Hitchens on Obama

The title of his essay is “Obama is No King”.  To which the obvious answer is No S–t.  Neither are you Christopher Hitchens, neither am I, neither is basically anybody.  The next question:  So What?  And Why Does He Have to Be?

I don’t like to play the so-called race card, but I’m always confused as to why black politicians are inevitably compared (often by conservative whites or neocons in the Hitchens case) to MLK.  These same individuals also often give us the scrubbed, sanitized, National Holiday I Have a Dream (only) MLK.  Not the MLK who said that America was the “greatest purveyor of violence on earth”. Not that Martin.

But no white politicians are ever compared (as far as I know of) to Martin Luther King.  So if I get this right, the black politicians are supposed to support the MLK (white version thereof) equality line at the same time that only black pols are held to this standard.  i.e. Turning Martin Luther King thereby into a black politician–emphasis on black–and not an American politician by whom all American politicians are judged?  Do I have that right?  Which is very interesting  to my mind given the whole paeans to “color blindness” as the true mark of his ministry (again as usually defined by whites).

The taboo no one can broach is whether blacks get to self-define or whether whites get to tell blacks how they must be to be considered respectable in American public discourse.  [That is again not a defense of indefensible actions and attitudes, only to say that issue is always in the background and the sanitized version of King is precisely just another piece of that mentality].

Not to mention again since we have a canonized plaster mold (un-human) King–maybe MLK was wrong about some things?  Saints make errors.  Saints are not saints because they are perfect beings but because the love deeply and are humble, merciful, and courageous in the face of their own sinfulness and flaws.

And maybe not even wrong, but simply new elements are needed given 40 years has passed and the world has changed.  Some things appropriate then may no longer be.  This frozen in time King does no one any good in my mind.

As a Christian, Martin Luther King Jr. was a saint and prophet.  God calls those as God will.  Barack Obama has a certain kind of charisma around him a certain type of providential feel, but he is not a saint.  Comparing Obama to MLK is like comparing Hillary Clinton to Mother Theresa or John McCain to John Paul II.

So back to the article.

Hitchens has some very moving things to say about King and the lesser known but also heroic Philip Randolph (a major influence on King).

He then compares these men to the Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons of the world calling them hucksters (as compared to a Randolph or KIng).  Those are men who have done a great deal of good but whose vision of the world politically I don’t support.  And there are as Hitchens points out huckster elements to that cadre.

Hitchens then goes on to Obama’s connections with and claims of mentorship by Jeremiah Wright and Michael Pfelger a White Catholic priest.

[Disclosure I had a very close friend when I lived in Chicago who attended the parish Pfelger led. I met him Fr. Michael on a few occasions.  He certainly had a certain glory hog-ness to him, but he was also clear that unless he used the media to get his message across, the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago would not concern itself with the plight of poor blacks in the city.  On that point, he was correct.]

There are connections via some of these persons to Louis Farrakhan–though again not to Obama himself.  Who repeatedly criticized Farrakhan on anti-Semitic remarks and so forth–so why this is relevant and nothing other than a smear by association (2nd degree association no less) is less than perfectly clear.

For Hitchens these connections are:  “a lot sadder, and a lot more serious, than has been admitted.”

And then this conclusion:

So amnesiac have we become, indeed, that we fall into paroxysms of adulation for a ward-heeling Chicago politician who does not complete, let alone “transcend,” the work of Dr. King; who hasn’t even caught up to where we were four decades ago; and who, by his chosen associations, negates and profanes the legacy that was left to all of us.

I don’t know who has talked about Obama transcending Dr. King’s work.  But anyone that has is dumb.  King’s work as he himself said when he predicted his own death was “God’s will.”  Nothing theologically transcends God’s will–although Hitchens wouldn’t know anything about that anti-theist that he is.

