a narrow majority of American voters who, according to current polls, want Mr. Bush to be defeated in November,” The Guardian said in an editorial on the convention. “It is an overwhelming majority of the citizens of other lands, those of this country very much included.”
Some note that a Kerry victory could be awkward for Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's staunchest supporter on the war in Iraq.
All major British newspapers and TV networks gave the Democratic convention heavy coverage. And some commentators said Kerry's failings are beside the point.
“He lacks vision, he inspires nobody -- and let's face it, it doesn't matter,” ran the headline on an op-ed piece about Kerry in The Times.
Doris Bartel, a physical therapist from the eastern German city of Strausberg, said she was impressed by Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry.
Heinz Kerry “seems very resolute and strong. In Germany, it's very different,” Bartel said. “The wife doesn't step out into the public. It's an American mentality.”
Many people think the Religious Right has faded into obscurity and political powerlessness. In fact, it just might be stronger than ever.
by David Batstone and Mark Wexler
The query came into my in-box this week, with the obvious inference that SojoMail is both liberal and phony. The accuser identified himself by name, adding that he had his Ph.D. and hailed from the state of Texas.
Without getting caught up in political labels - my self-proclaimed "liberal" friends stumble over some of my faith-informed views - I found his theology intriguing. Without a doubt, he clearly drew borders that zoned Christians into different political territories.
He opened his note as follows:
Liberal Christians have no understanding of the God-given role of Government. Liberal Christians are Peter-Pan Christians who demand that Governments, before the return of Jesus, foolhardily beat their God-given swords into plowshares and live according to the Sermon on the Mount. Liberal Christians do NOT realize that the plow-share things happens during the 2nd Coming of Jesus, when Jesus takes back the swords from Human Governments as He establishes God's Kingdom on Earth. This is why our Hero taught us to pray: "Please hurry Thy Kingdom to come, so Thy will is done on Earth as it is in Heaven."
If you have never had exposure to a "dispensational" view of history, my accuser's stream of thought may make no sense to you. I grew up in an evangelical Christian church that espoused a dispensational theology, so let me explain. God, it is assumed, has divided up history into different eras, or dispensations, and each will run its course. In our present era, the forces of good (God's chosen) battle against the forces of evil (under Satan's spell). God looks to government to practice order and suppress evil with the sword. This current dispensation will end with the second coming of Jesus, who will establish God's kingdom on earth.
I often hear non-Christians ask: How can a person who identifies with Jesus Christ espouse actions that run so counter to peace and justice? This theological device enables many Christians to discount the teachings of Jesus as a guide for living their lives. Forgive your enemies? Feed the hungry? Clothe the naked and care for the prisoner? Not a chance; you'd be foolish to adopt these practices in the dispensation in which we live. Governments must take whatever measures are necessary to defeat evil, and we are commanded to be its loyal subjects.
I guess that's what makes me a fool. I take my faith journey as a challenge to embody the teachings of Jesus in an era that cheapens the dignity of life.
In his condemnation of SojoMail, my accuser indicates yet another key theological marker that is worth sharing:
Liberal Christians live in a world of make-believe because they focus almost exclusively on the New Testament, to the exclusion of the Old Testament. Unfortunately for them, the Bible describes the role of Government in detail in the Old Testament, NOT in the New Testament! It is the Mosaic Law & the Mosaic Government that is ordered by God to put to death any person who commits a heinous crime, and goes on to list about 30 crimes as heinous crimes. In the New Testament Jesus is just a private citizen, NOT a member of Government (Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, etc., were Government Officials). Moreover, Jesus directed His Sermon on the Mount exclusively to private citizens like Himself, and NOT to the Roman Government or the Sanhedrin. Note that Jesus did NOT criticize the Roman Government for not having any Social Welfare Programs. This is because the Romans were doing what was called for in the Old Testament: the Roman Government was using the Sword to maintain Law and Order!
If this viewpoint merely represented a crackpot hiding out on a survivalist ranch in rural Texas, I wouldn't bother to publish it. But it unfortunately has significant credibility among a swath of American evangelicals. With my colleague, Mark Wexler, I have just completed an investigative study of the Religious Right (which will come out in the July edition of Sojourners magazine). It was jarring to realize that many American Christians reject the notion of a separation of church and state as a "humanistic secular plot" to obstruct God's proper ordering of U.S. society. They want to see the establishment of a theocracy that puts into place many of the Mosaic laws as established in the Old Testament. At the moment, they are mobilizing a strong cadre of religious leaders and members of the U.S. Congress to rewrite the legal system.
How ironic that my erstwhile critic praises the Roman Empire for fulfilling the divine mandate for right governance. I fear today that is exactly how the United States is acting in the world - as an empire bent on the expansion of its own interests. If my calling as a Christian is to deliver my full support to that empire, than I indeed must confess that I am a phony.
Read more commentary by David Batstone at:
NEWS FLASH: Churchgoers Get Direction From Bush Campaign
WASHINGTON - The Bush-Cheney re-election campaign has sent a detailed plan of action to religious volunteers across the country asking them to turn over church directories to the campaign, distribute issue guides in their churches and persuade their pastors to hold voter registration drives....
The instruction sheet circulated by the Bush-Cheney campaign to religious volunteers lists 22 "duties" to be performed by specific dates. By July 31, for example, volunteers are to "send your church directory to your state Bush-Cheney '04 headquarters or give (it) to a BC04 field rep" and "talk to your pastor about holding a Citizenship Sunday and voter registration drive."
By Aug. 15, they are to "talk to your church's seniors or 20-30 something group about Bush-Cheney '04" and "recruit five more people in your church to volunteer for the Bush-Cheney campaign." By Sept. 17, they are to host at least two campaign-related potluck dinners with members, and in October they are to "finish calling all pro-Bush members of your church," "finish distributing voter guides in your church" and place notices on bulletin boards or in Sunday programs "about all Christian citizens needing to vote."
To: Bush/Cheney Re-election Campaign Headquarters
From: "Rev." David Batstone
Re: Our Service to the King
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Kingdom:
I can't tell you how inspired I am by your detailed plan of action leading up to the November election. Being an evangelical pastor, I wasn't sure how I was going to mobilize my congregation to make a faithful commitment in the realm of politics. But rest assured, we are following diligently the 22 duties you so generously offered, so that God's will may be made manifest in the re-election of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for four more years.
As per your request, I sent yesterday a directory of our church membership to your campaign headquarters here in California. All addresses and telephone numbers are up-to-date, which I trust will be quite useful for your field team as they seek to make personal connections with our flock.
Our pastoral staff even put stars next to the names of those members who have given more than $1,000 to our church during the past year. We do not have an especially wealthy congregation, but as I reminded them last week in my sermon, if a poor widow can give a mite, so might we open our hearts and checkbooks to the burning Bush of Texas, whom God has led to Washington for our sakes.
I do not suffer fools lightly, and for the sake of the gospel will continue to preach boldly words of political action. From now until October, at the close of each service we will have a call forward for those wayward individuals who have not yet registered to vote. My elders stand waiting, registration form in hand, for the Spirit to move those hardened by other political leanings, or perhaps lukewarm in their service to the King.
No, brothers and sisters, we will not hide our light under a bushel. We have restructured our Sunday School programs for the fall to reinforce the importance of Christian citizens taking on the mantle of conservative causes. Your Voter Guides will be distributed to each member of the church - the young marrieds as well as the seniors - and will become the focus of our Bible studies during the Sunday School hour.
You will be pleased to hear that our planting of seeds already is yielding fruit. By its own inspiration, the Visitation Committee announced its plans to suspend visits to the sick and elderly for the months of October and November (except in those cases of impending death). Instead, these faithful souls will use their hours of ministry going door to door in the neighborbood surrounding the church, handing out your Voter Guides and, if God opens hearts, asking for our neighbors to volunteer for Bush/Cheney '04.
I cannot recall a time when our flock was so focused on a single mission. In no small part we have you to thank. The campaign potlucks you demanded did not even seem like a duty; after the meal, we sang songs of praise for the divine blessing given our nation under Republican leadership. Thanks be to God, I now know how the people of Judea must have felt when He bestowed on King David His eternal wisdom to guide His people in a "united states" of Israel.
Do not fear, my brothers and sisters. On that day of judgment in November, when that great roll is unscrolled, rest assured that you will find each of our names recorded in the Republican column.
Friday, July 30, 2004
July 25, 2004
CONCORD, N.H. --Unable to accept their bishop's homosexuality, some Episcopalians have left their church.
To others, Gene Robinson's consecration last year served as a powerful magnet.
"It was a very strong symbol to us of the inclusiveness of the Episcopal Church, and that is important to us," said Martha McCabe.
McCabe of Bow said she left the Catholic church over the priest sex abuse scandal. She and her husband, who was raised a Methodist, had started looking at other denominations for a church their family could attend.
