Thursday, February 28, 2008

Larry Norman, "Father of Christian Rock," Is Dead

I've never heard of this guy. Still, he quit his first successful band when other members started flirting with Scientology. That's good enough for me.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Buckley is Dead

It is often said that he founded the modern conservative movement. Ehhh. We're not so sure that's fair to McCarthy, Goldwater or Satan. Nor have we ever been much impressed either by Buckley's own sesquipedialian ramblings on television, or by the ranting of the National Review crowd in general.

That said, Buckley had some undeniable charms. Take, for instance, his "Blackford Oakes" spy thrillers. We at the Egg were especially touched by one in which the villainess had attended our own alma mater, and the villain lived on our own street in Brooklyn Heights. Buckley certainly knew his enemies' demographic.

And at a more earnest level, in his last years Buckley was an eloquent and thoughtful advocate for the legal use of marijuana by people with a medical need. (Click the link for an example.) His case was not only clear and sharp, which one expected from Buckley -- it was also compassionate, which one did not always expect.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Republicans Pay Illegal Foreign Lobbyist

Conservative anti-tax activist and mean-sprited nutjob Grover Norquist hired and helped the career of an Australian named Michael Kamburowski who, even while he was lobbying Congress and serving briefly as chief operating officer of the California Republican Party, was working in the United States without a green card.

And on what issues did Kamburowski lobby Congress? You guessed it: immigration reform.

Well, that and dozens of others. Including something called the "Ronald Reagan legacy Project," which is -- seriously -- a program to get government buildings named after the co-star of Bedtime for Bonzo. Savor, if you will, the irony of people who claim to hate big government seeking to preserve the legacy of somebody who claimed to hate big government by, yes, lobbying for favors from that same big government. But we digress.

If Norquist were a woman, seeking either elective or appointive office, and had hired Kamburowski to care for his the little Norquist kiddies, then this would be his Nannygate, and we would soon see him shuffle off to whichever public-arena limbo they use to keep the likes of Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood. Although, in fairness, hiring an illegal nanny is way more serious than hiring an illegal lobbyist, because a nanny might influence America's most precious resource, The Children, while a lobbyist can only influence America's laws and lawmakers. Oh, and war heroes running for for the Presidency -- but again, we digress.

Anyway, here's the bottom line: Conservative icon employs illegal alien as lobbyist. How can you not love the hypocrisy?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hey, Now That Romney's Out ...

... you think any of his five sons will serve their country by enlisting to fight in the war he claimed to support? You know, now that they're not serving that other way, by helping their pop lose in the primaries?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The War on Valentine's Day

(With a nod to FoxNews. We also considered "the St. Valentine's Day Massacre" and "the War of the Roses.")

Saudi Arabia, staunch ally of the Bush dynasty and therefore, supposedly, of the United States, has struck another blow for freedom by banning the color red. Especially in roses, and especially on or around February 14.

Per Sheikh Khaled Al-Dossari, "As Muslims we shouldn't celebrate a non-Muslim celebration, especially this one that encourages immoral relations between unmarried men and women. " Per college student and blogger Ahmed al-Omran, the government decision will give people another reason to make fun of the Saudis "but I think that we got used to that by now."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Bush Supports Fraud

That's the logical conclusion, anyway.

Per the AP, the Administration's proposed rules to crack down on companies that defraud the government will specifically not cover those doing work overseas, including Iraq and Afghanistan -- where almost 30% of government contract spending will occur.

Why? Basically, because the companies complained that it would be cumbersome and expensive for them to start reporting all their bribes. Seriously, that's what it boils down to.

And apparently the Administration (co-helmed, never let us forget, by a man with an overt financial interest in the success of a major overseas contractor) considers the profit of its contractors more important than any fiduciary responsibility it might have to, I dunno, the United States.

I never, ever want to hear another Republican complain about pork-barrel spending, big government or a welfare state. These people obviously believe the Rapture is imminent, because they spend money like there's no tomorrow.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

"If Any Question Why We Died ..."

"...Tell them: because our fathers lied." That bit from Kipling's Epitaphs of War has been quoted a lot since the Bush Administration's gross deceptions over Iraq became known. But let's admit it: We can't blame Bush forever. At a certain point, the Democrats must take responsibility for their own politically-motivated failure to do the will of the people.

Matt Taibbi sums up, with considerable vitriol, the Dems' failure to take any decisive action on Iraq, despite their two-year-old electoral mandate to get us the hell out of there. It's all gold, but here's a sample quote:

"Though few congressional aides would think of saying so on the record, in private many dismiss their party's lame anti-war effort as an absurd dog-and-pony show, a calculated attempt to score political points without ever being serious about bringing the troops home.