Now the last line, by his chosen associates negating and profaning the legacy. Check out what Hitchens wrote just a few lines above concerning MLK (my emphasis):

Four decades after the murder in Memphis of a friend of the working man—a hero who was always being denounced by the FBI for his choice of secular and socialist friends and colleagues—…

Irony anyone?

Of course he has connections to sleazy people–he’s a politician.  So did MLK.  So does everybody with any major public role.  He also has connections to mixed imperfect humans full of good, full of bad.  Full of pain and rage, full of beauty and grace.  So does anybody willing to work for anything of value in this world.

Of course Obama tries to portray his best side publicly and minimize his deficiencies.  He’s a politician.  He’s a person.  So what?

Published in: on April 7, 2008 at 3:27 pm  Comments (24)  
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  1. Obama was not being measured against King until he choose to give a high-profile speech not merely to address the controversy with his seemingly hateful pastor, but address the far larger issue of “race in america”. When people do that in particular, they will be compared to the best oratory America has produced on the subject, and that means King’s I Have A Dream, which is #1. And in doing so, we see two things: 1) how vastly inferior Obama’s speech was to King’s, and 2) how much Obama disagrees with the import of I Have A Dream.

    And, also, normal people understand that a) MLK was a man, too, and that b) being a man, is capable of saying stupid shit like “greatest purveyor of violence”. King was able to rise above the idiocy latent in all humans, given the occasion of his oratory; Obama, sadly, was not.

  2. But this gets to the heart of the issue. Why did he have to make a speech on race in the first place? Because in many black (esp. poor) communities, politics is heavily mixed with religion and culture, he comes from that world, and some of the rage from that world spilled out into mainstream America which is shocked shocked to find out some critical stuff was said.

    Why is that not ok as is? Why is it that his entire campaign is threatened when people finally learn things like this? And I don’t want to hear because he is running as post-racial. It’s about power and identity. He doesn’t hold the same view as a Wright and he is still connected into that world, but somehow others get to stand in judgment of him. Why?

    And the kinds of things that were said by Wright (some of them like the God damn America for example) are of the same ilk as MLK’s greatest purveyor line. I submit that that if such people say such things there may be something more to their comments than dismissed as “stupid shit”. The only stupid shit in this context in my mind was that comment.

    Particularly King. In 1968 America was a great purveyor of violence on this earth and still is today. That’s not left-wing anti-American postmodernism, that’s as Wright says “in the bible.” Thems just the facts. Others are evil too, eviler even, but that’s doesn’t absolve guilt.

    If like me you have heard the stories of Latin Americans who watched family members murdered in front of them by militias supported, funded by the US, trained in some cases, to support essentially dictatorships, then yes America is not Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia in terms of pure evil but it still at the root of an awful amount of sin. Of injustice.

    That being the case–for me like having scales fall from my eyes–I can’t have this rah-rah view of America which is all sweetness and light and how dare anyone criticize America (and not wear a flag on his lapel while he’s at it).

    To say the greatest purveyor of violence is to use the hyperbolic style of the Hebrew Prophets (and Jesus) to shock the hearer into listening. To shock them out of their comfortability. That to me is still valid given 40 years later we are again occupying a foreign country under the auspices of “if we don’t make them democratic the dominoes will fall towards evil”, the economy suffers, the poor suffer more, and we are told by the political class that the groups we support are the good guys and the enemy are the evil ones in this simplistic Manichean mindset.

    When in actual fact, as in the recent fighting in Basra, we are supporting one set of pretty bad guys against another set of bad guys.

    To what end?

    That was King’s point, the King of 1968, the King who became angry and was attacked for decrying the war as a Communist. And for having the courage to say that the plight of (what he called) the American Negro is related to the poverty of the world and imperial wars. The King we don’t hear about in US media because he is put in a plaster mold of civility that is non-threatening and then becomes the basis for judging another politician–who will almost inevitably be black.

