Friday, March 28, 2008

The Wright Stuff

What an original fellow I am! I bet nobody's thought to use that title for a blog post lately ... just as I'm sure I was the first person to type the words "so it goes" after the death of Kurt Vonnegut last year. No doubt, no doubt.

Obviously, all right-thinking folk are supposed to have their enthusiasm for Sen. Obama curtailed by all the last few weeks' simulated outrage over the utterances of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Finally, the propaganda machine has done its work -- even I now think worse of Sen. Obama than I did before. Of course, my case is hardly typical: I wasn't going to vote for him in the first place, and I still have no such plans, so ... so what? And my reasons for thinking less well of Candidate Obama also differ from what they're supposed to be. The Youthful Senator has disappointed me by pandering to the propagandists; I hope the Rev. Mr. Wright is enjoying his quick trip to the underside of the bus, courtesy of the apologetic Sen. Obama. Check it out:
Sen. Barack Obama says in an interview scheduled to air on TV Friday that he would have left his church if his pastor had not retired and had not acknowledged making comments that "deeply offended people."

Obama talked about the dispute as it continued to brew over some of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons and comments, which many viewed as anti-American and racist toward whites.
Of course, I shouldn't be too quick in my evaluation of Sen. Obama's statements; context is everything, and there's been no shortage of slanted, agenda-driven "journalism." But let's have a look at the fresh, new, piping-hot outrages from the Rev. Mr. Wright:
Bulletins from Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ in 2007 include comments -- reprinted from other sources -- that maintain South Africa and Israel worked on "an ethnic bomb that kills blacks and Arabs." They also quote a historian who said that "what the Zionist Jews did to the Palestinians is worse than what the Nazis did to the Jews."
Hmmmm ... ethnic bomb. That's very likely false; how's it supposed to work, anyway? And, of course, absolutely nothing can be worse -- or even a tenth as bad -- as what the Nazis did to the Jews; that's an unquestioned axiom of our civic faith. But something else I notice here: both these juicy tidbits came from other sources -- which aren't named! It's difficult to believe that our intrepid journalists do not know, or could not discover, who or what those sources were. Who is this "historian" -- does he or she not have a name? Why aren't we told? Could it be ... and this is, ha ha ha ha, purely a hypothetical, hee hee hee ... that naming the sources or supplying context might have, uhhhh, detracted from the delicious shock value here?

Naaaah. Couldn't be.

Tell you what, though ... let's dig down further in the story. I want some more powerful & juicy outrages. I mean, I live for this stuff. Let's see ... blah, blah, blah ... Mark Halperin of Time magazine told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Thursday night,, yeah, yeah, right-right-right ... oh! Here it is:
One of the church bulletins that came to the fore Thursday, from July 22, 2007, includes an article by Mousa Abu Marzook, deputy of the political bureau of Hamas. "Why should anyone concede Israel's 'right' to exist?" he wrote.

Another bulletin, from June 10, 2007, contains on the "Pastor's Page" an "Open Letter to Oprah" by Ali Baghdadi, an Arab-American activist. He refers to "Israeli death squads" in a letter urging Oprah Winfrey to explore Palestinian suffering on a trip to the Middle East.

"Arnold Toynbee, the world-renowned historian, stated that what the Zionist Jews did to the Palestinians is worse than what the Nazis did to the Jews, because, as he stated, Jews should have learned from their tragic experience," Baghdadi wrote.
Well! If we dig far enough, down there where most folks (with less appetite for outrage than we have) wouldn't have read to, we find out who the Mystery Historian is: Toynbee! One of those world-renowned guys, very respectable, don't ya know. And with a little context, that isn't nearly so good a killer soundbite, is it? (Good thing the context and ID were pretty much buried.) And as for this "Baghdadi" guy (real towelhead name, right?): to refer to "Israeli death squads" is pretty outrageous, I guess ... I suppose ... I mean, all those dead Palestinians were ... well, I mean, they probably had really unhealthy lifestyles. I mean, we know Israelis didn't kill them. And anyway, they had it coming, dammit.

And that Hamas guy ... asking why anyone should concede Israel's "right to exist?" There might be some context for that question, too; maybe he went on to say as a "Jewish state." Fortunately, we are spared whatever context there was. As it happens, that seems to me to be a fair question, or at least an askable one. Unlike Sen. Obama, though, I have yet to grovel at AIPAC's feet. Of course, since I lack any shred of significance, AIPAC can afford to overlook my omission. Sen. Obama's a different story altogether.

