Religion & Politics: USF Fall 2006

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Hillary Clinton (extra credit)

-EXTRA CREDIT BLOG-
The First Woman President

In a discussion at the beginning of the year we talked about the 2008 presidency and if a woman president would be a worthy candidate. Hillary Clinton began discussions last week with fellow New York lawmakers about her White House prospects and met Sunday with the state's Democratic governor-elect, all indications she is stepping up plans to join the 2008 ballot of potential contenders for the presidency, and is more than a worthy opponent. However, some Democrats still believe the odds are against her actually being elected president. Dick Harpootlian, a former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party not aligned with any presidential hopeful, is among the nay-Sayers. “She’s a senator, she'd be the first woman running, and she's Hillary Clinton," he said. "All of that is almost insurmountable for a general election.” He added: "There are people who would write a check and die for her, but there are plenty of others who wouldn't vote for her if she promised to eliminate the income tax and give free ice cream to everyone.” People have made up their minds about her, and that doesn’t give her much room to maneuver.” (CNN.com).
Many feel a woman president may not do as well or make good decisions under pressure as a man would such as, decisions for war. Other such as, Chris Lehane say, “Hillary Clinton has a good sense of self.” He also remarked, “I don't think she makes this race unless she thinks she has a pretty good chance of wining the whole thing.”

Religious Symbols used for Civil Protest

Jessica Hubler


Religious Symbols used for Civil Protest

Last week, during my usual work-time perusal of the BBC website, I came across an article describing recent protests in Paraguay calling for the release of General Lino Oviedo, a popular and controversial prisoner who helped overthrow an oppressive government regime. Though the article did delve into the many reasons behind the protest, its main focus was on an avid supporter who had nailed himself to a cross in order to show his devotion to the cause. Tomas Velasquez, while nailed to the cross, was surrounded by numerous supporters draped with banners calling for the General’s release, and was quoted saying “Oviedo was convicted by a military tribunal but that is illegal in times of peace. We believe that he is being politically persecuted.” This statement though not incredibly radical in its very essence, is interesting when seen in relation to the means of protest which Velasquez and his peers employed.
The action of nailing oneself to the cross is controversial in itself, but the fact that it was being done for non-religious reasons makes it even more divisive. Moreover, its vague, or perhaps non-existent, connection to the cause of the protest raises more alarm. What was Velasquez trying to imply? Was he doing it to show just how far he would go in support of the General’s release, or to connect the General with some sort of religious movement or event? The confusion of sacred Christian symbols and events, such as the crucifixion, and the utilization of these symbols to call for political reform combines the realm of religion with that of civil ritual in order to create a unique form or practice of civil religion. In reading the article, it is difficult to discern whether Velasquez was trying to draw on religious zeal or attachment in order to achieve the release of the imprisoned General, or if he is simply conflating the General’s predicament with that of Christ.
As we read in Gilmore’s Public Ceremonies: Ritualizing Civic, Media, and Social Life, the issues of what would be seen as divinely religious circumstances and symbols are often intertwined with civil ceremonies, such as inaugurations, celebrations, and perhaps protests as well. Similar to the instance in which Reverend Billy stapled Mickey Mouse to the cross and proclaimed his connection to the anti-Christ throughout a well-patronized Disney Store in Times Square, Velasquez also found the instance of the Christian crucifixion useful in his protest for more civil justice. However, Velasquez’s employment of the evidently popular technique was vague and unrelated to his cause. Had he more closely aligned the General with Christ, or used his voluntary crucifixion in a more relevant or obvious way, he may have been more effective in relaying his message. Instead, he seemed to be using the religious symbol in the same way that Reverend Billy used it, as more of a “shock and awe” strategy than a true political statement. Nevertheless, the conflation of religion and civil ceremony, despite its many complications and near contradictions, was both evident and provoking.

Left Behind - A View into the World of Biblical Prophecy

The Left Behind book series, written by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, is a media phenomenon. The books have been read by millions and have consistently been on the New York Times Bestsellers list each time a new installment has been released. These books tap into the collective realization of the perils in the world today, and draw on the Bible to show a future that might be waiting just around the corner.

These books, which have spawned three movie adaptations and a recent video game, are not without their problems. They promote a very specific interpretation of the book of Revelation that is not shared by all Christians. However, they remain true to that interpretation, and follow it to its logical conclusion. The authors weave an interesting and entertaining plot, and develop the characters in such a way that the audience feels attached to them.

