Morning Report, September 29th: Speaking for “the Faith Community,” Christian Existentialists, God Against Global Warming, More on Iran, Palin Literature, Pardoning Polanski, Mad Men, and the Everlasting Candidate
One Christian’s perspective on the day’s news:
1. Sojourners presents a special online forum on the issue of health-care reform, in which sixteen Christian leaders of various stripes share their thoughts on the moral dimensions of health-care reform and the contentious debate surrounding it. Sojourners is at its best when it hosts conversations such as these, which represent the diversity of opinions within the Christian churches.
A few contributions deserve special comment. It rather irks when Jim Wallis speaks for “the faith community,” as in the following: “Second, we have told the White House that the faith community will accept nothing less than accessible, affordable and secure coverage for everyone,” and “we” will also reject any “incremental approaches that will once again postpone” the needed dramatic transformations. First of all, this makes it appear that people such as Jim Wallis have been pushing Obama hard, when they have actually, at least in what I’ve observed, been limp-noodle apologists, eager to call out the deceptions on the Right (and there have been many) but not those on the Left (and, yes, there have been many). But second, isn’t this the kind of “claiming to speak for all Christians” that the Christian Left objected to in the Christian Right? Does it mean that those who disagree are not a part of “the faith community”? Wallis uses this phrase a lot when he’s writing about the health-care issue, and he and others used it also in the conference call that Sojourners helped to sponsor between President Obama and many faith leaders. It’s not a slip of the keyboard.
But I appreciated the words of Kathy Khang:
I’ve grown weary of the health-care debate, because there’s less and less actual debating going on. There’s a lot of noise — loud voices coming from people accusing one another of fear-mongering, politicizing, hypocrisy, racism, and ignorance….I think we’re losing our way to reforming anything because some of us are too busy drawing lines in the sand…What difference does it all make if, in the name of reform, neighbors can’t be neighbors?Well, it matters to me because on most days I want to live out what I say I believe. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to love my neighbor when I think they are stupid and wrong. Justice and reform will have to start with my heart, before I open my mouth to help shift the noise back to reasonable and civil debate. Anyone want to join me?
Galen Carey of the NAE has a neutral, anodyne paragraph. Also notable were the strong pieces from Chandra White-Cummings and Alveda King (it’s striking that all of the African-American commentators in this forum are quite critical, especially around the abortion issue); the over-the-top language (the current proposal is “patently evil”) of Harry Jackson, Jr. (why was he put second, after Wallis, I wonder?); Brian McLaren’s condescension toward an immature America; Lisa Sharon Harper’s egregious New Testament interpretation (she translates — not interprets, but translates — the “righteous” who are invited into the kingdom as “those who seek to create fair systems” and “level the playing field”) and her non-sequitur that “many who claim to be pro-life trumpeted choice over the past month” (as though opposing this health-care reform package makes one pro-death?).
And I also wanted to note Gina Dalfonzo’s comment:
For the record — though it shouldn’t even need to be said — it’s no fairer to lump everyone who voted against Barack Obama into one big group of racists than it would be to lump everyone who voted against Sarah Palin into one big group of sexists. Of course there are subsets of racists and sexists in these respective camps, and goodness knows they can be unpleasantly vocal. But to ascribe the basest possible motives to an opponent just because one disagrees with his or her ideas is the last thing a Christian should be doing. And this goes for both sides. We must learn to listen respectfully to what others are really saying, not to what our preconceptions tell us they must be saying and thinking.
More than anything, the topic of health care should remind us of the dignity and worth of each individual, and the significance of his or her opinions, needs, and values, in the eyes of our Creator. Without that shared belief to guide us, we will never get anywhere.
Read it here.
Relatedly, members of Congress from both parties are lining up behind a new bill that would exclude federal funds from subsidizing abortion. Wait a minute! Weren’t those merely “distortions,” “lies” and “distractions,” when pro-lifers claimed that taxpayer money would go to subsidize abortions? Apparently not. I believe the bill will be voted on today. Pray for it.
Also, pollster Dick Morris says that the elderly are turning increasingly against the health-care reform packages on the table.
2. EXISTING EXISTENTIALLY. Marvin Olasky is a pretty prominent figure at World Magazine and its website. They often offer videos of Olasky discussing Calvin or etc. Now you can listen to Olasky describing the way he became Christian, and this particular podcast (this is not a permanent link, alas) reflects on the role of Christian existentialists in moving him from his days as an atheistic communist to his present life as a Christian. Since Christian existentialists have also meant a lot to me, I thought I’d share his thoughts.
3. GOD AGAINST GLOBAL WARMING? Some are upset by the words of Senator Inhofe when a caller to the television show on which he was appearing said, more or less, that the climate changes we are seeing are no different from the natural variations that have always taken place, long before any technology that might have influenced it. Inhofe replied, “I think he’s right. I think what he’s saying is God’s still up there. We’re going through these cycles…”
Is this confirmation of my long-held suspicion (mentioned here before) that many devout Christians are not especially concerned about climate change because they believe that divine providence would not allow a worldwide climate disaster? It could be. Inhofe’s point seems to be that nothing’s really changed. This is a saying one often hears amongst Christians when someone feels as though everything has changed: “God’s still in heaven.” It essentially means that the world stays more or less the same, but it also has at least a touch of confidence in God’s governance of history.
