6 February 2006

Bono at the National Prayer Breakfast

Bono addressed the National Prayer Breakfast last week, showing up politicians as only a global rock star can do.  Here’s one of my favorite passages from his speech:

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He
exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place
for the poor.  In fact, the poor are where God lives. 

Check Judaism.  Check Islam.  Check pretty much anyone.

I
mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill…  I hope so. 
He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff… maybe,
maybe not…  But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and
ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor. 

God
is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God
is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus
that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the
rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives,
and God is with us if we are with them.  “If you remove the yolk from
your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if
you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the
afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with
become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy
your desire in scorched places”

It’s not a coincidence
that in the Scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. 
It’s not an accident.  That’s a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions.  [You
know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the
poor.]   ‘As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you
have done it unto me.’  (Matthew 25:40).   As I say, good news to the
poor. 

It occurs to me that Bono believes with all of his heart, sould, mind, and strength that we have the ability to end the sort of poverty we see in places like Africa today.  That seems so impossible that I can only describe it as the leap of faith.  As he has said to a variety of audiences, “I’m a believer in grace, not karma.”  And it’s only if you believe in a form of grace that you could have the audacity to think that we have the ability and the duty to end extreme poverty.

And it shows up these politicians each time they get near him.  In the face of Bono’s simple pleas on behalf of those who can’t get to National Prayer Breakfasts, insincerity shows its falsity, power is afflicted, and humanity incarnate shines.

He really does believe all this.  It’s much more belief than many of us can muster.  It can seem simplistic, unreal, childish.  And he takes a lot of flak for it.  But as he says, “Grace makes beauty from ugly things.”  For Bono, justice is the beautiful result of grace.

Posted in Politicks on 6 February 2006 at 11:32 am by Nate
1 February 2006

Where have all the dollars gone?

Good article over in the Revealer, on where the monies from the $15 billion GWB authorized for fighting global HIV:

Nearly a quarter of President Bush’s $15 billion HIV/AIDS program is earmarked for faith-based groups, with $200 million specifically set aside for groups without experience working with government grants. As could be expected, many groups that promote abstinence only, rather than safe sex through condoms or education programs for sex workers, have already been awarded grants, including the mission-minded Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse and the National Association of Evangelical’s World Relief. But beyond these earmarks, Rita Beamish’s AP report on the status of the grant program illustrates that the U.S. guidelines on grant-giving reinforce the same morality by insisting that all “condom programs” also include messages about abstinence, while not insisting that “abstinence programs” make any mention of safe sex or condoms, and have been unofficially tightened after conservative critics, such as James Dobson and Republican congressmen Rep. Chris Smith (NJ) and Sen. Tom Coburn (OK), complained that more liberal grant-recipients were “pro-prostitution,” “pro-abortion” and not focused exclusively enough on the abstinence message.

Posted in Politicks on 1 February 2006 at 11:12 am by Nate
15 January 2006

Unaddressed ground in confirmation hearings

I was talking with one of the other tutors at breakfast the other morning about the Alito confirmation hearings. Since the hearings were largely be about abortion (in overt or covert forms), we ended up discussing that aspect.

Here’s one of the things that does not get mentioned in our periodic national debates. If the state can compel a person to bear a child, what can it not do? Couldn’t it compel state-arranged marriages? If preventing an abortion is preserving life, why couldn’t the state then compel us to create death?

The problem is that the anti-abortion/pro-life proponents often talk about a “slippery slope” if we allow abortion, a slope to infanticide and euthanasia. But it seems there is just as problematic and just as likely a slippery slope if we forbid abortion as if we permit it.

I tend toward liberality (although not dogmatically) in my thinking, but I’m still a bit wary of the power of the state. The more you give it, the more that it often wants. Witness the national security state we’ve started to acquiesce to since Sept. 11, 2001. This doesn’t meant that we should avoid giving power to the state under every circumstance. But I think that we should be cautious in doing it and open to substitutionary or parallel uses of power.

Posted in Politicks on 15 January 2006 at 12:12 pm by Nate

Unaddressed ground in the confirmation hearings

I was talking with one of the other tutors at breakfast the other morning about the Alito confirmation hearings. Since the hearings were largely be about abortion (in overt or covert forms), we ended up discussing that aspect.

