28 April 2008

Theology vs. Politics in Response to Rev. Wright

Joan Walsh and many other political pundits are on-target for the political impact of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's public comments on Senator Obama's Presidential campaign.

But the political analysis of Rev. Wright's comments show a gaping hole in religious literacy when it comes to liberation theology and its roots within the teachings of Jesus.

Most folks have heard the beatitude "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" in Luke 6:20 so long that they don't see the harsh politically-tinged social justice message in this Bible verse.

John Dominic Crossan (the former Catholic priest and co-founder of the Jesus Seminar) writes about this in his book Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. Crossan's exegesis of this verse takes us to a very uncomfortable place. The following quote is from Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, page 62:
Now what on earth does that mean, especially if one does not spiritualize it away, as Matthew immediately did, into "poor in spirit" -- that is, spiritually humble or religiously obediant? Did Jesus really think that bums and beggers were actually blessed by God, as if all destitute were nice people and all the aristocrats were correspondingly evil?

If, however, we think not just of personal or individual evil but of social, structural, or systemic injustice -- that is, of precisely the imperial situation in which Jesus and his fellow peasants found themselves -- then the saying becomes literally, terribly, and permanently true. In any situation of oppression, especially in those oblique, indirect, and systemic ones where injustice wears a mask of normalcy or even of necessity, the only ones who are innocent or blessed are those squeezed out deliberately as human junk from the system's own evil operation. A contemporary equivalent: only the homeless are innocent. That is a terrifying aphorism against society because, like the aphorisms against the family, it focuses on not just on personal or individual abuse of power but on such abuse in its systemic or structural possibilities -- and there, in contrast to the former level, none of our hands are innocent or our consciences are particularly clear.
Now in terms of a modern-day preacher saying "God damn America" like Rev. Wright did, it does not make sense from a personal or individual point of view.

But it does make sense when viewed an anti-oppressive liberation theology lens when applied to the very real and very ordinary systemic injustices our country has committed and continues to commit today.

It's probably fortunate for John McCain, Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama that Jesus isn't alive today to be a personal friend.

Otherwise, they would have to explain their connection to this crazy preacher who is so anti-American in his sermons.

26 April 2008

Bill Moyers Interviews Rev. Jeremiah Wright

Here's an hour-long interview of Rev. Jeremiah Wright by Bill Moyers -- worth checking out to understand the context of the YouTube soundbites from his sermons (and the web broadcast on one's computer doesn't interfere with Battlestar Galactica on Friday nights).

"Brick Testament" -- Bible Stories Told Through Legos

2 Samuel 11:2 -- "And from the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful."

The Brick Testament
is worth checking out -- here's a brief explanation from the web site:
The Brick Testament is the largest, most comprehensive illustrated Bible in the world with over 3,600 illustrations that retell more than 300 stories from The Bible.

Launched first as a website in 2001, then as a published book series in 2003, The Brick Testament project is an ongoing one-man labor of love, constructed and photographed entirely by The Rev. Brendan Powell Smith.

Honesty, Ethics, and "Expelled"?

It's really puzzling to watch the efforts of some people to promote Expelled, a movie about "intelligent design" that is tainted with dishonesty in its production and marketing.

[The next paragraph has a correction that is printed in bold italic text. The correction comes from off-blog email between myself and Shawn Anthony.]

Shawn Anthony, a Brethren in Christ blogger who examined for one year Unitarian Universalism as a possible faith community during his M.Div. studies, has commented on Expelled on his blog. You can read Shawn's original post and the reader comments about this here.

My final comment on Shawn's blog (which may not make it through if he deletes it) is quoted here:
My concerns were not over the intelligence of those promoting Intelligent Design in the movie "Expelled" -- my concerns were with their honesty.

Is supporting dishonesty OK if it supports a cause one believes in?
Here are a few examples of the dishonesty behind this movie:

Richard Sternberg -- "Expelled claims that Sternberg was 'terrorized' and that 'his life was nearly ruined' when, in 2004, as editor of Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, he published a pro-intelligent design article by Stephen C. Meyer. However, there is no evidence of either terrorism or ruination."

Guillermo Gonzalez
-- "Expelled claims that Iowa State University astronomy professor Guillermo Gonzalez was denied tenure because of his views on intelligent design. However, this shows a na├»ve and distorted understanding of the tenure process at a major research university. The tenure process involves intense scrutiny of a candidate’s accomplishments in order to assess his future potential; the beliefs or extra-academic opinions held by the candidate are not a factor. Gonzalez’s academic record is not as golden as Expelled would have you believe, and due process was rendered at every level of appeal. ISU was justified in rejecting his application for tenure."

Caroline Crocker -- "Expelled claims that Caroline Crocker was fired because she mentioned Intelligent Design in a class she was teaching. However, the evidence says otherwise. While there may have been grounds to fire her with cause, Crocker was not fired and continued to teach her course after student complaints; in addition, she did not just 'mention' intelligent design, but rather was teaching demonstrably false creationist material. We do not know for certain why Crocker was not re-hired for her non-tenure track job. Such positions carry no promise that contracts will be renewed. Only tenure-track jobs come with such an expectation, and only tenured professors have a guarantee of employment."