4. DIFFERENCES OF INTELLIGENCE. The New York Times reports that there are strong disagreements between U.S., European and Israeli intelligence services on Iran’s march toward a nuclear weapon — in particular over the weaponization phase. The Israelis believe the Iranians are currently weaponizing; the Germans also believe they are currently doing so, and have never stopped; the US continues to maintain that Iran halted its weaponization program in 2003 and has not resumed it.
The head of intelligence for the Department of energy says: ““It’s often tradecraft that gets us bollixed up. It comes down to interpreting the same data in different ways, in looking at the same information and coming up with different conclusions.”
The Israelis and Europeans feel that we’re being overly cautious, having been burned on Iraqi WMD. It’s possible. It’s also possible that our intelligence reports are being swayed by the political preferences of the bureaucrats who work at CIA and State from one administration to the next. What makes matters worse is that the Iranians, if they have any intelligence at all (which of course they do), would not put all their eggs in one basket, or even two. As a Harvard specialist in nuclear terrorism says, “How likely is it that the Qum facility is all there is? Zero. A prudent manager of a serious program would certainly have a number of sites.”
5. THREATENING CONSEQUENCES. If talks with Iran founder, the White House plans not so much new sanctions as tighter enforcement of sanctions already in place. Two points are especially worth nothing. First, what is the time frame? Spokesman for the State Department, P. J. Crowley, said we will assess their progress “towards the end of the year” and if we are unhappy then “There will be implication and consequences.” Second, claims that scrapping the plans to put missile shield bases in Poland and the Czech Republic had resulted in a movement toward cooperation from Russia–claims made by many liberal pundits in recent days–appear to have been premature. “Russian officials on Monday began backing off from statements made last week by President Dmitry Medvedev suggesting that Russian resistance to sanctions was weakening.”
Whether or not I agree with him on the changes needed, I can recognize that Obama has exercised leadership on the health-care reform issue. I think it would have been better to craft more of the legislation out of the White House, but I give credit to Obama for persevering in the face of opposition, dissension and struggle, pressing often-reluctant parties to get something done. My question: is he willing to exercise this kind of leadership on the international stage, when it comes to Iran? Will he lean very, very hard on Russia and China to give the sanctions more bite? I’d love to see it.
6. EXPLOSIVE DISCOVERY. The story of how we learned about the second nuclear facility at Qom/Qum. Gerald Seib explains the questions we should be asking Iran. Nicolas Sarkozy is furious at Obama, and contemptuous of the endless calls for negotiations, because every week that passes is another week of spinning centrifuges. If we do not solve this now, solving it later may be much more damaging, even catastrophic. Let’s hope Obama is getting good advice.
7. PALINALIA. Sarah Palin’s new book, Going Rogue: An American Life, is finished and already running a first order of 1.5 million copies.
8. A REAL PIECE OF WORK. The predicted celebrity defense of Roman Polanski has indeed materialized. Whoopi Goldberg tells us that what he did was not so bad. It was just “rape,” not the worse double version, known to Whoopi as “rape-rape.” Watch the video. But give Whoopi some credit; she says that she would “not necessarily” want a 14-year-old daughter having sex with someone. She also thinks the mother should “end up in court” for leaving her daughter alone with the famous director. Hmm.
Debra Winger complains that the case was “all but dead but for minor technicalities. We stand by and wait for his release and his next masterwork.” As one observer writes, “Again: Convicted child-rapist and fugitive from justice. Magically transformed, by Hollywood libertinism and [blank], into an honest-to-goodness victim who’s being persecuted by the evil empire for, um, forcibly sodomizing a 13-year-old and then skipping bail.”
Eugene Robinson objects, Anne Applebaum (who wrote a defense in WashPo) claims not to have known that her husband was a Polish politician pushing for Polanski’s release, and an even better article on the issue is found below, in the Column of the Day.
9. OLYMPIC GAMBLE. Is Obama’s trip to Copenhagen, hoping to win the Olympics in 2016 for Chicago, a wise political gamble?
10. SALON GOES TO HOME SCHOOL. Salon has begun a series on homeschooling. The first article is great. Check it out.
11. MAD MEN GOING MAD? Review of Mad Men and its change in tone.
12. THE EVERGREEN CANDIDATE. Richard Cohen, the dean of Washington opinion columnists, is not a conservative thinker. Indeed he inclines to the liberal side of the spectrum. So it’s surprising to see lines like this from him in today’s article: “The election has been held, but the campaign goes on and on. The candidate has yet to become commander in chief.”
13. COLUMN OF THE DAY, Part I. Instead of a Two-Sides, today I’m citing two strong columns. At Patheos I explained my argument long ago that the financial crisis we face as a nation is due in part to the erosion of the basic moral values that undergird a successful economy, including restraint, self-discipline, diligence, industry, and honesty. Although I heard from many people who said that this resonated with their own intuitions, I also took flack from some people. Then Steven Malanga at the Manhattan Institute made the same argument. Now David Books at the New York Times does the same.
14. COLUMN OF THE DAY, Part II: This piece of righteous indignation over Hollywood’s defense of Roman Polanski, from the Broadsheet at Salon, is well worth reading.