Tuesday, June 14, 2005


The long-awaited and strangely tardy autopsy report on Terri Schiavo will be released tomorrow, Wednesday, June 15th, according to the Washington Post.

We'll be surprised if there's anything in it that settles any of the big questions in dispute, chiefly the question whether Michael, her husband, abused her and perhaps caused the heart attack which led to her subsequent brain damage. Even so, we'll be interested to see what the coroner reports.

Sappy Nonsense

The Reverend Dr. N. Graham Standish offers a sterling illustration of how not to try to make your case. Along the way he employs several dubious tactics taken, no doubt, from Liberalism's manual on how to engage in political argumentation. He writes:

If you are a Christian, how should you vote, Republican or Democrat?

As a seminary student in the 1980s, the choice seemed clear, at least for many of my classmates. We could not be Christian and Republican. We especially could not be Christian and vote for Ronald Reagan. The only choice was to be a Democrat. You can imagine that I felt a bit odd being a registered Republican who happened to vote for Ronald Reagan ... twice. Apparently I wasn't much of a Christian back then.

How time changes everything. Today, Christians all over the country, in print and on conservative talk radio, suggest that the only political option for Christians is to be Republican. During the last election, churches nationwide urged their members, and Christians their friends, to vote for George W. Bush. They simultaneously attacked John Kerry's faith, suggesting that he should be barred from Roman Catholic communion because of his political beliefs. Apparently, to be a Christian now means to be a Republican.

This last sentence is disingenuous. It was Catholic bishops who determined that Kerry's position on abortion was outside the teaching of the Church and should therefore disqualify him to receive the sacrament. Does the Reverend Standish hold that the bishops should not be making such determinations? Moreover, to conclude from the fact that Kerry's pro-choice stance is not Catholic that therefore only Republicans can be Christians is a non-sequitur unless the Reverend believes that only Republicans can be pro-life and that only pro-lifers can be Christian.

Ironically, I left the Republican Party in 1992 and registered as an independent precisely because I sensed the Republican Party slipping away from the Christianity to which I had committed my life. Why? Among other things, I could no longer abide the Republican-sanctioned, Lee Atwater-orchestrated style of politics in which politicians attack, denigrate, eviscerate and even falsely accuse each other. This was a style of politics that became a mainstay of the 1988 elections and remains a staple of politics today. It skirts the issues in favor of assailing the character of the enemy.

These are charges frequently made but rarely supported. Exactly how have Republicans been involved in the type of campaigning where they "attack, denigrate, eviscerate and even falsely accuse" their opponents. Can the Reverend give us some examples?

This attack-and-accuse style of politics has grown fiercer over the years, yet it conflicts with a Christian Gospel that says "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who persecute you," and to "be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing one another in love."

For a time I considered joining the Democratic Party, but they seemed to have little interest in people of faith, and my leanings are still more Republican than Democrat. I still share many of the Republican economic and social beliefs, but I'm left in a quandary, and I'm not alone.

Note that he doesn't balk at joining the Democrats because they, too, engage in dirty politics. The Democratic slanders of Bush's judicial nominees, the complete smearing of their characters, apparently doesn't faze the good parson.

There are millions of Christians who lean Republican, but have found that the Christianity of the Republican Party is a strand of Christianity that promotes a narrow Gospel, while ignoring much of what Christianity has always taught about caring for the poor, the virtues of sacrificing self for the welfare of others, and the need for humility, compassion and peace.

The "Christianity of the Republican Party"? Does the party have an official religion? The claim that Christians who are Republicans don't care for the poor, or sacrifice for others, and are not humble or compassionate is just plain stupid. Where is the evidence for such an incredibly arrogant and malicious claim? Were Republican Christians hesitant to give to tsunami relief last December? Has President Bush been niggardly in his commitments to solving the problems of the poor in Africa and the Middle East? How have the Democrats shown significantly greater levels of compassion and sacrifice than Republicans have? Dr. Standish declines to tell us.

Too many Republican Party leaders have aligned themselves with a fundamentalist brand of Protestant Christianity characterized by black-and-white, us-versus-them perspectives: we're saved, you're not; we're right, you're wrong; we conservatives are right and virtuous, you liberals are wrong and sinful.