    Peace. CJ

  3. No, the things Wright said were stupid shit, as was the Greatest Purveyor stuff King said. A trillion of your words, nor your assertions, make them otherwise. The “hyperbolic style of the prophets” is a cheap cop-out — people are responsible for what they say; these people aren’t prophets, they are regular people who might — might — touch on truths (as King did in I Have A Dream) far bigger. Why did Obama have to make a speech? He didn’t have to make a speech on race — it was entirely his choice not to confine it to nutcase Wright. He owed the citizenry a decent explanation of his poor judgment in associating by choice with Wright, and he gave what he gave, plus a whole lot more than opened him to further criticism. No one puts King in a “plaster mold”; they look at his speech, and do so in awe, because as short as it is, it bears constant re-reading and re-rumination. This has nothing to do with non-threatening blah blah blah — his words endure the test of time. The rest of your comments are boilerplate straw man.

  4. I actually think Martin Luther King Jr. was a prophet so the connection to the Hebraic tradition is not a cop out, cheap or any other kind.

    And I mean prophet in the fullest theological sense of the term. He is to me one of the most important Christian theologians ever.

    Prophets are regular people. That you think they are otherwise is why I believe you fail to see the way in which he has been made a plaster mold saint.

    I stand by that point and do not think its boilerplate.

    My point is that to understand the language, its ethos and rhetoric, you have to enter sympathetically into that world, (it’s activity, it’s cosmic view, it’s narrative ploys). Not totally, no one ever can. But some immersion.

    King brilliantly weaved the Greeks, the Romans, the American Founders into both the I Have a Dream as well as the speech he gave in Memphis the night before he was killed. That is all there and can be seen in a trajectory of classical liberalism (which it is at its best). Which you have eloquently pointed out and defended.

    And MLK also (in the same speeches, particularly the latter one which I linked to the other day if you want to listen to it) calls on this other narrative. A counter narrative in some, I’d say many ways. The narrative of critique. He stands in the position of Moses against Pharaoh–“let my people go.”

    I admire how he holds both in tension, letting them simply be together.

    Relevant at this point to mention how deeply he was influenced by Gandhi. To see the American Civil Rights movement in line with the “soul-force” movement for Indian Independence I think provides an illuminating window on the situation.

    There is plenty to disagree with in say a Wright (even in a King) but if you don’t understand the text in relation to its audience, its context, its world of meaning, then the criticism can be right or wrong but either way I think fails to stick.

    peace. cj

  5. As usual, your 5,000 words miss my point. My point is that when people say things no better than two-bit Chomsky after a hangover, they deserve to be ignored, and will be ignored (not sanitized or whatever lame term you choose) especially when they perchance to offer true wisdom at a different juncture and occasion; all of which applies to King. The notion that only a sanitized version of King is what people know is hogwash; people know what truth compels them to know, and it is better to know one thing deeply than many things on the surface. Name another person in the last hundred years who’s one speech so soundly entered the pantheon of permanent truth, as King did, for chrisakes. And in this pantheon, all of your “critique of yada ya”, “text is relation whooie” and the rest of the navel-gazing pomo literary jargon is as empty as wind, because truth itself shines in works such as I Have A Dream. In great degree (though not absolutely) nothing else matters. If all anyone knew of King and studied of him were his I Have A Dream speech, that would be enough; it could reasonable seed a life’s worth of rumination. Obama’s rhetoric is the thinnest of soups compared to that moment; which is the import of Hitchens’ piece.

  6. First off, I will again wildly disagree with your lumping that statement of King’s in with Noam Chomsky. It’s not. Your political viewpoint will not allow anything of what he says on that point to seep in, so it won’t (as I see it). But you see it differently so that’s that. No point in rehashing that one.

    I didn’t say studying I Have a Dream is not sufficient whatever that means. Of course that alone would be better than much else than is studied and better than not studying anything of King. Of course you can do that; I just am saying I don’t think it’s as beneficial as studying the rest (or at least a broader scope).

