Obama, Wright, Trinity Recap

Lost amidst traveling and other issues was Obama leaving Trinity United Church.  I wrote a great deal about that issue when it was raging, here and here as only a few examples.

I was hoping that Obama would stay at Trinity United, but I guess it was inevitable after Wright’s theatrics at the National Press Club.

But just as kind of summary of what I think was an important issue (though given the media and the blogsophere handled so poorly).

I define politics as the art of the possible.  My own personal political dream/philosophy is so far removed from what is ever going to take place that in the practical decisions I tend towards a moderate, reformist, pragmatism.  Ideology is fine for reading and thinking at home but does not govern well.

Religion is where we able and must dream.  At best politics gives us some better, some worse, mostly more of the same (Habermas’ dialectic of modernity).  But religion offers the possibility of opening a window to a different changed human response to life.

In that sense both Wright and Obama played their respective roles.  The tension I found endlessly fascinating and that more than anything is why I’m sad the relationship is ended.  I would have loved (from my religious side) to see Wright properly criticize the government with Obama in the crowd.  Making clear that his real issue was his theology not skin color.

Obama has no choice but to be a kind of liberal nationalist.  That is to be so effusive at the promise of America, to give himself and believe in totally  its founding myth of progress and opportunity, to the hilt.  Even in some ways more than McCain.  He opens the possibility politically of simply ending some of the race based politics of the 70s (white privilege a la Clinton and black demagogues a la the Sharpton school).  This is all politically (as what is possible) to the good ime (in my estimation).  Something like what Obama’s got is the only alternative to the McCain, Bush Republican corrupt machine (which simply has to be dismembered in the hope that another kind of Party might come probably to act as loyal opposition).

Redemption alternatively is not to be found in politics but rather in religion.  And by that I don’t mean redemption as individually feeling good or individually having esoteric experiences.  But there is a dimension of the vertical not to be found in politics and when politics becomes enforced visions of redemption, totalitarianism is at hand and bodies are about to pile up.

Only in the churches and religious houses of America is the founding myth of America allowed (and properly) to be challenged and deconstructed.  As a political reality it is one thing, to the degree it becomes an end in itself, a myth of transcendence, it is an idol, in violation of the First Commandment and rightly within the realm of religion to be savaged.

In that sense, there has to be a Wright like theology or figure on the scene.  Which is not a defense of the man or his own ego (which is enormous and often gets in the way of the gospel, something all clergy do) but simply the need for the theology he outlined.

Again not as a political roadmap per se but rather as a critique that stands of its own to open the mind beyond the political.  Obama’s, mine, yours, the creepy Obama is the Messiah follower types, Moral Majority Republicans who have equated Christianity with American Empire, all them and more.

Someone must remember slavery from the position of consciousness, from the sorrow of our ancestors and its continued effects today.  As much as a politician must remember and rightly proclaim that slavery is no more and a black man may be elected president.  You create new political possibilities from politics not full on reconciliation (which is why governments can prosecute discriminatory public acts not end racism).

That is the permanent (though partial) gift of the prophetic/black church/liberation theology tradition.  That is there will always of course be a place within churches for ceremonies of the life cycle, community building, care of souls, hopefully some introduction to the contemplative path, as well as feeding the poor.  But if the church (or fill in your own religious house of worship) does not ask why these people are hungry, then it is not following the divine mission.  The work for justice is integral to the proclamation of the gospel.  Full stop.  The Jesuits taught me that and they were/are right.

If you read the Hebrew Bible, as soon as the Kings of Israel emerge on the scene, so do the prophets to stand as a kind of loyal opposition, a critique that the rulers of the world must always here.  Which is not to say that the prophets never got themselves caught up in the politics and corrupted or were party to unethical action (read the text, they do) as did Wright (as have others), but their message (if not always the exact messengers) is necessary.

Hopefully Obama will go back to a church where he will properly be both embraced and stand under judgment.

Off the Cliff of Logic

I try to like Jim Geraghty, the Campaign Correspondent for the National Review. I really do.

