Friday, December 31, 2004

Ansar al-Sunna and 2 other guerrilla groups in Iraq have threatened to kill anyone participating in what they termed "the farce" of Iraqi elections.

CNN is reporting that all 700 voter registration workers in Mosul have resigned after death threats. The guerrillas are alleging that the secular process of American-sponsored elections will result in un-Islamic laws. I don't see how Mosul can participate in the election under these conditions. It has a population of about a million....

...Candidate name recognition doesn't appear very important, however. For security reasons, the actual names of most candidates on the 78 party or multiparty lists have so far not been released. This odd situation, in which the candidates are not known amonth before the election, attests to how dire the political and security situation in Iraq really is.

Head Scarves Now a Protective Accessory in Iraq
Fearing for Their Safety, Muslim and Christian Women Alike Cover Up Before They Go Out

...The whole point of wearing the scarves now was to be anonymous and unimportant, to avoid being singled out and followed, or kidnapped, or shot. It was more than a matter of blending in. It was a matter of disappearing into the landscape.

"I put on the scarf because I wanted to walk in the street without fearing someone will kill me or kidnap me," said one of the women. " I want to finish my studies. Without the scarf I cannot. I heard rumors about killing women without a scarf. Why should I risk my life?"

This is the new reality for many women in Iraq, Muslims and Christians alike. As the months have passed since the U.S.-led invasion, fewer women are daring to venture out without wearing a traditional Muslim head scarf, called a hejab in Arabic. In Baghdad, moderate Muslim women used to feel they had a choice whether to wear the scarf, even as religious oppression under Saddam Hussein grew over the past decade. Now, in many neighborhoods, it is hard to find a woman outdoors without a head scarf....

...Although Iraq is predominantly Muslim, for many decades its capital was a trendy, modern city. In the 1960s, women wore short skirts and blouses with low necklines. But their daughters say they do not have such freedom today. They blame a postwar insurgency bolstered by conservative hard-liners.

"Because of the current situation in the country, lack of security, the occupation and many other things, people started to look for a way to escape the terror," said Fadhil Shaker, a psychology professor at Baghdad University. "They want to hide or take shelter to protect themselves. For women, the scarf is the best way to protect them. Women believe the scarf will be the wall to prevent people from looking at them."

Before the war, Iraqi Christian women rarely put on scarves. There was no reason to do so, according to Christian women interviewed recently. Their religion did not dictate it, Muslims and Christians in Iraq got along peacefully and they said they felt no pressure to blend in. Even a few months ago, the sight of a Christian woman without a scarf or a Catholic nun in a habit was not uncommon in neighborhoods where Christians gathered.

But these days Iraqi society feels like it has lost its social compact, its religious tolerance, many of the women said. Christians feel singled out. Anyone associated with the Americans, any foreign military force or the interim government feels singled out.

Nada, a student who declined to give her last name, said the first day she went to college this fall, her mother rushed out of the house at the last moment and presented her with a scarf. She had never worn one.

Female students at Baghdad University now debate whether women should wear the scarves. Some wear them for religious reasons. But most who have recently adopted the practice have done so simply out of fear. ...

Thursday, December 30, 2004

‘Religion is Morally Neutral’
Desmond Tutu discusses the tsunami tragedy, God, Iraq and the re-election of George W. Bush

...You said George Bush should admit that he made a mistake. Were you surprised at his re-election?
[Laughs] I still can't believe that it really could have happened. Just look at the facts on the table: He’d gone into a war having misled people—whether deliberately or not—about why he went to war. You would think that would have knocked him out [of the race.] It didn’t. Look at the number of American soldiers who have died since he claimed that the war had ended. And yet it seems this doesn't make most Americans worry too much. I was teaching in Jacksonville, Fla., [during the election campaign] and I was shocked, because I had naively believed all these many years that Americans genuinely believed in freedom of speech. [But I] discovered there that when you made an utterance that was remotely contrary to what the White House was saying, then they attacked you. For a South African the déjà vu was frightening. They behaved exactly the same way that used to happen here [during apartheid]—vilifying those who are putting forward a slightly different view.

Do you see any other parallels with white-ruled South Africa?
Look at the [detentions in] Guantanamo Bay. You say, why do you detain people without trial in the fashion that you have done? And when they give the answer security, you say no, no, no, this can't be America. This is what we used to hear in South Africa. It's unbelievable that a country that many of us have looked to as the bastion of true freedom could now have eroded so many of the liberties we believed were upheld almost religiously. [But] feeling as devastated in many ways as I am, it is wonderful to find that there are [also] Americans who have felt very strongly [about administration policies]—the people who turned out for rallies against the war. One always has to be very careful not to do what we used to do here, where you generalize very facilely, and one has to remember that there are very many Americans who are feeling deeply distressed about what has taken place in their country. We take our hats off to them.

Talking about religion, much has been said about the role it played in the White House race. What do you say to those who believe that Bush was chosen by God?
[Laughs] I keep having to remind people that religion in and of itself is morally neutral. Religion is like a knife. When you use a knife for cutting up bread to prepare sandwiches, a knife is good. If you use the same knife to stick into somebody’s guts, a knife is bad. Religion in and of itself is not good or bad—it is what it makes you do… Frequently, fundamentalists will say this person is the anointed of God if the particular person is supporting their own positions on for instance, homosexuality, or abortion. [I] feel so deeply saddened [about it]. Do you really believe that the Jesus who was depicted in the Scriptures as being on the side of those who were vilified, those who were marginalized, that this Jesus would actually be supporting groups that clobber a group that is already persecuted? That’s a Christ I would not worship. I'm glad that I believe very fervently that Jesus would not be on the side of gay bashers. To think that people say, as they used to say, that AIDS was God’s punishment for homosexuality. Abominable. Abominable....

Legal Breach: The Government's Attorneys and Abu Ghraib
The most obvious victims of the brutal treatment of prisoners at American military jails are the men, women and children who have been humiliated, sexually assaulted, beaten, tortured and even killed. But, as in all wars, the Bush administration's assault on the Geneva Conventions has caused collateral damage - in this case, to the legal offices of the executive branch and the military.

To get around the inconvenience of the Geneva Conventions, the administration twisted the roles of the legal counsels of the White House, the Pentagon and the Justice Department beyond recognition. Once charged with giving unvarnished advice about whether political policies remained within the law, the Bush administration's legal counsels have been turned into the sort of cynical corporate lawyers who figure out how to make something illegal seem kosher - or at least how to minimize the danger of being held to account....

Never Smile at a Crocodile
How to avoid holiday arguments with pro-war relatives
Part II
...We who are opposed to the downward direction that our country's been taking already know this; we've seen it for ourselves. We've seen the sentimental photos of Bush standing beside Christian crosses, American flags, church pews, even halo-shaped seals. We've seen him wearing various outfits that trigger nostalgic memories of past wars and military honors. We've heard the stirring patriotic music on every newscast and seen the adoring faces of anchors, journalists, and embedded reporters who were, in bygone days, duty-bound to critique the president, but are now obliged to keep him looking good....

...When you see their W, Bush/Cheney 2004, Power of Pride, Let's Roll, and obligatory flag bumper stickers, it can be disconcerting and more than a little depressing.

These are signals not merely of opinions, but of identity. And that's where the problem lies – you can't argue a person out of his or her identity. As most of us have learned the hard way, you should never try to convince a Republican that he's a Democrat, a pacifist that she's pro-war, or a hard worker that he's a lazy bum.

Because they run deep, identities are defended tooth and nail. With the aid of sophisticated marketing techniques, the Bush campaign has made sure from the very start that support for this president wouldn't be rational – that is, based on bald facts that can easily be supported or rejected. No longer would the Republicans leave their dominance of this country to chance. To maintain support for their policies even when the terrible consequences became apparent, they'd need something a lot more reliable – they'd need us to feel as if our very identities hinge on Mr. Bush being infallible: if he's wrong, we're wrong. If he's shamed, we're shamed. If we stand by him, we're standing by us.

The "conservative" GOP that took over the U.S. in 2000 and again this year has never strayed from its original strategy: creating a new, godlike role for the presidency and a new Christian/moral/patriotic identity for the American people.

Everyone in the Bush administration and its media understands the overarching goal: to craft and continually reinforce an identity based on known demographics, religious beliefs, prejudices, and fears, an identity that would be "sticky" and contagious. This identity would prevent mistakes from mattering to Americans because they'd no longer be thinking in terms of facts, but in terms of their self-image and the way their neighbors see them. ...

...There is a sense of unreality in America today, thanks to the success of the Bush strategists' ongoing identity campaign. I've worked with many abused children, some of them horribly traumatized, who cling to the abusive parent with great zeal because "he's my father" or "I'm her daughter." For abusive families, this may be adaptive in the long run because this "irrational" bonding and refusal to criticize buys time, time in which both parties can heal and mature.

But sometimes the fear of losing one's identity as "loyal child," or of losing one's parent's identity as "loving Dad" or "gentle Mother," keeps the whole family stuck in destructive patterns and year-in, year-out misery. The inability to jeopardize those identities by saying "I'm his son and I love him, but he's violent and I won't allow him to abuse me anymore" prohibits clear thinking and ruins lives.

