Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cheney Lynches Innocent Black Man

Okay, that's completely not what happened. He didn't even shoot a friend in the face. But admit it -- for just a second, you thought he might have, didn't you? And here's why.

As the Daily News reports, Darth Veep went hunting again. It was a classic rich-guy hunt: a 15-car motorcade snarled traffic on rural roads. A fat man with a heart condition got out of his car and fired a few shotgun blasts in the general direction of some farm-raised birds trucked in for his convenience. No lawyers were injured, and everybody agreed to call it "sport."

(We at the Egg don't hunt, but we were raised in hunting country, and have a great affection for guys who spend all day tramping through the autumn woods, following the game trails or huddling under a duck blind, waiting for the right moment to strike. And we are proud to support anybody who culls the deer herd to make our highways safer. But we are deeply disturbed canned hunts that seem to be all the rage among hunters too physically decrepit to tramp or huddle.)

But we digress. The news, with which the Internets are all aflutter, is that the Veep's host was th Clove Valley Gun & Rod Club, in Union Vale NY -- where a Confederate flag is proudly displayed. Needless to say, Al Sharpton has already jumped in to remind us that this is "the flag of lynching, hate and murder." and "the epitome of an insult." True enough -- and the fauz pas is made worse by the fact that New York is experiencing a small upsurge in symbolic racism, what with nooses being left on black professor's door and so forth.

But there's more. The Star ' Bars is more than just a symbol of racism. It is a symbol of secession --of an effort by rich white landowners to undermine the United States in order to preserve their own privileges. Sound like anybody we know?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Rudy Lies

Well, that's not news. But this time we mean he lies about something besides "forsaking all others."

Per ABC News, the Nasty Man is running a radio spot in New Hampshire in which he claims that his odds of surviving prostate cancer in the American health-care system were 84 percent, and while in England they would have been 44 percent.

Wow! That English commie-symp socialized medicine sucks! Too bad Lady Thatcher couldn't have stayed in office a thousand years longer so that she could have done away with it.

Or at least that's what he is hoping we'll think. In fact, the five-year survival rate for Englishmen with prostate cancer is 74.4% and rising. Not as good as the the US, where we have more aggressive screening protocols, but still vastly better than Giuliani claims.

So he's lying. Well, technically, he's not lying. That would involve creative thinking. Giuliani is in fact quoting numbers bandied about by David Gratzer, a physician and conservative think-tank employee. Giuliani found them in an article by Gratzer with the coldly scientific title "The Ugly Truth About Canadian Health Care." When pressed by reporters, Gratzer cited a 2000 report by the Commonwealth Fund. When Giuliani was asked why he cited the bogus numberts, a staffer answered that "the campaign did not attempt to independently verify the statistics."

Ahhh. We get it. You can't say somebody is lying when they spread false information, as long as somebody else spread it first.

In other words, Giuliani isn't to blame. He was just relying on faulty intelligence reports.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Huckabee's Math ... Err, Myth

The signers of the Declaration of Independence were "brave people, most of whom, by the way, were clergymen." So said the Rev. Mike Huckabee, campaigning (on a Sunday) on Orlando.

Now, we like Mike. We really, really, like him. Of all the candidates thus far, he is the only one we'd want to sit down for the proverbial beer with. And it would have to be a proverbial beer, because as a good Southern Baptist (and diet nut), he probably doesn't drink the other kind.

But he's wrong on this. Of the 56 signers, one was a clergyman, and three were former clergymen. Math wasn't our best subject, just as it wasn't Mike's, but we're pretty sure that "most" of 56 woud require 29 or more, and 1<29. Maybe one of you Einsteins can check this for us.

Here's the point. The Huckster is probably repeating, without research or reflection, one of those myths about American history circulated by the Christianist head-cases. You know, the ones who pull off the Internet every instance in which a Founding Father used the words "God," "providence" or Heaven," and put them together on a page to "prove that America is a Christian nation."

This is bogus history. We at the Egg could go through the works of Lincoln pulling out words like "equality" and "society" and "wealth," to prove that Honest Abe was a Socialist. But nobody with even a modest grasp on reality would believe us.

As every schoolboy knows (except in states that buy the Christianist textbooks), the Founders had a wide range of beliefs and disbeliefs, covering the ground from traditional Calvinism, to Deism, to flagrant atheism (if we include Paine as a Founder). Close examination will actually reveal yet more diversity. Franklin, for example, treated religion respectfuly as a public good, but made no real secret of his skepticism regarding its truth-claims. Washington, in his time the most prominent American, attended the Episcopal church faithfully, but made a show of rising to leave before communion, publicly demonstrating his contempt for the sacrament. Hamilton, regarded in his time as a teligious conservative, was denied communion on his deathbed because he had never been baptized and didn't go to church.