    My own view is that the speech he gave the night before he died is in many regards more important (and more profound) than I Have a Dream. Though it’s like comparing infinite with infinite. But that’s just an opinion. Since he references the one (Dream) in the other (Been to the Mountaintop) it stands as an interesting review/re-interpretation almost at points of his earlier work.

    But aure you could only ever know one and be greatly inspired. You could only ever know The Emancipation Proclamation or the Gettysburg Address and you would be illuminated for sure. It would also be better in my mind to know what else Lincoln did and said.

    It would certainly help to understand the Gettysburg Address on deeper levels to know to what Lincoln referred having taken place four score and seven years ago. Just as it would be important to understand King’s religious background and theology to grasp some of his references/allusions.

    It’s not completely 100% necessary, but it definitely helps.

    Lincoln like King was a real person and a complex one. Complex real people are infinitely more interesting and enlightening to me than the public myths and hagiography that tend to form around these people.


  7. Of course it is of the same general kind of rhetoric as Chomsky — hyperbolic assertions spoken with an air of authority that require the opponent to prove a negative, a standard rhetoric move to which the best, though often most difficult, response to is to ignore. The hyperbole of King’s moment of idiocy reflects, at most, a truth that sometimes the USA is responsible for bad, sometimes tragic things in the world, something no one would argue with. As far as the rest of your blather, the only thing worth commenting upon is that it isn’t my “political viewpoint”, is it merely good sense to ignore hyperbole from political figures, from King or anyone else.

  8. I’ll say again that the hyperbole (if that is the right term) is I believe more in line with the Prophetic Tradition and the New Testament.

    For evidence of that assertion, I suggest listening to King’s Why I Am Against the War in Vietnam. You can find it on YouTube.

    peace. cj

  9. Why anyone should give authority in this matter to “the prophetic tradition” or the New Testament you leave unquestioned. And with the latter, sounds like you’ve appropriated its stories for purposes without the stories’ permission. You are hereby fined.

  10. Hmmm….

    The reason why anyone (and in this case actually me) would give such authority is that MLK was a doctoral level theologian and an ordained minister of a Christian church–a first rate one on both accounts.

    Moreover, he came from the black church tradition. The black American church tradition emphasized (emphasizes) the prophetic tradition of the Hebrew Bible. MLK identified himself with Moses, the first and greatest Prophet of the Bible. The Black Church identifies itself with the Jews in Exodus. Its criticism of the white church has been that it is the church of Pharaoh.

    Salvation in the Hebrew Bible means judgment and saving acts in this world. Jews returning from Exile, Abraham being called out to journey, Hebrews saved slavery in Egypt. The Black Church keeps that tradition alive that salvation is about survival and health (from salvus) in this world.

    By the by, the prophetic tradition needs no quotation marks. There are a whole series of books called The Prophetic Books. If you read them (particularly Jeremiah) you will I think see what I am trying to get at.

    And your last sentence is quite interesting.

    The NT refers to Jerusalem as the city that murders the prophets. Now as a matter of pure fact that is incorrect (at least not literally every single one), but rhetorically functions (I would say) in exactly the same way as the “greatest purveyor” line.

    It is a way to wake the hearer from his/her slumber and from the all too easy identification of God’s will & blessing with one’s own country or nationality or people. Again this is a point made time and time again by the Hebrew Prophets. That I think is relevant to Christianity in the US (as well as elsewhere but the US given that is what we are discussing).

    The stories of the NT gain their credence and grant permission as to their usage from the proclamation of the Church (I”m speaking now in my theologian voice) of the Gospel. They are “written so you may believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Gospel of John). They are documents of Christians and the Christian message. They are a product of the church and a means of spreading its message.

    They can be read of course by others and in other ways. But speaking from within the tradition and the world in which they were created, I think that shifts one’s perspective.

    King refashioned those stories in light of the church’s and the world’s experience in his day. Just as I am trying to do (though not nearly as profoundly).

