Sunday, February 29, 2004

Christianity's Silent Majority must be heard in the political arena

...During South Carolina's recent Democratic primary debate, the Rev. Al Sharpton nailed the issue. In describing President Bush's conservative Christian supporters, he said, "I don't think they represent Christianity any more than some of these murderers, and mass murderers, represent Islam. So let's not blame the religion."

Christianity's extreme right cannot reasonably be compared to Muslim extremists or to acts of terrorism. It can, however, be held responsible for minimizing the potential benefits of a religion far greater in scope than the vocal minority that currently represents it.

Indeed, the public perception of contemporary Christianity is most effectively and unfortunately incarnated in the person of George W. Bush. The president attends church regularly. He describes his life as being "rededicated to Christ." He is hailed as the answer to the prayers of the religious right. ...

...Many Christians worship with quiet dignity, unwilling to join battle with strident evangelists who preach a single path to salvation. These silent faithful recognize that there are innumerable paths to God and that God might be called by many names. By definition, this gentle army goes largely unnoticed. Thomas Jefferson, when asked if he was a Christian, responded, "It is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be read." St. Francis of Assisi told his brothers, "Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words."

But the time has come to break silence and give Jesus back his good name, to free the master-philosopher from the strictures of literal and limiting Bible readings and apply his life-altering view to the unique challenges of the 21st century. ...

Army chiefs feared Iraq war illegal just days before start
Britain's Army chiefs refused to go to war in Iraq amid fears over its legality just days before the British and American bombing campaign was launched, The Observer can today reveal.

The explosive new details about military doubts over the legality of the invasion are detailed in unpublished legal documents in the case of Katharine Gun, the intelligence officer dramatically freed last week after Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, dropped charges against her of breaking the Official Secrets Act.

The disclosure came as it also emerged that Goldsmith was forced hastily to redraft his legal advice to Tony Blair to give an 'unequivocal' assurance to the armed forces that the conflict would not be illegal. ...

US told UK Attorney General to alter legal advice on Iraq war
The attorney general initially told Tony Blair that an invasion of Iraq would be illegal without a new resolution from the United Nations and only overturned his advice when Washington ordered Downing Street to find legal advice which would justify the war....

Saturday, February 28, 2004

This evangelist has a 'Purpose'
LAKE FOREST, Calif. — The Rev. Rick Warren — the most influential evangelist you've never heard of — has the answer to the meaning of life.

He has built an overflowing mega-church here in the mountain foothills southeast of Los Angeles....

...Warren is part of the ultra-conservative Southern Baptist Convention, and all his senior staff sign on to the SBC's doctrines, such as the literal and infallible Bible and exclusion of women as senior pastors. Yet Warren's pastor-training programs welcome Catholics, Methodists, Mormons, Jews and ordained women....

Friday, February 27, 2004

Christopher Hitchens

A FEW years ago, Mel Gibson got himself into an argument after uttering a series of crude remarks that were hostile to homosexuals.

Now he has made a film that principally appeals to the gay Christian sado-masochistic community: a niche market that hasn't been sufficiently exploited.

If you like seeing handsome young men stripped and tied up and flayed with whips, The Passion Of The Christ is the movie for you....

...Yesterday, as the movie opened, a Pentecostal church in Denver, Colorado, put up a big sign on its marquee saying: "Jews Killed The Lord Jesus." Nice going....

...Having secured a huge amount of free publicity in this way, and some very lucrative advance block bookings from Christian fundamentalist groups, Gibson now talks self-pityingly about how he has risked his fortune and his career, but doesn't care if he "never works again" because he's done it all for Jesus.

The clear message I get from that is that he'll be boycotted by sinister Hollywood Jews. So it's a win-win for him: big box office or celebrity martyrdom. With any luck, a bit of both. How perfectly nauseating.

In a widely publicised concession, Gibson said that he'd removed the scene where the Jewish mob cries out that it wants the blood of Jesus to descend on the heads of its children's children.

This very questionable episode - it is mentioned in only one of the four gospels - has in fact not been cut. Only the English subtitle has gone. (The film is spoken in Aramaic and Latin, though Roman soldiers actually spoke a dialect of Greek.)

So when the film is later shown, in Russia and Poland, say, or Egypt and Syria, there will be a ready-made propaganda vehicle for those who fancy a bit of torture and murder, with a heavy dose of Jew-baiting thrown in.

Gibson knows very well that this will happen, and he'll be raking it in from exactly those foreign rights to the film. ...

The Worship of Blood
...The only cinematic achievement of The Passion of the Christ is that it breaks new ground in the verisimilitude of filmed violence. The notion that there is something spiritually exalting about the viewing of it is quite horrifying. The viewing of The Passion of the Christ is a profoundly brutalizing experience. Children must be protected from it. (If I were a Christian, I would not raise a Christian child on this.) Torture has been depicted in film many times before, but almost always in a spirit of protest. This film makes no quarrel with the pain that it excitedly inflicts. It is a repulsive masochistic fantasy, a sacred snuff film, and it leaves you with the feeling that the man who made it hates life....

...So the kindest thing that may be said of Gibson is that he is an extremely late medieval. He contemplates the details of pain ecstatically. But this is still too kind, because the morbidity of the Man of Sorrows, even in its most popular versions, was rarely as crude as what Gibson presents. Does Christian dolorousness, a serious reflection upon the fate of Jesus, really require these special effects, this moral and aesthetic barbarity? The Passion of the Christ is the work of a religious sensibility of remarkable coarseness. It is by turns grossly physical and grossly magical, childishly literalist, gladly credulous, comically masculine. Gibson's faith is finally pre-theological, the kind of conviction that abhors thought, superstitiously fascinated by Satan and "the other realm," a manic variety of Christian folk religion....

...It will be objected that I see only pious pornography in The Passion of the Christ because I am not a believer in the Christ. This is certainly so. I do not agree that Jesus is my savior or anybody else's. I confess that I smiled when the credits to The Passion of the Christ listed "stunts." So I am not at all the person for whom Gibson made this movie. But I do not see how a belief in Jesus strengthens the case for such a film. Quite the contrary. Belief, a theory of meaning, a philosophical convenience, is rarely far away from cruelty. Torture has always been attended by explanations that vindicate it, and justify it, and even hallow it. These explanations, which are really extenuations, have been articulated in religious and in secular terms. Their purpose is to redescribe an act of inhumanity so that it no longer offends, so that it comes to seem necessary, so that it edifies. My victim of torture is your martyr.

There is a small chapter in The City of God in which Augustine denounces torture--"a thing, indeed, to be bewailed, and, if that were possible, watered with fountains of tears"--and then complacently accepts the necessity of it. (He asks only that we "condemn human life as miserable.") Augustine is speaking not of the duties of the martyr, but of the duties of the wise judge. Introduce God into the grim situation, and you will find fountains of tears shed not only over the success of some individuals in making the ultimate sacrifice, but also over the failure of other individuals to do the same. This is true of all the religious traditions. There is an ideal of holy suicide in all of them. It is important that we know how such extreme deeds were understood by the men and the women who performed them, but we have no obligation to concur in their understanding of what they did. Religious belief may actually interfere with a lucid analysis of religious life. Anyway, is the sanctification of murder really what this country needs now? ...

Blood Libel
I haven't seen Gibson's Passion, and I don't plan to, but the coverage sure makes it sound like a movie Sam Peckinpah would have loved...

...It's funny how, despite everything Jesus taught about peace and love and forgiveness, the fundamentalists (Catholic and Protestant alike) tend to focus so heavily on the bloody and violent circumstances of his death. They end up treating the crucifixation as the main event, and the resurrection -- the most powerful part of the story, in my opinion -- almost as a coda.

...Come to think of it, Blood Libel wouldn't be a bad alternate title for Gibson's film. Although "Jesus Chainsaw Massacre" -- the one that's currently making the rounds on the blogs -- is also pretty good.

...My friend, who knows the Middle East far better than I do, thinks Passion probably will do very big box office in the region. This isn't likely to reduce antisemitic sentiments there, either. (I'm not sure anything could at this point, but a bad situation can always be made worse.) Islam regards Jesus as a prophet -- not the Prophet, but a prophet nonetheless -- and some of its benighted offshoots also buy into the, Jesus myth. And now Gibson has given them a whole new Hollywood version to sell....

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Two distinct styles of faith characterize the mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. One is the faith of the academy, theologically informed but arid and intellectual. The other is popular Christianity, an energetic mixture of tradition and superstition that provides fellowship and comfort but cannot answer the challenges posed by historical and scientific knowledge. Mainline pastors tend to hold an academic faith, but, lest they scandalize the laity, they preach a popular one. Meanwhile, those who seek a faith adequate to the modern world are silently disappearing from the pews.
-- The Dishonest Church, Jack Good

Senators' Stocks Beat the Market by 12 Percent
US senators' personal stock portfolios outperformed the market by an average of 12 per cent a year in the five years to 1998, according to a new study.

"The results clearly support the notion that members of the Senate trade with a substantial informational advantage over ordinary investors," says the author of the report, Professor Alan Ziobrowski of the Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University.