Listen to Howard Dean the Chairman of the Democratic party: "I hate the Republican party and everything it stands for." Has anyone ever heard a Republican of high office ever say anything remotely close to something like this about his political opposition. Dean also claimed that the Republican party is the party of white Christians so presumably among the objects of his loathing are white Christians. He has also called Republicans "liars", "evil", "corrupt", and "brain-dead."

Hillary Clinton asserts that Republicans are "intent on abusing power, destroying the United states senate, and undermining our constitution." She didn't say that this would be the inadvertent consequence of Republican policies. No, that would have been too temperate. She said that Republicans were intent upon these goals. I.e. they deliberately intended to accomplish them.

Al Gore accused George Bush of having "betrayed this country", of having deliberately mislead us into a war that has claimed thousands of lives. This is an incredibly irresponsible and mean-spirited allegation unless Mr. Gore has some proof which, of course, he does not.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, while addressing an assembly of schoolchildren, called their president "a loser".

About these examples of Liberal rhetoric, which are probably fewer than a tenth of the examples which could be cited, the Reverend has nothing to say. He's either deaf to them or he's willfully unconcerned about them. Neither possibility is very flattering.

This kind of thinking bleeds into their political rhetoric as they assert a kind of divine mandate for proposed programs and platforms. The Republican Party has been guided in this way of politicking by fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, Rick Scarborough of the Patriot Pastors Network and James Dobson of Focus on the Family, among others, who have an agenda to make the United States a so-called "Christian" nation, with little room for Christians like me with different perspectives. Many of them call themselves evangelicals, despite the fact that the evangelical viewpoint actually is much broader and allows for much more diversity of opinion and belief.

What does the Reverend Standish mean when he states that these men are seeking to make the United States a Christian nation? He doesn't say. How does he know there'd be little room for Christians like him in such a nation if he doesn't even know what sort of nation it is that these men envision? Is it Christian to just throw out an accusation like this and not support it?

Fundamentalism isn't restricted to American politics. Religious fundamentalism has a grip on much of the world. We are in an international struggle against fundamentalist Muslim terrorists who want to create truly "Muslim" nations to counteract a modern world that has strayed too far from the Quran. Israel struggles to appease Jewish fundamentalists who believe that abandoning settlements in the West Bank erodes Israel's divine rights as a "Jewish" nation. Even the Roman Catholic Church is grappling with its own fundamentalists who want to return the church to its pre-Vatican II days.

Why do so many non-fundamentalist Christians follow fundamentalist agendas, especially when it comes to politics? One answer is that influential fundamentalists have learned to articulate rigid beliefs in a moderate and compelling language that softens the hardness of their position.

This is bad? I thought he wanted politicos to be conciliatory and gentle in their disputes. Doesn't the Reverend think it a good thing that disputants soften their rhetoric? Apparently not. The only good thing the other side can do, in his way of thinking, is abandon the principles they hold with which he disagrees.

For example, in Kansas fundamentalists have put their weight behind a proposal that "intelligent design" be taught in biology classes. Intelligent design is an idea that sounds very much like what the Roman Catholic Church and most mainline Protestant churches worldwide believe: that while evolution may be the mechanism of creation, God is the architect, engineer and project manager. Fundamentalists hope that the teaching of "intelligent design" in schools will take them one step closer to barring the teaching of evolution in schools. What they don't reveal is their belief that there is only one truth: their religious truth. There is little room for thinking that integrates the insights of both religion and science.

This is another libel. The moral and upright Rev. Doctor Standish has no grounds for his allegation that Intelligent Design supporters want to get evolution banned from schools. Everything they've said on the matter indicates otherwise. Perhaps, though, this is Standish's reasoning: Conservative Christians are liars. Conservative Christians deny any intent to ban evolution. Therefore, conservative Christians will ban evolution. How perspicuous of Rev. Standish to discern the subtle and insidious malice in conservative rhetoric. Of course, he can't come out and make his case this explicitly because then he'd be guilty of the kind of politics which employs the tactics of "attack, denigrate, eviscerate and even falsely accuse" that he condemns above. So he couches the whole smear in innuendo and implication.

Fundamentalists have also learned to employ an issue-reduction strategy using people and their stories to oversimplify complex issues in order to promote a fundamentalist ideology.

The Terry Schiavo case was a great example of this. Fundamentalists who heavily influence the Republican Party used her to reframe the issue of euthanasia by reducing it to a portrayal of a virtuous family trying to keep a disabled (they refused to call her comatose) woman alive, while her evil husband tried to kill her. They prompted the media and Republican rhetoric with all sorts of unsubstantiated accusations that Michael Schiavo was a greedy and abusive husband who wanted to kill Terry for his own personal gain. In doing so, they reduced the larger issue of euthanasia to a simple equation they hoped all would agree with: extending life is virtuous, while euthanasia is evil.

