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Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Fallacies Of Our Own Culture

Ilona has written the best commentary that I have seen on Pat Robertson's recommendation to assassinate Hugo Chavez. What is religiously wrong about Robertson's statements is that they deny the obligation to incorporate Christian rules within one's own life and one's interactions with others.

This, btw, is hardly an obligation limited to those of the Christian faith or any other faith. Anyone who has moral principles will have to struggle to conform his or her own life to those principles. We all recognize that there are some people in public life who seem to have more success in doing this than others, and we all instinctively distrust those who appear to act in ways that contradict the principles that they speak. In our private lives we all differentiate between those we know are trying to behave with integrity and those who cannot be trusted. Those of us who have consciences can look at our lives and recognize, with deep shame, times when we have done wrong.

For all those who are frowning at the Iraqi constitution or claiming that Islam is a "religion of terrorism", we can see by studying Robertson's statements that it is possible for any individual or group of individuals to adopt a public ideology that contradicts with what are theoretically their most sacred values and obligations.

For all those who sneer at fundamentalism, let me point out that the problem with Pat Robertson is not that he is a fundamentalist, but rather that he is not. A fundamentalist Christian must be dedicated to the literal commandments of the Gospels, and Pat Robertson is behaving most like the examples held up for rebuke of various spiritual errors in the New Testament. To put it bluntly, he is ignoring the commandments, not trying to live by the word of God and exalting his own presence and stature rather than the word of God.

Robertson's statement may be shocking, but it is only words and advocacy, and Robertson has no secular scope. Robertson should be rebutted in words. The actions of far too many of the mainline Protestant churches against Israel are actions. They are both advocating and pursuing disinvestment in companies that do business with Israel, on the grounds that the state of Israel is doing immoral things against the Palestinians. Well, this is not a valid Christian position either.

Christians must make common cause with the suffering - that much is true. But one may not pick and choose which victims one defends, and there are victims on both sides in the conflict. Those church leaders who are doing this are cloaking their attempt at self-justification under the guise of moral superiority and Christian teaching. Yes, Christians must call for peace and seek to achieve it, but that peace may not be achieved by sacrificing the lives of anyone but ourselves! This is a terrible error that recalls the original error to defend the lives of the victims of the Holocaust - instead of what they are doing, they ought to be acknowledging their responsibility for creating the current situation. Thus they continue to feed the source of the current conflict, and instead of achieving peace they will end up fueling and justifying conflict, death, suffering and disease in the Palestinian population.

By implicitly declaring the Palestinians innocent, oppressed victims these church leaders are sustaining a leadership that is not seeking to defend and support Palestinian lives, but seeking power for its own sake and seeking to destroy Jewish lives. See No Oil For Pacifists. As for me, I have decided to boycott all the mainline Protestant churches who in any way are advocating blockade of Israel. I will not attend and I will not donate money. I am sick at heart at this development.

Why? Why have all too many of the mainline Protestant churches done this? I would submit that it is because of seeking approval from secular aspects of our society such as the university fools who love to exalt the Palestinian "freedom fighters" and started a movement for an academic boycott of Israel. Well, this is not what we are told to seek, and history and That Which Is will pass a harsh judgment upon these words and these actions.

For all those who claim that religion itself is somehow a pernicious force that causes such error, the fact is that the error is a human error. It can be observed in those following all doctrines whether secular or religious. Robertson is advocating the secular actions of Imperial Rome, which was hardly a Christian state. It had a religion, but it was a public religion in service of the state, dedicated to achieving the blessings of the pagan deities for Rome. Communism is an example of a movement which had at least a noble purpose and seems always to have ended up employing and justifying horrible means.

All human beings must search and struggle for personal integrity, and all fail to some extent. It must also be granted that achieving personal integrity in the service of some ideologies and belief systems can have a horrifying result. A dedicated, true-believing Nazi is likely to do far more harm than a person trying to slide quietly by with lip service to the principles of the Nazi doctrine. I would go so far as to say that one way to evaluate and contrast different ideologies and theologies is to contrast the desired behavior with the reproved behavior. Think of the complaints from the Nazi leadership about Germans trying to defend their "good Jews", and you will see what I mean.

So I feel a call to fundamentalism in the service of a faith that cannot die because it stems from That Which Is. I search for a safe religious harbor in this world, so that I can join my actions to others who would follow the commands we were given. In public life I advocate the principles that the US must make common cause with the suffering and the deprived peoples of the world, but that this cannot consist of funding the unethical and immoral leaders of poor countries.

The west must face the fact that our joint institutions, such as the UN, have become corrupted. Many of our internal political leaders in the US are batting around advocating factionalism and self-interest. Parts of our political system have clearly been systematically corrupted. Many of our churches are hardly speaking any real religious truths, and those that are doing so are being singled out for attack from the secular culture and churches that seem focused on secular goals. The genuinely humane voices of Europe that played such a huge part in setting up the UN have mostly been silenced in favor of a form of elitist isolationism. The secular humanist voices of the left have become elitist self-serving communities.

We live in times which challenge our own personal integrity and demand the most rigorous self-scrutiny if we are to avoid accidentally encouraging the unthinkable.

There is a difference.

Pat Robertson was a single voice- wrong of course, but a single voice.

Unlike the Islamists you refer to, the voices castigating Robertson were loud, clear and unmistakably defined.

Radical Islamists- and their calls to hate and kill, are far greater in number and they are supported and apologized for, by far greater numbers.

There are communities and organizations whose entire raison d'etre is to mitigate the voices of radical Islam- voices they tell us, that are increasing because they don't like our way of doing things.