Biology professor PZ Myers was "expelled" from a private screening of the movie -- you can read the account of this incident here. For all of the moviemakers' claims about about intellectual inquiry and academic freedom, this action speaks much louder than their words. However, you may want to read Richard Dawkins commentary on this incident ("Lying for Jesus"). Here's a brief quote from his article:
"Now, to the Good Friday Fiasco itself, Mathis' extraordinary and costly lapse of judgment. Just think about it. His entire film is devoted to the notion that American scientists are being hounded and expelled from their jobs because of opinions that they hold. The film works hard at pressing (no, belabouring with a sledgehammer) all the favourite hot buttons of free speech, freedom of thought, the right of dissent, the right to be heard, the right to discuss issues rather than suppress argument. These are the topics that the film sets out to raise, with particular reference to evolution and 'intelligent design' (wittily described by someone as creationism in a cheap tuxedo). In the course of this film, Mathis tricked a number of scientists, including PZ Myers and me, into taking prominent parts in the film, and both of us are handsomely thanked in the closing credits.

Seemingly oblivious to the irony, Mathis instructed some uniformed goon to evict Myers while he was standing in line with his family to enter the theatre, and threaten him with arrest if he didn't immediately leave the premises. Did it not occur to Mathis -- what would occur any normally polite and reasonable person -- that Myers, having played a leading role in the film, might have been welcomed as an honoured guest to watch it? Or, more cynically, did he not know that PZ is one of the country's most popular bloggers, with a notoriously caustic wit, perfectly placed to set the whole internet roaring with delighted and mocking laughter? I long ago realised that Mathis was deceitful. I didn't know he was a bungling incompetent."
All of this gives creationism and intelligent design a patina of dishonesty. Unfortunately, this reputation for dishonesty can taint Christianity if they don't do anything about it.

19 April 2008

Renewal or Ruin: The IRD's Attack on the United Methodist Church

Here is Renewal or Ruin? The Institute on Religion and Democracy's Attack on the United Methodist Church:

The Institute on Religion and Democracy is a conservative political group which seeks to reduce the public influence of the mainline Protestant Christian churches in the United States and their joint ministry, the National Council of Churches.

A study guide for this movie can be downloaded here.

17 April 2008

Sexpelled: No Intercourse Allowed (Expelled parody)

Here's the description of the "controvery" surrounding this alternative reproduction theory from the RichardDawkins.net web site:
Anticipating success with their feature film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Producers Mark Mathis, Logan Craft and Walt Ruloff have already leaked a teaser trailer for the film's sequel. Their "teach the controversy" slogan seemed to work well in getting the general public to believe that Intelligent Design is a viable alternative scientific theory to Evolution, so the team has moved on to promoting other theories that they feel are being suppressed by the scientific community. Sexpelled: No Intercourse Allowed tells of how Sex Theory has thrived unchallenged in the ivory towers of academia, as the explanation for how new babies are created. Proponents of Stork Theory claim that "Big Sex" has been suppressing their claim that babies are delivered by storks. Furthermore, Stork Theory proponents warn of the serious moral dangers posed by teaching children that sex has a function. They point out that evil dictators such as Hitler, Stalin and Mao all believed in Sex Theory, and they may have even had sex themselves.

There is also a late-breaking new development in the controversy, a new theory called Avian Transportation Theory.

Unlike the original Stork Theory, the modern, sophisticated "Avian Transportation Theory" (ATT) merely points out that there are gaps in the orthodox Sex Theory, and that current sonogram imaging is unreliable. Moreover ATT does not specify that babies are necessarily brought by storks but by "large birds unspecified" (although many individual ATT theorists PRIVATELY believe it is a stork).

16 April 2008

Science Teacher Fired For Not Teaching "Intelligent Design"

Hat tip to Expelled Exposed web site for pointing out this YouTube video clip:

Description from YouTube: "Chris Comer, a Science Teacher in Texas was Expelled for not teaching Intelligent Design in her science class. It's a scary day indeed when our science teachers get fired for recognizing that creationism is not science."

Countering Ben Stein's Propaganda Film

Here's a suggestion from PZ Myers (the author of the Pharyngula science blog) about what we can do to counter the deceptive propaganda message in the Ben Stein's new movie - Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed:
We need to get the NCSE's (National Center for Science Education) counter-site to the hideous little propaganda film, Expelled, to rank higher in the search engines. The way to do this is for lots and lots of you to link to the Expelled Exposed site with the word Expelled. It's not hard: just copy this code into a blog post.

<a href="http://expelledexposed.com/"><i>Expelled</i></a>

Whenever you write about the movie, use that link. Do it a bunch of times, if you want. It's more effective if many people use the same link every time, though, than for one person to be repetitive.