He admits to being "very surprised" by his findings, which were based on 6,000 financial disclosure filings and are due to be published in the Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis.

"The results suggest that senators knew when to buy their common stocks and when to sell."

First-time Senators did especially well, with their stocks outperforming by 20 per cent a year on average - a result that very few professional fund managers would be able to achieve.

"It could be argued that the junior senators most recently came out of private industry, so may have better connections. Seniority was definitely a factor in returns," says Prof Ziobrowski.

There was no difference in performance between Democrats and Republicans.

A separate study in 2000, covering 66,465 US households from 1991 to 1996 showed that the average household's portfolio underperformed the market by 1.44 per cent a year, on average. Corporate insiders (defined as senior executives) usually outperform by about 5 per cent.

The Ziobrowski study notes that the politicians' timing of transactions is uncanny. Most stocks bought by senators had shown little movement before the purchase. But after the stock was bought, it outperformed the market by 28.6 per cent on average in the following calender year.

Returns on sell transactions are equally intriguing. Stocks sold by senators performed in line with the market the year following the sale.

When adjusted by the size of stocks, the total portfolio returns outperformed by 12 per cent a year on average. The study used a total market index as the benchmark for comparison.

The study took eight years to complete because there was no database of information and the documents had to be gathered and examined manually. Stocks held in blind trusts are not included in the disclosure documents.

See The Movie, Buy The Nail
Jesus died for your sins -- and also to sell you a really bitchin' "Passion" coffee mug

You, yes you, can right now purchase a truly stylin' sepia-toned "Passion of the Christ" cross-adorned coffee mug, an exact replica of the one Jesus Himself used every morning at the Jerusalem Starbucks.

You can buy "witnessing tools," including lapel pins labeled in indecipherable Aramaic (yay Aramaic! What a comeback! Who knew?) and lapel pins with crucifixes, and packs of "witnessing cards" to swap with your Jesus-happy friends, just like the Disciples did when they sat around the holy campfire, swapping tales of sad lost goddesses and making s'mores with communion wafers and pink Easter marshmallow peeps.

But nothing says "slightly masochistic Jesus fanatic" like adorning your fine self with a two-inch silver pewter crucifixion-nail pendant, hanging 'round your neck from a nice 24-inch leather cord. Oh my yes. ...

...And, as for the nail pendants, well, the late, great comedian Bill Hicks probably said it best when he commented, "A lot of Christians wear crosses around their necks. Do you think when Jesus comes back he ever wants to see a f--in' cross? It's kind of like going up to Jackie Onassis with a rifle pendant on." ...

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Bands reaping miracle
No music is more reliant on its message than Christian music. And in a time when Christian music is selling better than its secular brothers and sisters, that message - whether it serves God or mammon - is clear.

Solid Christian acts such as the Newsboys and Rebecca St. James, who are touring together and playing Denver and Colorado Springs this weekend, are masters of marketing - and the church community lends itself to it.

Many Christian artists use their music, their charismatic sway and their worldwide exposure to influence others and spread their word. Just as religious artists making films and writing books have learned (think "Omega Code"), the church is a powerful promotional tool that operates on the cost-effective vehicle known as word-of-mouth. And sales are thriving, posting numbers that, in an otherwise moribund industry, are downright miraculous.

But it's getting a bit weird.

Open up the latest Newsboys disc, "Adoration: The Worship Album," and out pops an ad pitching "The Official Bible of the Newsboys." The book is the "NIV Student Bible," and the leaflet includes a bold quote from Newsboys frontman Peter Furler: "The NIV Student Bible has been and continues to be my daily read."

You might think the ad random, unless you also come across Rebecca St. James' 2003 greatest-hits CD. Inside her "Wait for Me: The Best From Rebecca St. James" is an insert hyping Eugene H. Peterson's "The Message." The pitch: "There is so much that is fake about our society," St. James writes. "My generation is craving something that is real, honest and true. 'The Message' is straight up! It's modern, relevant and direct."...

Violent 'Passion' is too graphic for kids
After seeing an advance screening of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" two weeks ago, I felt like Pilate pondering a host of questions: Was it anti-Semitic or fair to Jews? Was it true to the Bible or adapted, a la Hollywood, to accommodate dramatic flourishes?

On one score I had little doubt: "The Passion," which opens Tuesday, is easily the most violent, blood-drenched film I have seen in years — perhaps ever. And therein lies a serious issue I see not only through the eyes of an entertainment writer, but also a church-going Christian.

Churches busing youth to this movie like it's some sort of Chuck E. Cheese field trip need to think — and pray — long and hard about the aftershock. "The Passion" is not kids' stuff. It is gory in the extreme, with prolonged flogging and torture scenes. One lasts 45 minutes....

It has been said that Christianity started in Israel, then was taken to Greece and turned into a philosophy. Then it was taken to Rome where it was made into an institution. Later, it was taken to Europe where it became a culture, and then it was brought to America where it was made into a business enterprise.

Still Thinking Out Loud About the Passion
Let me be clear: I have no problem with “The Passion of Christ.” I have no doubt that Gibson has made an emotionally devastating and spiritually transforming movie.

Before I write my next thought, I need to make a disclosure. I have a cynical nature. I might even go so far as to call it a spiritual gift if it wouldn’t seem so presumptuous. Christians can be extremely gullible and overly sentimental. At times, my function in the community of faith is to provide a counter-balance to this. I’m not a “wild-eyed true believer.” I don’t readily go with the crowd. I’m not much of a “cheerleading preacher.” My faith is a bit more guarded, a tad more reserved than most. It has been shaped by seasons of overwhelming doubt. When others around me are getting excited about something, I’m usually looking for a curtain to pull back, a hoax to unveil. This trait drives my wife crazy.

Having said that, I say this. My only problem with “The Passion” is with the way evangelical Christians are marketing and promoting it. As a work of art, I believe “The Passion” has tremendous potential for evangelism. However, if we cover Gibson’s art in too much evangelical Christian cheese, then the full force of the movie’s message may be blunted, because to “normal” people, its going to take on the stench of just another right-wing evangelical ploy designed to “take our country back for God.”

This may sound completely absurd—and I’ll understand if you immediately file this post under “thoughts from a fool”—but I find myself wishing that Gibson’s project could have stayed underground and not gone mainstream. No English subtitles. No major distributor. Just a subversive, artsy movie about the death of Jesus made by a director as an expression of his love for his Savior. There is no chance of that now. Marketing packets have been sold to churches. Theatres have been reserved. People have been invited to see a movie that everyone is talking about. In the tradition of “big time American evangelical Christianity” we have taken this thing over the top. That may not be a bad thing. Because of the media coverage, millions of people will be hearing about Jesus’ death on the cross and the meaning behind it. Thousands of people may very well become Christ-followers because of this movie and the way churches are using it.

Here is where my cynical nature kicks in. How many people will find themselves, just after this movie is over, in the uncomfortable situation of having to rebuff yet another evangelistic appeal over coffee? How many people will feel taken advantage of when they realize that the reason they were invited to this movie is because they were someone else’s evangelistic project?

You know what I’d really like to do? I’d like to go to a showing of this movie that isn’t full of Christians. In Tulsa, that’s going to be hard to do. Maybe I should fly up to Seattle or Vancouver for a day and check it out there. I am very curious to see how people who have not been prepped by the evangelical community will respond to it.

...Don't get me wrong, I'll go see this film. I'll weep, I'll grimace, I'll leave the theatre with a greater love for God and appreciation for what Jesus suffered on the cross for my sins. I'll make reference to it in my sermons. I'll use it as an evangelistic tool if it seems appropriate to do so.

But I must admit that it strikes me as a bit odd or at least ironic that some Christians are hyping this movie the way they are. It is supposedly the most graphic and realistic depiction of the crucifixion ever captured on film. We're lining up to go see it, reserving theatres so that we can watch. What kind of crowd gathers to watch a man get tortured and die? What kind of people buy tickets in advance to witness an execution?

My guess is the same kind of people who cried "crucify him!" 2000 years ago. If we had been there when it actually happened, I wonder how many of us would have gathered to watch? If Rome sold tickets to crucifixions, how big a block would we have reserved? And for what reason? Would we have invited a friend to come along? "Hey man, come with me and watch this guy get tortured."

I wonder how many early Christians actually witnessed a crucifixion? When Paul said, "I preach Christ crucified," did they know EXACTLY what he was talking about?

If someone had caught Jesus' actual crucifixion on tape, I wonder if the first Christians would have replayed it every Sunday before communion? can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.
-- Anne Lamott

Sunday, February 22, 2004

The church, by and large, has had a poor record of encouraging freedom. She has spent so much time inculcating in us the fear of making mistakes that she has made us like ill-taught piano students: we play our songs, but we never really hear them because our main concern is not to make music but to avoid some flub that will get us in [trouble].
-- Robert Farrar Capon

Friday, February 20, 2004

Evangelicals frustrated by Bush
President Bush left several million evangelical voters "on the table" four years ago and again is having trouble energizing Christian conservatives, prominent leaders on the religious right say.