Robinson's consecration drew them in as it did Maria Easton of Hillsboro.
Easton had stopped coming to the church, but returned after Robinson became bishop. Her sister is gay, which made the decision personal.
"For me, it was really a reminder of one of the things I like so much about the church: its inclusiveness," she said. "I always loved the fact that women could be leaders in the Episcopal Church."
Church officials say don't have a count, but they don't think a large number have joined because of Robinson.
"It's a mix," said the Rev. David Jones, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Concord. "Some are old members who have just started attending again. Others have never been to the Episcopal Church, or to church at all."
Robinson's election and consecration last year as the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire caused a stir inside and outside the Anglican community. Religious leaders and church goers in several denominations denounced the move and said it would cause the church to split.
So far, about nine of the country's 107 dioceses and more than 30 congregations have joined the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, a traditionalist group opposed to Robinson's consecration.
Members of the Church of the Redeemer in Rochester cut ties to the diocese and now hold services in the basement of a nearby Baptist church.
A small group continues to meet every Sunday at the Church of the Redeemer and several faces are new.
April Pirsig of Dover has been attending services for a month, ever since the majority left. Raised a Lutheran, Pirsig had attended Unitarian churches for years, but decided to start attending the Episcopal Church to show support for Robinson. Last week, she filled out a card to become a member.
Pirsig says the furor over Robinson is a growing pain similar to the outrage over women becoming ministers.
"It makes me angry that people would leave the church over something like this," Pirsig said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's the kind of attitude that goes back to the Civil War, when blacks weren't considered real people, or women weren't allowed to do certain things."
Years ago, her mother was forced to give up her position as a Lutheran pastor when it was discovered she was gay.
"To me, it doesn't make any sense," said Pirsig. "God loves all his children. I've never seen it written, 'Unless they're bisexual or gay.'"
McCabe said she definitely likes what she's seen of Robinson. As far as she's concerned, he is a quintessential spiritual leader: wise and thoughtful, kind and well-spoken.
"I think people's obsession with his homosexuality is so out of proportion it borders on ridiculous," she said.
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
A text of Ron Reagan's speech as prepared for delivery Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention:
A few of you may be surprised to see someone with my last name showing up to speak at a Democratic convention. Let me assure you, I am not here to make a political speech, and the topic at hand should not have anything to do with partisanship.
I am here tonight to talk about the issue of research into what may be the greatest medical breakthrough in our or in any lifetime: the use of embryonic stem cells — cells created using the material of our own bodies — to cure a wide range of fatal and debilitating illnesses: Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, lymphoma, spinal cord injuries, and much more. Millions are afflicted. Every year, every day, tragedy is visited upon families across the country, around the world.
Now, we may be able to put an end to this suffering. We only need to try. Some of you already know what I'm talking about when I say "embryonic stem cell research." Others of you are probably thinking, "Hmm, thats quite a mouthful, what is this all about?"
Let me try and paint as simple a picture as I can while still doing justice to the incredible science involved. Let's say that ten or so years from now you are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. There is currently no cure and drug therapy, with its attendant side-effects, can only temporarily relieve the symptoms.
Now, imagine going to a doctor who, instead of prescribing drugs, takes a few skin cells from your arm. The nucleus of one of your cells is placed into a donor egg whose own nucleus has been removed. A hit of chemical or electrical stimulation will encourage your cell's nucleus to begin dividing, creating new cells which will then be placed into a tissue culture. Those cells will generate embryonic stem cells containing only your DNA, thereby eliminating the risk of tissue rejection. These stem cells are then driven to become the very neural cells that are defective in Parkinson's patients. And finally, those cells — with your DNA — are injected into your brain where they will replace the faulty cells whose failure to produce adequate dopamine led to the Parkinson's disease in the first place.
In other words, you're cured. And another thing, these embryonic stem cells, they could continue to replicate indefinitely and, theoretically, can be induced to recreate virtually any tissue in your body. How'd you like to have your own personal biological repair kit standing by at the hospital? Sound like magic? Welcome to the future of medicine.
By the way, no fetal tissue is involved in this process. No fetuses are created, none destroyed. This all happens in the laboratory at the cellular level.
Now, there are those who would stand in the way of this remarkable future, who would deny the federal funding so crucial to basic research. They argue that interfering with the development of even the earliest stage embryo, even one that will never he implanted in a womb and will never develop into an actual fetus, is tantamount to murder. A few of these folks, needless to say, are just grinding a political axe and they should he ashamed of themselves. But many are well-meaning and sincere. Their belief is just that, an article of faith, and they are entitled to it.
But it does not follow that the theology of a few should be allowed to forestall the health and well-being of the many. And how can we affirm life if we abandon those whose own lives are so desperately at risk?
It is a hallmark of human intelligence that we are able to make distinctions. Yes, these cells could theoretically have the potential, under very different circumstances, to develop into human beings — that potential is where their magic lies. But they are not, in and of themselves, human beings. They have no fingers and toes, no brain or spinal cord. They have no thoughts, no fears. They feel no pain. Surely we can distinguish between these undifferentiated cells multiplying in a tissue culture and a living, breathing person — parent, a spouse, a child.
I know a child — well, she must be 13 now — I'd better call her a young woman. She has fingers and toes. She has a mind. She has memories. She has hopes. And she has juvenile diabetes.
Like so many kids with this disease, she has adjusted amazingly well. The insulin pump she wears — she's decorated hers with rhinestones. She can insert her own catheter needle. She has learned to sleep through the blood drawings in the wee hours of the morning. She's very brave. She is also quite bright and understands full well the progress of her disease and what that might ultimately mean: blindness, amputation, diabetic coma. Every day, she fights to have a future.
What excuse will we offer this young woman should we fail her now? What might we tell her children? Or the millions of others who suffer? That when given an opportunity to help, we turned away? That facing political opposition, we lost our nerve? That even though we knew better, we did nothing?
And, should we fail, how will we feel if, a few years from now, a more enlightened generation should fulfill the promise of embryonic stem cell therapy? Imagine what they would say of us who lacked the will.
No, we owe this young woman and all those who suffer — we owe ourselves — better than that. We are better than that. A wiser people, a finer nation. And for all of us in this fight, let me say: we will prevail.
The tide of history is with us. Like all generations who have come before ours, we are motivated by a thirst for knowledge and compelled to see others in need as fellow angels on an often difficult path, deserving of our compassion.
In a few months, we will face a choice. Yes, between two candidates and two parties, but more than that. We have a chance to take a giant stride forward for the good of all humanity. We can choose between the future and the past, between reason and ignorance, between true compassion and mere ideology. This is our moment, and we must not falter.
Whatever else you do come November 2nd, I urge you, please, cast a vote for embryonic stem cell research. Thank you for your time.
Thursday, July 29, 2004
I don't know how much of John Kerry's acceptance speech the candidate penned himself. I don't know who suggested which lines, how many drafts there were, or who edited them. But I can tell you who wrote the speech: George W. Bush.
The power of the speech, reflected in a deafening series of ovations that consumed the FleetCenter tonight, came not from Kerry's biography or the themes he brought to the campaign two years ago. It came from his expression of widespread, pent-up outrage at the offenses of the Bush administration.
First Kerry released the outrage at America's disrepute around the world. Recalling his boyhood days in West Berlin, he said, "I saw the gratitude of people toward the United States. … I am determined now to restore that pride to all who look to America."
Explosion of applause.
He released the outrage at the debunked and shifting rationales for the Iraq war. America must be "true to our ideals," he said. "And that starts by telling the truth to the American people."
He released the outrage at abuses of executive power. "I will have a vice president who will not conduct secret meetings with polluters to write our environmental laws," he said. "And I will appoint an attorney general who will uphold the Constitution.'
He released the outrage at corporate scandal. "Next January," he said, "Americans will be proud to have a fighter for the middle class to succeed Dick Cheney as vice president."
He released the outrage at the overextension of the American military, its people, and their families. "We will end the backdoor draft of the National Guard and reservists," he said.
He released the outrage at the hundreds of billions of dollars in deficit spending in Iraq. "We shouldn't be opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them down in the United States of America," he said.
He released the outrage at the president's attempt to end local disputes about marriage by amending the Constitution. "Let's never misuse for political purposes the most precious document in American history, the Constitution of the United States," said Kerry.
He released the outrage at the partisan use of God's name. "I don't want to claim that God is on our side," said Kerry. "As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side."
Kerry's Vietnam biography was central to the speech not as a sword but as a shield. It entitled him—and through him, every critic of Bush's foreign policy who has felt too intimidated to speak out—to repudiate the administration. "That flag flew from the gun turret right behind my head," said Kerry. "It was shot through and through and tattered, but it never ceased to wave in the wind. It draped the caskets of men that I served with and friends I grew up with. … That flag doesn't belong to any president. It doesn't belong to any ideology. It doesn't belong to any political party. It belongs to all the American people."