The movie series, however, falls into a trap that all too often confronts movies of this type. By focusing on procuring actors who are all believers, rather than casting the best actors possible, and relying on far too little money to achieve the special effects necessary to make the film believable, the film series’ producers do a disservice to the great work of the books’ authors. There are some standout performances, particularly Kirk Cameron, whose work with evangelist Ray Comfort’s Way of the Master ministry prompted his inclusion in the film. However, the supporting cast is anything but stellar, and it hurts the film enormously.

Cameron’s work with Comfort has gained some notoriety for its engaging, man on the street interviews and open air preaching. Cameron’s work in many ways is a type of contribution to the conscientious public forum, raising issues near and dear to his heart as a believer in Scripture to those who may not share his views but can benefit from his perspective. Cameron and Comfort were interviewed by Martin Bashir for a segment on Nightline. This publicity has helped to promote the films, which are an intriguing if flawed adaptation of the novels.

The video game poses another set of problems. By appealing to the video game audience’s penchant for unnecessary violence, the game fails to promote the theological message of the book series. It instead becomes a “shoot ‘em up,” with characters carrying a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other. This in no way reflects the plot of the book series, which could make for an interesting game plot but has been apparently passed over in favor of sensationalism.

With this said, I continue to look forward to each new installment in the series. I have read almost every chapter in the series, and I am working on the final installments. While I believe that the rapture will occur after the Tribulation, as a opposed to before it as depicted in the books, the series falls in line with my theology in most other ways, and makes for an enjoyable and theologically uplifting read. The series is Christian fiction at its best, and helps promote Christian values to the wider culture.

Media & Muslims

After reflecting on our course discussions and material on Islamic faith I searched for an article that pertained to Muslims and their treatment in America. I found two disturbing articles about the prejudice and unfair treatment of Muslims currently going on in the United States. So many Muslims are treated unfairly in the United States due to post 9-11 resentment and one sided media reports. The first article I came across was titled “Officials of Airport Consider Response to Clash over Prayer” (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/02/us/02minnesota.html?_r=1&oref=slogin).
This article discussed the prejudice treatment of Muslims at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Apparently six Muslim clerics from a US Airways flight were removed after passengers expressed concern. The concern was voiced because of the Muslims repeated praying during the day. I believe this incident would not have occurred if there wasn’t still a great deal of anti-Muslim feelings in the country. The second article I came across was called “In U.S., Fear and Distrust of Muslims runs deep” (http://pewforum.org/news/display.php?NewsID=12045). This article discusses the still large resentment and distrust that many Americans feel against American born and foreign Muslims. In the article Jerry Klein, a radio host in Washington, suggested that all Muslims in the United States should be identified with a crescent-shape tattoo or a distinctive arm band.
Almost immediately after he made these comments the telephone lines were completely jammed. Many listeners called in and agreed with these horrible remarks. He soon came to confess that he was appalled that so many people agreed with his comments as they were a hoax. But he was still very surprised with some of the comments. The other part of the article discussed a Gallup poll this summer of more than 1,000 Americans which showed that 39 percent were in favor of requiring Muslims in the United States, including American citizens, to carry special identification. About a quarter of those polled said they would not want to live next door to a Muslim and a third thought that Muslims in the United States sympathized with al Qaeda, the extremist group behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. A poll carried out by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an advocacy group, found that for one in three Americans, the word Islam triggers negative connotations such as "war," "hatred" and "terrorist." I strongly believe that constant bias media cover of the war in Iraq has made a huge contribution to these perceptions. I believe that the strong presence of hatred towards Muslims is partly due to the media and depictions of Muslims and terrorist on the news. I feel many Americans are misinformed about the Islamic religion itself and don’t understand. Religion in the United States is Pluralistic and should be better respected.

Extra Credit- Evangelical Teens in S.F.

After researching for my fouth blog assignment I came accross an article published in March of this year.http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/03/25/MNG6OHU6RR1.DTL I know this article is months old, but I found it completely relevant to the topic of culture war. On March 25, 2006, 25,000 evangelical youth rallied at AT&T park. They rallied in response to popular media and its corrupting message to our youth. This demonstration was led by Concord native, Ron Luce. Though a rally, it still cost $55 dollars at the presale price and $199 at the door. He believes the media "glamorizes violence and sex." He wants youth to learn about Christs message to combat teen pregnancy, drug abuse, and suicide. He believes MTV and myspace.com are channels for this deviance and lack of morals. Of course this rally had the support of Jerry Falwell and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. It was not so popular on the San Francisco front however. There were protesters outside the park chanting for pro-choice and aethiests. Even Mark Leno was interviewed and named these protesters "loud and abnoxious." Other protesters inside the park simply named their acts as worshipping together.