He’s got some strong insights then coupled with make me want to bang my head against the wall and tear my eye sockets out kind of logic. I think the fact that he has the first element is the reason the second I find so maddening. Concrete example from today (h/t Daily Goose).

Geraghty’s reviewing Obama’s autobio Dreams of my Father. JG:

In the end, Dreams From My Father left me somewhat sympathetic to Obama; had his father been around, had his grandfather, his mother’s second husband, or other figures in his life been different men, he probably wouldn’t have been such a lost soul when he encountered Wright. Obama was ready to believe, and he was receptive to a message he might have rejected otherwise.

This is a point long ago echoed by other folks, but anyway, true enough, there’s some understanding there.

Even this while fairly hypothetical could be plausible:

When people ask how Obama could be blind to all of Wright’s more outrageous and offensive statements, and how he couldn’t see Wright for the kind of man he was, I think this helps explain it. In Wright, Obama saw what he wanted to see. He wanted a wise, shrewd, kind, funny, educated man who could show him the ways of the world (and Chicago politics), one who perhaps went a little too far every now and then, but who was overall a good person.

Now the transition to the danger zone:

Instead, we see that Wright is a toxic figure, arguing that blacks and whites have different brain structures, that the American government created the AIDS virus for genocidal purposes, that U.S. policy can accurately be called terrorism, that the U.S. Marines can be compared to the Roman soldiers who tortured Jesus, who calls Italians “garlic-noses,” who calls the Secretary of State “Condoskeezia” and “Con-damn-nesia”, etc.

Now the we there of course is in fact right-wing NRO-type conservatives. “We” (i.e. They) do in fact see Wright only in the lens Geraghty describes. [And if you’ve been reading NRO they have been telling us about how we should be thinking along these lines ad nauseam]. He’s read Obama but does not seem to given the same level of reflection to Wright.

I don’t see Wright exclusively in those terms–though as I’ve said before the AIDS thing is obviously a wack conspiracy theory, the garlic noses is racist, the Condi Rice stuff is un-Christian, and his “performance” in the Q&A at the Press Club if nothing else  played into the worst stereotypes of black Americans in the media/history.

Nevertheless he (Wright) also has made some very important theological as well as political points. Like Obama, like anybody, Wright’s complexities are much more fascinating than the cookie cutter presentation cardboard version of him, pro or anti.

e.g. Geraghty could have easily learned that the Roman soldiers/US marines analogy was a perfectly normal one in mainstream Biblical scholarship: i.e. that Jesus lived under occupation. And the US is militarily occupying a country and some soldiers (as well as official policy from the top down) included torture [i.e. terrorism] of the population for political ends.

For those who think I have now committed the unforgivable sin of criticizing US soldiers, I’ll only say that the New Testament also recognizes some Roman Soldiers (i.e. the detested occupiers) as those who understand the gospel message better than the supposed holy and righteous ones of the native religious tradition.

But “we” don’t contemplate such thoughts because then “our’ house of intellectual cards might fall as a result.

So to the edge and now over it:

Here’s where the example of Wright is truly disturbing when contemplating an Obama presidency. If Barack Obama looked at Jeremiah Wright and saw only what he wanted to see… how sure can we be that he wouldn’t look at say, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and see only what he wanted to see?

Yes!!! Godwin’s Law proved yet again. What we were clearly missing here was a creep specter of Islamo-Nazifascism invocation. Because Ahmadinejad is invoked to recall the “wipe Israel off the map” remark.

Never mind that President Mahmoud doesn’t actually have any power over the Iranian nuclear issue, a war with Israel, and could were well likely be at the end of his term by the time an Obama president comes into office. The Iranian Presidential Elections are in 2009 and Ahmadinejad is at least 50/50 to lose.

Nor if Obama met with Iran on diplomatic negotiations would he likely meet with Mahmoud. He would be very smart to angle around him and meet with others (e.g. Rafsanjani, Ali Larijani).

So never mind you know rationality, when you got a smear campaign to perform. Scary Black Preacher and Scary Middle Eastern Terrorist all in one; it’s a potent combo no doubt.

In a word, Ugh.