The Bush folks understand this dynamic, which is why they've played on it from the beginning. Some insightful writers have begun explaining how Bush's identity as the strict-but-benevolent father, the representative of Christianity, and the ultimate patriot was designed to marginalize dissent and elicit obedience, submissiveness, and unquestioning support. ...

...A pillar of the Bush/war supporter's identity is what I call "identity imagery." When we who are antiwar think of the phrase "War on Terror" or the word "Iraq," non-identity fact-based images flood our minds: photos of bombed hospitals, infant corpses, bloodied soldiers, and weeping relatives. Say the very same words to a Bush supporter, and he or she will see images of identity: President Bush praying in church or speaking to his troops in military garb, and themselves – the "true" patriotic, Christian Americans – standing up for a victimized but noble nation.

For someone who sees the latter images – which anyone relying on mainstream news and commentary naturally will – hearing your arguments against the war will conjure up the opposite images: unpatriotic, un-Christian, unpopular, and – this is critical – unsafe. Right now the terrorist threat is mainly "over there," but the threat of social ostracism or worse is right here, so it is far more influential on American opinion. ...

Book tackles tough questions about the Kingdom of Christ
..."Evangelical theologies of the Kingdom have led to two polar opposite approaches to political engagement: withdrawal or triumphalism," Moore said.

"One side persistently calls on evangelicals to withdraw from the public square and prepare for the coming of Christ. It beckons evangelicals to an alternative universe of evangelical sub-culture -- a 'Bizarro America' where evangelicals have our own distinctly Christian popular culture, complete with Christian boy bands, Christian cartoon television networks, and Christian romance novels.

"On the other hand, some evangelicals have spoken as though America could be 'claimed' for Christ through enacting 'Christian' political legislation -- complete with a 'Christian' view on everything from congressional term limits to the line item veto. These evangelicals have often vested political processes with so much hope that they are befuddled when political victories fail to stem the tide of the sexual revolution or the abortion culture."...

Book tackles tough questions about the Kingdom of Christ
..."Evangelical theologies of the Kingdom have led to two polar opposite approaches to political engagement: withdrawal or triumphalism," Moore said.

"One side persistently calls on evangelicals to withdraw from the public square and prepare for the coming of Christ. It beckons evangelicals to an alternative universe of evangelical sub-culture -- a 'Bizarro America' where evangelicals have our own distinctly Christian popular culture, complete with Christian boy bands, Christian cartoon television networks, and Christian romance novels.

"On the other hand, some evangelicals have spoken as though America could be 'claimed' for Christ through enacting 'Christian' political legislation -- complete with a 'Christian' view on everything from congressional term limits to the line item veto. These evangelicals have often vested political processes with so much hope that they are befuddled when political victories fail to stem the tide of the sexual revolution or the abortion culture."...


...ut in only the last two weeks, American generals and civilian officials are, in fact, admitting that they have their own similar Maginot Line problems. In Mosul, the Iraqi police force has "faded away." American generals speak of a "virtual connectivity" of the insurgents never seen before, as they use the Internet to pass along techniques, tactics and advice to one another. American generals now admit that almost all of them are Iraqis; we have created the Iraqi terrorists who were not there before.

Take only the astoundingly candid analysis, based in part on an interview with Gen. John Abizaid, the senior U.S. military commander in the region, by CNN's excellent Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, on television last Sunday.

Starr reported: "Senior U.S. military sources in the region tell CNN the city of Mosul has been wracked by violence for weeks. Local Iraqi security forces have virtually melted away, say those officials. One senior U.S. officer tells CNN, we have no Iraqi police force up in Mosul today.

"The problem in getting Iraqis to fight the insurgency may be deeper across Iraq. The military assessment now is that the U.S. miscalculated Iraqi tribal and religious loyalties and did not realize Iraqis are likely to fight only for their brethren ... So in cases like Mosul, they simply will not fight the intimidation of the insurgents, the U.S. now believes."

And remember, until now Mosul was one of our success stories! ...

... The truth no one really wants to deal with is that this war could very easily be lost by the United States. All the insurgents have to do is hang on another year. All we have to do is what the French and the British did in their colonies: Let themselves be exhausted and finally destroyed by their hubris, their delusions and their arrogant lack of understanding of the local people.

Our Maginot Lines today are our satellites, our huge bombers, our willingness to destroy a city such as Fallujah without even knowing who's there. Our Maginot minds refuse to see that the Germans sneaking around the French through Belgium to destroy them is disturbingly analogous to the insurgents in Iraq moving in cells from city to city and letting us think we are "winning."

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Iraq 2004 Looks Like Vietnam 1966
Adjusting body counts for medical and military changes.

...After factoring in medical, doctrinal, and technological improvements, infantry duty in Iraq circa 2004 comes out just as intense as infantry duty in Vietnam circa 1966—and in some cases more lethal. Even discrete engagements, such as the battle of Hue City in 1968 and the battles for Fallujah in 2004, tell a similar tale: Today's grunts are patrolling a battlefield every bit as deadly as the crucible their fathers faced in Southeast Asia....

...The Hue comparison is illuminating. In Hue, three Marine battalions (roughly 3,000 men) plunged into a vicious house-to-house fight with 12,000 North Vietnamese, ultimately routing them after suffering harsh losses. In April 2004, three Marine battalions attacked several thousand terrorists in Fallujah and were days away from taking the city when the White House called off the attack. In November, three new Marine battalions joined two Army mechanized infantry battalions in a sweeping attack to retake the city. They succeeded, although outbreaks of fighting continue. While the North Vietnamese fought a coordinated defensive battle for Hue City until they were annihilated, the terrorists in Fallujah fought in small packs, hiding among the tens of thousands of structures in the "city of mosques." In the three-week battle for Hue, 147 Marines were killed and 857 wounded. In the twin battles for Fallujah, more than 104 soldiers and Marines have been killed and more than 1,100 wounded in a battle that will continue to take lives, like the three Marines who encountered yet another pocket of fighters last week.

Hue and Fallujah provide one of the best generational comparisons of combat because both battles unfolded similarly. Without controlling for any of the advances in medical technology, medical evacuation, body armor, or military technology, U.S. losses in Fallujah almost equal those of Hue. If you factor in the improvements in medical technology alone, then the fight for Fallujah was just as costly (or maybe more so) as that for Hue, as measured by the number of mortal wounds sustained by U.S. troops....

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Gemini: (May 21—June 21)
Although it was fun to hear your name on television, you still don't think the president should use the State Of The Union address to put prices on citizens' heads.

Cancer: (June 22—July 22)
Learning to accept change is a sign of maturity. Enjoy spending your golden years begging for it on the corner.

God isn't a member of my party, He just commands everything my party stands for:
FIRST-PERSON: Election day & America’s future
Thursday, Oct 28, 2004
By Rick Warren

...But for those of us who accept the Bible as God's Word and know that God has a unique, sovereign purpose for every life, I believe there are five issues that are non-negotiable. To me, they’re not even debatable because God's Word is clear on these issues. In order to live a purpose-driven life -- to affirm what God has clearly stated about His purpose for every person He creates -- we must take a stand by finding out what the candidates believe about these five issues, and then vote accordingly.

Here are five questions to ask when considering who to vote for in this election:

1. What does each candidate believe about abortion and protecting the lives of unborn children?

2. What does each candidate believe about using unborn babies for stem cell harvesting?

3. What does each candidate believe about homosexual “marriage”?

4. What does each candidate believe about human cloning?

5. What does each candidate believe about euthanasia -- the killing of the elderly and the invalids?...

God is Not a Republican. Or a Democrat.

...We believe that poverty - caring for the poor and vulnerable - is a religious issue. Do the candidates' budget and tax policies reward the rich or show compassion for poor families? Do their foreign policies include fair trade and debt cancellation for the poorest countries? (Matthew 25:35-40, Isaiah 10:1-2)

We believe that the environment - caring for God's earth - is a religious issue. Do the candidates' policies protect the creation or serve corporate interests that damage it? (Genesis 2:15, Psalm 24:1)

We believe that war - and our call to be peacemakers - is a religious issue. Do the candidates' policies pursue "wars of choice" or respect international law and cooperation in responding to real global threats? (Matthew 5:9)

We believe that truth-telling is a religious issue. Do the candidates tell the truth in justifying war and in other foreign and domestic policies? (John 8:32)

We believe that human rights - respecting the image of God in every person - is a religious issue. How do the candidates propose to change the attitudes and policies that led to the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners? (Genesis 1:27)

We believe that our response to terrorism is a religious issue. Do the candidates adopt the dangerous language of righteous empire in the war on terrorism and confuse the roles of God, church, and nation? Do the candidates see evil only in our enemies but never in our own policies? (Matthew 6:33, Proverbs 8:12-13 )

We believe that a consistent ethic of human life is a religious issue. Do the candidates' positions on abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, weapons of mass destruction, HIV/AIDS-and other pandemics-and genocide around the world obey the biblical injunction to choose life? (Deuteronomy 30:19)...

Monday, December 27, 2004

Conservatives vs. Wingnuts
...A month before the election, the invariably well-informed Bob Novak forecast that Bush would withdraw from Iraq and "end the neoconservative dream of building democracy in the Arab world." Pat Buchanan in these pages claimed that the Iraq mess had tempered any Bush lust for further imperial adventures. George Will, probably the most influential conservative columnist of all, began advertising his own disenchantment with neoconservative foreign policy in every other column, mocking the idea that Iraq would be democratic anytime soon ("Iraq is just three people away from democratic success. Unfortunately, the three are George Washington, James Madison, and John Marshall.") and skewering the notion that democracy could be imposed by force from without. The neoconservative democracy crusaders, Will observed dryly, ought to remember an elemental principle of moral reasoning: "there can be no duty to do what cannot be done."