"It's not just economic conservatives upset by runaway federal spending that he's having trouble with. I think his biggest problem will be social conservatives who are not motivated to work for the ticket and to ensure their fellow Christians get to the polling booth," said Robert H. Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute.

"If there is a rerun of 2000, when an estimated 6 million fewer evangelical Christians voted than in the pivotal year of 1994, then the Bush ticket will be in trouble, especially if there is no [Ralph] Nader alternative to draw Democratic votes away from the Democratic candidate," added Mr. Knight, whose organization is an affiliate of Concerned Women for America (CWA).

Their list of grievances is long, but right now social conservatives are mad over what many consider the president's failure to strongly condemn illegal homosexual "marriages" being performed in San Francisco under the authority of Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Top religious rights activists have been burning up the telephone lines, sharing what one privately called their "apoplexy" over Mr. Bush's failure to act decisively on the issue, although he has said he would support a constitutional amendment if necessary to ban same-sex "marriages." ...

... "I'm not blaming the president, but religious conservatives have been doing politics for 25 years and, on every front, are worse off on things they care about," said Gary Bauer, president of American Values. "The gay rights movement is more powerful, the culture is more decadent, the life of not one baby has been saved, porn is in the living room, and you can't watch the Super Bowl without your hand on the off switch."

Religious right leaders say their constituents aren't likely to defect to the Democrats.

"What is at issue here is, will our folks be AWOL when it comes time for the election because they are just not energized and motivated?" said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. "Social conservatives coalesce around strong leadership. That's what motivates and energizes them. And on their core issues, the leadership from the White House is not there right now." ...

KABA Writer Investigated for Questioning Civil Authority
Police say Investigation "Ongoing" -- Did you know that writing a rhetorical letter to the civil authorities in California challenging their hypocrisy results in a police investigation that includes not only calls from detectives but two black and white police cruisers coming to your home?

That's what happened to longtime gun rights activist and professional writer David Codrea this week. What follows is a link to the investigation-inspiring letter, a detailed description of what transpired and a description of how trying to get our own answers from the investigators resulted in unwillingness to respond to our simple, reasonable inquiry....

The Neocon War on Peace and Freedom
The main problem with Bush’s war on terrorism is that he has not attacked enough foreign regimes and not sufficiently trampled the privacy of the American people. Such is the thesis of David Frum, former speechwriter for President Bush, and Richard Perle, currently on the Pentagon’s Defense Advisory Board, co-authors of the new book The End of Evil: How to Win the War on Terror.

According to Frum and Perle, “Terrorism remains the great evil of our time, and the war against this evil, our generation’s great cause.... There is no middle way for Americans; it is victory or holocaust.” ...

The book jacket identifies Frum as the “most influential thinker in the foreign-policy apparatus of the Administration of George W. Bush” and hails Perle as “the intellectual guru of the hard-line neoconservative movement in foreign policy.” Inside the book, Frum and Perle reveal that people who say neoconservatives have vast influence are anti-Semitic. This is typical of the perverse double standard that pervades The End of Evil.

This book is impossible to understand without recognizing the neoconservative concept of government. The key to ending evil, from Frum’s and Perle’s perspective, is to greatly increase the power of the federal government both at home and abroad. Government becomes the ultimate force for the good — and distrust of government is the ultimate proof of a lack of sophistication. ...

...It is difficult to tell whether some of the book’s comments on law enforcement are simply naive or are preying on readers’ ignorance. The authors sanguinely declare, “The FBI is essentially a police force, and like all good police forces it goes to great lengths to respect the constitutional rights of the suspects it investigates.” From the 1992 unconstitutional “shoot to kill” orders that spurred an FBI sniper to slay a mother holding a baby in a cabin door at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, to the 1993 tank-and-gas assault on civilians at Waco, to the FBI’s illegal delivery of hundreds of confidential files on Republicans to the Clinton White House, to the 1994 FBI sting operations that sought to destroy the daughter of Malcom X, to the FBI’s framing of an innocent security guard for a pipebomb explosion during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, to recent revelations that the FBI protected murderers who were informants in the Boston Irish Mafia and was complicit in sending four innocent men to prison for life on murder charges, the FBI has too often oppressed Americans and obstructed justice. But, in the post–9/11 world, good citizens are obliged to have bad memories.

Unlike some enthusiasts of Bush’s wars, Frum and Perle do not talk about temporary abridgments of privacy; instead, the new Über-Surveillance State will presumably be with us forever. In the middle of their parade of proposed new intrusions, the authors remind readers, “Americans are fighting to defend their liberty.” Since we are fighting for liberty, we should cheerfully abandon safeguards developed over hundreds of year to protect citizens from their rulers. ...

...Frum and Perle adore “street tough” lingo: “When it is in our power and our interest, we should toss dictators aside with no more compunction than a police sharpshooter feels when he downs a hostage-taker.” The authors confidently declare, “We must destroy regimes implicated in anti-American terrorism.” “Implicated” presumably includes simply saying nasty things about a government. As long as the United States can find some disgruntled exiles to tell lies about their former government (as happened in the case of some of the Iraqi exiles), then the United States automatically has the right to kill as many foreigners as necessary to topple the regime. As Frum and Perle make stark in their comments on Iraq, even false accusations against a foreign government are sufficient to justify an American invasion.

Paranoia is now the highest statecraft. “When in doubt, drop more bombs” seems to be the Frum-Perle rule of thumb. The illustrious authors declare, “Where intelligence is uncertain, prudent leaders will inevitably minimize risk by erring on the side of the worst plausible assumption. And rightly so.” In other words, if there is any doubt that a foreign nation might pose a threat to the United States, it would be irresponsible not to bomb that country into submission. ...

...But the authors never address the fact that governments kill far more people than do terrorist groups. From 1980 to 2000, international terrorists killed 7,745 people, according to the U.S. State Department. Yet, in the same decades, governments killed more than 10 million people in ethnic-cleansing campaigns, mass executions, politically caused famines, wars, and other slaughters. The 9/11 attacks made 2001 probably the only year in decades in which the number of people killed by international terrorists even approached 1 percent of the number killed by governments. Governments pose a far greater theat to peace and survival than do terrorist groups. ...

Thursday, February 19, 2004

One of the great attractions of patriotism -- it fulfills our worst wishes. In the person of our nation we are able, vicariously, to bully and cheat. Bully and cheat, what's more, with a feeling that we are profoundly virtuous.
-- Aldous Huxley

Hip New Churches Pray to a Different Drummer
MINNEAPOLIS — It was "alt.worship" night at Bluer on a recent Saturday, and as a crowd of about 50 people, mostly in their 20's and 30's, milled around an open loft space filled with couches and candles, John Musick, the pastor, sat behind a drum set, accompanied by three other members of the musical "ministry team." Light fixtures dangled from exposed pipes; slides and videos of old stone crosses or statues flashed on two screens.

Mr. Musick, 37, wore a faded T-shirt and blue jeans and had mussed hair and a soul patch beneath his lower lip. Instead of his weekly sermon, he directed the congregants to make their way among three makeshift altars, each with a stack of cards carrying a prayer and a list of topics to think about.

"You're going to be put in a position where you have to think about your relationship with God," Mr. Musick said.

Bluer, which began four years ago as a young adult ministry at a more conventional church, is one of several hundred small evangelical congregations that have formed around the country in recent years to pursue an alternative idea of how to do church.

Called "emerging" or "postmodern" churches, they are diverse in theology and method, linked loosely by Internet sites, Web logs, conferences and a growing stack of hip-looking paperbacks. Some religious historians believe the churches represent the next wave of evangelical worship, after the boom in megachurches in the 1980's and 1990's.

The label "emerging church" refers to the emergence of a generation with little or no formal attachment to church. The congregations vary in denomination, but most are from the evangelical side of Protestantism and some are sponsored by traditional churches. Brian McLaren, 48, pastor at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Md., and one of the architects of the fledgling movement, compared the churches to foreign missions, using the local language and culture, only directed at the vast unchurched population of young America....

The Pathology of Love
The unpalatable truth is that falling in love is, in some ways, indistinguishable from a severe pathology. Behavior changes are reminiscent of psychosis and, biochemically speaking, passionate love closely imitates substance abuse. Appearing in the BBC series Body Hits on 4 December 2002, Dr. John Marsden, the head of the British National Addiction Center, said that love is addictive, akin to cocaine and speed. Sex is a "booby trap", intended to bind the partners long enough to bond.

Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki of University College in London showed that the same areas of the brain are active when abusing drugs and when in love. The prefrontal cortex — hyperactive in depressed patients — is inactive when besotted. How can this be reconciled with the low levels of serotonin that are the telltale sign of both depression and infatuation is not known. The initial drive, lust, is brought on by surges of sex hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen. These induce an indiscriminate scramble for physical gratification. Attraction transpires once a more-or-less appropriate object is found (with the right body language and speed and tone of voice) and is tied to a panoply of sleep and eating disorders.