Oh and never mind that it assumes–even if you buy the ludicrous comparison between Wright & Ahmad.–that Obama is still the same conflicted mid 20 year old that he was in the book. And I guess it also assumes Obama needs to be looking for a father figure in Prez Mahmoud.


Published in: on May 5, 2008 at 12:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Obama, Wright, Poverty, and Race

Shelby Steele the conservative who happens to be black (as opposed to black conservative) commentator has argued that Obama is a “bargainer”. That is Obama will not bring up to whites the history of slavery, Jim Crow, ideas of reparation payments, or the police killing Sean Bell and being acquitted in exchange for votes.

This point is actually echoed by on the hard left (the counterpunch left) in a piece here by Alex Cockburn.

I live in an age of declining US hegemony where still the “dove” candidate only says he will respond with appropriate force to Iran rather than “obliterate” them for a completely hypothetical attack on Israel (with nukes they don’t actually have). The obliterate comment was spoken by that crazy left-winger Clinton. Obliterating a country btw, is publicly declaring that one will seek to kill civilians, also known as a war crime. Or you could sing about it I guess like the other candidate, to the tune of a Beach Boys song.

Similarly when it comes to the US patriotism, national mythos card. What this episode with Rev. Wright has revealed is that the conservatives are not simply for a black candidate who wipes the slate clean and echoes the city on a hill America sentiment but s/he also must be a conservative.

The sin of Obama for the National Review-Sean Hannity-Hugh Hewitt crowd is that he had the audacity to even hear the “heresy” of rhetoric critical of core elements of the American Manifest Destiny Dream. (Never mind those criticisms came from within Christianity–seriously don’t ever let yourself consider that possibility).

It’s not enough that has cut himself from Wright and clearly doesn’t fall into the (so-called) Sharpton-Jesse Jackson mode of political discourse. Never mind his deep patriotism and nationalism (somewhat misplaced at times for me)–because its liberal nationalism not conservative.

What will only be sufficient for that crowd is that Obama go all the way and say that he was so wrong ever to step foot in the church, to not leave after hearing one sermon that was in any way sharp or critical or “rough” (in the language Obama used when describing the style to Wright). He, Obama, dared to hear heresy and while we have no proof he believes it–in fact we have enormous evidence to the contrary that he doesn’t–he did at least listen to it and dared to minimize and/or purposefully ignore it.

That’s why I was of two minds on the Wright thing. I’m glad someone managed to have a moment through the echo chamber to say some things that no politician will ever or can ever say. On the other it certainly has hurt Obama, and for me he’s the least worst of the three not very good candidates we have running. I frankly can’t even contemplate the possibility of the other two.

But to the larger point, would Obama be able to change (to any degree) racial relations in the US–or rather would his election change perceptions?

A parallel example is the argument that the election of Obama would change opinion of the US around the world. It certainly would in the short term, there would be some euphoria, similar I think on race in the US.

Where Obama’s presidency could I think change perceptions is (along the lines of John McWhorter) in the black middle class (and maybe Asian and Latino Americans youths as well). It would signify that if you accept the basic American dream/middle class patriotic mythos as opposed to what McWhorter calls “therapeudic alienation”, then you can achieve greatness and still to a decent degree maintain cultural uniqueness–i.e. not have to become totally white culturally. The second half of that equation being relatively new–as opposed to say Colin Powell (or Condi?) who signified you can gain power/influence by culturally becoming viewed as essentially white (whether you are or not is a separate question I suppose).

But as with the foreign policy/world image issue, it’s real and there, but highly circumscribed and limited. Racism will not change at the level of the poor which is at the level of saying the US has a history of sin and needs confession of that sin, grief, and reconciliation (there’s Jeremiah Wright again). Obama is a politician and will never and could never go there. He could never be elected if he did.

The question is not (after awhile) the image as the policies. That issue holds whether for young men of color from Pakistan or the Baltimore ghetto.

To finish off the parallel, just as Obama will not really be able to do too much in the way of changing US hegemonic foreign policy, so he will not I imagine with actual poverty. He may be able to make some strides but not nearly as far I would like to see him go. The strides he could make domestically are middle class related (middle class progressivism versus upper class conservatism) and a certain liberalizing/re-defining of US national security in the 21st century. But he’s not going peace and justice route in either arena. I mean he has taken an unswerving hard-line stance against Hamas (which I disagree btw) and yet he is after all still “The Candidate of Hamas” after all.

