Category: Current Political Issues

A recent article from MSNBC centered around the question of whether so-called “liberal Christianity” is signing its own death warrant by, among other things, being more tolerant and accepting of such groups as LGBT people.  While the article raises some interesting questions, it also runs perilously close to drawing some unfounded connections between the process of liberalization (what does that really mean anyway?) and a dwindling of church attendance among such mainline Protestant denominations as the Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church, and the United Churches of Christ.  Rather than merely putting the blame on the process of liberalization, I have proposed below some alternate (and, I think, equally plausible explanations as for why church attendance may be dwindling):

1.)  Increased skepticism.  Certainly one possible explanation is an increased skepticism, what I like to call “The Da Vinci Code Effect.”  What I mean by this is that popular texts like TdVC, whatever their factual problems, have nevertheless exposed some of the problematic aspects of the history of Christianity that managed to fly under the radar in prior periods.  It seems to me that there is an increased cultural awareness of the very speckled history of various Christian denominations.  As a result, many see the Church not as a source of salvation and guidance, but as a source of potential danger and the inheritor of an unfortunate and tragic history of oppression and tyranny.

2.)  Anxiety over religious zealotry.  In the wake of 9/11, there can be no doubt that there is in the American consciousness a renewed awareness of the dangers of religious zealousness (I am not necessarily arguing that all of those who are “terrorists” are automatically zealots, I am merely pointing out what I think is a common perception among the American public).  Now, of course, no one really associates religious zealousness with mainline Protestant denominations like the Episcopalians, but it does seem to me that there is an increased anxiety, among both liberals and some conservatives, about the potential dangers that accompany religious faith of the extreme variety.

3.)  More Viable Alternatives.  Let’s face it, Christianity doesn’t quite the stranglehold on the American public that it once did.  There are loads of alternatives out there, some of which exist outside the bounds and strictures of an official denomination, and it could very well be that many of those who might, in a past era, have come to one of the mainline Protestant churches, have decided to go to one of these other venues, which might offer them more of the spiritual guidance that they desire than traditional Christianity.

So, it seems like it might be a bit premature to start ringing the death knell of liberal Christianity.  Does a reduction in attendance numbers really signify as much as this article seems to suggest?  Is it possible, perhaps, that a smaller, more unified, more tolerant Church (whatever its denomination) might be preferable to a big-tent Church that ultimately ends up excluding those who might need its light and guidance more than anyone else?


When I was a member of the Young Democrats at Marshall University, I remember attending a function at which some of the more prominent members of the state party were present.  I remember quite clearly a man saying that, all else being equal, what could cost us the election were three simple things, “Gods, Guns, and Gays.”  Aside from being horrendously offensive and irritating, his comments were part of a wider conversation going on at the time, both among my fellow Young Democrats and among the party as a whole.   Well, it was more of a one-sided conversation, and it went something like this:

Party Leaders:  Now, you gay people and women, we know that you have legitimate problems and issues, but we need you to clam up on those during the election so that (insert applicable name here) can be elected.  Once they are, then you can bring your grievances out (though not too loud), and we’ll see what we can do about them, at least until next election season.

Said Groups:  Okay.

Well, I’m sick and tired of that shit.  Even now, after we have one of the most progressive Presidents EVER in office, we still face the same kinds of problems.  Sure, Obama has been helpful about getting DADT repealed, but I think it also helpful to point out that it was the Log Cabin Republicans who actually brought the issue to the courts.  Not to mention the fact that simply repealing DADT doesn’t help the members who have already been discharged (there’s a great HuffPo article on that, by the way).

What really pisses me off, however, is the fact that in many other ways he continues to be lukewarm about other issues of importance to LGBT people, such as gay marriage.  In fact,  upon hearing that New York had legalized same sex marriage, he said that was supposed to be how it was done, at the state level.  Umm…since when have civil liberties been a state issue?  Since when do states have the right to decide which of their citizens they are going to treat as second class?

All of this just goes to show that we are still stuck with a President who refuses to take a firm stand in support of the very GLBT people who helped get him elected, in the hope that his administration would help to usher in and celebrate a new age of equality.  Instead, we still have to struggle for every inch of political ground, often times without the explicit support of the Democratic President that we helped to get elected.  But hey, isn’t that better than having the Republicans in charge, when we know that most of them are so viruently anti-gay as to be dangerous?  Perhaps so, but that’s precisely my point.  I’m sick and tired of having to settle for a President and a party that remain so wishy-washy about the rights of GLBT people, even when we do a lot of the grunt work to help get them elected.  In my humble opinion (which I am not shy about sharing), we should become more vocal and demand that the people who represent us take a firmer stand on our rights.  Otherwise, they need to get voted out.