At one point, Kerry acknowledged the Democratic presidential rivals whose pet issues and messages he had appropriated. "Thank you for teaching and testing me," he said. But those issues weren't created by the Democrats. They were created by Bush. From deficits to deregulation to Iraq, Bush has handed the Democrats all the issues they need.
The theory behind Bush's hard-line style of governance came from his chief political adviser, Karl Rove. Rove believed that Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 because millions of conservatives stayed home. He believed that Bush's father lost the 1992 election by alienating the right and creating a Republican primary challenge by Pat Buchanan. So, on issue after issue, the current President Bush has played to his base. On Rove's theory, every step to the right earns Bush another conservative vote.
That calculation is correct. But it's only half the story. For every conservative voter who's inspired to turn out for Bush because of his unyielding conservatism, there's a liberal voter who's inspired to turn out for Kerry. That's why Kerry has had no trouble uniting his party after the primaries. It's why the FleetCenter exploded tonight at every one of Kerry's applause lines. And it's why Kerry can now move aggressively to the middle without fear of losing the left.
In his determination to unite the right, Bush hasn't just united the left. He has lost the center. Look at last week's New York Times/CBS News poll of registered voters. "Do you think the result of the war with Iraq was worth the loss of American life and other costs of attacking Iraq or not?" Fifty-nine percent say it was not. "Which do you think is a better way to improve the national economy—cutting taxes or reducing the federal budget deficit?" Fifty-eight percent say reducing the deficit. "When it comes to regulating the environmental and safety practices of business, do you think the federal government is doing enough, should it do more, or should it do less?" Fifty-nine percent say more.
One more Bush voter on the right, balanced by one more Kerry voter on the left, plus the tilting of one more voter in the middle toward Kerry, is a net loss for the president. That's the lesson of this administration, this election, and this convention. Kerry doesn't have to write any good lines. He just has to read them.
William Saletan is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War.
by James Carroll
In 1989, the priest turned writer James Carroll took his family to Europe to witness the end of the cold war. They were in Berlin and came upon the site of Hitler's bunker almost by accident. Before Carroll realized it, his young children, Pat and Lizzy, were running up to the mound of earth "like beagles going after prey." Then panic broke out: "I saw a slab of concrete protruding from the dirt, and I thought, Pat is now going to touch what Hitler touched. 'Get away from there,' I ordered, swooping down on them. . . . 'This was Hitler's place!' And I led them away." It was only then perhaps that Carroll fully realized his own -- and his church's -- adamancy about keeping an almost neurotic distance from the unequaled crimes of the Reich. No, Carroll was not a Nazi, the Roman Catholic Church wasn't the Nazi Party, and responsibility for the Holocaust should not be diffused by being spread too widely. But Carroll's church's history, the very fabric of its being, is wrapped up in attitudes that, in his narrative, surely paved the way for the Shoah. And "to accept responsibility for those attitudes, as a Christian, is to go much farther along the road of moral reckoning than I ever imagined I would have to."
How can one categorize "Constantine's Sword"? It is in part a memoir of an American Catholic of a particular generation, a self-confessed "lefty" whose political and spiritual awakening came during the Vietnam War. It is also a history of the long and bitter fruits of the schism among Jews two millenniums ago about the meaning of eschatology, messianism and faith itself -- the schism that finds its origin in the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth. And it is a book of a deeper sort -- a rigorous theological and moral dialectic that Carroll, the author of "An American Requiem," never removes from the personal necessity of choice, for good over evil, for memory over denial and for love over power.
Holding this ambitious edifice together is an argument. What Carroll wants to show us above all is that the relationship with the Jews is not merely one issue among many for the modern church. It is the central issue in church history and inextricable from the core of what Christianity is about. To make his case, Carroll has to go back to the very beginning and show an alternative history -- a history of what might have been, a history in which the followers of Jesus were neither hostile to Judaism nor threatened by it.
Carroll begins by restating, along the lines of the revisionist scholarship of the Jesus Seminar, the essential Jewishness of Jesus. Jesus was not, so far as we know, a man alien to the culture or politics of his time. He lived and died in a region controlled by an imperial power, and asserted in that context an intense form of Jewish spirituality, animated by a kind of love that was clearly shocking and inspiring to many of his contemporaries. It was only in the later context of the struggles between Jesus-following Jews and other variants of Judaism that the Gospel story came to be told as a conflict not between a Jewish rebel and a brutal Roman Empire but between the founder of a new religion and "the Jews," a monolithic term that began the process of demonizing the other.
In Carroll's reading, in other words, Jesus came not to supplant but to renew. The love he proclaimed was the unconditional love that God also displayed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures -- a covenant that could never be broken, since it was unconditional. There is no dichotomy between the God of Law of the Old Testament and the God of Love of the New. The message is seamless, made more whole by the witness of Jesus. The notion that Christian anti-Semitism began with Jesus is therefore meaningless. He would not have even understood such a term. It was Jesus' followers who reshaped Christianity by defining it less by what it was than by what it was not. Carroll somewhat unconvincingly exonerates Paul on these grounds, placing his occasional extremism with regard to the supersession of Judaism in the context of his belief that the end-time was imminent. And Carroll persuasively shows how the concept of opposing religions is a function primarily of hindsight.
Still, there are some theological matters that Carroll too easily elides. Part of the reason for the parting of the ways between Christianity and Judaism in the first centuries of the Christian Era was their closeness. Christianity surely rests on the Hebrew Bible, as indeed the Gospels, more than any other documents, prove. But precisely because of this, the early Jewish indifference toward the notion of Jesus as the Son of God was so threatening. In a world where the fledgling sect of Christianity was attempting to find its way among competing paganisms and cults, the remaining recalcitrance of the very people it was designed to embody was bound to create conflict. Call it the narcissism of small differences. Human history shows that the fiercest conflicts -- from the Balkans to Ireland -- are fomented by estranged members of the same tangled family.
Carroll's narrative picks up steam with the arrival of Constantine and the fusion of Christianity with imperial power. He neatly rebuts the notion of Constantine's conversion as some sort of divine intervention, seeing it more as a canny political move, shoring up support in Rome. And from Constantine's sword, designed in the shape of a cross, the fusion of a religion opposed to power with power itself is the core of the corruption of Christianity. When Christians used this secular power to persecute, banish, murder Jews, they were betraying not just the essence of the faith of Jesus, they were embodying the very power that killed Christ -- not the evil Jews, but the power of the state. Mercifully, the injunction to save Jews, to convert them, to see them as pre-eminently worthy of salvation, was a strong check on the demonization of Jews. But under the Inquisition, the church itself innovated another definition of Jewishness -- not of faith but of blood -- pioneering expulsions and then a demarcated Jewish ghetto in a quarter of Rome, to house refugees from elsewhere. The picture of the displaced Jews' arrival in the capital city is as fresh as the images from Srebrenica. One contemporary wrote: "You would have thought that they wore masks. They were bony, pallid, their eyes sunk in the sockets; and had they not made slight movements, it would have been imagined that they were dead." Even then, Christian friars offered bread only on condition of conversion. After creating the ghetto, the church in the mid-16th century laid down what Jews could do and earn and how they could live. By the 17th century, the Jesuits had instituted the forerunner of the Nuremberg Laws, barring anyone from becoming a Jesuit "who is descended of Hebrew or Saracen stock" -- a baldly racist provision not formally ended until 1946.
Is there a continuous link between this Jew hatred and the final act of vengeance in the Holocaust? Carroll is wise not to say yes. The uniqueness of Nazi evil, the fact that eliminationist anti-Semitism, to use Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's phrase, found full fruition only in one state at one point in history, places earlier Catholic anti-Semitism in some perspective. Indeed, compared with Luther's vicious rhetoric about the "pest in the midst of our lands," the Jesuits were relatively restrained. But, as Carroll points out, "the fact is that the Inquisition moved Christian suspicion of Jews to a whole new level of irrationality." It was a touchstone for the church at moments of insecurity -- in the 19th and early 20th centuries -- and, although the persecution never regained the insane passion of Torquemada, it certainly never missed an opportunity to acquiesce in popular anti-Semitism.
Carroll's account of Pope Pius XII is particularly damning. His early pact with Hitler was a foundation stone of the Shoah. The church was capable of resisting state power in Germany. It had doggedly survived and prospered under Bismarck's Kulturkampf. But Pius XII's elevation of Catholic self-interest over Catholic conscience was the lowest point in modern Catholic history. That he barely bothered to protest the deportation of Jews from the Roman ghetto within sight of the Vatican is eloquent enough. Yes, there were many instances of Catholic heroism. But no honest Catholic can look objectively at what Pius XII did and did not do without simple shame. The notion that he could be canonized is beyond this particular Catholic's comprehension.