"'Yeah, the amount of expletives that flew in our office alone was unbelievable,' says an aide to one staunchly anti-war House member. 'It was all about the public show. Reid and Pelosi would say they were taking this tough stand against Bush, but if you actually looked at what they were sending to a vote, it was like Swiss cheese. Full of holes.'"

If the epitaph about "our fathers" condemns the Republicans, the very next poem in the same book may speak an unwelcome truth about the Washington political class as a whole. It's for "A Dead Statesman":

I could not dig: I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

Archbishop Jumps Shark

The link above will send you to a recent speech by Rowan Wiliams, Archbishop of Canterbury and nominal head of what we used to call the Anglican Communion. (It needs a new name, now that the bishops refuse to commune with each other).

The speech, called "Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious Perspective," has been widely and often unfairly criticized in he past few days. The critics make it sound as though Williams is advocating a wholesale recognition of sharia, or Islamic law, among Muslims in Britain. In fact, he stops well short of this. His actual argument, if I have read it correctly, is that civil law ultimately depends upon theology to distinguish right from wrong; that therefore religious argument and conviction will always have a place in the making of laws; and that this role ought best to be overt and freely discussed, rather than closeted.

His case is erudite and nuanced. It will surely sound familiar to those Christians accustomed to discerning in the Decalogue a "natural law" established by God, which they claim can and should be mirrored by civil law. It is a serious argument, which deserves to be taken seriously.

And it is dead wrong.

A blog isn't the place to write the long essay that this task requires, especially when it is Saturday and one really must be writing sermons. Suffice it to say for now that Williams is hobbled by two things: his Englishness and his Anglicanism.

By which snotty remarks I mean to say, first, that as the leader of an established church, he is accustomed to the fact that, as he says in the speech,"church law is the law of the land." In Britain, of course, that fact is little more than an historical curiosity -- "why look, the Queen has to nominate their bishops, at least once the fix is really in." To Americans, however, the dangers of an established church are all too clear -- many of ancestors came here to escape them. Why, we even made Saint JFK promise on a stack if Bibles that he wouldn't be a lackey for the Pope. (About that stack of Bibles: we don't always get the secularism thing quite right. But if England is caesaropapist in law and secular in practice, we are just the reverse -- and our way is much better for everybody, not least because it offers a fundamental check on the power of those tyrants whom religious zeal, like any other zeal, will predictably produce.)

As for the limitation imposed by Williams' Anglicanism -- perhaps this is a bit harsh, but I can't help thinking that if he had been conditioned by the sharp distinction between iure divino and iure humano that is the essence of the Lutheran reformation, he wouldn't be making a muddle of the two in this speech.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Rick Warren Seeks to Kill Protestantism

Per the WaPo: "Rick Warren, a megachurch pastor and philanthropist who is courted by political leaders worldwide, says he thinks Christianity needs a 'second Reformation' that would steer the church away from divisive politics and be 'about deeds, not creeds.'"

This may give pause to those of us who owe a debt to the first Reformation - 95 Theses, Augsburg Confession, that stuff. Because after all, the Church of Luther's era also wanted to put an end to divisive doctrinal debate, and made quite a big deal about the importance of doing good work -- orthopraxis, as theologians say, at the expense of orthodoxy. Luther's objection, remember, was never to indulgences per se -- it was to the way they obscured the doctrinal content of the Gospel.

Warren's main point, speaking to a group of WaPo writers, was twofold. First, that he has personally spent too much time fretting publicly about the right-wing litmus test issues, like abortion, and now wants to put those into perspective by talking about equally important things, like AIDS. And second, that years of obsessive attention to the litmus test at the expense of the big picture on the part of conservative religious voices has done much to diminish civility in American public discourse. As he says (now): “You have no right to demonize someone just because you disagree with them.”

All true, and he is welcome aboard. We in the mainline churches, although we have certainly spilled a lot of blood and ink over our own hot issues, have generally managed to keep civil about it -- at least unless the Institute for Religion and Democracy was paying us to be nasty. We are pleased by the growing determination of the evangelical right to recognize the existence of a bigger picture -- that, for example, Christians have a duty not only to support marriage, but also to care for the earth. Despite our differences of emphasis, this new direction may well prove helpful to both the mainline and the evangelicals, by allowing us to find common ground in the public sphere. Rick Warren has the potential to make an enormous difference here.

