Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Hidden Columnists
19 October Edition

Thomas Friedman has a very interesting column hidden behind the NYTimes Times Select firewall today (if you have access, here's the link). It begins:

A delegation of Iraqi judges and journalists abruptly left the U.S. today, cutting short its visit to study the workings of American democracy. A delegation spokesman said the Iraqis were "bewildered" by some of the behavior of the Bush administration and felt it was best to limit their exposure to the U.S. system at this time, when Iraq is taking its first baby steps toward democracy.

The lead Iraqi delegate, Muhammad Mithaqi, a noted secular Sunni judge who had recently survived an assassination attempt by Islamist radicals, said that he was stunned when he heard President Bush telling Republicans that one reason they should support Harriet Miers for the U.S. Supreme Court was because of "her religion." She is described as a devout evangelical Christian.

Mithaqi said that after two years of being lectured to by U.S. diplomats in Baghdad about the need to separate "mosque from state" in the new Iraq, he was also floored to read that the former Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, now a law school dean, said on the radio show of the conservative James Dobson that Miers deserved support because she was "a very, very strong Christian [who] should be a source of great comfort and assistance to people in the households of faith around the country."

"Now let me get this straight," Judge Mithaqi said. "You are lecturing us about keeping religion out of politics, and then your own president and conservative legal scholars go and tell your public to endorse Miers as a Supreme Court justice because she is an evangelical Christian.

"How would you feel if you picked up your newspapers next week and read that the president of Iraq justified the appointment of an Iraqi Supreme Court justice by telling Iraqis: 'Don't pay attention to his lack of legal expertise. Pay attention to the fact that he is a Muslim fundamentalist and prays at a Saudi-funded Wahhabi mosque.' Is that the Iraq you sent your sons to build and to die for? I don't think so. We can't have our people exposed to such talk."

Wow. Why didn't I catch that in the news before? Oh... I done been suckered:
(Yes, all of this is a fake news story. I just wish that it weren't so true.)
Still, it's a very good point--who are we to demand such a secularized government and constitution when our own mullahs (of the religious and talking head kind) are screaming for more god and religious piety in our own government? And why is this happening in the first place?

OK, I'm not much of a church-goer (Mrs. F likes to call me a heathen, and I relish that term; I think I've even found a theme song courtesy of Franz Ferdinand's new album—I'm Evil and a Heathen; link opens iTunes Music Store sample in iTunes). And I don't call myself a Christian, but I subscribe to the basic tenets of its religious philosophy, especially on the subject of social justice (much of which I have been endowed with by my Mother, who currently leads Saint Andrews Cathedral in Honolulu as Dean), which is also a centerpiece of the vibrant community of Mrs. F's church, the UCC/DoC All Pilgrims that's full o' good folk and brimming with progressive notions about equality, peace, and poverty.

So while I don't call myself a Christian, I have a stake in what Christianity means in our nation. I'd been meaning to point out this week-or-so-old Salon opinion piece about rescuing Jesus from the clutches of BushCo and the mullahs, and now it's just ripe for the picking. Here's the crux of the piece:

The American Christian right has hijacked Jesus Christ. It has made him into a brand, a logo, a bumper sticker. It celebrates his suffering on the cross, but largely neglects what he had to say. It prefers an Old Testament God, a "Jealous God, visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children." It elevates success to proof of God's favor, and washes its hands of responsibility for the poor. It combines a self-righteous vision of Americans as the chosen people with shrill intimations of imminent apocalypse, to justify indifference to the rest of the world and to the planet itself. It sticks to the letter of the Bible with arbitrary selectiveness, so that it can endorse creationism and condemn homosexuality while acknowledging that (contrary to Old Testament wisdom) the earth is in fact round, and slavery is not OK.

It's a twisted, schizophrenic form of religion that mirrors the most reactionary form of Islam. (Not by chance, both the Christian right and conservative Muslims are at odds with women's rights, and fiercely homophobic.)

A lot can be said about the theological fallacies and over-simplifications of the Christian right. Take the way it reads the Commandments. What, for example, does "not to take the Lord's name in vain" mean? Is it a prohibition against using the word "God" in casual conversation? Or does it forbid Christians from going to war in the name of God? And what about "love thy neighbor"? Does it refer to the guy next door, who shares our tax bracket? Or is it about all of our fellow humans, whether similar or different? In fact, is it not an exhortation to love precisely those who are different?
[...]

To hold a president (or a justice) up to such a high standard as the teachings of Jesus would be unfair, if it weren't the president himself who claimed to act in Jesus' name. It's time for Bush, the Republican Party and the Christian right to be confronted with their failings as Christians. If there is a worthy measure of anybody's religious commitment, it has to be how it's expressed in action. It's not how you talk the talk that makes you a true Christian. It's the deeds you do -- and those you don't.

Liberals have let the right claim Jesus for themselves. But the legacy of Christ is far too precious to be left in the hands of the hypocrites who use it to justify war, bigotry and injustice. It is time to reclaim Jesus -- not to start another religious party, but to free him from the one that's hogging him as their poster child. It's time not just to ask "what would Jesus do?" but to actually listen to the answer.

It's about poverty. It's about peace. No true Christian can have anything more important in mind.


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