Or as Ann Coulter described Obama, The Manchurian Candidate. Although as Keith Olbermann pointed out last night, The Manchurian Candidate is probably not the best analogy to bring up when the movie as you will recall (the original staring Angela Landsbury and Frank Sinatra) was about a US war-hero/POW who had been brainwashed while in captivity by the Chinese. Bringing up a war hero who was a POW in SouthEast Asia become president references probably not the best idea currently given uh, John McCain’s actual life history [not the brainwashed part obviously]. As opposed to say Obama’s secret America-hating terrorist left-wing, crypto-Muslim, Mein-Kampf-lite writing, Jew-despising, elitism.

Historical amnesia/Self parody yet again in wingnut conservative land.

Update I:  For a similar (probably better) take, Daniel Larison here.

Glenn Loury on Wright-Obama

Fascinating discussion with a fascinating thinker (a Clinton-supporter if it matters) on Bloggingheads.

He actually defends at least the seriousness with which elements of Wright’s main theses should be taken.

1)Different is not deficient. Different as in African American culture[s] (of which there is not one monolith for sure) including the strain of black church culture he represented (again one of several) hold a place of distinction, not necessarily as Loury says the city shinning on the hill narrative.

2)Black liberation theology

3)One that I hadn’t thought of—that Wright could genuinely be angry for Obama’s race speech in Philadelphia seemingly relegating Wright (and others like him) to simply Boomers, those of the past, hobbled by their anger. [Let the record state, Loury is a boomer, so thread of Obama’s also a personal tinge for him as well which in part might explain his support for Clinton…as he detailed in this Bloggingheads episode.]

4)And Wright showed his butt.

Joshua Cohen his interlocutor also makes some very sharp points, and also kudos to him–actually listened to Wright’s speech (not relying only on the Q&A and the histrionics).

Update: One other point–Loury’s critique of Obama’s foreign policy (around minute 20-21) would be countered by the fact that Obama has been consistently hardline against Hamas. Whether or not Obama really believes this or not or whether he knows he can only go so far in his denunciation of American foreign policy post Cold War world, is a legitimate question, particularly given the background of his pastor, Obama being black, and the special relationship/question of Israeli-US policy–oh and Obama is secretly a Muslim probably adds to that as well. Loury has opinion on the subject. I’m not really sure.

But like Bob Wright it might matter not given that I don’t think Obama will have much if any leeway (even if he didn’t believe his own words that Loury cites from the Philly speech) to do anything with the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Hillary Clinton would except she is more hardline than Bush on the issue, so she won’t.

And to be fair to Obama, he was critiquing Reverend Wright’s views which do over-emphasize Israeli evil and under-emphasize terror out of Palestinian extremist groups and an ideology of hate indoctrinated in children. That doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t also aware of or believe in evil policies of the Israelis.

Published in: on May 1, 2008 at 1:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Political Voice (Wright)

After having given some air time to my religious voice, here and here, time for my political voice to be given the floor.

My main point in those was to say that reading through the blog reaction, pro-Obama, pro-Clinton, right/left, whatever and all white voices I haven’t come across one commentator whose actually considered it even possible Wright was actually doing what he said he was out to do–defend the black church tradition which he feels is being unjustly attacked.

Even church-goers and faithful people (like A.Sullivan) fall into this trap. To me that is very telling.

Not to say there can’t be and aren’t multiple motivations going on–some personal for Wright–who knows what lurks in the hearts of men. But it’s not even contemplated by any of the white authors I’ve come across that he meant what he said–he felt the tradition of his parents and grandparents was being attacked and as a minister he is responsible and answerable to God and to the defense of the gospel.

So now a bunch of these voices (Sullivan, The New Republic, and here’s one on the HuffPost saying Obama can have his Sister Souljah moment), saying this is Obama’s perfect opportunity to disown Wright.

I guess Obama would be looking for a new church.