In all this, Carroll does his fair share of breast-beating, but it is remarkable, perhaps, how few jarring notes there are in this book. The story is strong because it is framed within Carroll's own personal story -- his childhood Jewish friend, his years as an Army brat in newly liberated West Germany, his shared grief at the early death of a good friend. But there are times when solipsism nudges in. I could have done with fewer echt-Catholic remembrances of the erotic charge of his pious mother. And there is at times a lack of worldliness that gives Carroll's faith a real edge but his politics a slightly blunted focus. We feel the corruption of faith in the service of power, but we don't get a sense of the inevitability of such power and the acute difficulty religion will always have in reconciling itself to the world. Carroll's inability, for example, to see anything but pure evil in America's Vietnam excursion betrays an ingenuousness that doesn't always capture the intractable political quandary of, say, Paul or Constantine or Pius XII.
But Carroll's love of the church is equally unmissable. His deepest insight, I think, is to see in John Paul II's transforming papacy a deep grasp of how central the Jewish question is to the current state of the church. Karol Wojtyla did not merely attempt to reach out to Jews. He didn't merely apologize. He went to the Western Wall. He shuffled up to it as a Jew might, and prayed, and inserted a small piece of votive paper into its cracks. Here's how Carroll superbly describes it: "The church was honoring the Temple it had denigrated. It was affirming the presence of the Jewish people at home in Jerusalem. The pope reversed an ancient current of Jew hatred with that act, and the church's relationship to Israel, present as well as past, would never be the same."
In calling the church to an accounting with its past, the current pope has not been perfect. There is still a reluctance to confront the horror done to Jews in the name of Christian faith. But he has put his finger on a vital element in the church's possible renewal. Carroll argues, with surprising power, that the church will experience a revival only if it confronts its relationship to the Holocaust with unsparing honesty and repentance. He speaks at the very beginning of the book of an encounter he had as a tourist in Jerusalem some years ago. In general, Carroll was disgusted by the commercialism and grubbiness of many of the holy places. But then "a skeptical old Frenchman" took him into an excavation site where he pointed out a large stone slab. " 'This was the threshold stone of the city gate at the time of Jesus,' he said. 'It was buried in the rubble of the Roman destruction and is only now being uncovered. It is certain' -- the Frenchman had used this expression of nothing else he had shown me -- that Jesus of Nazareth would have stepped on this stone as he left the city for Golgotha.' "Carroll kneels and kisses the stone. It is a deeply Catholic moment -- its physicality, its sacramental simplicity, its faith that somewhere in the past, buried under the rubble of human sin, the living Jesus can still be found and felt and loved. But it is only by excavating that rubble, by disinterring and facing that destruction, that we can regain a faith that still lives -- and repent, as if repentance were sufficient, for the evil done in its name.
January 14, 2001, The New York Times.
copyright © 2001 Andrew Sullivan
Thursday, July 29, 2004
Published in the July 19, 2004 issue of The New Republic
by John B. Judis, Spencer Ackerman & Massoud Ansari
Late last month, President Bush lost his greatest advantage in his bid for reelection. A poll conducted by ABC News and The Washington Post discovered that challenger John Kerry was running even with the president on the critical question of whom voters trust to handle the war on terrorism. Largely as a result of the deteriorating occupation of Iraq, Bush lost what was, in April, a seemingly prohibitive 21-point advantage on his signature issue. But, even as the president's poll numbers were sliding, his administration was implementing a plan to insure the public's confidence in his hunt for Al Qaeda.
This spring, the administration significantly increased its pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, or the Taliban's Mullah Mohammed Omar, all of whom are believed to be hiding in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan. A succession of high-level American officials--from outgoing CIA Director George Tenet to Secretary of State Colin Powell to Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca to State Department counterterrorism chief Cofer Black to a top CIA South Asia official--have visited Pakistan in recent months to urge General Pervez Musharraf's government to do more in the war on terrorism. In April, Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, publicly chided the Pakistanis for providing a "sanctuary" for Al Qaeda and Taliban forces crossing the Afghan border. "The problem has not been solved and needs to be solved, the sooner the better," he said.
This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November. The Bush administration denies it has geared the war on terrorism to the electoral calendar. "Our attitude and actions have been the same since September 11 in terms of getting high-value targets off the street, and that doesn't change because of an election," says National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack. But The New Republic has learned that Pakistani security officials have been told they must produce HVTs by the election. According to one source in Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), "The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the U.S. administration to deliver before the [upcoming] U.S. elections." Introducing target dates for Al Qaeda captures is a new twist in U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism relations--according to a recently departed intelligence official, "no timetable[s]" were discussed in 2002 or 2003--but the November election is apparently bringing a new deadline pressure to the hunt. Another official, this one from the Pakistani Interior Ministry, which is responsible for internal security, explains, "The Musharraf government has a history of rescuing the Bush administration. They now want Musharraf to bail them out when they are facing hard times in the coming elections." (These sources insisted on remaining anonymous. Under Pakistan's Official Secrets Act, an official leaking information to the press can be imprisoned for up to ten years.)
A third source, an official who works under ISI's director, Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, informed tnr that the Pakistanis "have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must." What's more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: "The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington." Says McCormack: "I'm aware of no such comment." But according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
The Bush administration has matched this public and private pressure with enticements and implicit threats. During his March visit to Islamabad, Powell designated Pakistan a major non-nato ally, a status that allows its military to purchase a wider array of U.S. weaponry. Powell pointedly refused to criticize Musharraf for pardoning nuclear physicist A.Q. Khan--who, the previous month, had admitted exporting nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea, and Libya--declaring Khan's transgressions an "internal" Pakistani issue. In addition, the administration is pushing a five-year, $3 billion aid package for Pakistan through Congress over Democratic concerns about the country's proliferation of nuclear technology and lack of democratic reform.
But Powell conspicuously did not commit the United States to selling F-16s to Pakistan, which it desperately wants in order to tilt the regional balance of power against India. And the Pakistanis fear that, if they don't produce an HVT, they won't get the planes. Equally, they fear that, if they don't deliver, either Bush or a prospective Kerry administration would turn its attention to the apparent role of Pakistan's security establishment in facilitating Khan's illicit proliferation network. One Pakistani general recently in Washington confided in a journalist, "If we don't find these guys by the election, they are going to stick this whole nuclear mess up our asshole."
Pakistani perceptions of U.S. politics reinforce these worries. "In Pakistan, there has been a folk belief that, whenever there's a Republican administration in office, relations with Pakistan have been very good," says Khalid Hasan, a U.S. correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times. By contrast, there's also a "folk belief that the Democrats are always pro-India." Recent history has validated those beliefs. The Clinton administration inherited close ties to Pakistan, forged a decade earlier in collaboration against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But, by the time Clinton left office, the United States had tilted toward India, and Pakistan was under U.S. sanctions for its nuclear activities. All this has given Musharraf reason not just to respond to pressure from Bush, but to feel invested in him--and to worry that Kerry, who called the Khan affair a "disaster," and who has proposed tough new curbs on nuclear proliferation, would adopt an icier line.
Bush's strategy could work. In large part because of the increased U.S. pressure, Musharraf has, over the last several months, significantly increased military activity in the tribal areas--regions that enjoy considerable autonomy from Islamabad and where, until Musharraf sided with the United States in the war on terrorism, Pakistani soldiers had never set foot in the nation's 50-year history. Thousands of Pakistani troops fought a pitched battle in late March against tribesmen and their Al Qaeda affiliates in South Waziristan in hopes of capturing Zawahiri. The fighting escalated significantly in June. Attacks on army camps in the tribal areas brought fierce retaliation, leaving over 100 tribal and foreign militants and Pakistani soldiers dead in three days. Last month, Pakistan killed a powerful Waziristan warlord and Qaeda ally, Nek Mohammed, in a dramatic rocket attack that villagers said bore American fingerprints. (They claim a U.S. spy plane had been circling overhead.) Through these efforts, the Pakistanis could bring in bin Laden, Mullah Omar, or Zawahiri--a significant victory in the war on terrorism that would bolster Bush's reputation among voters.
But there is a reason many Pakistanis and some American officials had previously been reluctant to carry the war on terrorism into the tribal areas. A Pakistani offensive in that region, aided by American high-tech weaponry and perhaps Special Forces, could unite tribal chieftains against the central government and precipitate a border war without actually capturing any of the HVTs. Military action in the tribal areas "has a domestic fallout, both religious and ethnic," Pakistani Foreign Minister Mian Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri complained to the Los Angeles Times last year. Some American intelligence officials agree. "Pakistan just can't risk a civil war in that area of their country. They can't afford a western border that is unstable," says a senior intelligence official, who anonymously authored the recent Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror and who says he has not heard that the current pressures on Pakistan are geared to the election. "We may be at the point where [Musharraf] has done almost as much as he can."