...Helen Fisher of Rutger University suggests a three-phased model of falling in love. Each stage involves a distinct set of chemicals. The BBC summed it up succinctly and sensationally: "Events occurring in the brain when we are in love have similarities with "mental illness". ...

...Contrary to prevailing misconceptions, love is mostly about negative emotions. As Professor Arthur Aron from State University of New York at Stonybrook has shown, in the first few meetings, people misinterpret certain physical cues and feelings — notably fear and thrill — as (falling in) love. Thus, counterintuitively, anxious people — especially those with the "serotonin transporter" gene — are more sexually active (i.e., fall in love more often). ...

The end of the world
When David got home from school, the third grader looked everywhere for his mom and sisters. They couldn't be found in the house or the yard. Suddenly the youngster panicked. What he'd been taught in church must have happened - they'd disappeared in the "rapture," and he'd been "left behind."
For children raised in a fundamentalist Protestant background, "that wasn't an uncommon experience," says David Currie of his frantic moments years ago. They were taught Jesus could come at any moment to whisk believers to heaven and leave others to face seven years of "the great tribulation." Only after that period of suffering, violence, and disasters on Earth would Christ return in the Second Coming.

Today, as belief in this end-times prophecy sees a resurgence among Americans - partly because of the phenomenal success of the "Left Behind" series of novels (58 million sold) and the disturbing "signs" of terrorism and war - Mr. Currie and others are seeking to refute the apocalyptic theology.

Fundamentalists represent a minority of Christians - an estimated 25 million - but the interest in end-times prophecy has spread beyond their circles, and is not only shaping people's lives, but, say supporters and critics, even influencing US foreign policy....

...In fact, the involvement of premillennialists in politics is stirring concern among some observers. As the religious right has become more prominent in political circles, critics say, they are influencing and even undermining US policy on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

Dispensationalists are also called Christian Zionists, and since the 19th century have supported the "regathering of the Jews" in the Holy Land, which they say is an essential step toward the end times. It also says the temple will be rebuilt on the Temple Mount, where the Muslim Dome of the Rock now stands.

Hitchcock says the return of Jews to Israel is "a stage-setting event for the tribulation period, when God's going to deal again with the Jewish people," giving them a last chance to recognize Jesus as Messiah.

In the meantime, dispensationalists believe that, according to Genesis, God will bless those who bless the Jews and curse those who curse them. They are therefore among Israel's staunchest supporters, backing its "ownership" of the entire West Bank. They have raised money in churches to support illegal settlements.

Don Wagner, who teaches religion and Middle East studies at North Park University in Chicago, points to specific examples of Christian Zionists' political influence: When President Bush started to call on Israel to pull the military back from Jenin refugee camp in 2002, they helped mobilize 100,000 e-mails to the White House; the president never said another word in public. And when Mr. Bush started pushing his latest peace plan, House leader "Tom DeLay headed off to Israel to speak to the Knesset and told them not to worry about it," he adds.

Dr. Wagner says that Christian Zionists are ignoring and undermining indigenous Christians in the Middle East, many of whom are descendants of the earliest Christians. A Palestinian Christian center, Sabeel, will hold a conference this spring, "Challenging Christian Zionism."

What distresses some other Christians is that the fixation on prophecy can lead genuine seekers astray about what Christianity teaches.

"Now if you talk to a man on the street he'll think Christians believe in a God who is quixotic, plays games with humanity, and is going to cheerfully zap flight crews out of planes and see the planes crash," says Paul Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. "How do you counteract that?"...

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Back to the tangled web files ...
Knocked on his heels by increasing evidence that he willfully deceived the American public, President Bush is off to a new strategy of spreading around the blame. Let's call it the anti-buck gambit. Don't pass the buck. Just get an M-80, light it, put it over in the corner with the buck on top of it. Then no more buck, no more problem.

In any case, back to our story. The new line is, well, okay maybe we were wrong. But everyone else was wrong too. So who's gonna cast the first stone.

Said the president yesterday at an Army base in Louisiana: "My administration looked at the intelligence and we saw a danger. Members of Congress looked at the same intelligence, and they saw a danger. The United Nations Security Council looked at the intelligence and it saw a danger. We reached a reasonable conclusion that Saddam Hussein was a danger."

Filling in the blanks here, the argument is that everyone thought Saddam had WMD. So it's not my mistake. It's everyone's mistake.

Now, this is dishonest at a number of levels. But let's just pick one. When it comes to what constitutes a threat, all 'WMD' are not created equal. Mustard gas is close to irrelevant weighed against the threat of nuclear weapons, especially effectively deliverable ones. And on this there was in fact fierce and public disagreement. Let's take the UN and their inspectors versus the White House.

One of the key points the White House never mentions is that, notwithstanding what people thought before the return of inspectors, we found out quite a lot during the brief period when inspectors were in the country. And almost all of what we learned was damaging to the White House's case for war. Indeed, one reason for the hurry to start the war was the fear that the case would collapse entirely. ...

Bush's War Against Nuance
...There is something childlike about the "Meet the Press" transcript. The repetition. The simplistic thinking. "Saddam Hussein was a danger to America," the president said repeatedly. But how? He had no missiles that could reach our shores. He had no nuclear weapons program. He did not play ball with terrorist outfits or, for that matter, they with him. "The man was a threat," Bush said. How? How? How?

"He had a weapon," the president insisted. But he didn't, remember? That was the whole point of David Kay's report. Oh, but Hussein was a madman.

The president does not do nuance -- that we know. But the failure to come up with weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is not a nuance. It is a massive reversal of fact, hot turned into cold, tall into short. Bush's inability or refusal to come to grips with the new facts is not the product of a poor performance or an errant tongue, but of a troubling insistence that his beliefs cannot be wrong. That -- nuance be damned -- makes him look like a dope.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Glittering Images
A profound Christian rethinking of power is overdue

Barbara Nicolosi believes in the future of Christians in Hollywood. A Catholic veteran of the film industry who founded the screenwriting program Act One, she speaks enthusiastically of the time when believers will be well-enough represented in the ranks of studio executives to influence which films and tv series get the green light. "Right now, there simply aren't enough talented Christians who have paid their dues," she told a group of cultural-creative types in a coffeehouse near Washington, D.C., last fall. "But within five to ten years, we will see Christians in Hollywood with real power."

A young man wearing a beret waved his hand. "When you say 'Christians with power,' " he said, "I get really nervous."

"Well, you're here in Washington," Nicolosi responded. "Does it bother you that Christians have political power?"

"Yes it does, actually!" he responded—and a dozen others nodded intently in agreement....

Not Everyone Was Wrong
...One event came on Jan. 29, when David Kay, the retiring chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, dropped his own weapon of mass destruction. "It turns out," Kay told Congress, "we were all wrong, probably, in my judgment. And that is most disturbing." It is, indeed, disturbing. But a review of stories over the past year or so suggests that not everybody was wrong before the war.

We now know, for example, that the Defense Intelligence Agency reported in September 2002 that "there is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons, or where Iraq has -- or will -- establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities." We know that the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research reported that it "considers the available evidence inadequate to support such a judgment" that Iraq was pursuing "an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons," and that Energy Department experts did not agree that controversial aluminum tubes were part of a nuclear program. We now know that the Air Force's National Air and Space Intelligence Center disputed the notion that Iraq's unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, were being designed as attack weapons. ...

Monday, February 16, 2004

Unfermented grape juice is a bland and pleasant drink, especially on a warm afternoon mixed half-and-half with ginger ale. It is a ghastly symbol of the life blood of Jesus Christ, especially when served in individual antiseptic, thimble-sized glasses.

Wine is booze, which means it is dangerous and drunk-making. It makes the timid brave and the reserved amorous. It loosens the tongue and breaks the ice especially when served in a loving cup. It kills germs. As symbols go, it is a rather splendid one.
-- Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life

Saturday, February 14, 2004

If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?
-- Frédéric Bastiat

Friday, February 13, 2004

Hidden health cost coup
One of the biggest beefs that liberals have against conservatives is that the latter are reflexively pro-business. That is, whatever the business community wants, conservatives will bend over backward to give them.

This is untrue for principled conservatives. But, sadly, the Bush administration and the Republican Congress keep giving liberals ample reason to believe the stereotype is fact.

Principled conservatives believe in the free market. While this may seem to equate with a pro-business viewpoint, in fact it often does not. The last thing most businessmen want is a free market, where they must compete, slash prices, continuously innovate, suffer narrow profit margins, and live constantly on the edge of bankruptcy. They would much rather have assured profits, monopoly positions, price supports, trade protection and the other trappings of a corporate welfare state. ...

...those who expect big businesses to support the free market are constantly betrayed. Big businesses are even known to support tax and regulatory policies that harm their own industries — provided they get a loophole for themselves so their competitors are hurt worse. That gives a relative advantage, so they can increase their market share.

Therefore, those who support the free market and truly want to help consumers often must labor alone and battle big corporate interests....