With the same gulf I notice in the analysis of the speech, I have a hard time seeing Obama do something like this. Because these writers miss the central argument–which I guarantee was heard in enough influential black outlets–to disown Wright would be interpreted I think by extension as disowning of the black church and more largely black culture, the very thing Obama said he could not do in his race speech. Stepping on a revered (in those circles) black pastor so he can court favor with whites and gain political power.

He may be forced into some such speech, I won’t close the door on that one, but he would take a hit in the black community. It might be equalized or even acceded by other gains, but it would further erode Obama’s image as a different kind of politician.

My political voice will now yell at Pastor Wright (he’s been waiting to get this one out):

SOB–why the f–k couldn’t you have waited until after the Indiana primary? Keep your damn mouth shut about your screw ball conspiracy theories for Christ’s sake. Way to @##$ it up mother father.

Ok. That’s better.

I actually have no problem with Wright saying he says what he says because he’s a pastor and Obama says what he says because he’s a politician. That could be spun to mean Obama is calculating and only saying what he says to get elected–that would be different than Hillary Clinton or John McCain how btw?

But I take it to mean–as someone who is studying to be a pastor and knows it from the inside–a different arena. A different set of expectations, rules, and ways of interaction.

One very important (I thought) piece in Wright’s Q&A which no one has picked up on in the blogs or MSM is when Wright says–I told Obama if you are elected president on Nov. 5th, I’m coming after you because you will be in charge of a government whose policies I disagree with (and feels are in violation of the gospel).

As he said repeatedly the issue for him is the prophetic tradition (as he understands it). He will aim his fire clearly on any politician of any stripe–he ripped Cheney, Bush, even Obama in the speech.

All the talk about race, race-hustling, the 60s Boomer mentality, Wright’s ego, whatever, a simpler explanation might be that he actually just believes those words. Or at least if the other stuff is involved (and I’m not denying it could be) it is that plus the defense line of thought.

That he believes the government’s policies (domestically and internationally) are in violation of the gospel (as he understands it). And what matters to him more than politics is the church because the church is the place of refuge and the base of an alternate humanity. One worshiping The Prince of Peace and trying to imitate their Lord.

That said, there is a middle ground I think he could find between the Sister Souljah line and where he was with Wright on the race speech. Obviously the easy low hanging fruit is the stuff on Farrakhan and HIV.

He’s already looking for that space, some video and highlights (lowlights?) here.

Update:  Check that, watching the video he has gone all the way in distancing himself from Wright.   Obama too easily (imo) equated the elements of Wright that were rants with the theology Wright outlined.  Obama hit back saying he didn’t represent the black church.  I was hoping he wouldn’t go that far, but I understand in a media age, in the incessantly, unendingly ignorant US media particularly, any attempt for clarity and yes to this/no to that never works.  It’s all or nothing.

Published in: on April 29, 2008 at 10:48 am  Comments (1)  
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j. wright q&a

So in the last post I dealt with Wright’s National Press Club talk, which actually if anybody every bothered to listen is very good.

The Q&A is a different story. The working press in the US has a learning disability when it comes to religion. Of all things non-conservative/non-fundamentalist religion. You see their stupidity on display marvelously in this one.

Now a couple of things off the bat, the most controversial. (more…)

Published in: on April 28, 2008 at 10:51 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Endless Psychodrama Around the Psychodrama around Jeremiah Wright

In this week’s episode I examine his speech today at the National Press Club. The Speech that the vast majority will not listen to (which can be viewed here, here, and here,)

The speech is not what is getting the reaction. It is the Q&A after the speech that is generating the controversy, which goes to show nothing like controversy I guess.

The reaction across the blogosphere has been imo pathetic–even from Obama supporters like Andrew Sullivan.

Right now my Christian side is more pissed off, much more pissed off, than my pro-Obama side.

If you listen to the speech, the central thesis is that the attacks on Wright are really an attack on Trinity United Church and therefore by extension the black church. And when he says this, the crowd voices approval. Serious approval.