Pushing Musharraf to go after Al Qaeda in the tribal areas may be a good idea despite the risks. But, if that is the case, it was a good idea in 2002 and 2003. Why the switch now? Top Pakistanis think they know: This year, the president's reelection is at stake.
Massoud Ansari reported from Karachi.
© Copyright 2004, The New Republic
From The Presbyterian Church (USA)
July 2, 2004
RICHMOND, July 2 – The 216th General Assembly approved several measures opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestine Friday, including a call for the corporate witness office of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to begin gathering data to support a selective divestment of holdings in multinational corporations doing business in Israel/Palestine. Divestment is one of the strategies that U.S. churches used in the 1970s and ’80s in a successful campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.
The vote was 431 to 62 to have the church’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) study the matter and make recommendations to the General Assembly Council (GAC).
When a handful of commissioners expressed reservations about the action, the Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor from Bethlehem, an ecumenical guest at the Assembly, said divestment is important because it is a way for the churches to take direct action. For too long, he said, the churches have simply issued statements – and that is not enough.
“We have to send strong messages to such companies,” Raheb said, referring specifically to Caterpillar Inc., the American builder of the armored tractors and bulldozers the Israeli army uses to demolish Palestinian homes.
“Sisters and brothers, this is a moment of truth,” Raheb said.
The Rev. Victor Makari, the PC(USA)’s liaison to the Middle East, supported the divestment strategy, saying, “I think the issue of divestment is a very sensitive one with Israel. ... If nothing else seems to have changed the policy of Israel toward Palestinians, we need to send a clear and strong message.”
The divestment action also calls for the United States to be an “honest, even-handed broker for peace” and calls for “more meaningful participation” in peace negotiations by Russia, German, France and others. It also encourages the U.S., Israeli and Palestinian governments to “lay aside arrogant political posturing and get on with forging negotiated compromises that open a path to peace.”
In other actions related to Israel, the Assembly voted by large margins to condemn Israel’s construction of a “security wall” across the West Bank; disavow Christian Zionism as a legitimate theological stance and direct the denomination’s Middle East and Interfaith Relations offices to develop resources on differences between fundamental Zionism and Reformed theology; and study the feasibility of sponsoring economic-development projects in Palestine and putting an action plan in place by 2005.
The actions on Israel were forwarded to the Assembly by the Peacemaking Committee.
[Original headline: Red-Heifer Days]
Could this little calf born last month in Israel bring about Armageddon? The concept would have struck many people as absurd the last time such a calf was born, in 1997, and probably makes most readers laugh today. Big mistake: Never underestimate the power of religious faith to shape events, especially in the Holy Land. Especially right now.
Our eschatological heifer story begins on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where tens of millions of Jews, Muslims, and Christians believe the central events of each tradition's Last Days will play out. The site, the Biblical Mount Moriah, was the site of the Hebrews' First Temple, destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC, and the Second Temple, which the Romans leveled in 70 AD. Muslims, believing the site to be the place from which the Prophet Mohammed ascended into Heaven
atop a steed, began in 685 to build the Noble Sanctuary, a 35-acre site in Jerusalem's walled Old City, containing the Dome of the Rock shrine and the al Aqsa mosque.
To Jews who adhere to ancient tradition, whose number include religious Israeli nationalists, the long-awaited Messiah will return to become the king of Israel and high priest of a rebuilt Temple, which can only be on Temple Mount. For Christian fundamentalists, Jesus Christ's return at the height of the battle of Armageddon, in which forces of the Antichrist clash in Israel with a 200 million-man army from the East, will require a Third Temple from which the Lord will begin a millennial reign. And for Muslims, an Antichrist figure called the Dajal will be a Jew who will lead an all-encompassing war against Islam, which will culminate in the return of Jesus (as a Muslim prophet), the Kaaba, or Sacred Rock in Mecca, transporting itself to Jerusalem, and final judgment in the valley just below the Noble Sanctuary.
"What happens at that one spot, more than anywhere else, quickens expectations of the End in three religions. And at that spot, the danger of provoking catastrophe is greatest," writes Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg in The End of Days, his 2000 book about the apocalyptic struggle over the Temple Mount.
So how does the calf recently born in Israel figure into things? As Gorenberg explains, the ashes of a flawless red heifer — an extremely rare creature — were required by the ancient Hebrews to purify worshipers who went into the Temple to pray. In modern times, rabbinical law forbids Jews from setting foot on the Temple Mount, thus violating the site where the Holy of Holies dwelled, until and unless they are ritually purified. Without a perfect red heifer to sacrifice, the Third Temple cannot be built, and Moshiach — the Messiah — will not come. Writes Gorenberg, "[Israeli] government officials and military leaders could only regard the requirement for the missing heifer as a stroke of sheer good fortune preventing conflict over the Mount."
In 1996, thanks in part to a cattle-breeding program set up in Israel with the help of Texas ranchers who are fundamentalist Christians, a red heifer was born. There was immense excitement among messianists of the Israeli religious Right, and their American Christian counterparts. The world media covered it as a joke, but it wasn't funny to David Landau, columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz. He called the red heifer "a four-legged bomb" that could "set the entire region on fire." Muslim leaders worried about the red heifer too, as they would see an attempt by Jews to take over the Temple Mount as a sign of the Islamic apocalypse.
As it turned out, during the three years of waiting for the heifer to reach the ritually mandated age of sacrifice, white hairs popped out on the tip of her tail. This bovine was, alas, not divine. But now there's a successor, and rabbis who have examined her have declared her ritually acceptable (though she will not be ready for sacrifice for three years). She arrives at a time when Israel is fighting a war for survival with the Palestinians, who are almost entirely Muslim, and a time in which Islam and the West appear to be girding for battle with each other, as Islamic tradition predicts will be the state of the world before the Final Judgment.
"These kinds of circumstances are exactly what people are waiting for," says Richard Landes, a Boston University history professor and director of its Center for Millenial Studies. "We could be starting a war. If this is a real red heifer, and strict Orthodox rabbis have declared her worthy of sacrifice, then a lot of Jews in Israel will take that as a sign that a new phase of history is about to begin. The Muslims are ready for jihad anyway, so if you have Jews up there doing sacrifices, talk about a red flag in front of a charging bull."
Landes says there is immense anger among Israelis, both religious and secular, at the ingratitude of Muslims, whom the conquering Israeli army allowed to occupy and control the Temple Mount in 1967. Add to this the fury of a nation under attack by Islamic suicide bombers, and, says Landes, "it's entirely conceivable that this [red heifer] could trigger a new round of attempts to blow up the Dome of the Rock."
This is something the Israeli security forces have long been vigilant against. But with their attentions drawn elsewhere by the war with the Palestinians, it's possible that a radical group could slip the net. And it's possible that religious extremists elements within the Israeli army could help them.
"This idea is nothing to laugh at," says novelist Robert Stone, whose novel Damascus Gate centers around a similar conspiracy. "There have been at least four actual plots to clear the space where the Temple had stood. Some of them went surprisingly high into the army and police."
Timothy Weber, dean of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Ill., has written extensively about the worldview of apocalypse-minded American Protestants. He tells NRO that "Bible teachers are foaming at the mouth over what's happening now in Israel."
"It really does play into the longstanding scenario that dispensationalists have believed would happen in the End: a growing disdain for Israel, Israel's isolation from the rest of the world, and mounting pressure on the Jewish state," Weber says. "This all leads up to the emergence of an Antichrist, who will step up and bring peace to the situation, and Israel and the world will welcome him as a solution to an apparently unsolvable problem."
The unshakable belief in particular prophetic visions — Jewish, Christian, or Islamic — makes the art of political compromise impossible when it comes to Jerusalem. Says Weber: "There's no way to negotiate these ideas. If you believe that this is in the prophetic cards, that this is history before it happens, that this is how God is going to manipulate events to bring about the final phase of human history, then you cannot negotiate land for peace, or anything else."
Put another way: You don't have to believe that a rust-colored calf could bring about the end of the world — or that 72 black-eyed virgins await the pious Islamic suicide bomber in paradise — but there are many people who do, and are prepared to act on that belief. This is a stubborn reality that eludes many of us in the modern, secular West, particularly those who work in the media, and who are therefore responsible for reporting and explaining the world to the masses.
"Sometimes you look at religion events and you want to laugh out loud, because they're so bizarre," says Terry Mattingly, a syndicated religion columnist and scholar of media and religion at Palm Beach Atlantic College. "If your worldview is essentially materialist, then to be 'real' something has to present itself in a form that makes sense in a laboratory, or on Wall Street, or in the New Hampshire primary, and anything that can't be explained within those templates doesn't count. Thus we can't seem to understand why people behave in ways that don't serve their self-interest."