That apparent right-around-the-corner return to realism heralded the restoration of a natural order. Around the country are thousands with lifetime Republican attachments who supported or even served in the administrations of Nixon, Reagan, and George Bush I for whom the neoconservative ascendancy was almost too bizarre to be believed. They thought that eventually reality would reassert itself. George W. Bush would talk to his father and mother or to Laura, and they would warn him that American foreign policy was running off the rails. Dick Cheney would understand. Donald Rumsfeld, who had begun to question whether we had a "metric" to know whether we were actually winning the War on Terror, would finally see the light. Yes, the United States went through a trauma on 9/11, and yes, Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith and David Wurmser happened to be right there to dust off and present a Mideast attack plan from a Benjamin Netanyahu/Project For the New American Century coven from the mid-1990s. While Washington was off guard, they saw their opportunity and took it. But Iraq had proved such a mess that the ship of state would right itself. Had to.

This was less wishful thinking than the natural human tendency to believe that the social patterns one has lived with for one's entire adult life--those that one's parents had lived with--would inevitably reassert themselves. It was a belief perhaps akin to the German Jewish bourgeoisie's as they watched the rise of Hitler: No, things couldn't get really bad, not in our Germany. In America, the phase is "it can't happen here."

One must be clear what "it" is. The Patriot Act is not a giant step towards domestic fascism, and we are not halfway to martial law. George W. Bush bears no hatred towards any minority group or even any domestic constituency.

For contemporary America, the "it" is the setting in full motion of an aggressive, reckless, militarized foreign policy, viewed as lawless by much of the world--one whose almost inevitable outcome is nuclear war. While Pinochet and Franco and for most of his reign Stalin kept within their own borders, Bush has ambitions of global scope. Of course they are idealistic ambitions, beautiful ambitions. The spread of democracy--especially if it springs up from a country's indigenous institutions and populace--is a very good thing. But the Bushites now see democracy's spread as necessary for America's own survival. The world, particularly the Muslim world, must become democratic now, or we will perish. The neoconservatives in the administration believe that democracy will spread only if the president commits more and more troops to Iraq and topples the regimes in Tehran and Damascus. As alarming as the neoconservatism of Rumsfeld, Cheney, Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith, Danielle Pletka, and John Bolton is, more alarming is the spirit that has spread in its wake--a kind of neoconservativism without a graduate degree.

You see it on certain blogs and hear it in the rants of some of the most widely listened to right-wing talk-radio hosts. If the Arabs don't want to be democratic, we should nuke them. We have no choice but to nuke them for our own safety. It's a vulgarized neoconservatism --no one from the American Enterprise Institute speaks like this (in public). But this talk is around in the heartland and growing, and it is wind in the sails of the new administration.

At this writing, the staffing of a new foreign-policy apparatus is not complete. But the broad strokes are plain. At CIA, there is a new emphasis on loyalty to the president over readiness to provide objective analysis; Porter Goss will ensure that the agency provides information that the White House wants to hear. At the cabinet level, the direction is clear. Colin Powell is leaving, exhausted by his losing tussles with the Pentagon, semi-humiliated by the president. His crime was that he was right about war in Iraq, right that we needed allies and more forces for the invasion, right that postwar Iraq would be chaos and quagmire. His caution about the use of force --the Pottery Barn rule--must have irked the president every time he saw him, so better to banish him. Promoted instead are those who were consistently wrong. Rumsfeld remains, though his neocon aides "stovepiped" phony intelligence about Iraq's WMD capacity, he botched the post invasion, and was responsible for the Abu Ghraib torture. Stephen Hadley, who "forgot" to remove the false claims about Iraq's yellowcake purchases from the president's 2003 State of the Union speech, is the new National Security Adviser. Condi Rice, whose TV musings about "mushroom clouds" helped frighten a nation into an unnecessary war, becomes the nation's top diplomat [...]

How has the country changed? Two years ago, when National Review editor Rich Lowry said that an appropriate response to a WMD attack on the United States might be to nuke Mecca, there was a fair amount of outrage. But Lowry, recall, was imagining how the United States might respond to a massive terrorist attack. Now the American airwaves and blogosphere are rife calls to nuke those whom military invasion couldn't turn into democrats. "Could it happen here?" the old question goes. In one sense it already has. ...

Sunday, December 26, 2004

I want my faith back
Getting personal about the political hijacking of religion.

There’s only one thing on my Christmas list this year:

I want my faith back.

I didn’t come by it easily. I’m a card-carrying liberal, skeptical by nature, with an almost knee-jerk eye-roll reaction to anyone who’s completely comfortable discussing their religious convictions in mixed company. I spent pretty much the entire decade of my 20s in an uncomfortable agnosticism because I just couldn’t make up my damn mind.

So now that I have — now that words like “sinful” spring to mind when I hear about the $40 million budget for George W. Bush’s inaugural soirees, instead of just “disgusting” — I’m starting to take the right wing’s
hijacking of my religion very, very personally.

“These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine rules made by men.”
— Matthew 15:8-9

Shortly before the election an acquaintance who, like me, is a liberal Christian and a Methodist (a denomination we share, at least officially, with President Bush), sent me an op-ed piece written by a retired Methodist bishop. It critiqued Bush’s record in light of the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline, the denomination’s central collection of beliefs and rules. Not surprisingly, the bishop found him lacking.

I forwarded the piece to a relative in another state who’s a part-time Methodist pastor, thinking he’d at least find it interesting. His response? Harsher than anything I’d expected. He defended Bush as the “man of faith” in the election. Kerry — a lifelong practicing Catholic — apparently didn’t fit the bill, although my relative didn’t give details to support that view. Furthermore, if Kerry were elected, he would “undermine the role of religion in public life” and appoint Supreme Court justices who eventually would restrict religious expression to the point that my relative wouldn’t be able to publicly denounce homosexuality as a sin. ...

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Fear Dims Christmas Eve in Baghdad
Many Iraqi Christians Avoid Mass as Guards, Barricades Protect Churches

BAGHDAD, Dec. 24 -- It was the night before Christmas, and at the Virgin Mary Church of Palestine Street in the Iraqi capital, parishioners were making last-minute preparations for the holiday.

Steel barricades were erected in front of the main gate to keep potential car bombers from getting too close to the church, and several young men rehearsed how they would search strangers for hidden explosives.

A few parishioners attended Mass on Christmas Eve at St. Joseph Chaldean Church in Baghdad. Security concerns forced the cancellation of many evening services in Iraq's capital; others were held in the morning. (Samir Mizban -- AP)

The security director -- the church hired one of its parishioners for the job a few months ago -- said softly that he placed his hand over his heart every morning as he walked to work.

"We are frightened," he said, his blue eyes looking down at a desk covered with passages from the Bible and images of Mary, the mother of Jesus. "People are frightened to come to church."

For the first time in as long as even the old women could remember, Iraqi Christians prepared for the Christmas holiday with heart-thumping sadness and dread. This was the year to scan the sanctuary for the safest place to sit in case a bomb exploded. Or not to go at all. ...

GOP Corporate Donors Cash In on Smut
...There was never any doubt how the good people of Utah County, Utah, would vote on Nov. 2. It has long prided itself as a bastion of conservatism and family values. And so when voters were given the opportunity to choose between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry, 86 percent of them went for Bush, making Utah County the second most Republican county in the most Republican state in the country. Utah County has a population of roughly 370,000. Its largest employer is the Mormon-run Brigham Young University.

But Utah County is also the home of a mid-1990s court case that demonstrated some of the ambiguity about "values," even in the reddest of the red states. Randy Spencer was the attorney that the court appointed to defend a the Movie Buff video store in American Fork from local prosecutors who had charged the store's owner with 15 counts of pornography for renting tapes such as "Jugsy," "Young Buns II" and "Sex Secrets of High-Priced Call Girls." The prosecutors claimed the store was violating the community standards of suburban Provo.

Spencer, who describes himself as a devout Mormon, challenged the prosecution's definition of the community's values by subpoenaing records that showed Utah County tolerated the consumption of porn in several outlets: Utah County cable subscribers had ordered at least 20,000 explicit movies in the past two years; the Sun Coast Video store in the town of Orem was deriving 20 percent of its rental sales from adult movies, even though adult movies only made up 2 percent of the store's inventory; Dirty Jo Punsters in nearby Spanish Fork was racking up on average $111,000 dollars per year selling sex toys, blow up dolls and other adult fare; the Provo Marriott across the street from the courthouse sold 3,448 adult pay-per-view movie rentals in 1998 alone.

"I was assigned to the case, and it was a real evolution for me," said Spencer in an interview last week. "The same religious values that I have are protected by the same Constitution that protects my neighbor's rights to do some things that I might not necessarily do."