Full Faith and Credulous
...If Massachusetts legalizes gay marriage, the argument goes, the floodgates are open. Other states will have no recourse under the "full faith and credit" clause of the Constitution except to recognize Massachusetts marriages, such that one renegade state—led by a slim majority of four activist judges—will have foisted Adam and Steve's wedding registry upon an entire nation. The conservative response is equally extreme. Anti-gay activists have hastened to stir up voters, urging passage of a constitutional amendment that would obviate the possibility of such unions anywhere in the country....

...The way to avoid that fight is to make it constitutional, say the conservatives, by amending that document. This solution ignores one legal truth and one political truth: The legal truth is that conservatives never needed DOMA in the first place—hysterical posturing notwithstanding, it's by no means a given that other states would be forced to recognize Massachusetts marriages. For one thing, there is an established trapdoor to the full faith and credit clause: The courts have long held that no state should be forced to recognize a marriage sanctioned by another state if that marriage offends a deeply held public policy of the second state. States have been permitted to refuse to recognize marriages from states with different policies toward polygamy, miscegenation, or consanguinity for decades. At this point, 39 states have passed mini-state-sized DOMAs that proscribe marriage for gay couples, often elaborately saying that it violates their public policy. This strongly suggests that the public policy exemption would be triggered, and states would be free to choose for themselves whether to sanction gay marriages. At the very least it would make sense for the courts to rule on the constitutionality of DOMA and full faith and credit before amending the Constitution for only the 28th time in history....

...So what is the downside of letting Massachusetts set its own rules and letting the courts chew over the whole mess for a few years? A lack of uniformity. For a while, we'd have a crazy quilt of policies across the country, with some states permitting gay marriage and others banning it. So what? A lack of uniformity is the norm where marriage law is concerned. The only other negative, to the minds of the far right, is that some Americans might be allowed to live in states that accord them the right to marry.

We call that "federalism."...

Dubious Honor
George W. Bush has a stock response to questions surrounding his service in the Texas Air National Guard in the 1970s: "I did report," he has said. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have been honorably discharged."

But that's not quite true.

A cursory survey shows plenty of examples of servicemen with questionable--and occasionally criminal--histories who have nonetheless collected honorable discharges from the military. Far from being a mark of exemplar service, the honorable discharge is better thought of as a standard severance, something every soldier receives unless there's significant evidence of misconduct and a commanding officer eager to brave the paperwork, panels, and disciplinary hearings required to send the soldier home with anything less. Like any number of other officers, Bush could have ducked out of his service for months and still received an honorable discharge.

Going missing from military service and then squeaking out with an honorable discharge has a rich history among politicians. Current U.S. Representative Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Illinois, served in the army through the mid-1960s, becoming progressively more involved with radical antiwar groups. In 1968, after Martin Luther King's assassination, he went AWOL from his unit to help found the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers. Weeks later, he was honorably discharged.

In 1999, a Texas sheriff up for reelection saw his candidacy unravel after local newspapers reported that, despite a subsequent honorable discharge, he'd skipped out on Army service for several months in 1976 to "patch things up with his ex-wife." (He lost badly in a primary shortly after the revelations broke.)

The list of people who've pulled the AWOL-followed-by-honorable-discharge stunt almost makes it sound chic: A co-star of "Sex and the City"; Igor Stravinsky's biographer and sidekick (later arrested for his desertion in a New Orleans brothel). A few years ago, a guest columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ruminated on going AWOL from his unit routinely with a "case of beer" to drink himself "into oblivion." "I don't know how, but I did manage to get an honorable discharge." ...

...Perhaps more striking is how often serious questions of misconduct have been flat-out ignored. John Allen Muhammad, convicted last November for his participation in the D.C. sniper shootings, served in the Louisiana National Guard from 1978-1985, where he faced two summary courts-martial. In 1983, he was charged with striking an officer, stealing a tape measure, and going AWOL. Sentenced to seven days in the brig, he received an honorable discharge in 1985....

Most Think Truth Was Stretched to Justify Iraq War
A majority of Americans believe President Bush either lied or deliberately exaggerated evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction in order to justify war, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll.
The survey results, which also show declining support for the war in Iraq and for Bush's leadership in general, indicate the public is increasingly questioning the president's truthfulness -- a concern for Bush's political advisers as his reelection bid gets underway.

Barely half -- 52 percent -- now believe Bush is "honest and trustworthy," down 7 percentage points since late October and his worst showing since the question was first asked, in March 1999. At his best, in the summer of 2002, Bush was viewed as honest by 71 percent...

Why the Christian Right is Wrong
First a disclaimer; I am myself a practicing Christian believer so I’m not attacking from the left, right or center. I’m rebuking sadly in Christian love.

In anticipation of the criticism I will receive for not including the so-called "Christian" Left in this piece I can say only that most Christian leftists have long ago abandoned normative Christian practices. There is therefore, no common ground from which I can say anything to them – they make it up as they go along and answer to a political, rather than a Biblical calling and so I must leave them to their own devices.

President George Bush and his Republican yes men find their largest and most gullible group of constituents among the Christian Right – a loosely defined amalgamation of churches and denominations that typically includes most fundamentalist Christians, particularly in the South.

I say "gullible" because few other groups are so easily led by slogans, so regularly ignore substance, and receive so little in return....

...Christians have widely supported the war of aggression against Iraq, which was waged without a declaration of war, and was waged against a country that "might" be a threat to us at some time. Under that rubric we could justify invading Bolivia or Australia. Many Christians say this is fine since Sadaam Hussein is a wicked man and so what if it had nothing to do with national defense or those elusive WMDs.

Sadaam Hussein was and is answerable to God Almighty and the Iraqi people, but he is most definitely not answerable to the United States of America. Unless of course we were suddenly to admit our culpability in creating him and announce that we were shooting our own dog....

...What about the last time Christians lobbied for constitutional change – remember the people gunned down in the streets after the moralistic attempt at prohibition and the wide acceptance of bootlegging that resulted. Ask yourself, was banning alcohol actually such a good idea?

That we are once again seeing gun fights in our streets as a result of the latest attempt at prohibition should make you ask yourselves some tough questions but it does not. You simply demand more and more of the same failing programs and pat yourselves proudly on the backs as the body count mounts and the prisons overflow. As if somehow pontificating for morality had actual worth and rejecting sober judgment had some merit....

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Bush, AIDS and evangelicals
...Bumiller describes the various human rights issues that are of particular concern to many American evangelical Christians -- war in the Sudan, AIDS in Africa, sexual trafficking -- and of the commitments they have received from President Bush's White House to work on these issues....

But many of the White House's initiatives on these "human rights issues abroad" suffer from the same someday, somewhere-over-the-rainbow, quality that characterizes President Bush's other domestic proposals. With great fanfare, he commits $15 billion to fight AIDS in Africa, but there's little immediate funding -- only promises that years from now he'll pay off the balance. Just like the tax cuts, the deficit-reduction, prescription drug benefits, the Mars mission ... you name it. It's promises today, big spending someday. And Bush's evangelical supporters are beginning to get suspicious.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court has altered President Bush's strategy toward religious conservatives. With support for an anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment becoming a litmus test for support from the religious right, the president is having to take sides in a high-profile, hot-button debate. Once he does this, he doesn't need the below-the-radar support from those evangelicals who were concerned about things like AIDS in Africa or sexual trafficking. And funding such things is expensive, threatening his support from the small-but-vocal deficit-hawk wing of his own party.

Whether due to this change in strategy, or due to the fact that his initial promises were disingenuous, President Bush is not living up to his commitments on these human rights issues...

Ex-officer: Bush file's details caused concern
WASHINGTON — As Texas Gov. George W. Bush prepared to run for president in the late 1990s, top-ranking Texas National Guard officers and Bush advisers discussed ways to limit the release of potentially embarrassing details from Bush's military records, a former senior officer of the Texas Guard said Wednesday.

A second former Texas Guard official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, was told by a participant that commanders and Bush advisers were particularly worried about mentions in the records of arrests of Bush before he joined the National Guard in 1968, the second official said.

Bill Burkett, then a top adviser to the state Guard commander, said he overheard conversations in which superiors discussed "cleansing" the file of damaging information....

Burkett says that the state Guard commander, Maj. Gen. Daniel James III, discussed "cleansing" Bush's military files of embarrassing or incriminating documents in the summer of 1997. At the time, Burkett was a lieutenant colonel and a chief adviser to James. He says he was just outside James' open office door when his boss discussed the records on a speakerphone with Joe Allbaugh, who was then Gov. Bush's chief of staff....

Allbaugh, James and the White House denied Burkett's story. As president, Bush has since elevated James to be director of the Air National Guard for the entire country....

Nuclear groups question terrorist threat
Contend NRC official, Bush's address offer divergent appraisals

A top nuclear-safety official has said he wasn't aware that any American nuclear power plant diagrams were found in Afghanistan, despite a terrorist threat cited by President Bush in his State of the Union address two years ago.

Edward McGaffigan Jr., a member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, responding to an environmental group's query, said this month that he testified in 2002 after the speech in at least one closed congressional hearing that he was not aware of any evidence that " `diagrams of American nuclear power plants' had been found in Afghanistan."