Boston University's Landes agrees, saying that the American cultural elite tend to disdain religion, when in fact it is a major factor in modern history. "When 9/11 happened, one of the questions people asked were, 'Is it religious, or is it political?' People are more comfortable explaining it as politics. The very fact that people asked that question shows how little they understand," he says.
"Since September 11, we have all been brought to the point of recognizing the pervasive power of religions to shape all kinds of events," Weber adds. "We are dealing with ancient religious convictions and memories, and they are driving forces in the modern world. The secular press just doesn't get it, but it seems to me there's no other way to understand this."
•Story originally published by:
The National Review / USA | Rod Dreher - Apr 11.02
All Copyrights© are acknowledged.
Material reproduced here is for
educational and research purposes only.
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
On behalf of the great state of Illinois, crossroads of a nation, land of Lincoln, let me express my deep gratitude for the privilege of addressing this convention.
Tonight is a particular honor for me because, let's face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack. His father, my grandfather, was a cook, a domestic servant.
But my grandfather had larger dreams for his son. Through hard work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place; America which stood as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before. While studying here, my father met my mother. She was born in a town on the other side of the world, in Kansas.
Her father worked on oil rigs and farms through most of the Depression. The day after Pearl Harbor he signed up for duty, joined Patton's army and marched across Europe. Back home, my grandmother raised their baby and went to work on a bomber assembly line. After the war, they studied on the GI Bill, bought a house through FHA, and moved west in search of opportunity.
And they, too, had big dreams for their daughter, a common dream, born of two continents. My parents shared not only an improbable love; they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or "blessed," believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success.
They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren't rich, because in a generous America you don't have to be rich to achieve your potential. They are both passed away now. Yet, I know that, on this night, they look down on me with pride.
I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage, aware that my parents' dreams live on in my precious daughters. I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on earth, is my story even possible.
Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation, not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy. Our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
That is the true genius of America, a faith in the simple dreams of its people, the insistence on small miracles. That we can tuck in our children at night and know they are fed and clothed and safe from harm. That we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door. That we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe or hiring somebody's son. That we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution, and that our votes will be counted-or at least, most of the time.
This year, in this election, we are called to reaffirm our values and commitments, to hold them against a hard reality and see how we are measuring up, to the legacy of our forbearers, and the promise of future generations.
And fellow Americans—Democrats, Republicans, Independents—I say to you tonight: we have more work to do. More to do for the workers I met in Galesburg, Illinois, who are losing their union jobs at the Maytag plant that's moving to Mexico, and now are having to compete with their own children for jobs that pay seven bucks an hour. More to do for the father I met who was losing his job and choking back tears, wondering how he would pay $4,500 a month for the drugs his son needs without the health benefits he counted on. More to do for the young woman in East St. Louis, and thousands more like her, who has the grades, has the drive, has the will, but doesn't have the money to go to college.
Don't get me wrong. The people I meet in small towns and big cities, in diners and office parks, they don't expect government to solve all their problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead and they want to. Go into the collar counties around Chicago, and people will tell you they don't want their tax money wasted by a welfare agency or the Pentagon.
Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can't teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to parent, that children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white. No, people don't expect government to solve all their problems.
But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. They know we can do better. And they want that choice.
In this election, we offer that choice. Our party has chosen a man to lead us who embodies the best this country has to offer. That man is John Kerry. John Kerry understands the ideals of community, faith, and sacrifice, because they've defined his life. From his heroic service in Vietnam to his years as prosecutor and lieutenant governor, through two decades in the United States Senate, he has devoted himself to this country. Again and again, we've seen him make tough choices when easier ones were available. His values and his record affirm what is best in us.
John Kerry believes in an America where hard work is rewarded. So instead of offering tax breaks to companies shipping jobs overseas, he'll offer them to companies creating jobs here at home. John Kerry believes in an America where all Americans can afford the same health coverage our politicians in Washington have for themselves.
John Kerry believes in energy independence, so we aren't held hostage to the profits of oil companies or the sabotage of foreign oil fields. John Kerry believes in the constitutional freedoms that have made our country the envy of the world, and he will never sacrifice our basic liberties nor use faith as a wedge to divide us. And John Kerry believes that in a dangerous world, war must be an option, but it should never be the first option.
A while back, I met a young man named Shamus at the VFW Hall in East Moline, Illinois. He was a good-looking kid, six-two or six-three, clear eyed, with an easy smile. He told me he'd joined the Marines and was heading to Iraq the following week.
As I listened to him explain why he'd enlisted, his absolute faith in our country and its leaders, his devotion to duty and service, I thought this young man was all any of us might hope for in a child. But then I asked myself: Are we serving Shamus as well as he was serving us? I thought of more than 900 service men and women, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors, who will not be returning to their hometowns.
I thought of families I had met who were struggling to get by without a loved one's full income, or whose loved ones had returned with a limb missing or with nerves shattered, but who still lacked long-term health benefits because they were reservists. When we send our young men and women into harm's way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they're going, to care for their families while they're gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world.
Now let me be clear. We have real enemies in the world. These enemies must be found. They must be pursued and they must be defeated. John Kerry knows this. And just as Lieutenant Kerry did not hesitate to risk his life to protect the men who served with him in Vietnam, President Kerry will not hesitate one moment to use our military might to keep America safe and secure. John Kerry believes in America. And he knows it's not enough for just some of us to prosper. For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga.
A belief that we are connected as one people. If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's that fundamental belief-I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper-that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. "E pluribus unum." Out of many, one.
Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America-there's the United States of America.
There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States.
There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.
In the end, that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope? John Kerry calls on us to hope. John Edwards calls on us to hope. I'm not talking about blind optimism here-the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don't talk about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I'm talking about something more substantial. It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker's son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. The audacity of hope!
In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation; the belief in things not seen; the belief that there are better days ahead. I believe we can give our middle class relief and provide working families with a road to opportunity. I believe we can provide jobs to the jobless, homes to the homeless, and reclaim young people in cities across America from violence and despair. I believe that as we stand on the crossroads of history, we can make the right choices, and meet the challenges that face us. America!
Tonight, if you feel the same energy I do, the same urgency I do, the same passion I do, the same hopefulness I do-if we do what we must do, then I have no doubt that all across the country, from Florida to Oregon, from Washington to Maine, the people will rise up in November, and John Kerry will be sworn in as president, and John Edwards will be sworn in as vice president, and this country will reclaim its promise, and out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come. Thank you and God bless you.
Yoshihiro Tsurumi, an avowed opponent of Bush's current views and policies who was a visiting associate professor of international business at HBS between 1972 and 1976, said Bush was among 85 students he taught one year in a required first-year course. In the class on "Environment Analysis for Management," incorporating elements of macroeconomics, industrial policy and international business, Tsurumi said students discussed and debated case studies for 90 minutes several times a week.
Tsurumi--now a professor of international business at Baruch College in the City University of New York--said he remembers the future president as scoring in the bottom 10 percent of students in the class.
Thirty years after teaching the class, Tsurumi said the twenty-something Bush's statements and behavior--"always very shallow"--still stand out in his mind.
"Whenever [Bush] just bumped into me, he had some flippant statement to make," said Tsurumi when reached at his home in Scarsdale, N.Y. "The comments he made were revealing of his prejudice."
The White House did not reply to requests for comment on Bush's time at HBS.
Tsurumi said he particularly recalls Bush's right-wing extremism at the time, which he said was reflected in off-hand comments equating the New Deal of the 1930s with socialism and the corporation-regulating Securities and Exchange Commission with "an enemy of capitalism."
"I vividly remember that he made a comment saying that people are poor because they're lazy," Tsurumi said.
Tsurumi also said Bush displayed a sense of arrogance about his prominent family, including his father, former U.S. President George H.W. Bush.
"[George W. Bush] didn't stand out as the most promising student, but...he made it sure we understood how well he was connected," Tsurumi said. "He wasn't bashful about how he was being pushed upward by Dad's connections."
Tsurumi said that the younger Bush boasted that his father's political string-pulling had gotten him to the top of the waiting list for the Texas National Guard instead of serving in Vietnam. When other students were frantically scrambling for summer jobs, Tsurumi said, Bush explained that he was planning instead for a visit to his father in Beijing, where the senior Bush was serving at the time as the special U.S. envoy to China.
In addition, Tsurumi is still sore about what he recalls as Bush's slight to his cinematic taste. When he arranged for students to view the film of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath during their study of the Great Depression, Tsurumi said, Bush derided the film as "corny."
At the time, Tsurumi said his worries about his student extended no further than the boardroom.