Here’s one of the things that does not get mentioned in our periodic national debates. If the state can compel a person to bear a child, what can it not do? Couldn’t it compel state-arranged marriages? If preventing an abortion is preserving life, why couldn’t the state then compel us to create death?

The problem is that the anti-abortion/pro-life proponents often talk about a “slippery slope” if we allow abortion, a slope to infanticide and euthanasia. But it seems there is just as problematic and just as likely a slippery slope if we forbid abortion as if we permit it.

I tend toward liberality (although not dogmatically) in my thinking, but I’m still a bit wary of the power of the state. The more you give it, the more that it often wants. Witness the national security state we’ve started to acquiesce to since Sept. 11, 2001. This doesn’t meant that we should avoid giving power to the state under every circumstance. But I think that we should be cautious in doing it and open to substitutionary or parallel uses of power.

Posted in Politicks on 15 January 2006 at 12:05 pm by Nate
3 December 2005

Boo, UAE!

Why didn’t the Christian Right rejoice at the forced hormonal treatment of gays in the United Arab Emirates? The Revealer offers an answer:

Thus, the arrests in the UAE put Christian conservative media activists in an awkward position. Speaking out against the UAE’s theocratic government would force them to qualify or even contradict unequivocal statements they’ve made in the past. But condoning brutalities like forced medical procedures and lashings would surely squander the political capital Christian conservatives have won in recent years.

So for once, Pat Robertson, Chuck Colson and James Dobson are silent on the topic of gay marriage.

Posted in Politicks on 3 December 2005 at 10:31 am by Nate
1 December 2005

Go, South Africa!

What eminently sensible and classically liberal people.

Posted in Politicks on 1 December 2005 at 8:43 pm by Nate

Benedict XVI paving a road you don’t want to be on

The pope says he feels close to those suffering from AIDS.  I have no doubt that he feels nothing but compassion and sympathy, and I’m sure that “his heart is in the right place.”

But we’ve seen that organizational and group behavior is not this fellow’s forte.  Neither, for that fact, is science.  What does science tell us?  It tells us that gay people are not any more likely to be sex offenders than straight people (some studies even indicate that straight men are MORE likely).  Organizational science tells us that if you have actions deriving from a particular set of circumstances and that you then repeat those circumstances, members of the organization will very likely commit the same actions.  We see the same conditions that led to the sex abuse problems being put into place again, and thousands of children will be tortured again by priests.  We KNOW, through careful scientific study, that condom distribution has an effect on HIV prevalence — it brings it down.  When you combine it with abstience and monogamy, it goes down even further.  But what does Benedict say? 

…the pope in a June speech to African bishops said that contraception is one of many trends contributing to a “breakdown of sexual morality.” He added that abstinence and fidelity are the only “fail-safe” ways to prevent the spread of HIV.

He’s wrong.  His way leads to more death, more suffering, more violence.  Even George W. Bush (whom you may recall that this blog is no real fan of his) has done significantly more.  He promised the money for HIV work, and it’s largely there.  And it include condoms, even if abstinence has to be mentioned every other sentence.  Even the conservative Republican “faith and values” president is on for the entirety of ABC.

Benedict has good intentions.  Great.  But what did they say about roads to hell?

Posted in Politicks on 1 December 2005 at 8:37 pm by Nate
24 November 2005

Sigh

I think most readers here will agree that I’m pretty committed in terms of religion and in my commitment to the American project. However, this just depresses me.

Posted in Politicks on 24 November 2005 at 7:55 pm by Nate
19 October 2005

Harvey Mansfield and Judith Butler agree!

In my department here, our most conservative professor is Harvey C. Mansfield.  Mansfield is something of a lightining rod for many of the people and groups on campus.

Yesterday, he gave a talk to the “pro-life” group on campus (I only put
quotes around pro-life because that’s their self-preferred term, but
it’s arguable as to whether it’s the most value neutral term
available–“anti-abortion” would be better, I think).  It’s covered in the campus rag
Mansfield discussed his latest political theory work on
“Manliness.”  (This seems to me a topic worth investigating, as it
seems a substantial background concept in so much of modern political
theory, e.g., in Machiavelli’s works.  If you just dismiss
manliness outright [and the study of gender considerations generally],
you are likely to miss a lot of what these thinkers have to say. 
That said, I don’t agree entirely with Mansfield’s conclusions. 
But I am willing to engage them intellectually.)