About a year after the Utah case, a similar scenario played out in Hamilton County, Ohio, a conservative Cincinnati suburb. In 2001, under pressure from an influential local antiporn group, Citizens for Community Values, prosecutors filed obscenity charges against two local video stores for selling adult videos. The Cincinnati Enquirer launched an investigation of community standards and found that:

"Last year, more than 21,000 Hamilton County residents purchased 26,000 explicit videos from one of the nation's largest mail-order companies. A company spokeswoman described those sales as typical for a community of this size. . . . In January of this year, 182,000 Greater Cincinnati residents -- an estimated 70,000 from Hamilton County -- visited an adult Web site at least once. Nielsen - NetRatings found that 21.8 percent of all residents here who went online visited an adult site. The national average for January was 21.4 percent. In recent months, Hamilton County residents bought adult movies on pay-per-view TV at about the same rate as viewers did in other mid-sized TV markets. The numbers suggest county residents are quiet contributors to the adult industry's rapid growth. And with every purchase, they change Hamilton County's long-held notion of a community standard."

Again, the community standard in Hamilton County -- which favored Bush over Kerry 53-47 percent -- was pretty much what it was everywhere else. In this particular case, one of the video storeowners pleaded guilty and paid a small fine. The other decided to fight and was acquitted in a jury trial. ...

...Desperate Housewives, the hottest new show on television, features plotlines such as one in which a married woman is having an affair with her 17-year-old gardener and another in which a man murders his neighbor. Turns out, the show performed better in the November sweeps month in the red state markets of Dallas-Fort Worth (first), Atlanta (first) and Kansas City (second) than it did in the Blue state markets of New York (fourth), Chicago (fourth) and Boston (third), according to Nielson Media Research. The show did quite well in red state markets Salt Lake City (fourth) and Birmingham (sixth) as well....

...Spencer, the Mormon defense attorney in Utah County, said he couldn't help but be struck by a larger point: Big corporate America -- a staunch GOP ally -- was lining its pockets selling raunch to the masses, including the red state nation.

"A lot of it's coming from Republicans," Spencer said, referring to the corporate culprits who profit from smut. Spencer said he considers himself a Republican.

It's almost impossible to get a handle on how much money corporate America is reaping by peddling smut. General Motors Corp. is not eager to brag about how many dirty movies it sold last year through a subsidiary.

In the Utah County trial, Spencer asked the jury why a lone, small business vendor like Peterman should be held to a higher standard than the likes of W. Mitt Romney. At the time Romney was on the board of Marriott International, which was making huge margins on piping porn into hotel rooms. Currently, Romney is the Republican governor of Massachusetts and his travels around the country have helped fuel speculation that he might run for president in 2008.

Perhaps the most extensive mainstream media treatment on this subject ran four years ago in The New York Times. In a 4,000-word investigative opus, writer Timothy Egan connected the dots between porn and big corporate profits:

"The General Motors Corporation, the world's largest company, now sells more graphic sex films every year than does Larry Flynt, owner of the Hustler empire. The 8.7 million Americans who subscribe to DirecTV, a General Motors subsidiary, buy nearly $200 million a year in pay-per-view sex films from satellite, according to estimates provided by distributors of the films, estimates the company did not dispute.

"EchoStar Communications Corporation, the No. 2 satellite provider, whose chief financial backers include Mr. Murdoch, makes more money selling graphic adult films through its satellite subsidiary than Playboy, the oldest and best-known company in the sex business, does with its magazine, cable and Internet businesses combined, according to public and private revenue accounts by the companies. ...

... For instance, Ruport Murdoch, the controlling owner of News Corp. -- which owns both the conservative Fox News and the popular and frequently salacious Fox TV -- continues to cash in. On one hand, Fox News employs commentators who promote the connection between Republicans and family values while other divisions of the company profit from sexually explicit content.

In fact, Murdoch's Fox TV network is fighting a record-setting FCC indecency fine for an episode of the now-canceled "Married by America" (which featured whipped-cream-covered strippers at a bachelor party and digitally obscured nudity) by arguing that the government should not even be in the business of regulating decency on the public airwaves. ...

Groups on Right Say Christmas Is Under Attack
..."This is the winter equivalent of those summer stories about shark attacks being on the increase," says Barry Lynn, who heads the liberal group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. The conservative groups, he said, "think they can make Christians feel like a besieged majority. It creates a Christian solidarity against all those who would oppress them: secularists in this season, gay and lesbians next month, abortion the next month."...

... In the case of secularizing Christmas, it is more difficult to demonstrate a widespread threat. "It's very convenient for Christians to say the culture has changed and they've lost power, but Christians have never been stronger politically," said Marci A. Hamilton, who teaches at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York and has written a book, "God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law."

She said the threat to Christmas "is not secularization, it's pluralization. The law doesn't say Christian symbols have to be taken out of schools, only that it can't only be Christian, it has to be pluralistic."

ACLU President Nadine Strossen, similarly, said the conservative complaints are "like Chicken Little saying the sky is falling." She adds that while there are "occasional violations in either direction" on church-state separation, "if anything, since 1985, the Supreme Court has become more supportive of government-sponsored religious exercises."

The conservative groups agree there have been no recent legal cases limiting religious expression....

The True Spirit of Xmas
How 4/5 of the country became an oppressed minority

It's a Christmas tradition as venerable as mistletoe and caroling: As the days grow shorter, conservative activists claiming to speak for American Christendom raise their voices, not for a rousing round of "Good King Wenceslaus," but to complain that the roughly 75 to 80 percent of Americans who profess allegiance to some denomination or another of Christianity constitute a cruelly oppressed minority. ...

... While unusually visible this year, the panic over a War on Christmas is part of a more general persecution complex shared by some conservative Christians, which seems at least as strange as the minority-party style rage evidenced at this summer's Republican National Convention by people who now control every branch of government. While Catholic League honcho William Donohue targeted an old favorite when he complained on MSNBC that "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular," the favored villain these days appears to be secularism itself—particularly odd in the context of the Christmas issue, since most of those other "happy holidays" are also religious....

...In order to pull off the sort of grab at victim status conservatives used to deride as a tactic of the left, self-appointed defenders of the faith draw from a cornucopia of bogus anecdotes about oppression. A conservative cause celebre was born when Reuters ran a story under the headline "Declaration of Independence Banned at Calif School" about a teacher forbidden to use that document in classes on the grounds that it mentioned God. It sounds outrageous...and would be, if it were remotely true. It is, of course, not true: The Declaration appears in the school's standard textbooks and hangs on classroom walls. The school's principal, rather, insisted on pre-approving the handouts of a single teacher who had long generated complaints from parents because he was using his American History lessons as a pretext from indoctrination—a teacher who, as one student put it, "talks about Jesus 100 times a day." Judging by this Easter assignment and various other handouts, including fabricated quotations from Founding Fathers on the topic of religion, the concern was well motivated. ...

...Sometimes, of course, there's a straightforward and cynical explanation of persecution mania. During initial coverage of the murder of Matthew Shepard, widely regarded as an anti-gay hate crime, Today anchor Katie Couric asked a guest to comment on the hypothesis, advanced by some gay activists, that the anti-gay rhetoric of groups like Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition may have helped to create an atmosphere in which such attacks were more likely. In the wake of recent reporting questioning whether homophobia was the real motive for the murder, Focus on the Family president Don Hodel demanded an apology, seeing Couric's question as evidence of her "anti-Christian agenda." The point of this rhetorical sleight-of-hand is transparent enough: Complaining that your group and your actions have been attacked wins less sympathy and fewer allies than declaring that our shared identity is under assault....

... So are we really seeing an unprecedented wave of hostility toward either Christmas or Christianity? Or is it, rather, that the waning of the cultural hegemony to which some Christians have come to feel entitled is perceived as an attack? Many of the most loudly trumpeted complaints in this vein are, after all, complaints about the absence of special treatment: no special spot for the Ten Commandments in the courthouse rotunda; no pride of place for Christmas among those happy winter holidays; no exceptions for the Christian charity.

Since "special rights" has been a term of aspersion among conservatives for decades, would-be theocrats have at least the decency to be too ashamed to demand them explicitly. Instead, they've learned the power of the victim narrative, of framing the debate to cast themselves as underdogs. Rather than attempting to entrench their values, demagogues purport to be playing defense against a plot to "purge religion from the public square," trading on the same ambiguity in the word "public" that has eased the acceptance of ever more regulation of privately owned establishments that are open to the public, and allowed for the metastasis of the term "public health," which now apparently covers not just infectious disease control or mosquito abatement, but smoking and obesity. Since the battle is a reactive one against the undifferentiated forces of anti-Christian bigotry, such nice distinctions as that between a business that fails to cater to its customers and an arm of the state adhering to strict neutrality can be dispensed with. More importantly, moderate Christians with no desire to impose their faith on others might be convinced to support a re-Christianization of public life on the premise that they'd only be defending themselves against marauding secularists.

The stratagem is so perverse as to be almost admirable: Take a holiday associated with sentiments like peace and goodwill, mix in some well-intentioned attempts to acknowledge it in an inclusive way suited to a pluralistic society, and then use the combination to generate fear, divisiveness, and high ratings. But whether we're impressed or appalled by that cynical ploy, whether we're gearing up for Christmas dinner or just a post-Ramadan pig-out, we can all breathe a little easier knowing that the anti-Christmas "jihad" is no more real (sorry kids) than Santa Claus. Happy holidays.