I can go this far with Sen. Clinton: the Rev. Mr. Wright wouldn't be my pastor, either. In my case, this would be fully automatic, since I would also never be affiliated with the train wreck that is the United Church of Christ (three falsehoods in a four-word title: impressive!). But the hatred of Rev. Wright that's being whipped up by both the Clinton and GOP smear machines is entirely misdirected. Much of what he's said that we're supposed to hate him for is simply true -- not that truth has ever been much of an excuse in American politics. As William N. Grigg, one of the few who (forgive me!) got Wright right, wrote:
Jeremiah was a defeatist.

No, I'm not referring to Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, the much-execrated former Pastor of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ. I'm referring to the Hebrew prophet for whom Rev. Wright was named.

For about a quarter-century, Jeremiah made himself notorious in Jerusalem for loudly and unapologetically denouncing its religious and civic corruption: "... from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely." (Jer. 6:13, NKJV).

The City's inhabitants had come to trust entirely "in lying words that cannot profit." Those were seductive deceptions, all the more alluring because they were clothed in diaphanous robes of piety, giving them license to "steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely," commit idolatry of various kinds, and then take comfort in the conceit that they were God's Chosen People in His Chosen City. Yet Jeremiah's prophetic message was one of irrepressible divine judgment, with the Lord repeatedly posing the rhetorical question, "Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?" (See 5:9, 5:29, 9:9).

Not content merely to speak the message he had been given, Jeremiah chose to act it out as well, walking through the streets of Jerusalem wearing a yoke to symbolize the impending conquest of the City by Babylon and subsequent captivity.

This did nothing to enhance Jeremiah's social standing, of course. (See 20:7-10.) He suffered relentless ridicule, arrest, and mistreatment of various kinds, such as being imprisoned in a miry pit.

But this is only to be expected: shouldn't Jeremiah have knelt in abject gratitude every day for the singular blessing of being born in the greatest community in the world? Why couldn't he find something positive to say about the Holy City and its inspired rulers? How dare he undermine civic morale, thereby emboldening Jerusalem's implacable enemies!

After the first Babylonian assault on the City, Jeremiah was thrown in prison as punishment for his "defeatist" talk -- specifically, his prophecy that the Babylonians would come back and finish the job.

He was still imprisoned when that prophecy was fulfilled. The Babylonians freed him, and some traditions claim that Jeremiah wound up in Egypt, where he was murdered in his dotage by former fellow citizens of Jerusalem who had never forgiven him for bearing prophetic witness against the City's evils.

What got Jeremiah killed -- if the tradition averted to above is true -- was his disdain for Jerusalem's Civil Religion. His anti-social insistence on telling the truth, as God inspired him to understand it, about the evil of the government that ruled him, and the people who sustained that government and permitted it to lead them to destruction, was what provoked people to kill him.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright has on occasion displayed a gift for anti-social truth-telling. His notorious and much-misrepresented post-9/11 sermon did not minimize the horror inflicted on our nation that day, or the blood guilt of those responsible for the atrocities.

Speaking with commendable courage and mesmerizing passion, Wright described the long train of abuses and outrages committed by the government that rules us -- from the Trail of Tears through Hiroshima and Nagasaki, from Wounded Knee to the first Gulf War -- and asserted that the criminal violence of our rulers did much to sow and nourish what we harvested on that terrible Tuesday morning.
And ...
What I find most interesting about the manufactured controversy about Wright is this: Nearly all of the commentary generated about Wright's sermons focuses on the racial aspect of his theology, rather than examining the merits of his critique of the warfare state. Even Obama's widely praised speech about his decades-long relationship with Wright focused chiefly on issues of race relations, while either ignoring or condemning Wright's principled critique of Washington's wars and foreign policy.

Clearly, there are people who seek to exploit, for consummately cynical reasons, lingering inter-ethnic tensions (Michelle Obama, an attorney who specializes in "diversity consulting," could be considered a profiteer of sorts in this respect). Republican herd-poisoners are already preparing to depict Obama and Wright as closer than Damon and Pythias, and on previous experience I don't think many of the GOP's campaign flacks care whether or not that characterization is true.