But we hope that he will not do it at the expense of doctrine. Because doctrine really does matter. When Warren tells the reporters "I don’t care why you do good as long as you do good," he sounds like just the sort of reasonable religious voice the secular world is yearning for. And so far as the public arena goes, he is right: Christians can happily work alongside Buddhists or Muslims in pursuit of peace, for example. But within the Christian community itself, our pattern of endless debate over the content of our faith and its ethical imperatives serves a vital purpose. It keeps us from doing the wrong thing in the mistaken belief that it is right -- selling indulgences, say, or buying masses for the dead. Our division over such questions reflect important differences of interpretation, which we gloss over at our peril. Still more important is our historic agreement on certain fundamental issues -- such as the divinity of Christ, debate over which occasioned several of those creeds Warren speaks of so breezily.

Charles Porterfield Krauth, in many ways the the founder of evangelical catholicism in America, put it simply and best when he said that "an age without creeds is an age of darkness." Let us do good together -- and let us do it as we walk in the light of a faith that is carefully articulated and faithfully proclaimed

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

I Voted My Conscience

After many years as an Independent, Father A. has, within the past few years, registered as a Democrat -- less because of any enthusiasm for that sad little band of wonks and dreamers, than as an expression of outrage over the malfeasance of their chief competitors.

As a New Yorker, my vote in national primaries has customarily been worthless, coming too late in the season to affect a race. This year, thanks to the madness which has given us Super-Duper-Jumbo-Chalupa Tuesday, things were otherwise. And so, after a few hours of pastoral care, I trotted toward a local middle school to cast what is -- if memory serves -- my first vote in any party primary.

Walking over, I did not yet know for whom I would cast that newly-relevant vote. Over the opast four years, I have continued to dream of a Wesley Clark presidency, but that wasn't going to happen. Of the Dems to run, I confess a certain fraternal affection for Kucinich, who is, like me, a short man with a taller and more glamorous wife. But I never wanted him to be President. For that job, the only candidate who appeared qualified by the actual experience of governing was Bill Richardson. (One can harldly consider service in the Senate as governing anymore; it has been reduced in over the years to a matter of posturing and bloviating in the distant hope of election to the Oval office). Of course, he was out early, and I had settled on John Edwards, about whose ability I had considerable doubt but whose platform could not help but pull a minister's heartstrings.

But the talking heads had informed me that my choices, at this point, were two, and neither very appealing.

Yes, Senator Clinton is a smart woman, a fine legislator, and posessed of a seemingly iron will. And people say she's much friendlier in person. On the other hand, there are those negatives. For no sound reason, she provokes a profound animosity from many people, which her political enemies have had many years to practice exploiting. She would be an easy target for during a campaign, and it is hard to imagine that her time in office would be much better than a partisan firefight. And we've done that already, for too long.

And Senator Obama -- well, sure, he's exciting. His intelligence is obvious, and he seems genuinely eager to move past the reflexive polarization of our curreent politics. On the other hand, that may simply mark him as naive. Clinton has an actual track record of making laws alongside McCain; Obama often sounds readier to teach law than to make it.

So a vote for Hillary is a vote for a hardened warrior, and guarantees years of continued war, with the hope that she might win more than she loses. A vote for Barack is a vote for the earnest hope of a cease-fire, and risks overwhelming defeat. (I am talking about the battle in Washington, mind you, not Iraq).

I didn't know, even as I entered the middle school, which way I would go. I didn't even know as I shut the curtain and reacquainted my self with New York's trusty old mechanical-lever voting machinery. And then I looked at the actual ballot, and started to laugh, provoking the nice old lady outside to ask if I were all right.

There was Governor Richardson. Or at least his name. Along with Edwards and Kucinich. (What happened, Gravel? You chicken out?) He had been my original choice, and the possibility of voting for him remained, so I flipped the toggle. Of course he won't win, but I still voted for the best candidate available to me.

But since Richardson had no pledged delegates, and since we vote for them separately, I still had some decisions to make. If in fact the convention is contested, these delegates will be called upon to make a difference. I voted for my assemblyman, because I like him, even though he is pledged to Clinton. For the rest I voted for all the delegates pledged to Edwards. He had been my second choice, and his delegates were still out there. These were people who agreed with me, at least on this. Why shouldn't I choose them?

All the way home, I heard the voices of some friends, scolding me for "wasting" my vote, throwing it away on people who did not have a realistic chance of winning. But, despite a few misgivings, I felt pretty good. Because I hadn't made another "least worst" choice, in a world that is full of them. I had voted my conscience.

Monday, February 04, 2008

McCain Insane?