Well, the Reverend is a master of the "unsubstantiated allegation" so he probably knows one when he sees one, but even so, the allegations against Michael Schiavo were hardly unsubstantiated. They were borne out by several eyewitnesses to his attitude toward his wife. It is odd, too, that the Reverend chose this example. Saving Terri Schiavo was hardly a cause championed solely by "fundamentalists". It was embraced by most of the Roman Catholic Church, including the Pope, Jesse Jackson, and atheist libertarians Nat Hentoff and Christopher Hitchens. Perhaps Standish just wasn't paying very close attention.

What they didn't expect was that the majority of Americans, especially mainstream Christians, many of whom have grappled with end-of-life issues in their own families, believe that this issue is not so simple. They also never proposed an alternative Christian suggestion, one that is very much in keeping with the biblical mandate to make "every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." What would have happened if Christians had encouraged this traumatized and divided family to seek reconciliation and to prayerfully discern an answer together? What if Republican politicians had united all of us behind this kind of solution rather than reducing the issue to a divisive one of good versus evil?

This is sappy nonsense. The Schindler family wasn't divided. They were firmly united against the machinations of Terri's husband to have her life ended for what they believed were self-interested reasons. If they were right, then it was indeed an issue of good versus evil. Does Standish have some sort of inside knowledge into the matter that proves that the Schindlers were wrong? If so, he should state it. If not, then he sounds every bit as judgmental of those who felt that this was an unjust taking of a human life as the fundamentalists he's so fond of deprecating.

Isn't it odd, by the way, that Standish, after having criticized the Republicans earlier for not caring enough about the weak and the helpless, for not having enough compassion, now criticizes them for having too much? He seems to be a very confused man.

This current mixture of Christianity and politics is troublesome because the more religion identifies with a particular political movement, the more that movement erodes religion. Politics, by its very nature, is a realm that is often tainted by pride and a desire for power that can bring out the worst in humans because the pursuit of power corrupts. It's for this reason that Jesus said we should render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and render unto God that which is God's. Mixing politics and religion causes too many people to confuse Caesar's empire with God's kingdom.

Reverend Standish says something sensible here. Now we shall look forward to his protests when Democrats start showing up in black churches, as they always do, to preach the political gospel of good Democrats versus evil Republicans next campaign season. We're sure he'll have a sharp eye out for these illicit marriages of politics to religion.

Religion does have a place in political discourse, yet Christians need to be sure they don't confuse a politically expedient position with God's position. God's position is often unclear, especially in many of the gray areas of life. Presenting one political party as "the Christian party" is particularly troublesome because distilling religious faith down to political terms drains religion of its ability to lead people to move beyond a politics of self-interest.

Party affiliation doesn't make a person a Christian. There are millions of Christians who serve Christ faithfully as members of both major political parties; for each party represents particular concerns of Christianity, but neither captures them entirely. The Republicans are not the Christian party, even if millions of Christians are Republicans.

Of course Republicans never claimed to be the Christian party. It is their opponents, like Howard Dean, who keep making that claim in an attempt to somehow discredit Republicans among secular-minded people.

I believe that those of us who are Christian and take politics seriously need to resist the tendency to align our beliefs too strongly with any particular political movement.

Christians need to find a way to take the Gospel seriously, while simultaneously avoiding the assumption that one political party can embody the concerns of our faith. And if we are true to our faith, we need to embrace a political stance that expects politicians to seek solutions in line with our beliefs, and in a way that seeks unity rather than division.

Liberals like Standish have a test for whether the behaviour of politicians conduces to "unity rather than division." It is this: If politicians hold to principle and refuse to yield to the demands of their opposition then they are divisive. If they fail to come around to the way of thinking approved by such luminaries as Reverend Standish then they are divisive. If they believe that there is good and there is evil, and that evil should be opposed, then they are divisive. And, above all, if they are conservative, then they are divisive.

Perhaps it is time to expect more from Republican and Democratic politicians, demanding that if they proclaim a Christian mantle, they begin acting with Christian regard for others, even their enemies, even each other.

Even for Terri Schiavo?