The evangelical "worshippers" sent priests out into the communities of SF to try and help with the problems of homelessness and drug addiction. They want to spread a Christian message- a bit more intense than just helping with social problems- they want to change the face of our pop cultured youth.

I think this protest is fine and a freedom anyone should be able to participate in. However, I do not agree that they should go to the most liberal city in the country to get their message accross. If you have assemblymemember Leno completely disregarding them as obnoxious, they are in the wrong city. I don't think abrasive behavior completely demeaning what San Francisco stands for- a tolerated and accepting society, should be influenced by this behavior. One protester held a sign saying "I came here to get away from people like you." I think that statement is strong enough to understand that antagonistic behavior is not only inefective but not wanted.

This culture war that seems prevalent within our youth is on going and obviously not coming to an end. It has been outlined in this article as the secular left and religious right. Even the media presents information to impose this culture war. The writer of this article specifically interviewed a political leader- Mark Leno and other political analysts.

Anything is a religion

After thinking about the values that constitute a religion, I came across an article about radical groups and their attempt at disguising religion in the form of nationalist movements. The first article was about Representative David Duke. Duke was an Oklahoma native who while in college became fascinate with the white nationalist party and the fundamental beliefs of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1974, Duke gained notoriety by attempting to modernize the Klan by moving them from a mostly religious group, to a nationalist political force. Duke changed the name of the main Klansman from “Imperial Grand Wizard” to “National Director” and promoted suits instead of robes; He “urged Klansman to step out of cow pasture and into hotel meeting rooms”. Duke was attempting to create a favorable image to values that are undoubtedly detrimental and unnecessary to social stability. Furthermore, he was unifying in order to create methods for public persuasion.
Duke’s modernization strategy can be compared to the Blind consumerism discussed in class, where the public’s perception is influenced by propaganda and aesthetic values. People want the newest, sexiest and most popular products for the purpose of being accepted.
No longer are values the judge of character, instead our society is engulf in the religion of blind consumerism.
Reverend Billy can be called the protagonist to David Duke’s antagonist. Where Billy urges for values and community, Duke would promote multi- nationals and the power of corporate greed.
The human emotion that is responsible for understanding right and wrong can now be disguise with good looks and propaganda.
Products such as cigarettes and alcohol; which kill millions of people on a yearly basis are promoted with beautiful people promising a goodtime.
If religion is defined as “a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects” then consumerism is definitely a religion. People are truly devoted to this way of thinking. One can even infer that people look forward to Christmas more for the chance to get the newest products, than for the chance to celebrate of the birth of Christ. The concept of GOD is an after thought. The devotion that once existed is no longer their. Church on Sunday’s is not mandatory, but getting the newest BMW is a must. Even people who are considered religious by today standards are subconsciously influenced by the commercials and the propaganda. Furthermore, reverend Billy’s church although somewhat strange, would also have to be called a religion. Rev Billy has a church, a following and beliefs; therefore by definition, he has a religion.
Overall, the way news spread today is vastly different than the way news spread in the past. When Christianity first came about, people learned through word- of- mouth and judged what was being said. Now Guys like David Duke can easily spread their beliefs by having a good image, being well spoken, having commercials, and hiring famous people. This change has created a society were communities do not evaluate decisions; instead the people in the propaganda are enough to persuade the consumer. This shift in values leads to no real beliefs and as the saying goes “if you don’t stand for something you fall for anything”.

http://www.adl.org/learn/ext_us/duke.asp

Second New Leader Resigns from the Christian Coalition

The Christian Coalition named a new leader and removed him before he took office. The Christian Coalition and the Rev. Joel Hunter did not differ on scripture; however the two sides disagreed on politics. The Christian Coalition considers their base to care about issues such as gay marriage and abortion. Therefore, when the Rev. Hunter wanted to expand the Christian Coalition's agenda to include poverty, global warming, and HIV/AIDS the board rejected his vision and his appointment. My understanding of the article and the little I know about the organization leads me to believe this evangelical coalition decided to pursue a politically conservative agenda rather than act on behalf of the greater good. America's pluralistic, secularized nation has room for the Christian Coalition to exist, but, are they living up to Christ's teachings? If individuals, groups, and organizations cannot separate their religion from their politics, when does their politics begin to control their faith and potentially corrupt their religion? I think the Christian Coalition needs to decide whether they're a political group with strong faith or a religious group with political views. When the Christian Coalition no longer wants to serve the poor, the hungry, and the sick, I believe they've lost sight of the teachings of God.