Otherwise, we’ll just have to live with our status as second class citizens and I, for one, am not going to do that.

I know I spoke at length about the Cordoba House (the mosque/community center being constructed near Ground Zero,) the other day, but recently both Slate and Salon ran interesting articles on it, so I thought I’d revisit the topic again, though my focus this time will be a little different. One of the posters on the Slate article stated that anyone saying that Islam is a religion of peace is totally misunderstanding its purpose, that it is, at its heart a violent religion intended to bring people under the umbrella of its faith by the sword. I’d like to take a moment and unpack this post, to see what kinds of issues it raises.

First of all, I find it incredibly irritating when people, especially laypersons, take it upon themselves to make grave and potent pronouncements about the nature of a given religion. They often make sweeping statements that are, ostensibly, meant to clear the waters and make it absolutely clear what a particular religion stands for. My question is, who gives them this authority? I’m not saying that clerical folk should have more authority on religious matters than others, but I do think that they often have the sort of training that allows them to wrestle with these questions in a way that most laypeople cannot or do not (hence their positions as laypeople.) Even more importantly, making broad statements about any religion, be it Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or what have you, is folly, as they are almost all constituted by many different denominations and branches that inter pet things incredibly differently, thus making any generalization an out-right falsehood, and a dangerous one at that.

Second of all, I would like to just point out the foolishness of putting Islam into a contradictory position with Christianity. Yes, that faith has some bloodspots on its rap sheet, but so does Christianity. The Crusades, the Reformation (and the Counter-Reformation,) to say nothing of the conflicts in Northern Ireland and elsewhere between Christians. How many thousands, nay millions, of Christians have been cruelly and brutally murdered by other Christians? One need look no further than the Bible to see examples of violence. Although Christ once said turn the other cheek, he also said that he brought not peace but a sword. Which one are we to believe? Is Christianity a religion of peace or one of war? Should Christians go to war to ensure that everyone falls under their faith? Obviously those in the past have thought so (and not the not-so distant past, either,) and there are still some who do so today. Clearly, Islam is not the only religion whose foundations were splashed with the blood of “innocents.”

My point is, basically, that saying that Islam is a religion based on violence is yet another gross over-statement, designed to make everyone believe that Islam is somehow antithetical to American civilization and culture, which is supposedly so evolved and enlightened. Tell that to the Tea Partiers and the religions fanatics on the Right, who constantly advocate for the oppression of those who don’t fit into their notion of “values” or “holiness.” I’ll close with a brief paraphrase of one of Jesus’ most famous sayings: “Before you remove the splinter from your brother’s eye, remove the log from your own.” Those on the Right would do well to consider that.

The recent cover of “Time” magazine, which shows a young Afgahni woman who was brutally punished by her husband and his family, has ignited a firestorm as various commentators argue about what purpose the magazine cover serves (whether as exploitation or awareness-raising,) and about the role of the United States in the ongoing fight for the rights of women in Afghanistan. As always, I am here to provide my take on the situation, such as it is.

Although I would argue that the magazine’s cover was intended to raise awareness of the plight of women in Afghanistan, and about what might happen to them should the Taliban be allowed to return to power (or at the very least be allowed to re-enter mainstream Afghan society,) I would also say that their choice of title obscures this in favor of, basically, justifying the war in Afghanistan and making it appear that we went there in order to liberate Afghani women. As we all know, this is most certainly not the case. We went there to topple a government that was hiding a terrorist group that perpetrated a horrendous act of terrorism. The plight of the women was, as always, secondary, and was only brought up later as a means of justifying our presence there and of ensuring that we stay there. The women are victims, the belief goes, and we should stay there in order to help them.

This cover also obscures the fact that this attack happened, not when there were no American soldiers in Afghanistan, but when there thousands of soldiers on the ground. This, to me, says that the military solution is clearly not working, or at least not in terms of human rights abuses. Although some military presence will no doubt be necessary, I firmly believe that they should be in charge of the UN, and that they should be used in conjunction with NGOs, who are often much more able to help with social issues than the military, who are generally there with the purpose of quelling armed resistance. The United Nations should most definitely take a stronger hand in the policing of countries regarding human rights abuses, and this would ensure that we are not the only country bearing the economic burden of supporting this seemingly interminable war in Afghanistan.