McGaffigan's statement has led some groups to assert that Bush either misled the country or mishandled the intelligence about the threat, because the NRC would be expected to play a pivotal role in safeguarding America's nuclear facilities.

If plans of US nuclear plants had been discovered, then the NRC should have been alerted to help prepare a security response, said James P. Riccio, a Greenpeace policy analyst who exchanged correspondence with McGaffigan....

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

W as in AWOL: Case Not Closed
George W. Bush is lucky that Scott McClellan is not his lawyer and that the White House press briefing room is not a courtroom.

On February 10, the Bush White House tried to rid itself of the allegation that Bush ducked out of his Air National Guard Service from May 1972 to May 1973. Two days earlier on Meet the Press, Bush maintained, "I did report, otherwise I wouldn't have been honorably discharged." But he offered no details. He did not describe what drills he did; he did not mention anyone with whom he served during the time in question. When host Tim Russert asked if he would open up his "entire" file and release "everything to settle this," Bush said, "Yeah. Absolutely."

And two days later, McClellan was in the briefing room holding up new documents that he claimed proved Bush had "fulfilled his duties." The key material, which the White House had managed to obtain PDQ from the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver--were several pages of microfiche payment sheet summaries that apparently showed Bush was paid several times in the months of October and November 1972 and January and April 1973. McClellan also cited two retirement records that showed Bush had amassed attendance points for these days.

This new material did bolster Bush's defense. But it hardly resolved the issue. Nor did it address the most damning elements of the case against Bush. Most notable of these is the May 2, 1973, annual performance review--signed by two superior officers, who were friends of Bush--that noted, "Lt. Bush has not been observed at" his home base unit in Houston for the past year. Bush has said he spent about half of that period reporting to a Guard base in Alabama, while he was temporarily living there. The new records do not explain why the commander of that unit and his administrative officer say they never saw Bush. Nor do they explain why the Bush campaign in 2000 failed to keep its promise to produce the names of people who had served with Bush in Alabama. Nor do these records explain why Bush, who had been trained as fighter pilot, failed to take a flight physical during the year in question and was grounded. Nor do they back up the 2000 Bush campaign's explanation that Bush did not take a flight physical because he was living in Alabama and his personal doctor was in Houston. (Flight physicals are administered by military physicians, and there were flight physicians at the base in Alabama where Bush says he served.)

The records hailed by the White House only demonstrate that Bush received payments and credit for a modest amount of days. They do not show what he did and where he did it. Those sorts of records detailing Bush's service should exist, according to military experts. But that is not what the White House handed out. Is it possible Bush received payment and credit for days of service that did not happen? Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, who served in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, recently wrote that he was routinely paid for Guard duty he never did. Given the other evidence, these pay records are not end-of-story proof. ...

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

From Guardsman . . .
... It hardly matters what Bush did or did not do back in 1972. He is not the man now he was then -- that by his own admission. In the same way, it did not matter that Clinton ducked the draft, because, really, just about everyone I knew at the time was doing something similar. All that really matters is how one accounts for what one did. Do you tell the truth (which Clinton did not)? Or do you do what I think Bush has been doing, which is making his National Guard service into something it was not? In his case, it was a rich kid's way around the draft.

...I have no shame about my service, but I know it for what it was -- hardly the Charge of the Light Brigade. When Bush attempts to drape the flag of today's Guard over the one he was in so long ago, when he warns his critics to remember that "there are a lot of really fine people who have served in the National Guard and who are serving in the National Guard today in Iraq," then he is doing now what he was doing then: hiding behind the ones who were really doing the fighting. It's about time he grew up. ...

The problem with family courts
In the latest 'cot death' controversy case, the Court of Appeal in London on 19 January 2004 quashed Angela Cannings' convictions for murdering two of her children. The Court expressed concern about expert evidence given at Cannings' trial by paediatrician Professor Roy Meadow, and indicated that 'where a full investigation into two or more sudden unexplained infant deaths in the same family is followed by a serious disagreement between reputable experts about the cause of death…the prosecution of a parent or parents for murder should not be started, or continued….' (1)

In an unprecedented move, the attorney general has announced that over 250 cases where parents were convicted of harming their children following evidence from Roy Meadow should be urgently reviewed. It is estimated that over 5000 civil cases, where family courts separated children from their parents on Meadow's advice, also have to be reviewed (2). 'We will make sure that we recognise that not only injustices done in the criminal justice system but any potential injustices in care proceedings are identified and acted on' (3), the solicitor-general Harriet Harman has told Parliament.

This is not going to be straightforward. According to the minister for children, Margaret Hodge, 'any parent who feels that a judgment was made on the back of evidence from Meadow would be entitled to go back to the courts and try to have the case reopened and would be eligible for legal aid' (4). But why should parents who have lost their children through possible miscarriages of justice have to go back to the same courts that let them down in the first place?

Unlike the Court of Criminal Appeal, the family courts have no experience of righting miscarriages of justice. What is needed is a public inquiry into this whole situation, which would need to be chaired by someone with no ties either to the family courts, or to child protection work.

There are a number of reasons why we are in the present mess. Historically, child abuse was assumed to be a marginal problem, and the draconian laws introduced to tackle it received little attention or debate. Now, child abuse is perceived as a widespread problem, with the consequence that more and more families are exposed to intervention.

Philip Jenkins, author of Intimate Enemies: Moral Panics in Contemporary Great Britain, has noted how ideas of child abuse changed from the 1960s onwards. From the 1980s, official concerns shifted from the idea of physical to sexual abuse. He explains this development in terms of 'the influence of feminist theorists and pressure groups; of charities and interest groups, above all, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC); and of the bureaucratic needs of social services agencies.' (5) This led to the creation of agencies and units with full-time responsibility of detecting and combating child abuse. In the 1990s, attention was increasingly paid to more arcane, medicalised forms of abuse, such as the now notorious 'Munchausen syndrome by proxy'.

Jenkins notes that many reforms introduced in the name of child protection in recent decades have involved sweeping attacks on traditional Anglo-American legal rights and protections. These rights include: the right to due process, the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, the right to be tried in public, the right to confront one's accusers, and the right to 'equality of arms' (that is, not to be tried under significantly less advantageous conditions that those enjoyed by one's opponent). Other protections, such as restrictions on the use of hearsay evidence, the right to consult the expert of one's choice, and even the right to communicate in confidence with one's lawyers (legal professional privilege) also suffered.

Such traditional legal protections were challenged by what Jenkins calls 'therapeutic values, the sense that neutral professionals were working in the best interests of the child and should not be hampered by outdated technicalities' (6).

Our child welfare courts have therefore become accustomed to a model of therapeutic jurisprudence, in which the best interests of the child are paramount (7). This has certain analogies with a Soviet-style conception of justice, which emphasises outcomes over processes, and which requires the judge to carry out social policy, rather than act as an independent arbiter.

This has ominous consequences, as a US judge explains. 'Therapeutic jurisprudence marks a major and in many ways a truly radical shift in the historic function of courts of law and the basic purpose for which they have been established under our form of government. It also marks a fundamental shift in judges' loyalty away from principles of due process and toward particular social policies. These policies are less concerned with judicial impartiality and fair hearings and more concerned with achieving particular results', writes Arthur Christean. He adds: 'There is great danger to our freedoms and way of life when courts of law abandon justice and the rule of law in favour of doing things to people for their own good and because it is deemed to be in their best interest or the best interest of the state.' (7)...

When Passion is Reduced to a Door Hanger
...First of all, I want to applaud the church for its boldness in supporting an R-rated movie. I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard plenty of sermons over the years on why Christian adults shouldn’t see R-rated movies. To discount a film purely because of its rating has always seemed a bit shortsighted and narrow to me. So I’m thrilled to think that perhaps we’re finally moving past a policy of blind abstinence.

When explaining the R-rating, I’ve heard people say, “Well, it’s rated R—for reality.” Indeed, most Christian leaders who’ve seen the film have said The Passion is historically and biblically accurate. To quote Pope John Paul II: “It is as it was.” But is that to say that other films do not depict reality?

I think back a few years to The Accused in which Jodi Foster played a young woman gang-raped on a pinball machine. Or to other movies showing graphic inner-city violence. Were these films not based in reality? Do they not also reflect the ugly truth that is sometimes woven into the human journey?

As the church wrestles with The Passion of the Christ and its raw depictions of Jesus’ last days, I’m curious what will happen after the film. Will we promote other R-rated films from the pulpit or will we go back to our “No R-rated films” stance? Will we say that “Jesus violence” is okay, but reject other hard-to-watch films?

If we do, I think we risk looking hypocritical at best, and bigoted at worst. ...

...Speaking of agendas, it’s fascinating to me to see the groundswell of activity surrounding this film. Not only are we slapping up posters and buying tickets like crazy, we’re turning the film into the centerpiece of a whole evangelistic campaign. At, the main banner proclaims, “Perhaps the best outreach opportunity in 2000 years.” Can’t think of your own way to respond to (or ride) the film’s popularity? No problem. The site gives you 13 pre-packaged ideas—everything from a suggested sermon series, to a saturation mailing. In Canada, you can even go to Passion training—sessions where you’ll learn to share your personal testimony in 3 minutes.