The Reverend Doctor N. Graham Standish nicely illustrates the Left's favored mode of political polemic: Make accusations but offer no supporting evidence. Accuse your target of heinous behavior but give no examples. Misrepresent them whenever possible. Claim the moral high ground but offer no justification for placing yourself there.

Perhaps, to quote the Reverend, it is time to "expect more from our [clergy], demanding that if they proclaim a Christian mantle, they begin acting with Christian regard for others, even their enemies, even each other."

The Nutty Professor

The United States isn't the only country afflicted with history professors on leave from the local asylum. Read this interview with Egyptian History professor Zaynab Abd Al-Aziz on Saudi television to get a sense for how detached some people are from any semblance of reality:

Abd Al-Aziz: "The decision to impose one religion over the entire world was made in the Second Vatican Council in 1965."

Host: "Huh?"

Abd Al-Aziz: "Yes. A long time ago."

Host: "They decided to Christianize the world?"

Abd Al-Aziz: "Yes. The decisions of the 1965 Vatican Council included, first of all, absolving the Jews of the blood of Christ. This decision is well known and was the basis for the recognition of the occupying Zionist entity - Israel. The second decision was to eradicate the left in the eighties. I believe we've all witnessed this. The third decision was to eradicate Islam, so that the world would be Christianized by the third millennium."

Host: "Why is America hostile to Islam, although we never had and never will have the same conflict with them we had with Europe?"

Abd Al-Aziz: "Well, do you remember what we just said about the Second Vatican Council in 1965 and about Christianizing the world? It was agreed upon and pre-arranged. John Paul II prepared a five-year plan, on the eve of the third millennium, Christianize the world. His address in 1995 was based on the assumption that by the year 2000, the entire world would be Christianized. Since the plan was not accomplished, the World Council of Churches assigned this mission to the US in January 2001, since the US is the world's unrivaled military power. They named the decade between 2001-2010 "the age of eradicating evil" - "evil" referring to Islam and Muslims.

"The Crusader war is ongoing, because it has been a religious war since the dawn of Islam. Later, colonialism, missionaries, and Christianization were introduced. The Crusader war is ongoing. The Inquisition courts exist to this day. As I told you, the pope who was appointed a few days ago, headed the Inquisition Court, which is now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"When in January 2001, the World Council of Churches delegated this mission to the US - what did the US do? It fabricated the show of... is it September 9 or 11?"

Host: "11. Please explain this to me."

Abd Al-Aziz: "Yes, of course..."

Host: "You mean to say that the World Council of Churches delegated the mission of Christianizing of the world to the US."

Abd Al-Aziz: "Yes. And how could the US win legitimacy for this without anyone saying that they are perpetrating massacres and waging a Crusader war? It fabricated the 9/11 show. I call it a fabrication because much has been written on this. We are also to blame. Why do we accept a single perspective? Countless books were written, some of which were even translated into Arabic, like Thierry Meyssan's 9/11 - The Appalling Fraud [2] and Pentagate. "Pentagate" like Watergate... He brings documents to prove that the method used in destroying the three (sic) towers was "controlled demolition.

"This is an architectural engineering theory, which was invented by the Americans. They teach it in their universities. They make movies and documentaries about it. They incorporated it in movie scenarios and then carried it out in real life. Why do we accept this?"

Host: "My God, doctor. This is unbelievable! You're saying that this destruction..."

Abd Al-Aziz: "...was a controlled demolition. The building collapsed in its place, without hitting a single building to its left or right. The three towers fell in place."

Host: "In the same method they use in movies and plays?"

Abd Al-Aziz: "Yes, Exactly like that. That is how the US won international legitimacy. You could sense the (9/11) operation was pre-planned because many things were revealed in the days that followed. For example 4,000 Jews caught influenza on that exact day. They set a timer, and all 4,000..."

Host: "By God, you crack me up! They all set a timer and got influenza on the same day. So the building was completely empty of Jews."

Abd Al-Aziz: "Much has been written about this. 150 Congressmen demanded an inquiry."

We have to give credit to the host of this show for not taking his guest seriously. Let's hope that there's no fatwah issued against him by the mullahs to punish him for his insolence.

The host's obvious amusement causes us to try to imagine how much fun it would be to be able to sit in on an international conclave of history professors with speakers like this guy, Ward Churchill, and other inmates from the state hospital for the psychologically dysfunctional holding forth. It'd be a real hoot.