Christmas Under Seige
Bill O'Reilly has joined the chorus of FOX commentators who bemoan the fact that poor old Christmas is under attack. The following words, I believe, sum up his position pretty well, even though they are not his:

And it has become pretty general. Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone's Birth. Easter they will have the same difficulty in finding Easter cards that contain any suggestion that Easter commemorates a certain event. There will be rabbits and eggs and spring flowers, but a hint of the Resurrection will be hard to find. Now, all this begins with the designers of the cards.

To whom do these words belong?

Sean Hannity? John Gibson? Jerry Falwell? Pat Robertson? Ann Coulter? Michelle Malkin? Newt Gingrich? Brent Bozell? Mark Hyman? Rush Limbaugh? Davis Asman? John Kasich?

None of the above.

They were penned by Henry Ford in 1921 in his tract "The International Jew," a vile piece of anti-semitic garbage written by someone who blamed the International Jew Conspiracy for every ill that has ever befallen mankind. Henry Ford's type of thinking spawned the whole line of fearful, angry little men and women who daily spew their hatred on FOX News, vomiting up daily discourses that advance their own petty little prejudices and pander to the lowest common denominator among their viewership.

It seems to me that we have entered into a new phase wherein self-proclaimed representatives of the Christian majority - frightened by events beyond their control, who see Osama bin Laden under their beds and terrorists in the hedgerow - are yet again scapegoating another "minority" - only this time no one actually says the word "Jew" or "Jewish."...

See also.

No peace on Earth during unjust war

One reads in the papers that the Pentagon expects the war in Iraq to continue till 2010. Donald Rumsfeld will not guarantee that it will be over by 2009. How many dead and maimed Americans by then? How many sad obituaries? How many full pages in the papers with pictures of all the casualties?


The reasons change: weapons of mass destruction, war on terror, freedom and democracy for the people of Iraq, American credibility. All are deceptions. This cockamamie and criminally immoral war was planned before the Sept. 11 attack in which Iraq was not involved. It has nothing to do with the war on terror. American-style freedom and democracy in Arab countries are hallucinations by men and women like Paul Wolfowitz and Condi Rice whose contribution to the war is writing long memos -- Republican intellectuals with pointy heads.

One must support the troops, I am told. I certainly support the troops the best way possible: Bring them home, get them out of a war for which the planning was inadequate, the training nonexistent, the goal obscure, and the equipment and especially the armor for their vehicles inferior. They are brave men and women who believe they are fighting to defend their country and have become sitting ducks for fanatics. Those who die are the victims of the big lie. They believe that they are fighting to prevent another terror attack on the United States. They are not the war criminals. The ''Vulcans,'' as the Bush foreign policy team calls itself, are the criminals, and they ought to face indictment as war criminals....

...One of the criteria for a just war is that there be a reasonable chance of victory. Where is that reasonable chance? Each extra day of the war makes it more unjust, more criminal. The guilty people are not only the Vulcans but those Americans who in the November election endorsed the war.

They are also responsible for the Iraqi deaths, especially the men who join the police or the army because they need the money to support their families -- their jobs eaten up in the maw of the American ''liberation.'' Iraqi deaths don't trouble many Americans. Their attitude is not unlike the e-mail writer who said he rejoices every time a Muslim kills another Muslim. ''Let Allah sort them out.''

This time of the year we celebrate ''peace on Earth to men of good will.'' Americans must face the fact that they can no longer claim to be men and women of good will, not as long as they support an unnecessary, foolish, ill-conceived, badly executed and, finally, unwinnable war. If most people in other countries blame the war on Americans, we earned that blame in the November election...

It's Christmas, and the Echo Chamber Is in Full Chorus
Stories about banned Christmas carols and employers forbidding the use of "Merry Christmas" in favor of "Happy Holidays" seem to pop up each December. Over the past few days, however, the issue has been moved front and center by a hungry press, with stories popping up in the national media almost daily, and conservative television host Bill O'Reilly running a daily segment titled "Christmas Under Siege."

But wade through the wall-to-wall coverage of the story, and it becomes apparent that there are only a handful of examples -- three, to be exact -- being recycled in article after article. Many of these pieces use the same incidents in almost the same way. Some even hit for the cycle, as USA Today did today, referencing all three stories in one shot....

Friday, December 24, 2004

Paul—Christianity's Unlikely Champion
John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed Examine One of Christianity's Enigmatic Founders.

Mention the term “Son of God” and most people today think immediately of Jesus. But if it had been uttered anywhere in the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus, hardly a soul would have thought of anyone but Augustus Caesar—divi filius, divine son of the deified Julius Caesar. Augustus had conquered the world and established peace on Earth, the Pax Romana that would last some 200 years. Augustus was revered as Lord, Redeemer and Savior of the World.

Now imagine the apostle Paul crossing the Mediterranean to proclaim that Jesus, a man he’d never met and who’d been executed by Rome as a criminal years earlier, was actually the Son of God, our Lord. Paul was usurping titles reserved for Caesar and applying them to Jesus—a calculated act of treason. ...

...Paul has been criticized in recent years for advocating the submissiveness of women. Crossan and Reed try to set the record straight, distinguishing between New Testament letters written by Paul and other letters that, in a tradition common then, were attributed to him. The authentic Pauline letters (e.g., Romans, Galatians) speak of a radical equality in Christ in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female. Later non-Pauline writings, such as 1 Timothy, which says that women should stay home, get pregnant, and keep silent, attempted to change Paul’s image to suit the later needs of the church—to “sanitize a social subversive, to domesticate a dissident apostle, and to make Christianity and Rome safe for one another.”...

...The questions at the heart of this book are: What was the purpose of Paul’s mission and what was his message? Paul directly opposed Roman imperial theology, which in its claims for the emperor’s divinity went beyond rhetoric or Caesarean swagger to form “the ideological core of Roman imperial power, the theological heart of Roman global rule,” Crossan and Reed write. Caesar ruled by a mandate from heaven to secure peace through victory. This divine directive involved a sequence of actions visually depicted by the ancient Roman sculptured altar Ara Pacis Augustae: piety, war, victory and peace.

Paul’s alternative, based on the teachings of Jesus, called for peace through justice. Like Jesus, Paul was a Jewish visionary in the tradition of Old Testament prophets who claimed that if justice is established, peace will follow. He opposed the Roman empire ideal of achieving social order through power, possession and hierarchy. Paul offered Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God, which promises equality and peace to all, here and now, as a free gift of God. ...

Presbyterians Criticize 'Left Behind' Theology
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (RNS) -- Presbyterians went on record last week (June 14) as opposing the end-times theology in the wildly popular "Left Behind" book series, objecting to the idea that God would allow any of his followers to suffer.

Delegates to the church's annual General Assembly meeting overwhelmingly approved a resolution saying the books' theology "is not in accord with our Reformed understanding" of the New Testament book of Revelation.

The "Left Behind" series, co-authored by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, uses an end-times theology in which millions of Christians are taken to heaven in an instant rapture and nonbelievers are given a second chance at salvation during seven years of tribulation.

Many Reformed churches, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) meeting here this week, reject such a literal view, arguing that the end of the world will be marked by a return of Jesus, judgment for all mankind and an eternal reign.

The Rev. Lewis Wilkins, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Lovington, N.M., argued for the resolution, saying some Presbyterians in his state -- especially children -- have been bullied by "Left Behind" fans. Wilkins said "Left Behind" is a misreading of the Book of Revelation. ...

Restoring Christmas
...I don’t know if that brings me logically to the question of whether somebody initially hailed by those who accepted his message as the Prince of Peace would be pleased that so many of his titular followers enthusiastically embrace an aggressive war or not, but that’s where I’m going. In this season that celebrates his birth – whether seasonally accurate or not; many scholars think it more likely he was born in August – I would like to offer a plea not to judge Jesus by some of his would-be disciples.

Almost everything about Jesus’ life – a life certain evangelicals actually downplay in favor of certain other parts of the Bible – suggests dismay not only at the power structures human beings erect to lord it over one another, but at religious manifestations that allow believers to feel superior and privileged as compared to other mere mortals.

It starts with his birth, which some of us will celebrate tomorrow. The story is so familiar that it is easy to forget how odd it is in terms of the values of this world. Wouldn’t you expect somebody touted as the savior of humankind to be born in a palace – or at least someplace comfortable? Instead, the story – which may be a legend but it is significant that this is the legend the early church chose to perpetuate – is that he was born in a smelly manger, among cattle and chickens, after his parents were turned away from every inn. All this happened because a distant ruler forced people to move around for the convenience of the authorities.


Is this implied disdain for the authorities of the world simply a coincidence? In 1987, theologian Vernard Eller of LaVerne University wrote a fascinating book titled Christian Anarchy. He didn’t use the term in the conventional political sense, but harked back to its Greek roots. An "archy" or "arky" is a human power or authority structure. The kind of anarchist Eller believed Jesus was (along with Paul!) was not a political revolutionary who wanted to overthrow all governments; indeed, the Gospels tell us that Jesus strongly resisted a rather persistent desire on the part of some of his followers to become a mere political leader. Instead, his kind of anarchist was indifferent to human archies – as somebody who is amoral is not necessarily immoral or hostile to morality but simply indifferent to it – because he had such great respect for the ultimate archy of God, which was based on love and benevolence rather than power and the use of force.