I happen to agree. Not 100%, but the attack on the black church is there. Not that it should matter as the letter to MLK said, but since it does, I’m white and Christian and attacks on fellow Christians, particularly ones as ignorant as this debacle, are attacks on my faith, on brothers and sisters of mine in Christ. So I can totally grok Wright’s anger.

Not that this attack was intentional by most of the media, they are just far too ignorant of Christianity and particularly this line of Christianity to have done so purposefully. Listen to the stupidity of the questions in the Question and Answer session. Mind blowing. They are degrading and some really racist stuff comes out (“Do you believe white people go to heaven? Do you believe God loves white people as much as black people–WHAT THE F–K?).  Just absolutely demeaning stuff that just shows nobody was listening to his talk and came in with their preconceived notions–again unintentional if racially charged to be sure. There nonetheless. But it just shows how wide the gulf of misunderstanding is.

It’s depressing for me at first, but also cleansing and inspiring hope because it gives a clearer sense of what really is going on with folks. And as Wright points out God can write straight lines with crooked human ways–and turn evil to good. The fact that this is out may possibly, as he says, allow people to actually learn about and hear the gospel proclaimed through this rich tradition.

He traces the history of the black church through slavery, through Jim Crow, and into today.

He says it is held up by three pillars: reconciliation, transformation, and liberation. He prefers the term “prophetic theology of the black church” than “black liberation theology” but the basic point is the same. And his description and practice of that tradition is as clear as you will ever hear. [For Spiral Dynamics people this is the positive contribution of green theology].

The central insight of reconciliation in this tradition is that the slave as well as the master are enslaved. It is the role of this prophetic faith of the slave to invite the master into the same worship service, so they can both lay down their fight, their enmity, and their alienation from one another.

That as Wright says (quoting James Cone) the god prayed to by the slave owners on the deck of the ship is not the God prayed to by those in the belly of the ship in chains. And it is to invite the slave holders down to the bottom of the ship and experience the God they worship.

A God who says, “Let my People Go.”

The other point post-Civil Rights for this tradition to continue is to say that different is not deficient. There are limitations to this view (as well as to the pacifism of this theology), but also real strengths.  And particularly in Christianity, which is the context in which these statements are made and which has a long history of the opposite, that Christians can maintain whatever culture they have and be unapologetically Christian.  i.e. They don’t have to become culturally white/European/Euro-American to become Christian.

You hear this critique when Wright says he’s not being “bombastic”, is not the “spiritual mentor/adviser” of Obama, but rather just he’s plain old pastor.  He’s not a politician and why should his (Wright’s) political views matter in an election where he is not running?

Published in: on April 28, 2008 at 9:38 pm  Comments (1)  

Update Wright

Ann Althouse commenting on the transcript of Wright’s interview. Watch how up becomes down very quickly. Post here. Her long post examines whether Bill Moyers was too soft on Wright–which is a separate question then the one I want to deal with here.

In the midst of that post, dealing with that sermon and its relationship to Psalm 137 that I described here, Althouse makes an egregious error.

First Wright’s words:

I had to preach. They came to church wanting to know where is God in this. And so, I had to show them using that Psalm 137, how the people who were carried away into slavery were very angry, very bitter, moved and in their anger from wanting revenge against the armies that had carried them away to slavery, to the babies. That Psalm ends up sayin’ “Let’s kill the baby-let’s bash their heads against the stone.” So, now you move from revolt and revulsion as to what has happened to you, to you want revenge. You move from anger with the military to taking it out on the innocents. You wanna kill babies. That’s what’s going on in Psalm 137. And that’s exactly where we are. We want revenge. They wanted revenge. God doesn’t wanna leave you there, however. God wants redemption. God wants wholeness. And that’s the context, the biblical context I used to try to get people sitting again, in that sanctuary on that Sunday following 9/11, who wanted to know where is God in this? What is God saying? What is God saying? Because I want revenge.

Althouse’s comment:

I think he’s saying that the Psalm — God speaking? — is saying that people who have suffered want revenge and feel motivated to do terrible things. But he’s really held himself open to a terrible interpretation — and calling it my “hermeneutic” isn’t going to help. “What is God saying? What is God saying? Because I want revenge.” What is Wright saying? That’s going to sound to a lot of people as though he’s saying 9/11 was God‘s revenge on America. He quotes the Psalm: “Blessed are they who dash your baby’s brains against a rock.” Well, now, it really sounds as though he’s saying that God blesses the 9/11 hijackers! God damns America and God blesses the hijackers? Wright has not backed down. He’s stepped up.