On the one hand, I applaud the church’s enthusiasm. After years of opposing popular culture and non-traditional art forms, I’m encouraged that we’re moving forward. I’m pleased to see that we’re attempting to address culture in the movie house, not just the “house of the Lord.” At the same time, however, I’m nervous that we’re attempting to shrink wrap the gospel and turn art—Mel Gibson’s personal vision of the crucifixion of Christ--into something it was never meant to be: propaganda.

The Passion booklets, The Passion-themed Bibles, The Passion jewelry…it just goes on and on. Churches have developed ads to air before the film. Little spots that say, “See the movie then come join us on Sunday.” No offense, but I don’t particularly like seeing commercials for Chrysler before a movie, let alone commercials for Christ. I don’t want to get a tract on my way out of the theater nor do I want some stranger to shake my hand and pretend to be my best friend. Thanks but no thanks, and I’m a Christian!

The church marketing machine is strong. (Been to a Christian bookstore lately?) We can do bracelets, mugs and T-shirts with the best of them. But is it right? Are we interested in engaging with culture, or simply trying to convert people? When we invite friends to see the movie, will we feel that our night was a waste if we don’t get a chance to share The Four Laws? Is our agenda to buy people tickets so that the whole night feels like an awkward first date—you know, the “Well, he bought me dinner so I guess I have to kiss him,” scenario? Are we interested in people’s honest questions about the film, or only their response to the film (i.e. did they pray the prayer)? ...

Monday, February 09, 2004

Reverend Doomsday
According to Tim LaHaye, the Apocalypse is now

It might seem unlikely that the commander in chief would take his marching orders directly from on high -- unless you understand the views of the Rev. Timothy LaHaye, one of the most influential leaders of the Christian right, and a man who played a quiet but pivotal role in putting George W. Bush in the White House. If you know LaHaye at all, it's for his series of best-selling apocalyptic novels. You've seen the Left Behind novels everywhere: aboard airplanes, at the beach, in massive displays at Wal-Mart. In the nine years since the publication of the first novel, the series has sold 60 million copies. Next to the authors of the Bible itself, who didn't get royalties, LaHaye is Christianity's biggest publishing success ever.

LaHaye is a strict biblical reconstructionist -- taking the Good Book as God's literal truth. His books depict a fantastical, fictional version of what he and his followers think is in store for the human race. Not allegorically, not poetically, but word-for-word true. If the Bible (Revelation 9:1-11) says that billions of six-inch-long scorpionlike monsters with the heads of men, "flowing hair like that of women" and the teeth of lions, wearing crowns and helmets, will swarm across the globe gnawing on unbelievers -- well, that's exactly what LaHaye says will happen. And soon.

LaHaye's books, and his quirky interpretation of biblical prophecy that stands behind them, revolve intensely around Iraq, because LaHaye believes that Armageddon will be unleashed from the Antichrist's headquarters in Babylon. Since the 1970s -- when Iraq began a reconstruction project on the ruins of the ancient city, near Baghdad -- LaHaye has said that Saddam Hussein is carrying out Satan's mission. In 1999, LaHaye wrote that Saddam is "a servant of Satan," possessed by a demon, and that he could be "the forerunner of the Antichrist." Ultimately, says LaHaye, before Christ can return to Earth, Iraq, led by the Antichrist, must engage in a world-shaking showdown with Israel.

Of course, there have always been preachers on the margins of the religious right thundering on about the end of the world. But it's doubtful that such a fanatic believer has ever had such a direct pipeline to the White House. Five years ago, as Bush was gearing up his presidential campaign, he made a little-noticed pilgrimage to a gathering of right-wing Christian activists, under the auspices of a group called the Committee to Restore American Values. The committee, which assembled about two dozen of the nation's leading fundamentalist firebrands, was chaired by LaHaye. At the time, many evangelicals viewed Bush skeptically: Despite his born-again views, when he was governor of Texas, Bush had alienated many of the state's Christian-right activists for failing to pursue a sufficiently evangelical agenda. On the national level, he was an unknown quantity.

That day, behind closed doors, LaHaye grilled the candidate. He presented Bush with a lengthy questionnaire on issues such as abortion, judicial appointments, education, religious freedom, gun control and the Middle East. What the preacher thought of Bush's answers would largely determine whether the Christian right would throw its muscle behind the Texas governor....

...Lahaye's free-fall began in the mid-1980s, and by the end he'd almost been expelled from the political Garden of Eden. What set it into motion was his connection with the weird would-be messiah Rev. Sun Myung Moon, whose Unification Church cult of "Moonies" was viewed by most Christians as laughably heretical. When Moon got entangled in legal controversy, LaHaye sprang to his defense, amid reports that he'd received substantial funding from the wealthy Moon. By the time LaHaye backed away, it was too late. His credibility was shot, and the American Coalition for Traditional Values soon folded.

Then it got worse. In 1988, LaHaye was bounced from the presidential campaign of former Rep. Jack Kemp when the media learned of LaHaye's anti-Catholic views (he considers Catholics to have strayed from biblical truth and has referred to popes as "Antichrists"). After that, he was deemed nearly radioactive in politics. When he showed up later that year for a campaign event at the elder George Bush's home, the vice president rushed to Doug Wead, his liaison to the religious right. "Tim LaHaye is here!" Wead recalls Bush saying in alarm. By the early 1990s, LaHaye had retreated to a small Baptist church in Rockville, Maryland, and the Moonie-owned Washington Times noted that he had "left the national stage."

Within a few years, however, LaHaye would ride Left Behind back to the top...

Rise Of The Righteous Army
(CBS) Evangelical Christians form one of the most potent forces in American politics and society. They are people who place their faith, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, above everything else in their lives and hope to spread that Gospel to the world.

An estimated 70 million Americans call themselves evangelicals, and their beliefs have already reshaped American politics. In the last election, 40 percent of the votes for George W. Bush came from their ranks, and now those beliefs are beginning to reshape the culture as well -- thanks to a group of best-selling novels known as the “Left Behind” series.

If you want to understand the people behind this political and cultural shift, the place to begin is in church. Correspondent Morley Safer reports....

...“The Bible says what it means, and means what it says,” says Don McWhinney, an oil executive from Dallas.

60 Minutes discussed the “Left Behind” books with him and three other evangelicals. And for these readers, the characters in these novels are quite real.

“Will they just take the body and leave the clothes? Watches, and rings, and fillings? Will the whole body be taken? I don't know,” says McWhinney. “But all I know is that God is in control of it. And I have to accept that and believe it. Or I begin to reject it, then it begins to work on my faith in the wrong direction … It would lead to doubt. Doubt is not even an option.” ...

...For evangelicals, the war in Iraq is seen not merely as a war against terror.

Last year, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a deputy undersecretary of defense, and an evangelical, made headlines when he publicly described the war on terror as a religious mission. Of one Muslim warlord, he said, "My God is bigger than his. My God is a real God."

A lot of people are uncomfortable with the Bush administration, and its cozy relationship with church and state. But Bauer disagrees.

“I don't see it. I don't know why they're uncomfortable. Nobody in America is being told how to worship,” says Bauer.

But in a country that is home to millions of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Christians who believe otherwise, such exclusivity can take on the appearance of extremism, especially when you add politics and patriotism to the gospels.

“The trouble with evangelicalism of a certain stripe in America is that it's been so long from power that it is seduced by power. And once it gets it, it is very hard to distinguish secular power from spiritual power,” says Gomes. ...

You Can Make It With Plato
Bush's difficult relationship with reality.

...Realistic. Dangers that exist. The world the way it is. These are strange words to hear from a president whose prewar descriptions of Iraqi weapons programs are so starkly at odds with the postwar findings of his own inspectors. A week ago, David Kay, the man picked by Bush to supervise the inspections, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that his team had found almost none of the threats Bush had advertised. No chemical and biological weapons stockpiles. No evidence of a renewed nuclear weapons program. No evidence of illicit weapons delivered to terrorists. "We were all wrong," said Kay.

Again and again on the Meet the Press, Tim Russert asked Bush to explain the discrepancies. Again and again, Bush replied that such questions had to be viewed in the "context" of a larger reality: I see the world as it is. Threats exist. We must be realistic.

This big-picture notion of reality, existence, and the world as it is dates back 2,400 years to the Greek philosopher Plato. Plato believed that what's real isn't the things you can touch and see: your computer, your desk, those empty barrels in Iraq that Bush thought were full of chemical weapons. What's real is the general idea of these things. The idea of a computer. The idea of a desk. The idea of an Iraqi threat to the United States. Whether you actually have a computer or a desk, or whether Saddam Hussein actually had chemical weapons, is less important than the larger truth. The abstraction is the reality....

...In Bush's Platonic reality, the world is dangerous, threats exist, and the evidence of our senses must be interpreted to fit that larger truth. On the night he launched the war, for example, Bush told the nation, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." Russert asked Bush whether, in retrospect, that statement was false. Bush replied, "I made a decision based upon that intelligence in the context of the war against terror. In other words, we were attacked, and therefore every threat had to be reanalyzed. Every threat had to be looked at. Every potential harm to America had to be judged in the context of this war on terror."