This doesn’t mean being indifferent to injustice or oppression, simply understanding that you can’t fight injustice with the tools at which oppression excels: force, coercion, power and strength of arms.

This doesn’t necessarily imply wimpy acquiescence in injustice. Here’s an example from Walter Wink’s recent book, The Impossible Will Take a Little While. You remember the admonition to turn the other cheek? It wasn’t as passive as it sounds. Wink notes that Jesus actually said, if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also:

"Why the right cheek? How does one strike another on the right cheek anyway? Try it. A blow by the right fist in that right-handed world would land on the left cheek of the opponent. To strike the right cheek with the fist would require using the left hand, but in that society the left hand was used only for unclean tasks ... The only way one could strike the right cheek with the right hand would be with the back of the hand.

"What we are dealing with here is unmistakably an insult, not a fistfight. The intention is not to injure but to humiliate, to put someone in his or her place. One normally did not strike a peer this way, and if one did the fine was exorbitant. A backhand slap was a normal way of admonishing inferiors. Masters backhanded slaves; husbands, wives; parents, children; men, women; Romans, Jews. ....

"Why then does Jesus counsel these humiliated people to turn to other cheek? Because this action robs the oppressor of power to humiliate them. The person who turns the other cheek is saying, in effect, ‘Try again. Your first blow failed to achieve its intended effect. I deny you the power to humiliate me. I am a human being, just like you. Your status (gender, race, age, wealth) does not alter that. You cannot demean me.’ Such a response would create enormous difficulties for the striker. Purely logistically, how can he now hit the other cheek? He cannot backhand it with his right hand. If he hits it with a fist, he makes himself an equal, acknowledging the other as a peer. But the whole point of the back of the hand is to reinforce the caste system and its institutionalized inequality."

Jesus was actually suggesting social and intellectual jujitsu against illegitimate authority – with the clear implication that any form of merely human authority is illegitimate since all are equal in the eyes of God. Considering by how long Christianity – albeit perhaps more often than not in a twisted form, much more enamored of human authority and the things of this world than would please Jesus, but with the power of the Gospel still able to bring believers back to the simpler, more direct, more humane message of Jesus – has outlasted the Roman Empire, perhaps he had something....

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Christmas Story Offers Civic Lesson
...What is missed is a side of the story that doesn’t serve well with easy conversation over eggnog. It’s about political power and civic dissent.

In the Gospel of Matthew, the Christmas story records a journey from the East--most likely Persia--to Jerusalem by wise men, alternatively called kings or magi. They were really astrologers: the inquisitive, the intellectuals, the scientists of their day...

...While the broad strokes of this story may be recalled, it is the wise men’s civic engagement that deserves recovery, for they offer us a much-needed model.

The wise men refused the seduction of political power. They listened respectfully to Herod but kept their objectivity. They discerned the signs of the times and practiced daring dissent in the face of distortive power. They remained faithful to their religious mission.

Today we also need discerning people of faith, who engage but keep their distance from political power, deflecting its inherent manipulation and dissenting from its use of religion for the exercise of malignant power.

Those who bore gifts for the messiah also bear a gift for our society—the need for discernment and dissent.

The politics of the Christmas story
THE SINGLE most important fact about the birth of Jesus, as recounted in the Gospels, is one that receives almost no emphasis in the American festival of Christmas. The child who was born in Bethlehem represented a drastic political challenge to the imperial power of Rome. The nativity story is told to make the point that Rome is the enemy of God, and in Jesus, Rome's day is over.

The Gospel of Matthew builds its nativity narrative around Herod's determination to kill the baby, whom he recognizes as a threat to his own political sway. The Romans were an occupation force in Palestine, and Herod was their puppet-king. To the people of Israel, the Roman occupation, which preceded the birth of Jesus by at least 50 years, was a defilement, and Jewish resistance was steady. (The historian Josephus says that after an uprising in Jerusalem around the time of the birth of Jesus, the Romans crucified 2,000 Jewish rebels.)

Herod was right to feel insecure on his throne. In order to preempt any challenge from the rumored newborn "king of the Jews," Herod murdered "all the male children who were 2 years old or younger." Joseph, warned in a dream, slipped out of Herod's reach with Mary and Jesus. Thus, right from his birth, the child was marked as a political fugitive.

The Gospel of Luke puts an even more political cast on the story. The narrative begins with the decree of Caesar Augustus calling for a world census -- a creation of tax rolls that will tighten the empire's grip on its subject peoples. It was Caesar Augustus who turned the Roman republic into a dictatorship, a power-grab he reinforced by proclaiming himself divine.

His census decree is what requires the journey of Joseph and the pregnant Mary to Bethlehem, but it also defines the context of their child's nativity as one of political resistance. When the angel announces to shepherds that a "savior has been born," as scholars like Richard Horsley point out, those hearing the story would immediately understand that the blasphemous claim by Caesar Augustus to be "savior of the world" was being repudiated.

When Jesus was murdered by Rome as a political criminal -- crucifixion was the way such rebels were executed -- the story's beginning was fulfilled in its end....

...This is how it came to be that Christmas in America has turned the nativity of Jesus on its head. No surprise there, for if the story were told today with Roman imperialism at its center, questions might arise about America's new self-understanding as an imperial power. A story of Jesus born into a land oppressed by a hated military occupation might prompt an examination of the American occupation of Iraq. A story of Jesus come decidedly to the poor might cast a pall over the festival of consumption. A story of the Jewishness of Jesus might undercut the Christian theology of replacement....

Good News for Saddam Hussein
The neo-cons who propagated the story that Saddam "gassed his own people," i.e., the Iraqi Kurds, will still insist he did gas the Kurds, back in 1988 when he gave the order to Chemical Ali, who told the Iraqi army to commit genocide at the town of Halabja. But the news from Mohammed al-Obaidi is that the team prosecuting Saddam for crimes against humanity has dropped the genocide charge “due to insufficient evidence.”

Al-Obaidi assures me the news is true, and if it is, we should be learning about it sooner or later from our news media. It will further complicate the Bush administration’s problems in Iraq, as it had been relying on the genocide charge to justify “regime change” in Baghdad when the other rationales – WMD and Al Qaida connections – failed. I may be wrong, but if this turns out to be true, it would be a positive development in resolving the conflict in Iraq sooner, rather than later. Once the U.S. press corps focuses on the issue, it would force President Bush to re-examine his own assumptions about the rationale for unilateral action and make it easier for him to shift gears toward greater international involvement in resolving the several conflated issues in the Middle East.

As most of you know, I have for the last two years argued that whatever else Saddam Hussein did for good or ill as Iraq’s president since 1978, there is no evidence that he committed genocide. That he gassed the Iraqi Kurds has been an assertion that has been repeated so often by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and the American press that I’m sure 99.9% of the people believe it is gospel. I sent the "news" to several editors and a great many political reporters yesterday when I learned of it, but nothing yet has surfaced. Al-Obaidi tells me the news has appeared in the Arabic press. ...

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Bush's War
So, who is to blame for all the deaths in Iraq? Let's mull this one over a bit, shall we?...

New Papers Suggest Detainee Abuse Was Widespread
The Bush administration is facing a wave of new allegations that the abuse of foreign detainees in U.S. military custody was more widespread, varied and grave in the past three years than the Defense Department has long maintained.

New documents released yesterday detail a series of probes by Army criminal investigators into multiple cases of threatened executions of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers, as well as of thefts of currency and other private property, physical assaults, and deadly shootings of detainees at detention camps in Iraq.

In many of the newly disclosed cases, Army commanders chose noncriminal punishments for those involved in the abuse, or the investigations were so flawed that prosecutions could not go forward, the documents show. Human rights groups said yesterday that, as a result, the penalties imposed were too light to suit the offenses.

The complaints arose from several thousand new pages of internal reports, investigations and e-mails from different agencies, which, with other documents released in the past two weeks, paint a finer-grained picture of military abuse and criminal behavior at prisons in Cuba, Iraq and Afghanistan than previously available....

Torture reconsidered: Shock, awe and the human body
PARIS A historian in the future, or a moralist, is likely to deem the Bush administration's enthusiasm for torture the most striking aspect of its war against terrorism.

This started early. Proposals to authorize torture were circulating even before there was anyone to torture. Days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the administration made it known that the United States was no longer bound by international treaties, or by American law and established U.S. military standards, concerning torture and the treatment of prisoners. By the end of 2001, the Justice Department had drafted memos on how to protect military and intelligence officers from eventual prosecution under existing U.S. law for their treatment of Afghan and other prisoners.

In January 2002, the White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales (who is soon to become attorney general), advised George W. Bush that it could be done by fiat. If the president simply declared "detainees" in Afghanistan outside the protection of the Geneva conventions, the 1996 U.S. War Crimes Act - which carries a possible death penalty for Geneva violations - would not apply....

...It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Bush administration is not torturing prisoners because it is useful but because of its symbolism. It originally was intended to be a form of what later, in the attack on Iraq, came to be called "shock and awe." It was meant as intimidation. We will do these terrible things to demonstrate that nothing will stop us from conquering our enemies. We are indifferent to world opinion. We will stop at nothing.