    You could make an argument that I am misinterpreting the gospel or its application to the contemporary situation (that would be an interesting conversation which I would welcome for no one can do so perfectly not even King), but you’re biting off more than you can chew with the fining me bit and claiming you understand the stories sense of permission.

    I would recommend Luke 4 Jesus initial sermon and quotation of the Prophet Isaiah Chapter 59 in this regard wherein one of the prime motives of his ministry is to bring release to the prisoners and good news to the poor.

    Peace. CJ

  11. From MLK having a degree, it does not follow that “the prophetic tradition” has any authority, really, to not be ignored. Authority comes from words having authority, rather, as in I Have A Dream. All else is pretense.

    I have read the Biblical books you cite. I’m afraid neither their existence, nor my or you having read them, nor church proclamation, help grant authority to the so-called “prophetic tradition” to speak idiocy and not be roundly ignored (rather than apologized for as you do also for Obama/Wright).

    And further, you commit another error when you write, “They are a product of the church and a means of spreading its message,” because where again in any story of the Bible, in any of its various anthologies, does it say such a thing? Sure, a church might say that, but why again should I believe a church?

    The very, very limited sense I comprehend the stories’ permission comes from the stories themselves. I think the only permission the stories grant as to their usage is to read them and, if you choose to accept the invitation, get to know them intimately — as stories and stories alone. End of, ahem, story.

    And a church? Nothing but a glorified cafe with poetry readings and stage direction, some song, well-clothed folk (usually), good architecture (hopefully) and a chance to commiserate with fellow man. Virtually all other claims about what a church comprises is, well, hyperbole.

  12. So now we’re getting somewhere…

    On MLK, I was not so pedantic as to say that because he had a PhD therefore authority. Any schmuck can get a degree. It was that if you look at the large arc: his training to be a minister, his life, his leadership, his study (I’ve read his PhD thesis btw and it’s quite good), yes his sermons, then you might consider that you at least give such a person an honest hearing in what they say and not immediately discount it because you disagree with it. Could still be wrong, I’m not making an argument from moral authority as you say. Only saying might give such a one a little more in the way of thought.

    As to the NT the Epistles–Paul, John, Hebrews, Revelation, Peter–all written to by church leaders to churches about church matters (including theology). Explicitly so.

    You don’t need to believe a church to figure that one out. You don’t need to do anything frankly. I suggest you consult the scholarship (Christian and secular) which establishes this non-controversial point.

    As to the Gospels, they do not reference a church because they were swimming in it and they were written and circulated via other churches and assumed that manner of life.

    They assume a great deal that was easily recognizable to its contemporary audience that is not obvious to us living 2,000 years removed in a very different world. e.g. That Caesar was called The Son of God and to call Jesus that was an explicit critique of the Roman Empire. (Again parallels to today and the black church?).

    I’m not saying these texts can’t be read otherwise. They can be read as literature, as a philosophy-world religious text, as a source for history of the Ancient world. Sure.

    I’m saying however that what you put in determines what comes out to a large degree.

    If you approach a church in the way you describe it, that’s all you’ll ever experience. That’s all it will ever be. Same with The Bible. Doesn’t mean that’s wrong. I just think there is more going on (or at least the possibility and occasionally the actuality of more going on).

    Where this rubs, is your understanding of the permission of the stories. They are stories that call people to become disciples, to get baptized, and join a church amongst much else.

    You can certainly read them and find wisdom moral guidance within and not be moved to join a community of faith. I’m not totally knocking that. But be clear that such is a person’s choice. They are choosing to approach the text in such a way and make that decision on their own. That is not the path outlined by the text itself.

    As your studies of Koine may have revealed the word translated as faith in English (pistos) is better understood as Trust.

    What or whom do you trust? That is the question of the Gospels.

    To bring it back to the Black Church: Who is the Real Lord around? Whom should we trust?