In this regard, the Founders were like Americans today: independent, ornery, hard to lump into categories. The decades-old effort to recast them as faithful Christians founding a nation that reflected their common faith is a fool's errand. They did share a common faith -- in liberty, in justice, in democracy.

Wouldn't it be nice if present-day politicians shared that faith as well?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

We Told Them So

In the early years of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one of the big arguments concerned ecumenical relationships. A small but vocal high-church group objected to full-communion relations with the Reformed churches. A much larger and far more vocal group, which eventually coalesced into the WordAlone Network, objected to full communion with the Episcopal Church.

Ecumenism was what we fought bitterly about just before we began fighting bitterly about gay people. The agreement with the Episcopalians was savagely contested, failed once by a few votes, and passed two years later. Curiously enough, once the whole thing blew over, WordAlone had to justify its continued existence, and started picking on the gays. Although they are reluctant to say so, that's their current raison d'etre. But they started out by pissing on the Anglicans (and some of them don't see much difference).

Anyhoo, one of the elements of the ELCA's agreement with PECUSA was that our bishops, and not pastors delegated by bishops, would ordain new pastors. But after signing on the dotted line, we reneged, and as a sop to WordAlone have given bishops the freedom to delegate ministers of ordination in situations of "special need." The idea was that seminarians with a strong theological objection to the rule could seek an exemption.

At the time, we pointed out that there was some foolishness here. First off, it was a blatant abrogation of our commitment to the Episcopalians. (They felt betrayed, and who can blame them?) Secondly, the Lutheran Confessions express a strong preference for the traditional church structures of the Middle Ages, endorsing exceptions only when the old structures are corrupted and no longer permit the Gospel to be proclaimed purely (as was indeed the case in Reformation Germany). So, despite the variety of ordination practices that Lutherans have historically used, there is one to which we have an a priori commitment. And when a prospective pastor seeks an exception to that practice, the burden is upon that prospective pastor to demonstrate that the usual practice would somehow restrain the Gospel.

In other words, you have to write a letter to your bishop saying "You are a heretic." And your bishop has to be sufficiently swayed by your logic as to permit an exception to the rule for the sake of the Gospel. That's our interpretation, anyway.

Needless to say, few such letters have been written. And yet, mirabile dictu, "special need" exemptions have been granted quite freely in some parts of the ELCA. How so?

Outgoing ELCA Secretary Lowell Almen shed some light on the matter earlier this month, with his valedictory presentation to the Confernce of Bishops. As reported, well after the fact, in an official press release, "Almen expressed concern about how a bylaw that provided for 'ordination in unusual circumstances' has been practiced, arguing that neither the bylaw requirements nor the related policy 'are being observed conscientiously.' He was especially critical of last-minute requests for exceptions after ordinations had been scheduled, saying 'that the whistle needs to be sounded loudly on that game of last-minute requests and written statements that do not meet the criteria listed in the policy.' "

Hmm. So apparently, there has been a loose (we really can't call it liberal) interpretation of the bylaw, according to which prospective pastors feel free to ask for exceptions to the church's ordination practice, and bishops feel free to grant it, pretty much for whatever reason they want. Almen's objection is that ordination is a "rite" belonging to the whole church -- meaning, we have decided upon certain forms by which it is to be done -- and not a "right" belonging to the individual bishops. A bit tortured and susceptible to misapprehension, but still well enough said to be worth remembering.

And our point? We told them so. When the ELCA bishops caved under pressure from WordAlone and the other pietistic whiners, we said that the new policy was a betrayal of both our ecumenical commitments and of our church's confession of faith. We also said that it set the bar for "unusual circumstances" very high, and that we doubted the bishops would have the intestinal fortitude to keep it there. After all, they want to be re-elected, and that is much easier when you appease your special interests.

Apparently, we were right. And Lowell Almen, virtually the only ranking official to have held his office throughout the ELCA's history, just told the bishops that they had become spineless wretches. Like a faithful church diplomat, he did it carefully, judiciously, so gently that the dimmer ones may not quite have heard what he was saying. But he said it.

We salute you, sir.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


That's what John Dornhauer and Sheldon Culver call it. We wish they had chosen another word, but we are still awfully glad that they wrote their book by that name, about which you can learn more by clicking the link.

Bottom line: A cluster of "renewal groups" have sprung up in mainline Protestantism these past 25 years, accusing their various denominations of straying from the path of orthodoxy and calling them to return to a theological orthodoxy that looks and sounds remarkably like Republicanism. They want you to believe it is a coincidence, but it isn't.