In that respect, it is like the attack on Falluja last month, which - destructive as it was - was fundamentally a symbolic operation. Any insurgent who wanted to escape could do so long before the much-advertised attack actually began. Its real purpose was exemplary destruction: to deliver a message to all of Iraq that this is what the United States can do to you if you continue the resistance. It was collective punishment of the city's occupants for having tolerated terrorist operations based there....

...Destroying cities and torturing prisoners are things you do when you are losing the real war, the war your enemies are fighting. They are signals of moral bankruptcy. They destroy the confidence and respect of your friends, and reinforce the credibility of the enemy.

An Interview with Jon Butler ... Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?
Mr. Butler, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at Yale University, is the author of Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People(Harvard University Press, 1990). This interview was conducted by HNN editor Rick Shenkman for The Learning Channel series, "Myth America," which aired several years ago.

You hear it all the time from the right wing. The United States was founded as a Christian country. What do you make of that?

Well, first of all, it wasn't. The United States wasn't founded as a Christian country. Religion played very little role in the American Revolution and it played very little role in the making of the Constitution. That's largely because the Founding Fathers were on the whole deists who had a very abstract conception of God, whose view of God was not a God who acted in the world today and manipulated events in a way that actually changed the course of human history. Their view of religion was really a view that stressed ethics and morals rather than a direct divine intervention. ...

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Mithraism arose in the Mediterranean world at the same time as Christianity, either imported from Iran, as Franz Cumont believed, or as a new religion which borrowed the name Mithras from the Persians, as the Congress of Mithraic Studies suggested in 1971.

Mithraism radiated from India where there is evidence of its practice from 1400 B.C. Mitra was part of the Hindu pantheon and Mithra was a minor Zooroastrian deity, the god of the airy light between heaven and earth. He was also a military general in Chinese mythology .

The soldiers' god, even in Rome (although the faith was embraced by male emperors, farmers, bureaucrats, merchants, and slaves, as well as soldiers), demanded a high standard of behavior, “temperance, self-control, and compassion -- even in victory”. Thus, Tertullian chides his fellow Christians for unbecoming behavior: “Are you not ashamed, my fellow soldiers of Christ, that you will be condemned, not by Christ, but by some soldier of Mithras?”

The comparison of Mithraists and Christians is not coincidental. December 25 was Mithras' birthday before it was Jesus'....

...But the actual choice of December 25 for Christmas was made under the Emperor Aurelian because this was the date of the Winter Solstice and was the day devotees of Mithras celebrated the dies natalis solis invicti (birthday of the invincible sun).

Mithraism, like Christianity, offers salvation to its adherents. Mithras was born into the world to save humanity from evil. Both figures ascended in human form, Mithras to wield the sun chariot, Christ to Heaven. The following summarizes the aspects of Mithraism that are also found in Christianity.

“Mithras, the sun-god, was born of a virgin in a cave on December 25, and worshipped on Sunday, the day of the conquering sun. He was a savior-god who rivaled Jesus in popularity. He died and was resurrected in order to become a messenger god, an intermediary between man and the good god of light, and the leader of the forces of righteousness against the dark forces of the god evil.”
- Pagan Origins of Christmas

Cancer: (June 22—July 22)
Death by firing squad has a certain desolate nobility, but it'll be ruined when the inept, drunken Australians fail to hit you above your waist with the first nine volleys.

On Capitol Hill, a Thirst for That 'Heavenly Brew'
St. Mark's Has Its Own Beer, and Young Adults Beat a Path to Its Door

Since introducing its own brand of lager this fall, St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill has seen an influx of twenty- and thirty-somethings on Sunday mornings.

"I can't say it's a compelling reason," Rector Paul Abernathy said when asked whether the addition of Winged Lion Lager to Sunday's pub lunch menu had anything to do with the new faces at St. Mark's.

But he acknowledged the coincidence and said with a smile, "I'll find out."

Pub lunches are a long-standing tradition at the 135-year-old church, which has 700 members who pride themselves on their spirit of fellowship and conviviality, Abernathy said.

Sharing a brew in a family atmosphere is one way they take part. Every Sunday after the 11 o'clock service, more than 100 people gather in the parish hall for pub-style fare that includes soup, sandwiches, salad, bread, beer, soda and wine. ...

“Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”: Defending Liberal Protestantism in the 1920sThis morning we are to think of the fundamentalist controversy which threatens to divide the American churches as though already they were not sufficiently split and riven. A scene, suggestive for our thought, is depicted in the fifth chapter of the Book of the Acts, where the Jewish leaders hale before them Peter and other of the apostles because they had been preaching Jesus as the Messiah. Moreover, the Jewish leaders propose to slay them, when in opposition Gamaliel speaks “Refrain from these men, and let them alone; for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God ye will not be able to overthrow them; lest haply ye be found even to be fighting against God.” . . .

Already all of us must have heard about the people who call themselves the Fundamentalists. Their apparent intention is to drive out of the evangelical churches men and women of liberal opinions. I speak of them the more freely because there are no two denominations more affected by them than the Baptist and the Presbyterian. We should not identify the Fundamentalists with the conservatives. All Fundamentalists are conservatives, but not all conservatives are Fundamentalists. The best conservatives can often give lessons to the liberals in true liberality of spirit, but the Fundamentalist program is essentially illiberal and intolerant.

The Fundamentalists see, and they see truly, that in this last generation there have been strange new movements in Christian thought. A great mass of new knowledge has come into man’s possession—new knowledge about the physical universe, its origin, its forces, its laws; new knowledge about human history and in particular about the ways in which the ancient peoples used to think in matters of religion and the methods by which they phrased and explained their spiritual experiences; and new knowledge, also, about other religions and the strangely similar ways in which men’s faiths and religious practices have developed everywhere. . . .

Now, there are multitudes of reverent Christians who have been unable to keep this new knowledge in one compartment of their minds and the Christian faith in another. They have been sure that all truth comes from the one God and is His revelation. Not, therefore, from irreverence or caprice or destructive zeal but for the sake of intellectual and spiritual integrity, that they might really love the Lord their God, not only with all their heart and soul and strength but with all their mind, they have been trying to see this new knowledge in terms of the Christian faith and to see the Christian faith in terms of this new knowledge.

Doubtless they have made many mistakes. Doubtless there have been among them reckless radicals gifted with intellectual ingenuity but lacking spiritual depth. Yet the enterprise itself seems to them indispensable to the Christian Church. The new knowledge and the old faith cannot be left antagonistic or even disparate, as though a man on Saturday could use one set of regulative ideas for his life and on Sunday could change gear to another altogether. We must be able to think our modern life clear through in Christian terms, and to do that we also must be able to think our Christian faith clear through in modern terms.

There is nothing new about the situation. It has happened again and again in history, as, for example, when the stationary earth suddenly began to move and the universe that had been centered in this planet was centered in the sun around which the planets whirled. Whenever such a situation has arisen, there has been only one way out—the new knowledge and the old faith had to be blended in a new combination. Now, the people in this generation who are trying to do this are the liberals, and the Fundamentalists are out on a campaign to shut against them the doors of the Christian fellowship. Shall they be allowed to succeed?

It is interesting to note where the Fundamentalists are driving in their stakes to mark out the deadline of doctrine around the church, across which no one is to pass except on terms of agreement. They insist that we must all believe in the historicity of certain special miracles, preeminently the virgin birth of our Lord; that we must believe in a special theory of inspiration—that the original documents of the Scripture, which of course we no longer possess, were inerrantly dictated to men a good deal as a man might dictate to a stenographer; that we must believe in a special theory of the Atonement—that the blood of our Lord, shed in a substitutionary death, placates an alienated Deity and makes possible welcome for the returning sinner; and that we must believe in the second coming of our Lord upon the clouds of heaven to set up a millennium here, as the only way in which God can bring history to a worthy denouement. Such are some of the stakes which are being driven to mark a deadline of doctrine around the church....

...Here in the Christian Church today are these two groups, and the question which the Fundamentalists have raised is this—Shall one of them drive the other out? Do we think the cause of Jesus Christ will be furthered by that? If He should walk through the ranks of his congregation this morning, can we imagine Him claiming as His own those who hold one idea of inspiration and sending from Him into outer darkness those who hold another? You cannot fit the Lord Christ into that Fundamentalist mold. The church would better judge His judgment. For in the Middle West the Fundamentalists have had their way in some communities and a Christian minister tells us the consequences. He says that the educated people are looking for their religion outside the churches....

...These two groups exist in the Christian churches and the question raised by the Fundamentalists is—Shall one of them drive the other out? Will that get us anywhere? Multitudes of young men and women at this season of the year are graduating from our schools of learning, thousands of them Christians who may make us older ones ashamed by the sincerity of their devotion to God’s will on earth. They are not thinking in ancient terms that leave ideas of progress out. They cannot think in those terms. There could be no greater tragedy than that the Fundamentalists should shut the door of the Christian fellowship against such....

The Day the Enlightenment Went Out
This election confirms the brilliance of Karl Rove as a political strategist. He calculated that the religious conservatives, if they could be turned out, would be the deciding factor. The success of the plan was registered not only in the presidential results but also in all 11 of the state votes to ban same-sex marriage. Mr. Rove understands what surveys have shown, that many more Americans believe in the Virgin Birth than in Darwin's theory of evolution.