Amid all of this, it's important to remember one vital fact: What prompted the ritual denunciation of Wright (including an artfully parsed one by Sen. Obama) was not his congregation's aberrant race-centered theology or even his own intemperate remarks on that subject. Rather, it was his blasphemy against the Civil Religion and the endless good works done in its name -- bombings, invasions, official liaisons with dictators, all of that good and righteous stuff. That kind of "sin," as Rousseau warned centuries ago, simply can't be forgiven.
We're always being told that this upcoming election is all about change. (About what election has this not been said?) But these campaigns, allegedly so heavily pregnant with change, roll forward like rickety wagons in the narrowest imaginable wheelruts of possibility; the tiny, tiny range of permissible thought is rigidly enforced by the near-identical parties of the political duopoly, with the foot-slogging soldiers of the corporate media serving as auxiliary officers of orthodoxy. Our politics is a Beavis-and-Butthead sort of gotcha-fest ("heh heh heh ... he said 'Nazi,' heh heh heh ..."). It is able only to manage the gradual decay of a republic. If and when real change comes, it won't flow through the voting booth.


Anonymous said...

Campbell professor speaks on real meaning of Christian unity

BUIES CREEK - When Barack Obama refused to denounce controversial pastor and mentor Jeremiah Wright recently, he was doing something that reflected the Bible's teachings about the nature of Christian unity, according to Steven Harmon, associate professor of Christian theology at Campbell University.

As Campbell's Staley lecturer for 2008, Harmon used the analogy in the third lecture in the series, "One Life With Each Other: The Theology of Ecumenism," to illustrate the spiritual meaning of Christian unity as explained by scripture.

A specialist in patristics, or the study of church fathers, and ecumenical theology, Harmon is the author of several books, "Towards Baptist Catholicity: Essays on Tradition and the Baptist Vision," and "Every Knee Should Bow: Biblical Rationales for Universal Salvation in Early Christian Thought." His research interests focus on ways in which Baptists and other evangelical Christians may find resources in post-biblical early Christian tradition for contemporary faith and practice.

"Christian unity is no easy unity," Harmon said. "We are members of one another, but we can be angry and disagree with each other without turning it into a sin."

Paul's letter to the Ephesians illustrates the theology involved in ecumenism, which is the quest for greater visible unity among the currently divided Christian denominations. Though drawn from different backgrounds and nationalities, the members of the "body of Christ" have been called by God, redeemed and forgiven through his spirit. They are not just members of a church or a denomination, but of a "fellowship" that is directed by God.

Harmon added that the cross of Christ unifies all believers into one body. Baptists and Catholics may differ in their worship practices, but they should tolerate each other in "love" or they will forge divisiveness.

"When Senator Obama said Wright was like family to him, that he couldn't disown Wright because he was a part of him, he was precisely right. Baptism creates a new family that takes precedence over the relationships we have with the families that include parents, siblings, spouses and children," Harmon said.

A graduate of Howard Payne University, Harmon received both master of divinity and doctor of philosophy degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Harmon has pursued additional graduate studies at The Catholic University of America, the University of Dallas and Westfˆilischen-Wilhelms UniversitŠt in Munster, Germany, as well as sabbatical study at Duke Divinity School. He is vice chair of the Doctrine and Interchurch Cooperation Commission of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), a member of the BWA delegation to conversations with the Roman Catholic church, a member of the Order Commission of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA and a book review editor for the journal, "Perspectives in Religious Studies."

Harmon has served as an adjunct professor at Southwestern and Howard Payne and as a visiting professor at Duke. He has also served as pastor and interim pastor of Baptist congregations in Texas and North Carolina. In the fall, Harmon will join the faculty of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.

lemming said...

Quite apart from what has been said or written on this topic - whowas the (*&^& on Fox who, after watching Obama's speeh, complained that he had used a teleprompter? That was the most intellegent bit of commentary & critique he could think of?

At any rate, I'm glad that the discussion and debate about Obama is now over something real, as opposed to the Internet fabricated "proof" that he's really a Muslim.

Jim Wetzel said...

" ... (*&^& on Fox ..."

lemming, I hate to nitpick, but aren't you being redundant? Who else is on Faux News except (*&^&s?