Althouse’s basic confusion stems from not actually reading the Psalm. (You can do so here, simply enter Psalm 137 in the appropriate box). The Psalm is the voice of the people speaking to God (as most Psalms are) not God speaking. The people want revenge. The people want the heads of the babies smashed on the rocks. The people (Israel) bless those who want to kill the children. This is not leaving himself (Wright) “open to terrible misinterpretation.” That’s what the text actually says.

God does not show up in the text of Psalm 137. We then are left to decide what God thinks of this prayer and blessing by the Israelites–smashing babies–does God approve, yea or nea?

When you replace God as the speaker in Psalm 137 with the people (which if you read the thing you would know is wrong to do) then you end up making off-base statements like the one above. God is not blessing the 9/11 hijackers. The most you can manage out of that line is to say that if al-Qaeda were in the positions of the Jews (and America was Babylon), then they would sing a song of joy at the attack because they desire revenge.

However this is not what Wright said in the sermon nor in this interview. In his analogy Americans are the Jews–because America had its Temple (World Trade Center and Pentagon, financial and military temples) destroyed. It is America who is calling for revenge.

The whole sermon (again listen it to here) is that the people want revenge but God doesn’t.

What Wright hasn’t spelled out (and here may be the source of the confusion on Althouse’s part I don’t know) is that he is saying God is actually against Psalm 137.  This is implicit in Wright’s analysis to be clear–implicit insofar as he doesn’t quote another Biblical text to say God desire wholeness.  And that may be where the misinterpretation comes in.

The people express their emotions and while God understands this reaction, God still stands in condemnation of it (according to Wright). It is one thing to have the desire for revenge; that is a natural human reaction. It is another to base policies or act out of that desire. To do the second is to cross the line and to be under judgment of God.

Wright was warning in the wake of 9/11 to not allow natural human desire for revenge to actually become the basis for judgment. A lesson post 9/11 America still needs to hear and should have heard I think particularly in the run up to the Iraq War. Fear and Revenge are never good counsel.

In other words, if you take the whole arch of God in the Bible–and here this is Wright’s hermeneutic (and others), i.e. his interpretive principle–he argues God desires restoration, wholeness. Others read the Bible, and there is plenty to support this reading as well as plenty to support Wright’s, that God would sanction the desire for revenge. We have seen that in the preaching of conservative Christians who supported the War on Terror. And again there is strong biblical basis for each position. This is only a problem if you have a hermeneutic (religious or secular) that thinks the Bible must never contradict itself in order for it to be true. I don’t subscribe to such a view, so I’m not concerned by these disagreements.

So we the readers have to make a choice because the texts are ambiguous, like life (some say one thing, another says another).

Wright clearly stands on one side of that divide and you can agree or disagree with that view. But all of things Wright certainly did not say, God did not bless the hijackers would be the first and foremost. Again listen at minute 8:22 of the sermon where he talks about the terrorists as those who attacked based only hate. Where al-Qaeda is analogized to the Babylonians who murdered innocent civilians in Israel when destroying Jerusalem (like Americans on 9/11). Hardly damning America and blessing terrorists.

The key you see is the condemnation of terrorism as such. When he condemns actions in American history–e.g. treatment of native peoples, slaves, use of the atomic bomb–he does so on the basis of saying they are terrorism. All terrorism then is wrong in this analysis whoever is the terrorizer. Again you could argue those weren’t terrorist activities, but you can’t say he is blessing terror. And that for Wright, God stands in blanket condemnation of all terrorism–again arguable theologically (I happen to agree but it’s open to debate). What is not debatable is that somehow for Wright God blesses terrorism.

Published in: on April 26, 2008 at 2:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Jeremiah Wright on Bill Moyers

Watch the interview (2 parts) here.