This might be called Bryan's revenge for the Scopes trial of 1925, in which William Jennings Bryan's fundamentalist assault on the concept of evolution was discredited. Disillusionment with that decision led many evangelicals to withdraw from direct engagement in politics. But they came roaring back into the arena out of anger at other court decisions - on prayer in school, abortion, protection of the flag and, now, gay marriage. Mr. Rove felt that the appeal to this large bloc was worth getting President Bush to endorse a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (though he had opposed it earlier).

The results bring to mind a visit the Dalai Lama made to Chicago not long ago. I was one of the people deputized to ask him questions on the stage at the Field Museum. He met with the interrogators beforehand and asked us to give him challenging questions, since he is too often greeted with deference or flattery.

The only one I could think of was: "If you could return to your country, what would you do to change it?" He said that he would disestablish his religion, since "America is the proper model." I later asked him if a pluralist society were possible without the Enlightenment. "Ah," he said. "That's the problem." He seemed to envy America its Enlightenment heritage.

Which raises the question: Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?

America, the first real democracy in history, was a product of Enlightenment values - critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences. Though the founders differed on many things, they shared these values of what was then modernity. They addressed "a candid world," as they wrote in the Declaration of Independence, out of "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind." Respect for evidence seems not to pertain any more, when a poll taken just before the elections showed that 75 percent of Mr. Bush's supporters believe Iraq either worked closely with Al Qaeda or was directly involved in the attacks of 9/11.

The secular states of modern Europe do not understand the fundamentalism of the American electorate. It is not what they had experienced from this country in the past. In fact, we now resemble those nations less than we do our putative enemies.

Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity? Not in France or Britain or Germany or Italy or Spain. We find it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein's Sunni loyalists. Americans wonder that the rest of the world thinks us so dangerous, so single-minded, so impervious to international appeals. They fear jihad, no matter whose zeal is being expressed.

It is often observed that enemies come to resemble each other. We torture the torturers, we call our God better than theirs - as one American general put it, in words that the president has not repudiated....

A List of Screwy Christian Stuff
Seeking an authentic faith and a solid education, this writer enrolled at Oral Roberts University. Soon, he was questioning his choice of schools—and keeping a list....

...Near the top of the list of Screwy Stuff: Naming it and claiming it. Prayers that name what the pray-er wants, and claim what the pray-er wants. Name it and claim it, goes the imperative. If you name it and claim it, you will get it.

My mind is boggled by this formula for the first time at a dorm prayer meeting I attend. Not bothered, not bemused, but boggled, astonished into confusion. Tossed all around. It could have been, maybe should have been, a blip on the screen, a bump in the road I hop over and move on. But, no. It is a boggling.

At the beginning of the meeting someone stands up and asks for prayer requests. Hands pop up, are called upon. Requests are taken. A sister-in-law has been diagnosed with cancer. A father is falling away from the Lord. The MCAT is coming up. One person needs help paying for overdue medical bills, another for buying a new truck so he can get to work.

After the requests, people volunteer to pray for each one. The guy who needs the truck volunteers to pray for his own request, and when he does, he names it and claims it:

“Father, You know I need a new truck, so right now I just claim a Toyota 4x4, 3.4 liter, six-cylinder, extended cab . . . red with white trim. I need low payments and affordable insurance. I just claim these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

This being the first time I’ve heard anything like it, I look around and expect to see everyone smiling and nodding along with the joke. But all heads are bowed, all eyes closed. The prayers continue in all seriousness, from the Toyota to cancer.

I slide down into my seat, into my boggling. This, I will discover, is a strange breed of Pentecostalism, a teaching of personal empowerment that had a heyday but is in its dying gasps. But everyone seems on board with it in this moment, and that frightens me into wondering if I am supposed to be on board, too....

For the faithful, fighting back isn't an option
...Miller, 33, lives in Laurelhurst, worships at Imago Dei, and writes on faith with candor and passion reminiscent of Frederick Buechner and Anne Lamott. His latest book, "Searching for God Knows What," is fresh out. "Blue Like Jazz," Miller's previous effort, has sold 120,000 copies and kept him hopping on the college lecture circuit for most of the last four months, despite limited reviews.

Miller understands the critics' reticence: "I've yet to have anyone tell me what the book is about," he says. "It's essentially about me finding faith in Christ outside the church."

Why outside?

"Because the church has been hijacked by the issues of gay marriage and abortion, two ideas Christ never speaks of," Miller says. "This is what people embedded in the church don't understand. When you go out and ask someone what Christianity is about, they'll say it's about gay marriage and abortion. They don't know anything else.

And small wonder, Miller says: "No Christian organization is chaining itself to the church doors over the issue of divorce. No Christian group is lobbying President Bush to do something about the Sudan.

"The other myth the church buys into? The church believes Pharisees no longer exist. Jerry Falwell is a great example of that. He'll go on CNN and talk about morality, but he'll never share the Gospel. Why? Because Falwell thinks, 'Morality redeems me.' "

In "a huge slice" of the evangelical church, Miller says, Jesus "is a technicality. He's a poster boy for our Western political agenda; he's not the son of God." In Christ's absence, "squeaky wheels" like Falwell, Bob Jones III and James Dobson dispense with the fruits of the spirit to preach moral superiority and propagate the culture war.

"There's increasingly this feeling that if we are right spiritually and right morally, we can be mean people," Miller says. "Whatever happened to turn the other cheek? Love your enemies? Season your speech with grace? There's only war rhetoric. It's Gettysburg. 'Your children are going to turn gay unless you get your fists up.' I don't understand how Falwell can say God was judging America by bringing down the twin towers and survive in the evangelical community." ...

FBI Claims More Arab Prisoners Abused
... Many agents assigned to Iraq and Cuba reported witnessing incidents of abuse by military units or civilian contractors.

In a June "Urgent Report" to the FBI director from the Sacramento field office, for example, a supervising special agent described abuses such as "strangulation, beatings, placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees' ear openings and unauthorized interrogations."

The supervisor added that some officials "were engaged in a cover-up of these abuses."

In other instances, a female prisoner "indicated she was hit with a stick," according to a memo from last May, and in July, Army criminal investigators were reviewing "the alleged rape of a juvenile male detainee at Abu Ghraib prison."

Still other agents gave more detailed accounts of abuse.

In June, for instance, an agent from the Washington field office reported that an Abu Ghraib detainee was "cuffed" and placed into a position the military called "The Scorpion" hold. Then, according to what the prisoner told the FBI, he was doused with cold water, dropped onto barbed wire, dragged by his feet and punched in the stomach.

In Cuba, a detainee in May, 2002, was reportedly spat upon and then beaten when he attempted to roll onto his stomach to protect himself. At one point, soldiers apparently were "beating him and grabbed his head and beat it into the cell floor," knocking him unconscious.

Another agent reported this past August that while in Cuba he often saw detainees chained hand and foot in a fetal position on the floor "with no chair, food or water."

"Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left for 18-24 hours or more," the agent wrote.

Sometimes, he reported, the room was chilled to where a "barefooted detainee was shaking with cold." Other times, the air-conditioning was turned off and the temperature in the unventilated room rose to well over 100 degrees.

"The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him," the agent reported. "He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night."

The FBI documents also included a report about a prisoner in Cuba whose legs were injured and who said he lied about being a terrorist for fear that otherwise the U.S. military would amputate him.

"He indicated he was injured severely and in a lot of pain," the FBI wrote. Yet the prisoner constantly was being asked whether he had attended a terrorist camp in Afghanistan.

The agent wrote that the prisoner "stated he wanted to receive decent medical treatment, and felt the only way to get it was to tell the Americans what they wanted to hear."

How Jesus Got Demoted by the Religious Right
Leaders of the decidedly nonconservative "conservative" right avoid focusing on what Jesus actually said; his teachings would prohibit their campaign to forcibly remake others – Christian and nonChristian alike – into their own image.

But they can't just come out and say "don't pay any attention to Jesus' teachings" because this would alarm the majority of Christians. So rightwing religious leaders are doing what tyrants aiming to divide and conquer Christians have always done:

(1) They distract us away from Jesus' teachings and commands by focusing exclusively on his birth, death, and ticket-to-salvation role,

(2) They claim to be biblical literalists, "Bible-believing Christians" to pre-empt criticism, yet blatantly pick and choose only those verses that serve their purposes, and

(3) They refer constantly to "God" rather than "Jesus," a potent subliminal strategy that convinces Christians to focus on a violent disciplinarian God rather than a gently shepherding Jesus. By instilling the terror of God's punishment instead of the love of Jesus' guidance, rightwing Christian leaders have convinced American Christians that the wrathful, violent God portrayed in pre-Christian times is the one they’d better obey, while they need only to believe in Jesus (easy), not obey him (difficult).

In these ways, Jesus has been demoted in the current strain of "conservative" Christianity. Such Christians deny this of course, exclaiming that they do obey Jesus' teachings – in their hearts. They'll say that Jesus never expected us to actually implement those teachings, that they were more or less spiritual insights: We can persecute and kill, so long as we do it with a pure heart.

Leaders of the radical right give all manner of creative reasons for disobeying Jesus' teachings. This is especially apparent when they pick and choose scriptures that condone sexism, oppression, war, slavery, domestic violence and the domination of others.

Most damaging of all to our faith – and to Christians everywhere, in the long run – rightwing leaders are inserting the word "Jesus" into their ugliest campaigns in the US and around the world....