That seems to be the opinion among some of his Senate colleagues, including those within his own party. Or, if not insane, prone to explosions of rage -- and temperamentally unsuited to the Presidency. Per the WaPo:

"The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine," Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) ... told the Boston Globe recently. "He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Atheists Attack Boy Scouts

Apparently, the Scout oath ("do my best for God and country," or, across the pond, "God and the Queen") bothers them.

Actually, they are bothered by the fact that all Scouts are required to say the oath, whether or not they believe in God. And further, by the fact that the Scouts will make exceptions allowing Muslims to mention Allah, Buddhists to mention the Dharma, but will not make an exception allowing atheists to remain silent. And -- perhaps centrally -- they are bothered that the Scouting website calls the movement "inclusive," even though it apparently excludes those with a strong objection to God.

Let it be said that the atheists, represented here by the British Humanist Association and National Secular Society, have at least half a case. To call yourself "inclusive" when you aren't sounds misleading, doesn't it? Except, of course, that "inclusive" isn't the same as "all-inclusive." For example, many churches call themselves inclusive, by which they are usually hinting that they welcome gay people or racial minorities or somebody else who often feels excluded. But they are still churches. A Hindu is welcome to visit, but can't very well join and remain a Hindu.

Strangely enough, the British Humanist Association has a similar rule. I consider myself a pretty typical Christian Humanist, of the Erasmian variety. (We pretty much invented the concept, generations before anybody thought to secularize it.) But so far as I can tell, the BHA's definition of "humanism" extends only to secular humanists. And while, according to their website they welcome "those who are not [secular] humanists but who support our aims for society and who wish to contribute and stay in touch," they will not extend to us the full privileges of membership, specifically including a vote in their affairs. That is to say, they will "welcome" those of different opinions than their own, to the extent of accepting our filthy theist money, but invite us to keep our opinions separate but equal.

Sort of like letting the atheist kid come on your camping trip, even if he can't wear your neckerchief.

Oh, and another thing: I was going to suggest that, instead of pissing on the Scouts, the secular types might consider starting their own camping club. Then I learned that they had, since 1925 -- the UK's Woodcraft Folk. They don't wear uniforms, just lookalike sweatshirts. Nobody much joins, because, frankly, it looks lame next to those snappy Scout uniforms and merit badges.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Churches Boycott the Superbowl

At least they should.

For years, churches have adopted an "if you can't beat 'em" approach toward Superbowl Sunday, speeding through services, cancelling evening events, and capitulating to the world by holding "Superbowl parties," showing the game on their own giant TV sets. (Some feel that this is an effective outreach to the young and unchurched, about which more momentarily.)

But the party's over. The NFL has sent out letters threatening legal action. Apparently it is a violation of copyright law to show their games on any set larger than 55 inches. Sports bars have a legal exemption.

Okay -- how stupid is this? First off, why does the NFL care about the size of thee TV set their hundred bazillion viewers use to view the game? Two hundred bazillion eyes is a lot of eyes, whether they are distributed in living rooms or gathered in fellowship halls. Second, what kind of country gives exemptions to bars but not to churches?

So we side with the churches, to be sure. No surprise there. But we have a few other points we'd like to raise. To wit:

1) This is an old, old dance. In Renaissance England, the Puritans were so offended by sports played on Sunday that they banned them. One of the many ways in which James I disappointed them was his support for sport -- after Mass, to be sure. He even wrote a book on the subject, because that's just the kind of guy he was.

2) It's an old dance, only now, the churches aren't leading. They are leaning like horny debutantes on the arms of Big Steroid, and hoping to be swung gracefully around the ballroom. They are yearning for love, and willing to put out a little if it gets them a ring. But like that deb, all they're really going to get is screwed.

3) Churches are kidding themselves if they think this is evangelism. When the WaPo writes about a huge Presbyterian congregation in Virginia that uses this as outreach to disaffected youth, and quotes the Director of Communication saying "we thought we had found our magic bullet," wiser heads shake sadly. Sure, the Superbowl is a great way to get young people into your church -- for the Superbowl.

3) Why do all these churches have TV sets bigger than 55 inches? Yikes. Don't they know that television was invented by the Other Place? Especially since the writers' strike?

Nope. All told, the NFL's seeming smackdown is (like Paul's shipwreck, or the Decian persecutions)just a cleverly-disguised gift from God. It is a chance for churches to stop kissing the culture's smelly rear, and stand apart -- proudly. Rather than trying to get in on the action, churches should take some time this Sunday afternoon to be churches. Worship God. Hold a Bible study. Deliver your collection of coats to the nearby shelter. Sure, you won't get a lot of people -- but guess what? You'll be doing what God called you to do.

Churches should boycott the Superbowl, not to harm the NFL, but for their own good.