They're all funded by Richard Mellon Scaife, through the Institute for Religion and Democracy. Scaife foundation money has planted the seeds of the Presbyterian Layman, the WordAlone Network, and God knows hoiw many other mean-spirited purveyors of minority discontent. In other words, one cranky right-wing bazillionaire has created the schisms and discontent that have eaten away at Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, and Episcopal communitiers for decades, and essentially destroyed the ability of those bodies to speak with any unanimity on moral matters.

This is not really a secret. Recent writing about the "theocons" has touched on it.

But it isn't well-known, either, for the good reason that Scaife is a secretive, paranoid freak, and the IRD is a slick operation with competent PR people. Like the one who responded to the book by pointing out, correctly, that a "steeplejack" is the guy who repairs your damaged church building. Sigh. Quite true, which is why we wish the book had a better title. Maybe "Those Rich Bastards Stole Your Church."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Oh, @#$%, the Klingons Are Coming

But that's okay. Rudy's got a plan to protect Planet Earth from extraterrestrial terrorists.

That's what he told a New Hampshire boy, who asked about it recently. Apparently, this was the first time Giuliani had been questioned about his ability to save the world from intergalactic assault. His chuckle suggests either that he wasn't taking the question seriously, or that he's actually thought about it already ... a lot. Good for him.

For our money, Al Gore still has the best earth-protection plan.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Even Bush Thinks Texas Shouldn't Kill This Guy

The President is apparently getting soft. He thinks Texas shouldn't execute a foreign citizen for crimes committed on US soil.

Hmm. Could this have anything to do with Blackwater?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Priest Goes to Jail; Nation Rejoices

And this time, he's not a child molester.

But close enough. Argentinean Father Christian von Wernich was convicted by a court in La Plata on Tuesday, of crimes committed during the "Dirty War" of the 1970s and 80s. The crimes in question are especially disturbing, as reported in The Independent:

"He was found guilty, not only of being present at sessions of torture, but something more shocking. He would extract confessions from those detained, sometimes in the presence of police officers, and pass on the information – often including the names of fellow leftists – to interrogators. What should have been private conversations with God became intelligence that was used for more arrests, more torture and more killings."

I don't know what seminary this guy went to, but most of the rest of us take that whole "seal of the confessional" thing pretty seriously. Von Wernich sounds like a real peach, though -- click the link for a description of his cold hard eyes and supercilious sneer. (Or maybe I was just reading between the lines).

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Because Daimler/Chrysler Worked So Well ...

MIller and Coors are going to combine their brewing operations. So now instead of two thin, bitter, rice-based beers that give American brewing a bad name, there will be one thin, bitter, rice-based beer with two labels.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Mormons vs. Christians, Again

According to the AP, Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "defended" the Mormon faith Sunday, saying the beliefs and practices differ from every other church. Specifically, he said, "It is fundamentally different from every other body of religious doctrine of which I know."

Well, no argument there, Gordo. The rest of us have been saying that pretty much since Joseph Smith had his revelation. Your faith is fundamentally different from Christianity.

And yet somehow, in the strange reversible world of Mormonism, Hinkley's argument is intended to support the persistent Mormon claim that they are not fundamentally different -- that they are, somehow, part of the Christian Church.

It's a sort of tired argument, and there is a nice, short piece on it in this week's Christian Century by my seminary classmate Janna Riess, herself a Mormon. Sadly, the Century didn't post the article online. Cutting to the chase, Janna says (more or less) that "If by 'Christian' you mean believing that Jesus is the way to salvation, then we're Christian. If you mean believing that God is the Holy Trinity, then we're not."

This is pretty good, as far as it goes. It is certainly the core of what we traditional Christians have always used as our argument that Mormonism is in fact a different religion: that it offers a dramatically different vision of who God is.

She might have gone a bit further. For example, although there are disagreements among Christians over precisely which ancient texts constitute the rule and norm of faith, we are in universal agreement that the Book of Mormon is a modern forgery, and cannot conceivably be counted among the authentic Scriptures. Likewise, although there are certainly arguments among Christians about eschatology, we are in universal agreement (so far as I know) that Zion will not be rebuilt on the American continent. Neither of these is decisive, however; you can disagree about the canon and the end times and still be a Christian. But you really can't disagree about the Incarnation and the Trinity.

It all boils down to this: the Mormons say -- over and over, especially with one of their own running for president -- that that Christianity can be defined as they define it. The rest of Christianity says that it can't. This isn't an argument that can ever be won, except in the believer's heart.

But look. I can wake up one morning believing that I am a member of the Augusta National Golf Club. Okay, granted, membership is by invitation, and I wasn't invited. And granted, membership fees are a quarter-to-half of a million dollars, more money than I will earn in a lifetime of parish priesting. Still, I believe in my bones that I am a member, because I think the real membership rules -- the secret ones declared by Bobby Jones in 1933, and never written down -- said that all short guys with big mouths were automatically members.