You actually get to see the church, go through his life, and (shock of all shocks) hear large segments of the (so-called) controversial post 9/11 sermon (the whole of which can be listened to here. At 8:22 he describes the destruction of the Towers as an act of those simply driven by hate–ever hear that one?).

In that sermon he uses Psalm 137. The famous Psalm (think Bob Marley) that begins “By the river we sat and wept for we remembered Zion.”

The people of Israel had been sent into exile by the Babylonians after the Temple was destroyed and Jerusalem sacked in the year 587 BCE. The oppressors taunt the Jews calling on them to sing “one of their songs”–not unlike slave holding whites mocking blacks by telling them to sing one them “nigger” songs.

They respond with the also famous, “How can we sing a song to our God in a foreign land?”

And here is the passage, the end of the Psalm (verses 7-9) that Wright quotes at the beginning of the sermon:

7Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, ‘Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!’
8O daughter Babylon, you devastator!*
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
9Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!

You did read that last line correctly. The Israelites in sacred scripture pray for the cold blooded murder of Babylonian babies. By bashing their skulls on rocks. This verse is in fact not read in our churches because it’s considered un-PC. You don’t remember this line from Bob Marley do you?

For Wright this means that the people have moved from anger with foreign military/government for its war to revenge being sought on the innocents from within a population whose army attacked us.

He then makes the claim in the sermon that too many Americans (of which the media is highly complicit as well as the government) in the post 9/11 world he felt could move into this same position. While understandable and clearly a universal human reaction, it is wrong. It is not what God desires.

The sermon is a very traditional Christian pacifist sermon. There are limitations to that tradition, but he was in fact I think right about his warning: that people would want to move from legitimate anger and the need for self-defense against an aggressor to the desire for revenge on civilians. I actually think that explains the ability of the president to sell the war in Iraq better than anything else. We just wanted revenge. Didn’t matter who, didn’t matter if we had a plan for getting out, didn’t matter if we thought about the consequences, whether or not they had WMDs or not, whether they were connected to al-Qaeda (the actual army of attack recall) or not—-we want revenge. Somebody’s heads needs to be bashed against a rock. And like now.

The piece of the sermon that generated the most controversy–mentioned in the beginning of his interview with Moyers–is the notion of a history of American terrorism. As he says right after the now infamous remarks on US bombings of other countries, “violence begets violence.” This is again classic Christian pacifist thought. Not radical Marxism black nationalism. It has its limitations and blind spots, but again he is right in line with a long standing genuine Christian tradition. As he says when asked about Obama: He’s a politician and has to speak political language. I’m a pastor and I have to speak from the Christian tradition.

That other history for Wright (a theme he repeats in the interview on multiple occasions) is the forgotten history. He calls the dominant story a “myth” (correctly) and points out that if you question the myth you question the sacrality.

They only briefly touch upon what his teacher Martin Marty calls Wright’s “abrasive spots”. They could have gone into that more. But overall what you see is an actual human being and in many ways a thoughtful one at that. You may disagree with his views, but it is clear the guy thinks long and hard about what is going on and what the Church’s role in the actual existence of people as opposed to some magic fairy-tale liturgical creation on a Sunday morning (Disneyland Christianity) which has no connection to the flesh and blood reality the people in the pews actually live.

Published in: on April 26, 2008 at 12:15 pm  Comments (1)  

more rev. wright

‘Cuz you know you can’t get enough of this stuff.

Some more Rev. Wright-isms have been combed (Jake Tapper comments) that include some more ugly stuff. One of which is conspiratorial nut job-ism at its finest (Israel and South Africa were working on an “ethnic bomb”).

At the same time, Wright was also a leading advocate of de-funding/boycotting South Africa. (And recall that Israel maintained formal relations with the apartheid government all the way until its collapse. And if a 2 state solution isn’t forthcoming, Israel is heading towards/in some ways is already employing an apartheid-like system).

So I’m gonna take a step back here.

Wright’s worldview is characterized (in Wilber terminology) as green meme. Including heavy elements of so-called mean green meme (i.e. pathological postmodern egalitarianism mixed with rampant narcissism). (more…)

Published in: on March 28, 2008 at 1:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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