    If you, me, or anyone follows the path you outline, then the question the text would ask in response is who is the final arbiter of judgment? By what criteria do you the individual decide what to keep and what to discard?

    And whatever the answer is: is that not ultimately in a sense your god as Luther would say? i.e. What you put your faith (trust) in?

    Lastly, the definition you give of a Church is not the one Christians would use to describe themselves. You can call anything else hyperbole, if that is your view so be it. But that’s your view, not mine and not others. And your view is not necessarily identical with The Truth, as it were, of the situation.

    peace. cj

  13. […] Here’s a link to the most recent in ongoing strife and disagreements between Matthew and Chris. I’ve bored a little of the constant sniping, but still learn every time they piece through an issue du jour. Bottom line, finding good thinkers that help illuminate the world more clearly is precious. These are two I highly endorse to help one parse through the plethora of available information and positions on the web. Enjoy their intelligence. […]

  14. Yes, you were precisely that pedantic. Re-read your own words — I know it can be hard to remember what you wrote a day earlier when you are making it up as you go. You continue is your “listen to King because of his authority per se” thing and it just won’t fly no matter how hard the wings are beat. You are the same way, of course, about Obama. In fact, the entire justification is simpatico with Wilberism, the notion that psychography is king. Which is balderdash, of course.

    If you, me, or anyone follows the path you outline, then the question the text would ask in response is who is the final arbiter of judgment? By what criteria do you the individual decide what to keep and what to discard?

    To your first question, no story of the Bible asks that; you do, and it is a vastly too vague question for me to give any answer. To your second question, I don’t discard anything; I try to ruminate upon all of it, the best I can given available time, the best I have experience for. Half the battle of rumination is to realize, yes, I do have experience that relates with this or that from this or that chapter of the Bible story.

    Lastly, the definition you give of a Church is not the one Christians would use to describe themselves. You can call anything else hyperbole, if that is your view so be it. But that’s your view, not mine and not others. And your view is not necessarily identical with The Truth, as it were, of the situation.

    Right, because you’ve talked with all of them. Not presumptuous of you, not at all; nor sanctimonious, nope. Nor is “…that’s all you’ll ever experience” — right, you know it all, buddy, don’t you. Typical sentiment of an obnoxious Christian, you express.

    The more enlightened perspective, which you do not possess no matter how intense your verbalism, is that a church is a place for abundance, and virtually any reason to go to church is a good reason. A glorified cafe with poetry readings and stage direction, some song, well-clothed folk (usually), good architecture (hopefully) and a chance to commiserate with fellow man — I would submit that allows a profound an experience as anything else, especially combined with private rumination upon the stories, making connections internal and interior.

    The real lord? You, nor I, have any clue, if God is truly God.

    I am compelled to conclude that God exists; and believe that God cannot be comprehended further than that in any reliable manner, and I believe that the stories of the Bible have stuck around because they ultimately echo that fact, better than other attempts.

    I also believe that people who abuse the right to given to talk about God in a church, like Wright, are idiots. Then again, most every pastor I’ve met is an idiot, or a fool. Why that is, I don’t know, other than to suspect intellectual inbreeding and presumption of the kind you express in this thread.

    Or, as I’ve said many times, unskillful literary and poetry analysis. Which involves bringing in things external to the text and pretending them internal.

    I’m a literal metaphorical sort of religious person, I guess.


  15. MD,

    I think it’s about time to wrap this round up, cuz I don’t see it going anywhere constructive.

    I just want to make clear that I was not intending to be obnoxious or to spit on your view of things (church especially). I was just saying that your words came across to me as if your view was everyone else’s. As what is simply the case.

    I’m sure many others feel similar to your view of a church. I did not mean to imply yours was not a deep one–if it came off that way apologies.

    I’m just saying it’s not mine. I’m not opposed really to what you said, but I don’t agree with it totally either. And there are others who see it similarly to me. Re: those others, I didn’t mean all Christians (there’s only a couple billion on the planet currently) but rather the self-definition of the churches.