Perhaps most importantly, this magazine cover makes it sound as if only the United States Army stands between Afghan women and a precipice leading down into oppression, mutilation, and death. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but merely having a military presence in the country is not going to change this system of beliefs. If we truly want to prevent these sorts of abuses from happening to women, we would have to stay there for an enormous amount of time, basically reshaping Afghanistan in America’s image. Of course, there are those who would say that this is a good idea, but it’s dangerous in the extreme, a modern-day version of colonialism (which is far from dead, in any case.) However, not all is lost. We can, and we must, help to fund NGOs and other organizations that will be able to educate the citizens of Afghanistan–not just the tribal leaders, but families of every stripe–about the perils of oppressing women and the terrible toll this takes on individuals and on the society as a whole. As always, education is the key to change and improvement for the future.

Of course, the situation in Afghanistan is enormously complicated and, as with all such complicated stations, there is no easy solution. That fact, however, should not discourage us from trying to improve the world and, if possible, ensure a more peaceful and prosperous world for everyone. This will not be easy, and it will no doubt take several more years of investment in order to come to fruition. There is no question or problem, no matter how complicated, that does not have an answer or a solution. We just have to be willing to look past the obvious.

I’m sure that most people are aware of the cultural maelstrom that is currently swirling due to the plans to erect a mosque/community center a few blocks away from Ground Zero in New York City. Aside from the fact that it’s still somewhat unclear what the building will actually be (depending on who you read, it could either be a mosque or a community center,) many are claiming that erecting a building devoted to the faith of Islam is an affront to the memories of all of those who died that tragic day in 2001.
I am here to say that no, it is not, and saying that it is exposes the fundamental issues that Americans just can’t bring themselves to face about their religious tolerance (or lack thereof.)
The proposition that it is somehow disrespectful to the victims of 9/11 implies that Islam itself, as a faith and as entire community of believers, is responsible for the attack and its terrible aftermath. This is, to put it mildly, a gross overstatement. Yes, the hijackers were Muslim, but does their crime paint all Muslims with the same brush? In that case, we must brand every abortion clinic bomber as a Christian, and summarily say that Christianity is a religion built on hate and distrust and that no churches should be built alongside such bombing sites, regardless of whether or not that particular denomination supported such an attack. Or we can say that American soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are “Christian soldiers,” and that we should therefore say that Christianity is responsible. I know those propositions sound ridiculous, but so does the idea that Islam as a whole was somehow responsible for 9/11. Such a gross exaggeration leads to people mistrusting and hating Muslims and Islam, when instead we as Americans should be warm and accepting of people of all faiths. After all, isn’t that what part of being American is all about?
Even more importantly, this whole debate just goes to show how religious tolerance in the good ole United States of America is not what it once was. Most of us pay lip service to the idea of religious toleration, but how many of us truly see people of different faiths as equals? How many of us truly believe that people of other faiths should have the full right to practice that faith without threat of oppression? I dare say not that many.
To make matters worse, conservative gurus like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin have weighed in on the issue, with the former saying that we should adopt the same type of religious intolerance practiced by the government of Saudi Arabia and some other Middle Eastern nations. Aside from being just plain childish and rather simplistic, such a statement flies in the face of what it means to live in America. We pride ourselves on our ability to accept people of all faiths, and yet there are so many among us, especially those on the Right, that like to use scare tactics to convince the masses that we’re engaged in a cultural war with Islam that threatens to destabilize American and turn us all into Muslims (if we’re defeated, that is.) Such an assumption is foolish and can only lead to oppression and inequality, two unfortunate aspects of society that should be resisted and prevented at all costs.
Fortunately, there are some voices of wisdom in this entire situation. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already come out in support of the building, and hopefully others will follow his example. If anyone bothered to research the organization responsible for the building, they would learn that they are committed to equality for all persons and to interfaith dialogue. How, I would ask, does that besmirch the memory of those who died on 9/11? If anything, it validates them, and shows just how great a country this can be, if everyone is willing to extendthe hand of friendship, rather than the fist of hate and bigotry.