Now, as long as I stay home, the caddies and waiters and so forth may not be able to prove that I'm wrong. But if I show up at the club, they aren't going to let me play, either.

Sigh. It's late at night, and I should probably avoid sports metaphors. But do you see what I'm getting at?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Atheists Pollute

According to a Wisconsin paper, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is sponsoring some anti-religious billboards.

They're actually kind of snappy looking -- faux stained-glass, reading "Beware of Dogma." Frankly, the message has some appeal even for religious people. As the Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson pointed out years ago, a lot of doctrine gets passed off as dogma. That is to say, a lot of religious groups (and religious leaders) want you to belive that their specific teachings are statements of ultimate truth according to a broad religious tradition. For example, the "dogma" of the Immaculate Conception is a local Roman doctrine, pretty much laughed off by every other Christian community in the world. Lutherans may be especially sensitive on this topic, since their Reformation was largely a technical argument about whether certain doctrines -- especially regarding penance -- could legitimately claim dogmatic standing.

So we would approve heartily of these antidogmatic billboards, if only we weren't so committed to the wonders of nature. When we drive, we like to see fields, and trees. Barns, maybe. The occasional stop sign or mile marker.

But FFRF spokeswoman Annie Laurie Gaylor says that they want "to place freethought billboards around the country, wherever an irreverent billboard is needed -- which is practically everywhere!" And we have to object, not because we oppose freethought, but because we oppose littering the roadside and polluting the viewshed.

As a wise man once said, "I think that I shall never see / a billboard lovely as a tree. /Indeed, unless the [FFRF] billboards fall / I may never see a tree at all."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

This Just In

Cribbed from The Australian:

Bishops of Norway's Lutheran church voted by a close majority to allow gay pastors, a church official told a press conference.

The Bishops Conference, a seven-man and four-woman panel of 11 Norwegian bishops, voted six to five for the measure, said their official representative, Olav Skjevesland. The panel is a consultative body.

Theological doctrine currently followed in the Norwegian church officially excludes people living in the a homosexual union from officiating at services.

Another Norwegian theological consultative body, the 20-member Laerenemnd, met in January 2006, but could not agree a course of action.

At least two openly gay men currently serve as ministers after they were hired by liberal bishops.

The question must now be defined at the Lutheran church's next general Synod, the highest decision-making representative body, which will meet from November 12-17.

It Sounds Prettier in French

Or at least less ugly.

The headline in le Monde reads: "George W. Bush s'oppose à une extension de l'assurance-santé à des millions d'enfants."

The gliding vowels, the nasal twang, the resistance to consonants -- we love the sound of the French language. Too bad the paper is reporting President Bush's opposition to health insurance for millions of children. Here's the lede:

"Average age: 7 or 8 years old. One has rarely seen so young a protest in front of the White House. The children came, Monday October 1, with toy wagons full of petitions for President Bush: Please! Sign the law!"

It's a good idea, health insurance. Saves lives -- in this case, the lives of poor children. Signing it would be "compassionate conservatism" at its best -- a cheap way to support families without, say, guaranteeing that Mom or Dad earn a decent wage. It would reduce ER admissions, thus taking stress off the health-care system that he's desperate not to overhaul. And the tens of millions spent on helping poor American children just might take attention away from the hundreds of billions wasted killing Iraqis.

Of course, Radio Flyers notwithstanding, he won't sign. And why? Because the other team likes it. Because Unca Dick would slap him upside the head if he signed. And above all, because he's the Decider, and he decided against this.

We Couldn't Agree More

"Today, a mega-yacht is indispensable," says Dutch financier Olivier Milliex. "It's not like 15 years ago, when a yacht was a luxury item."

Monday, October 01, 2007

Blackwater Comes Out Okay

We always knew thaey would.

The Pentagon's favorite mercenary army -- I'm sorry, consulting group -- got some bad press lately, what with shooting noncombatant civilians and all. For just a brief monent, it looked like somebody in the Army (the official one, that is) was going to re-think the policy of outsourcing military service.

That would have been bad for Blackwater and its shareholders; worse yet, there might have been a spillover effect that could have affected Halliburton -- and ITS shareholders. That would be a bad thing. After all, if Cheney's pockets started to empty out, he might decide to stay in public service a little longer, just to fill them back up.

But never fear. The Pentagon just issued a $92 million contract to a Blackwater affiliate, the aptly-named Presidential Airlines, to "supply specialized airplanes, crews and equipment for flight operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan."

Whew. What a relief. Looks like we're gonna make a profit off this war after all. (And by "we," I mean "they.")