    And I respectfully (emphasis on respectfully) disagree with your characterization of your definition of church as profound as any other. But that’s my opinion and I’ll own up to it as well as to the fact that I could very well be wrong. I’m not trying to change your view, I’m simply saying it’s not mine.

    peace. cj

  16. […] April 11, 2008 Incestuous Blogometry Posted by cjsmith under Uncategorized   My buddy Juma over at his new blog (co-written with young Master Bergen) has a post up comparing (and inviting reflection) on the interplay between my work and Matthew Dallman’s. Embedded in his post is a link to me and Matthew’s latest round o’ commentary. […]

  17. Dude, if you can find a single instance of me ever claiming to speak for anyone but myself, I’ll reverse your assessed fine.

    And Christ, spare me the “I’m not opposed really to what you said, but I don’t agree with it totally either” condescension, will ya? I don’t really care how artful you attempt to be in straddling the vast spectrum of mushy middle. In case you haven’t guessed, I just assume you disagree with my views; nor do I care if we ever agree — I’m not commenting here for that purpose.

    In addition to the amendment I made — “…especially combined with private rumination upon the stories, making connections internal and interior.” — I would also add, “as well as a strong family life, with active parents practicing attachment parenting (by whatever name) with their children, and truly escorting them into genuine intellectual rumination upon God, nature, world, man, and the rest of the transcendental great ideas, through the family prism.”

    Because church doesn’t happen, fundamentally, in a local church, but rather in the home. Vibrant family as the predominant leading indicator of religious rumination, in other words; which may or may not include attendance in a brick/mortar church, given the lameness of so many pastors, and the often poor success a given church has in being a glorified cafe with poetry readings and stage direction, some song, well-clothed folk (usually), good architecture (hopefully) and a chance to commiserate with fellow man.

    I have recently found a local presbyterian church in a fairly wealthy nearby town that may fit the bill, however. No sign of a Geneva Bible on their library book shelves — no small disappointment.

  18. MD,

    My point was not that you weren’t speaking for anyone but yourself but that what you wrote was simply Reality whether or not anyone else held that view or not being mostly irrelevant. That might seem like hairsplitting but that’s a significant difference as I see it. But either way I think we ought put a fork in that one.

    Now to the charge of condescension and mushy middle-ness which is more important.

    I didn’t say we have to agree; I think you are often misunderstanding what I’m saying. It feels to me like you think you’ve already got me figured out and no matter what I say you pretty routinely will interpret it through that prejudged filter. And that irritates me to no small degree.

    I’m not entirely sure why you comment here (i have some guesses), but from my end, I’m interested in dialogue (again that’s not agreement as such), back and forth, open-ended, freewheeling exploration, not fusillades and talking over one another.

    I’m talking about something more like the following. We reach a point and you say words to the effect of “I see where you’re coming from, I can see how you got to that view, and I still think it’s wrong.”

    Otherwise I feel like we are actually having a three-way discussion: me, you, and the caricature of the postmodern liberal you’re always trying to squeeze me into.

    As that point relates practically to your previous comment.

    I don’t just simply disagree with your views. That’s why I don’t feel I was being condescending or cutely parsing words to advertise my own intellect or whatever.

    I agree with many parts of what you said and I think there’s also other stuff going on as well. Or should be anyway. I would make additions not subtractions. That’s all. Seriously.

    You probably don’t concur, allright cool, but don’t draw some line in the rhetorical sand so people (me in this case) can be squarely boxed in and clearly categorized as to which side they are on having drawn the battle lines according to your outlook.

    In terms of church: One central piece that I’m not hearing from you–unless I missed something–(and would add consequently) is work for justice. To me that is a central aspect of the Abrahamic faiths. [I think this brings it back full circle to our MLK debate but that’s a whole other discussion].