You can hear the gears turning in Bush's mind. We were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. That attack exposed a new reality. That new reality changed the context for interpreting intelligence. Or, as Howard Dean less charitably puts it, if Bush and his administration "have a theory and a fact, and [the two] don't coincide, they get rid of the fact instead of the theory."...

...On Meet the Press, Bush handled questions about his service in the National Guard during Vietnam the same way. Russert reminded Bush, "The Boston Globe and the Associated Press have gone through some of their records and said there's no evidence that you reported to duty in Alabama during the summer and fall of 1972." Bush replied, "Yeah, they're just wrong. There may be no evidence, but I did report. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been honorably discharged." That's the Bush syllogism: The evidence says one thing; the conclusion says another; therefore, the evidence is false....

...What are the consequences of such a Platonic presidency? The immediate risk is the replacement of Saddam with a more dangerous fundamentalist regime. Bush is certain this won't happen. "They're not going to develop that, because right here in the Oval Office, I sat down with Mr. Pachachi and Chalabi and al-Hakim, people from different parts of [Iraq] that have made the firm commitment that they want a constitution eventually written that recognizes minority rights and freedom of religion," Bush told Russert. "I said [to Mr. al-Hakim], 'You know, I'm a Methodist. What are my chances of success in your country and your vision?' And he said, 'It's going to be a free society where you can worship freely.' "

There you have it: The regime will be pluralistic, because Bush believes it, because nice men came to the Oval Office and told him so....

ARF!....No, this is not the sound that Barney makes when the White House staff is late with dinner. Rather, it's the beginning of yet another intriguing mystery regarding George Bush's service in the Air National Guard. Read on for more....

For Bush, It's Game Time
By George F. Will

After this winter of his discontent, the president needs spring training. He is far from midseason form, and his accumulating errors are undermining the premise of his reelection campaign, which is: Wartime demands hard choices and sacrifices, and a president who is steady, measured and believable.

Rhetorical carelessness and overreaching began before the war, when various administration officials ignored Mark Twain's warning that the difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning bug and lightning. It would have been much better if the president and others, speaking about Iraqi weapons, had said "we believe" rather than "we know."

After the war, in May, on Polish television, President Bush said, "We found the weapons of mass destruction. You know, we found biological laboratories." No, we did not. "So what's the difference?" said the president in December about the failure to find WMDs, because "if [Saddam Hussein] were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger." Such casualness, which would be alarming in any president, is especially so in one whose vaulting foreign policy ambitions have turned his first term into Woodrow Wilson's third term, devoted to planting democracy and "universal values" in hitherto inhospitable places....

...Bush should consider the possibility that he was lied to, not by the CIA or the DIA, who included caveats, but by Dick Cheney and the Neocons and Mossad and Ahmad Chalabi and Iyad Alawi, who peddled rather fantastic stories to him.

What I remember is that former US Marine and UN Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter said that 85-95 percent of Iraq's chemical weapons had been destroyed. He was pilloried by Rupert Murdoch's news organs as a Baathist lackey. Will W. now call Ritter to the White House to give him a personal apology?

By the way, Reuters reports, ' French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said France had not reached the same conclusions as ``the Anglo-Saxons'' on the basis of available intelligence such as satellite photographs. She said that was why Paris had argued against last year's U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and in favour of letting U.N. inspectors keep searching for the alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD). ``It's true that intelligence...has its limits. Knowing how to recognise its limits and find other means is the way to avoid committing mistakes,'' she told a news conference.'

So, it just isn't true that other countries necessarily thought the US intelligence was valid. That countries like Spain and Portugal and Denmark bought the Cheney version is unremarkable; they get their intelligence on issues like Iraq from . . . the United States....

Pilot suggested passengers discuss Christianity during LA-to-New York flight
An American Airlines pilot flying passengers from Los Angeles to New York asked Christians on board to identify themselves and then suggested that non-Christian passengers discuss the faith with them, the airline confirmed Saturday.

The pilot, whose identity was not released, had been making flight announcements before he asked that the Christians on board raise their hands, said American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner.

Wagner said the pilot told airline officials he then suggested the other passengers use the flight time to talk to the Christians about their faith. ...

Cheney: The Man in the Bubble
...Cheney's isolation didn't alter Davos for the rest of us, except for minor annoyances. But it provided a disturbing picture of how isolated our president and vice president have become, how apart from the world their existence is. I came away from Davos sensing that the leaders of our country are ever more cut off from the kind of normal feedback and outside input crucial to grasping the current state of the world.

An administration little inclined to read the daily press, unmotivated by the kind of intellectual curiosity that makes people seek out discussion, and so tightly wrapped in fear and insecurity that even Davos seemed filled with frightening possibilities presents a worrisome picture.

Hermetically sealed inside his bubble, Cheney for a short moment entered the larger bubble of the World Economic Forum. But like a missionary in a heathen land, his only urge was to deliver a message, to evangelize for his faith. Missing was any desire, perhaps even the ability, to learn something meaningful about the world he had entered. Indeed, the Bush bubble reflects a spirit deeply evangelical, more concerned with justifying and converting than questioning and learning. In its embunkered certainty, the administration's belief system is strangely akin in spirit to the party discipline of Leninism.

What is most important to men like Cheney is "teaching" in the almost biblical sense of that word, which means "preaching." Not emphasized is "learning," in the sense of engaging in constant questioning or wrestling with ambiguity. ...

Now They Tell Us
In recent months, US news organizations have rushed to expose the Bush administration's pre-war failings on Iraq. "Iraq's Arsenal Was Only on Paper," declared a recent headline in The Washington Post. "Pressure Rises for Probe of Prewar-Intelligence," said The Wall Street Journal. "So, What Went Wrong?" asked Time. In The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh described how the Pentagon set up its own intelligence unit, the Office of Special Plans, to sift for data to support the administration's claims about Iraq. And on "Truth, War and Consequences," a Frontline documentary that aired last October, a procession of intelligence analysts testified to the administration's use of what one of them called "faith-based intelligence."

Watching and reading all this, one is tempted to ask, where were you all before the war? Why didn't we learn more about these deceptions and concealments in the months when the administration was pressing its case for regime change—when, in short, it might have made a difference? Some maintain that the many analysts who've spoken out since the end of the war were mute before it. But that's not true. Beginning in the summer of 2002, the "intelligence community" was rent by bitter disputes over how Bush officials were using the data on Iraq. Many journalists knew about this, yet few chose to write about it.

Before the war, for instance, there was a loud debate among intelligence analysts over the information provided to the Pentagon by Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi and defectors linked to him. Yet little of this seeped into the press. Not until September 29, 2003, for instance, did The New York Times get around to informing readers about the controversy over Chalabi and the defectors associated with him. In a front-page article headlined "Agency Belittles Information Given by Iraqi Defectors," Douglas Jehl reported that a study by the Defense Intelligence Agency had found that most of the information provided by defectors connected to Ahmed Chalabi "was of little or no value." Several defectors introduced to US intelligence by the Iraqi National Congress, Jehl wrote, "invented or exaggerated their credentials as people with direct knowledge of the Iraqi government and its suspected unconventional weapons program." ...

There was no failure of intelligence
US spies were ignored, or worse, if they failed to make the case for war

...At the same time, constant pressure was applied to the intelligence agencies to force their compliance. In one case, a senior intelligence officer who refused to buckle under was removed.

Bruce Hardcastle was a senior officer for the Middle East for the Defence Intelligence Agency. When Bush insisted that Saddam was actively and urgently engaged in a nuclear weapons programme and had renewed production of chemical weapons, the DIA reported otherwise. According to Patrick Lang, the former head of human intelligence at the CIA, Hardcastle "told [the Bush administration] that the way they were handling evidence was wrong." The response was not simply to remove Hardcastle from his post: "They did away with his job," Lang says. "They wanted only liaison officers ... not a senior intelligence person who argued with them."

When the state department's bureau of intelligence and research (INR) submitted reports which did not support the administration's case - saying, for example, that the aluminum tubes Saddam possessed were for conventional rocketry, not nuclear weapons (a report corroborated by department of energy analysts), or that mobile laboratories were not for WMDs, or that the story about Saddam seeking uranium in Niger was bogus, or that there was no link between Saddam and al-Qaida (a report backed by the CIA) - its analyses were shunted aside. Greg Thielman, chief of the INR at the time, told me: "Everyone in the intelligence community knew that the White House couldn't care less about any information suggesting that there were no WMDs or that the UN inspectors were very effective."

When the CIA debunked the tales about Niger uranium and the Saddam/al-Qaida connection, its reports were ignored and direct pressure applied. In October 2002, the White House inserted mention of the uranium into a speech Bush was to deliver, but the CIA objected and it was excised. Three months later, it reappeared in his state of the union address. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice claimed never to have seen the original CIA memo and deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley said he had forgotten about it. ...