This is one of those rare times I disagree with your premise- far from highlighting the fallacies of our culture, we can take pride in a response that was vitually universal in it's condemnation of Robertson.

To say our response to the Robertson matter is any way like that of the Islamists is absurd.

Just this week, 'moderate' Islamic leaders, including the 'respected' Qaradawi endorsed suicide operations in Israel and Iraq. He was careful not to distinguish between cuvilians and soldiers.

To further highlight the differences, as I noted earler today, Islamists, their apologisy=ts and supporters "seem to focus less on fanaticism and extremism, and more on western failures and the American ‘evil’ of confronting the evil that is radical Islam.

In other words, it would be as if we attempted to limit our chastising Robertson by making the damning Chavez our priority.

As a society, we are nothing like the Islamic community at all. TO imply otherwise is simply absurd.

However we define fundamentalism, that of Pat Robertson's variety has no audience here- unlike Islamic fundamentalism.
A good criticism.

Granted, we are not at this time a society at all like the radical Islamic sects and their doctrine. We are also not a society like Iraq, which is trying to face its problems and overcome them. I hope we never become such a society. I think we should take a good, hard look at such societies to understand how they became what they became.

But the path to how we could become such a society is quite clear. When the public institutions become corrupted, it is only the private voices with integrity which can check them. If we do not raise our voices and act against this we will become such a society.

You have written often enough about terrorists, sympathizers and apologists. They can be found in the churches, in the universities, among individuals and in politics. Their goal for our society is a society not of moral accountability, but of moral unaccountability.

I do not see the criticism of Pat Robertson as being universal at all. And almost no one in public life is calling the mainline churches to account for their actions.
"But the path to how we could become such a society is quite clear"

Yes, we COULD become such a society- but in fact, we have already been such a society- Christendom has long since abandoned that kind of ideology. While it is possible, I suppose that could happen again, it is unlikely that fundamentalism will rear it's ugly head. More likely we would see the doctrines of moral relativism and PC do us in.

Now, your point about moral unaccountability is spot one- and that addresses those issues of PC and moral relativism. They are the real voices of western fundamnetalism. The post election mass vilication and nullification of 'middle America' and religious voters, is indicative of just 'fundamentalist' those voices really are. They are the Mullahs.

Pat Roberson is just an idiot. No more, no less. He is also being measured by a different set of standards. When Jesse Jackson made his Hymietown remarks, he wasn't labeled a racist or a bigot. All he had to do was apologize and all was forgiven.

When Jesse Jackson's son was GIVEN (read: the result of backroom deal blackmail of Anheuser Busch) a beer distributership (we won't discuss his contribution to alcoholism in the community), no one said anything.

While it is true that none of the mainstream churches are being called to carpet, the left demanded that Mr Bush apologize- as if Mr Bush were responsible for Pat Robertson's words- or should be.

It isn't Pat Robertson that is the fundamentalist- in fact, that moniker can be attached to those who do call him just that.

I'm all for vigilance, to protect our society- and I agree that we have to keep watch in our own back yard. That said, let's not kid ourselves- most of our attention need be focused on the other side of the aisle.

Pat Robertson isn't the problem.
No, Pat Robertson has lost whatever influence he had with this one.

And you are right that the threat is largely from the outside. But I doubt we will counter it effectively without figuring out what we really stand for. In my view, we aren't calling the terrorists to account because we aren't holding our own feet to the fire. And we need to hold our own feet to the fire.

It's not all just someone's "views" or "opinions". There are, as you point out so often, real moral differences.

Every time I read one of these proposals for "hate speech" laws, I shudder. The only reason our society can openly and harshly condemn people like Robertson is because we have the freedom to offend, and we have to retain that.

As a society at least 40% of us don't see what the Wahabists really are. The reason why is because we have lost our perceptual moral compass. That is exactly what happened to the societies that promote terrorism.
I was impressed by what you had to say here so much that I am going to post on it... even though in danger of making me look like a mutual admiration club member ;) This point on the mainstream church is especially worth examining.

On the comments here.... I look at things primarily from the perpective of a Christian, more than politically or whatever. From this view I do not consider Pat Robertson an idiot, but a Christian in leadership role who has made a fundamental mistake. Your point, MoM, is so well taken on living up to principles.

"the threat is largely from the outside" is comparable to the Christian view of what we face as enemies of our souls.... there is the danger from the outside exemplified by the world ( worldliness) and the devil, but there is also the danger from within, the flesh. And often we allow the most access from the other two when we pay little attention to the enemy within. I think this is applicable in this situation.

Pat Robertson is not the enemy or the problem, but his loose cannon ideas unchecked are.

I think we must keep the integrity of the bar for ourselves and our leadership. Further, I think this integrity will go farther to be an efficacious penetration of the Muslim mind than anything in castigating rhetoric could ever be.

Or the mind of South Americans, or anyone you care to name, whose thinking you hope to change .

We have to figure out our purpose: bomb them all to hell, or work to revolutionize the thinking.

Whatever the morality, I think the latter is the more practical. Our whole system is predicated upon our belief that this is do-able.

Do I think that we can change everything with words? I do not. However, I think we maintain the high ground by our measured process of attempts to make our world better. And I think the high ground is an inestimable asset. Reasoning comes first on the agenda.
Ilona, you wrote:
"Further, I think this integrity will go farther to be an efficacious penetration of the Muslim mind than anything in castigating rhetoric could ever be."

That's it exactly. You don't oppose wild-eyed fanaticism with anything but integrity.
Boomr - I am encouraged by your reaction. My belief is that the real problem in the US today is that the voices of conscience are not being heard, even though most of our population desires good.

It's interesting that politics at the state level seems to be more functional than the federal level.
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