    So yes there is some disagreement there, and you/we can phrase that however you like “disagree in part” “disagree slightly” “agree with this, don’t agree with that,” whatever, just so it’s clear that its not this all or nothing approach.

    All the best with the Presbyterian Church. If you haven’t found The Geneva Bible on the shelves, check the song book some of the translations and psalms set to music may use the Geneva Psalter. Or at least the musical settings that Calvin and Crew would have employed.

    Peace. CJ

  19. There is material here to comment on, is the beginning and end of why I comment here. Nothing material compels you to respond.

    Um, the Geneva Bible thing (as well as the fine levied previously) were jokes, my expressed horror at them. fyi.

    Um, what I write is reality from my point of view. In my experience, this is a lesson learned roughly in third grade. Surprised that I have to spell this out. Do you want me to add “in my opinion” before every line, too, like we had to in third grade?

    Note your tendency to the sociological level, i.e., phylogenetic. Whereas I’m at the family level, essentially ontogentic. This tension generates most of the sparks.

    Work for justice? Well, that is pretty boilerplate way of putting it. Talk to people, aid people, even teach people — all part of commiserating with fellow man. The congregation of a church as engine of civil society. Local only.

    The problem with religion as justice is the slippery slope where religion is used to justify things non-local. War is one example seen the world over. Idiots like Wright are another example, with his asinine social commentary.

    As a remedy and governor, I believe that seeing Christianity as a predominantly literary phenomena would curtail that slope significantly. It fashions a paradox, usefully — on one hand, these stories portend to profundity; on the other, these are just stories.

  20. I think you’re right about the family vs. social. Excepting that for Jesus those who do the will of my Father are brother, sister, family to me.

    As to justice and the need for a wider level. Of course there are dangers, the ones you cite plus others.

    But absent that wider than local (but grounded in local) sense then no abolition or Civil Rights movement. Both of which were religious movements/awakenings that sought political aims. Not to mention Solidarity in Poland, the end of apartheid in South Africa and British colonial rule over India. All were religious movements.

    peace. cj

  21. No, not “excepting”. Treating those you believe to be your brother, sister, family from a sociological point of view is hardly treating them as your brother, sister, family. Frankly, it demeans actual fathers, brothers, sisters, families. This is where religion goes off the rails, and it is rooted in the misguided decision to take the Biblical stories literally, rather than as literal methaphors.

    Phylogeny vs ontogeny. I refer to the family-based perspective as ontogeny because the family unit raises the individual. The sociological/phylogenetic treats humans impersonally — and is almost an inhuman perspective to take. I would have used the equivalent “-geny” word for family if there was one. There isn’t, which is a good thing.

    To you third paragraph, I’m not so sure. Yes, God was evoked. But, what separated those movements from the countless movements that also evoked religion/God constantly, yet failed to gain political traction?

  22. To your final question my answer is the Holy Spirit but that’s a theological answer obviously and not one that you or others might find useful.

    On the family/social issue.

    I don’t see it as family (in the ontogenic sense you discuss) and the impersonal social. I think there are in between spaces.

    It’s not treating people as familial from a sociological view I would say as much as it is treating them so from a religious emotional view. That’s different than your simple (simplistic in my mind) distinction between literal metaphoric and literal (as in literalistic).

    I’m not arguing contra the family raises the individual so long as we recall how fluid and diverse a family makeup can be. I’ve seen churches or church members raise individuals whose biological family can’t or won’t.

    Or to put it more simply I’ve seen religious communities that are a person’s family.

    I was in one for example for 4 years. It didn’t cause me to lose my biological family of course but if you would have asked me at the time I would have truthfully told you the Order was my family–in the sense of mutuality and primary responsibility.

    Actually in my case I shouldn’t say biological family but rather my adoptive family. I’ve never met my biological family which without putting myself on the couch here has something to do with my views on the matter no doubt.

    peace. cj

  23. On the family stuff, I hear ya.

  24. cool. peace.

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