"All Harvard Business School students want to become president of a company one day," Tsurumi said. "I remember saying, if you become president of a company some day, may God help your customers and employees."
When he discovered that his former pupil was vying for the presidency in 2000, Tsurumi said he tried to inform the public about his experience with the then-Texas governor at HBS--but got few results beyond hate mail.
"Last election time, if you recall, the American mass media did a shameful job of vetting [the presidential candidates]," Tsurumi said.
As another November approaches, Tsurumi is trying again to air his criticisms of the man he once taught and his actions as president.
"This time it seems to be getting around a bit more widely," he said. "After three years of dismal record, people seem more inclined to believe that all his failed leadership was apparent during the Harvard Business School years."
In a July 2 speech to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo, Tsurumi repeated the broadside he has launched repeatedly in the past.
"I always remember two groups of students," Tsurumi said then, according to published reports. "One is the really good students, not only intelligent, but with leadership qualities, courage. The other is the total opposite, unfortunately to which George belonged."
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
H.G. Wells (1866-1946)
"The conversion of Paul was no conversion at all: it was Paul who converted the religion that has raised one man above sin and death into a religion that delivered millions of men so completely into their dominion that their own common nature became a horror to them, and the religious life became a denial of life."
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Excerpts from the keynote address made by Prof. Boswell to the Fourth Biennial Dignity International Convention in 1979.
"Homosexuality," Plato wrote, "is regarded as shameful by barbarians and by those who live under despotic governments just as philosophy is regarded as shameful by them, because it is apparently not in the interest of such rulers to have great ideas engendered in their subjects, or powerful friendships or passionate love-all of which homosexuality is particularly apt to produce." This attitude of Plato's was characteristic of the ancient world, and I want to begin my discussion of the attitudes of the Church and of Western Christianity toward homosexuality by commenting on comparable attitudes among the ancients.
To a very large extent, Western attitudes toward law, religion, literature and government are dependent upon Roman attitudes. This makes it particularly striking that our attitudes toward homosexuality in particular and sexual tolerance in general are so remarkably different from those of the Romans. It is very difficult to convey to modern audiences the indifference of the Romans to questions of gender and gender orientation. The difficulty is due both to the fact that the evidence has been largely consciously obliterated by historians prior to very recent decades, and to the diffusion of the relevant material.
Romans did not consider sexuality or sexual preference a matter of much interest, nor did they treat either in an analytical way. An historian has to gather together thousands of little bits and pieces to demonstrate the general acceptance of homosexuality among the Romans.
One of the few imperial writers who does appear to make some sort of comment on the subject in a general way wrote, "Zeus came as an eagle to godlike Ganymede and as a swan to the fairhaired mother of Helen. One person prefers one gender, another the other, I like both." Plutarch wrote at about the same time, "No sensible person can imagine that the sexes differ in matters of love as they do in matters of clothing. The intelligent lover of beauty will be attracted to beauty in whichever gender he finds it." Roman law and social strictures made absolutely no restrictions on the basis of gender. It has sometimes been claimed that there were laws against homosexual relations in Rome, but it is easy to prove that this was not the case. On the other hand, it is a mistake to imagine that anarchic hedonism ruled at Rome. In fact, Romans did have a complex set of moral strictures designed to protect children from abuse or any citizen from force or duress in sexual relations. Romans were, like other people, sensitive to issues of love and caring, but individual sexual (i.e. gender) choice was completely unlimited. Male prostitution (directed toward other males), for instance, was so common that the taxes on it constituted a major source of revenue for the imperial treasury. It was so profitable that even in later periods when a certain intolerance crept in, the emperors could not bring themselves to end the practice and its attendant revenue.
Gay marriages were also legal and frequent in Rome for both males and females. Even emperors often married other males. There was total acceptance on the part of the populace, as far as it can be determined, of this sort of homosexual attitude and behavior. This total acceptance was not limited to the ruling elite; there is also much popular Roman literature containing gay love stories. The real point I want to make is that there is absolutely no conscious effort on anyone's part in the Roman world, the world in which Christianity was born, to claim that homosexuality was abnormal or undesirable. There is in fact no word for "homosexual" in Latin. "Homosexual" sounds like Latin, but was coined by a German psychologist in the late 1 9th century. No one in the early Roman world seemed to feel that the fact that someone preferred his or her own gender was any more significant than the fact that someone preferred blue eyes or short people. Neither gay nor straight people seemed to associate certain characteristics with sexual preference. Gay men were not thought to be less masculine than straight men and lesbian women were not thought of as less feminine than straight women. Gay people were not thought to be any better or worse than straight people-an attitude which differed both from that of the society that preceded it, since many Greeks thought gay people were inherently better than straight people, and from that of the society which followed it, in which gay people were often thought to be inferior to others.
If this is an accurate picture of the ancient world the social structure from which Western culture is derived-then where did the negative ideas now common regarding homosexuality come from? The most obvious answer to this question, and the one which has most generally been given in the past, is that Christianity is responsible for the change. There is an historical coincidence that seems to lend some credence to this idea- namely that when Christianity appears on the scene that this tolerance spoken of earlier disappears and that general acceptance of homosexuality becomes much less common.
It should be obvious, however, that Christianity alone is not likely to be responsible for this change. (One notes, for instance, that the places in the world today where gay people suffer the most violent oppression happen to be the very places where Christianity is also least welcome.) First of all, I would like to dispose briefly of the notion that the Bible had something to do with Christian attitudes toward gay people. From an historical vantage point, it is easy to do so, but I realize that for people who live by the Bible more must be said about it than what an historian can observe. An historian can simply note that there is no place in the writings of the Early or High Middle Ages where the Bible seems to be the origin of these prejudices against gay people. Where any reason is given for the new hostility. sources other than the Bible are cited. As a matter of fact, from an historical perspective, the Bible would be the last source one would look at after examining growing hostility toward gay people, but so many people have a feeling that the Bible is somehow involved that its teachings on the subject matter must be addressed in detail.
Most serious biblical scholars now recognize that the story of Sodom was probably not intended as any sort of comment on homosexuality. It certainly was not interpreted as a prohibition of homosexuality by most early Christian writers. In the modern world, the idea that the story refers to the sin of inhospitality rather than to sexual failing was first popularized in 1955 in Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition' by D.S. Bailey, and since then has increasingly gained the acceptance of scholars. Modern scholars are a little late: almost all medieval scholars felt the story of Sodom was a story about hospitality. This is indeed, not only the most obvious interpretation of it but also the one given to it in most other biblical passages. It is striking, for example, that although Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned in about two dozen different places in the Bible (other than Genesis 19 where the story is first told), in none of these places is homosexuality associated with the Sodomites.
The only other places that might be adduced from the Old Testament against homosexuality are Deuteronomy 23:17 and Kings 14:24, and-doubtless the best know n places Leviticus 18:20 and 20: 13, where a man's sleeping the asleep of women" with men is labelled ritual impurity for Jews. None of these was cited by early Christians against homosexual behavior. Early Christians had no desire to impose the levitical law on themselves or anyone else. Most nonJewish Christians were in fact appalled by most of the strictures of the Jewish law and were not about to put themselves under what they considered the bondage of the old law. St. Paul says again and again that we must not fall back on the bondage of the old law, and in fact goes so far as to claim that if we are circumcised (the cornerstone of the old law), Christ will profit us nothing. The early Christians were not to bind themselves to the strictures of the old law. The Council of Jerusalem, held around 50 A.D. and recorded in Acts 15, in fact took up this issue specifically and decided that Christians would not be bound by any of the strictures of the old law except for which they list - none of which is related to homosexuality.
In the New Testament we find no citations of Old Testament strictures. We do, however, find three places-I Corinthians 6:9, I Timothy 1:10 and Romans 1:2627which might be relevant. Again, I'll be brief in dealing with these. The Greek word malakos in I Cor. 6:9 and I Tim. 1 :10, which Scholars in the 20th century have deemed to refer to some sort of homosexual behavior, was universally used by Christian writers to refer to masturbation until about the 15th or 16th century. Beginning in the 15th century many people were bothered by the idea that masturbators were excluded from the kingdom of heaven. They did not, however, seem to be too upset by the idea of excluding homosexuals from the kingdom of heaven, so malakos was retranslated to refer to homosexuality instead of masturbation. The texts and words remained the same, but translators just changed their ideas about who should be excluded from the kingdom of heaven.