Members of the GLBT student group are predictably outraged.  Their
response is that they’d like to organize a lecture on “Womanliness” with a Mansfield look-alike in drag.

I’ll skip over the fact that the point of such an action seems less to
engage on an intellectual level and more to vent anger and
humiliate.  And they can’t win in that way, I think.

More to the point, we have a report of the following:

Multiple students challenged Mansfield’s opinions concerning
gender and family in respect to gay and transgender people. Mansfield
responded that he thought gay and transgender people are on “society’s
margin” and should remain there.

“Substitutes for the traditional family are dysfunctional,” he said, “You wouldn’t want children to grow up in them.”

(I, BTW, don’t agree with the conclusion about the
dysfunctionality of non-traditional families.  Traditional
families enjoy no monopoly of functionality and no lack of dysfunction.)

Contrast his statements to what Judith Butler said in 2004, after the
legalization of marriage in Massachusetts, in a 7 March NYT article about the
ambivalence many queers felt about matrimony:

Many gay men and lesbians — in fact most of the ones I know — are not
jumping to jump the broom. They like their status as couples living
between the lines, free of all the societal expectations that marriage
brings. But since they don’t want to feed politicians using gay
marriage as an election issue, they are largely mum.

”It’s very hard to speak freely right now,” said Judith Butler,
a gender theorist and professor at the University of California,
Berkeley. ”But many gay people are uncomfortable with all this,
because they feel their sense of an alternative movement is dying.
Sexual politics was supposed to be about finding alternatives to
marriage.”

”I’ve been with the same
woman for 13 years,” she continued, ”and she jokes if I ever tried to
marry her she’d divorce me. I know many people who feel the same way.”

I think we can safely regard Butler and Mansfield on different sides
and even ends of a discussion about gender.  But both are
concerned with keeping some sort of marginal status for sexual
minorities.

Perhaps they could work on a book together.

Posted in Politicks on 19 October 2005 at 1:06 pm by Nate
15 September 2005

Another purge of reason and faith begins

The Vatican wants to get gays out of the priesthood.

In some sense, there’s a bit of the antiscientific attitude here.  For example,

The issue of gay seminarians and priests has been in the spotlight
because a study commissioned by the church found last year that about
80 percent of the young people victimized by priests were boys.

Experts
in human sexuality have cautioned that homosexuality and attraction to
children are different, and that a disproportionate percentage of boys
may have been abused because priests were more likely to have access to
male targets – like altar boys or junior seminarians – than to girls.

But
some church officials in the United States and in Rome, including some
bishops and many conservatives, attributed the abuse to gay priests and
called for an overhaul of the seminaries. Expectation for such a move
rose this year with the election of Pope Benedict XVI, who has spoken
of the need to “purify” the church.

It is unknown how many Catholic priests are gay. Estimates range widely, from 10 percent to 60 percent.

Many of the religious people who oppose homosexuality attempt to do the same with this issue as with other issues of science (like, for example, “intelligent design”). They intentionally oppose Religion to Science. In this case, they make unsupported statements that contravene what our best efforts show to be true. With as much certainty as we can muster, we know that being gay or lesbian is nothing that any of us have any conrol over. Science is not sure exactly what causes a person’s sexual orientation to turn out as it does, but it does know pretty certainly that it’s as intrinsic and unchangeable as any other intrinsic and unchangeable characteristic.

But religious conservatives, such as those that Rick blogged about recently, have a message that does not stand up well in the face of knowledge. They have no scientific evidence to support their assertions that God did not make people anything other than heterosexual, that God directed the whole of creation like a deist puppetmaster, that people’s intrinsic characteristics can be changed. So they simply assert their case over and over again, manufacturing controversey where there is none. I’m just struck that the methodological basis for both of these battles is the same one.

Jesus told us that the greatest commandment of all is to love God with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. He didn’t give an option to choose two or three of those characteristics. But many of today’s conservative Christians (many of who are just Christianists in disguise) and vertainly many of the loudest ones are afraid of the life of the mind, afraid of what it means to use the mind, afraid that the use of the mind might lead them away from what they know as faith.

That’s a pretty poor faith, as far as I know and believe.

Posted in Politicks on 15 September 2005 at 10:29 am by Nate