The remaining passage - Romans 1:26-7 - does not suffer by and large from mistranslation, although you can easily be misled by the phrase "against nature." This phrase was also interpreted differently by the early church. St. John Chrysostom says that St. Paul deprives the people he is discussing of any excuse. observing of their women that "they changed the natural use. No one can claim, Paul points out, that she came to this because she was precluded from lawful intercourse or that because she was unable to satisfy her desire....Only those possessing something can change it. Again he points the same thing out about men but in a different way? saying they 'left the natural use of women.' Likewise, he casts aside with these words every excuse, charging that they not only had legitimate enjoyment and abandoned it, going after another but that spurning the natural, they pursued the unnatural." What Chrysostom is getting at, and he expounds on it at great length, is the idea that St. Paul was not writing about gay people but about heterosexual people, probably married who abandoned the pleasure they were entitled to by virtue of their own natures for one to which they were not entitled. This is reflected in the canons imposing penances for homosexual activity, which through the 16th century were chiefly directed toward married persons. Little is said of single people.
Perhaps the most significant element of the passage is that it introduced into Christian thought the notion that homosexual relations were "against nature." What Paul, however, seems to have meant was unusual not against natural law, as it is so often interpreted The concept of natural law was not fully developed until almost 1,200 years later. All that Paul probably meant to say was that it was unusual that people should have this sort of sexual desire. This is made clear by the fact that in the same epistle in the 11th chapter, God Himself is in fact described as acting "against nature" in saving the Gentiles. It is therefore inconceivable that this phrase connotes moral turpitude.
One may well ask whether the thundering silence on the subject in the New Testament does not indicate something about the attitude of early Christians toward homosexuality? As an historian, I would say no. Most of the literature of this period, especially legal and moral guidance, is silent on the purely affective aspects of human life. In the New Testament Jesus, St. Paul, and the other writers are generally responding to questions regarding social and moral problems posed to them by a predominantly heterosexual society. People asked them questions about divorce, widows, property, etch and they answered these questions. Most of Jesus' moral commentary, especially about sexuality is in response to specific questions put to him. Jesus does not appear to be giving detailed guidelines on all aspects of human life, especially not affective life, but rather to be offering general principles. There is almost no comment anywhere in the Bible about loving your children; there are few comments about friendship; and there is not a single comment about what we know as "romantic love," although this is the basis of modern Christian marriage in our own church as well as the entire Christian community.
There are some reasons for the hostility toward homosexuality which now seem characteristic of the Christian community, and I want to mention them. First of all, I want to dispose of what might seem the most likely primary reason for hostility toward homosexuality-namely, general opposition to non-procreative sexuality. There was indeed on the part of many early Christians a feeling of hostility toward any form of sexuality which was not potentially procreative. This cannot, however, be shown to stem from Christian principles. Among other things, there is not a word within the Old Testament or the New about non-procreative sexuality among married persons, and, indeed, most Jewish commentators have agreed that anything was licit between husband and wife. It is a well-established principle in several social science disciplines that there is, however, a classrelated prejudice against non-procreative sexual acts, and one would expect to find this among lower class Christians as among any lower class group of the society. Among theologians, explicit rejection of all non-procreative sexuality, does not relate directly to attitudes toward gay people. The theologians of the early church were attempting to impress on all Christians that they had to see every act of heterosexual intercourse as the potential creation of a child. No effective means of birth control was known in this world (except for abstinence)-not even the rhythm method. The only way to avoid having children was to kill or abandon them. Theologians therefore wished to persuade Christian parents that they had to be responsible for the creation of a child every time they had sexual pleasure. The only other alternatives in their world-the world in which the early theology of the church was formulated-were morally unacceptable. Now the original aim of this approach, it appears, was only to protect children. It was not to attack homosexuality. Indeed, it was a very long time before this notion spilled over into homosexuality, but it eventually did.
As late as the eleventh and twelfth centuries, there appears to be no conflict between a Christian life and homosexuality. Gay life is everywhere in the art, poetry, music, history, etc. of the 11th and 12th centuries. The most popular literature of the day even heterosexual literature, is about samesex lovers of one sort or another. Clerics were at the forefront of this revival of the gay culture. St. Aelred, for instance, writes of his youth as a time when he thought of nothing but loving and being loved by men. He became a Cistercian abbot, and incorporated his love for men into his Christian life by encouraging monks to love each other, not just generally, but individually and passionately He cited the example of Jesus and St. John as guidance for this. 'Jesus himself," he said, "in everything like us. patient and compassionate with others in every matter, Transfigured this sort of love through the expression of his own love. for he allowed only one - not al l- to recline on his breast as a sign of his special love; and the closer they were, the more copiously did the secrets of their heavenly marriage impart the sweet smell of their spiritual chrism to their love."
After the twelfth century Christian tolerance and acceptance of gay love seems to disappear with remarkable rapidity. The writings of St. Aelred disappeared because they were kept locked up in Cistercian monasteries until about eight years ago, when for the first time Cistercians could again read them. Beginning about 1150, for reasons I cannot adequately explain, there was a great upsurge in popular intolerance of gay people. There were also at this time violent outbursts against Jews, Muslims, and witches. Women were suddenly excluded from power structures to which they had previously had access-no longer able, for example, to attend universities in which they had previously been enrolled. double monasteries for men and women were closed. There was suspicion of everyone. In 1 180 the Jews were expelled from France.
The change was rapid. In England in the 12th century there were no laws against Jews and they occupied prominent positions, but by the end of the 13th century, sleeping with a Jew was equated with sleeping with an animal or with murder, and in France Jews, according to St. Louis, were to be killed on the spot if they questioned the Christian faith. During this time there are many popular diatribes against gay people as well, suggesting that they molest children, violate natural law, are bestial? and bring harm to nations which tolerate them. Within a single century. between the period of 1250 and 1350, almost every European state passed civil laws demanding death for a single homosexual act. This popular reaction affected Christian theology a great deal. Throughout the 12th century homosexual relations, had, at worst, been comparable to heterosexual fornication for married people, and, at best, not sinful at all. During the 13th century, because of this popular reaction, writers like Thomas Aquinas tried to portray homosexuality as one of the very worst sins, second only to murder.
It is very difficult to describe how this came about. St. Thomas tried to show that homosexuality was opposed to nature in some way, the most familiar objection being that nature created sexuality for procreation and using it for any other purpose would violate nature. Aquinas was much too smart for this argument. In the Summa Contra Gentiles he asks, "Is it sinful to walk on your hands when nature intended them for something else?" No, indeed it is not sinful, so he shifted ground. This is obviously not the reason that homosexuality is sinful; he looks for another. First he tried arguing that homosexuality must be sinful because it impedes the reproduction of the human race. But this argument also failed, for, Aquinas noted in the Summa Theologica, "a duty may be of two sorts: it may be enjoined on the individual as a duty which cannot be ignored without sin, or it may be enjoined upon a group. In the latter cases no one individual is obligated to fulfill the duty. The commandment regarding procreation applies to the human race as a whole! which is obligated to increase physically. It is therefore sufficient for the race if some people undertake to reproduce physically." Moreover, Aquinas admitted in the Summa Theologica that homosexuality was absolutely natural to certain individuals and therefore inculpable. In what sense, then, could he argue that it was unnatural? In a third place he concedes that the term "natural" in fact has no moral significance, but it is simply a term applied to things which are strongly disapproved of. "Homosexuality," he says, "is called 'the unnatural vice' by the common people, and hence it may be said to be unnatural." This was not an invention of Aquinas'. It was a response to popular prejudices of the time. It did not derive its authority from the Bible or from any previous tradition of Christian morality, but it eventually became part of Catholic theological thought. These attitudes have remained basically unchanged because there has been no popular support for change in the matter. The public has continued to feel hostility to gay people and the church has been under no pressure to reexamine the origins of its teachings on homosexuality.
It is possible to change ecclesiastical attitudes toward gay people and their sexuality because the objections to homosexuality are not biblical, they are not consistent, they are not part of Jesus' teaching; and they are not even fundamentally Christian. It is possible because Christianity was indifferent, if not accepting, of gay people and their feelings for a longer period of time than it had been hostile to them. It is possible because the founders of the religion specifically considered love to transcend accidents of biology and to be the end, not the means. It may not be possible to eradicate intolerance from secular society, for intolerance is, to some extent ineradicable; but I believe the church's attitude can and must be changed. It has been different in the past and it can be again. Plato observed of secular society nearly 2,400 years ago that "wherever it has been established that it is shameful to be involved in homosexual relationships, this is due to evil on the part of the legislatures, to despotism on the part of the rulers and to cowardism on the part of the governed."
I don't think we can afford to be cowardly. We have an abundance of ecclesiastical precedent to encourage the church to adopt a more positive attitude. We must use it. As a gay archbishop wrote in the 12th century, "it is not we who teach God how to love, but He who taught us. He made our natures full of love." A contemporary of his wrote, "Love is not a crime. If it were wrong to love, God would not have bound even the divine to love." These statements came from the Christian community, from Christian faith. That community can and must be reminded of its former beliefs, its former acceptance. And we must do the reminding.