Truth Within Media?

Though out the civilization, there have been numerous instances of technology interacting with religion. Ship voyages made an easier effort for missionaries to spread outside their ideas outside of Europe, printing made religious readings readily available to those who were literate, mass media made the spread of religious programming and ideas available to those who possessed the technology.

The technology that can be in a form of a television or an internet access can provide almost real time news reporting. We count on media such as news reports to give us fair, unbiased, view of the places that are located within our reach. Unfortunately, we maybe relying on media too much, especially since it has been made convenient for our use.

Mass media is supposed to present us with information, it is for us to judge and made conclusions on the issues at hand. Since we are exposed to a wide variety of information, we can pick and chose what we like. Majority of what we chose is what we like, or want to hear. It’s the information that favors our views. We chose to watch one show over the other since we acknowledge that what we watch has a biased, biased that we are interested in.

A recent British Counsel discussed the issue of media affecting the image of Islam. It’s of no surprise to us that media is biased. From a personal view, media should only present the information and let us decide what happened. Unfortunately, majority of us require mass media to present us with such information since we are far away from the place of action. Even though the information can be presented to us, it still can have a biased view on it.
Nobody should be surprised that some, if not a large part of what we see as ‘truth’ is staged. According to this website, which again should be taken with a grain of salt, Reuters among many other sources have been digitally editing photographs. Such manipulation of props or actually digital ‘enhancement’ might get more attention from the public, get deeper feeling that might affect their decision making. Such bias can ultimately effect our religion based decisions, such as to criticize one religion while giving praise to the other group solely based on manipulated information that was presented to us.

Personality, if media was one of the greater technologies to spread news, make religion wide open with the use of worships broadcasted over our television, it can also kill it. Hopefully with even further media advancements, it will be possible to see more than one sided presentations of information. With the help of SRM , it will be easier to distinguish any future relationships between these two huge powerful entities, Religion and Media.

The Internet and Religion

After a few class discussions regarding the popular media, (internet, television, radio, and movies) I have truly begun to understand how important and popular religion is in all of our lives. Every person that has posted a blog on this website, has a very strong idea about how they feel about religion and its place in our society. Many of us have spoken on behalf of our own religion or lack there of. Religious or not, we have all had the ability to post our feelings on the web for millions to read. The internet has revolutionized not only our culture and how we do things in our every day lives- but it has influenced our ethics, morals, and ideals. The internet has given people with any form of access to the internet- the ability to read anything appealing to their feelings regarding a specific faith or religious identity. The internet has truly become a spiritual marketplace.

I want to explore this "spiritual marketplace" a bit more. There is the actual tangible "spiritual marketplace," and there is the marketplace one can go and find ideas and writings posted by any person relating to their faith or area of interest. As quoted in Sociology of Religion , one can "pay a visit to one of the estimated 7000 stores, both adjacent to churches and in commercial retail spaces such as malls, that sell religious (or more specifically "Christian") goods (277)." Not only can one find these tangible items in actual stores next to churches, these same items can be found all over the internet in the comfort of one's home. The internet truly gives us access to anything in seconds. Churches have begun to capitalize and make profit from using the internet. Not that making profit is a bad thing, churches do need funding, I just find it interesting to see advertisements on the internet for dating services for Catholics (Catholicsingles.com). Or having a Churches website advertise and sell religious books. Right now, as I was browsing through a Catholic website (Thecatholiccompany.com)- I got a pop up advertising the movie, The Nativity Story. I find this ironic- religion has entered not only the media and pop ups- but pop ups advertising religious movies that are being played in mainstream movie theaters. As the book quoted on page 289, the internet has created a "temple without bounds."

I don't believe this popularity on the internet is necessarily a bad or negative aspect to religious groups- I just find the internet making me and others a bit confused as to what one faith encompasses. I can type in the word "Christian" on google and find everything from KKK websites to a respectable churches website. I just find it hard to find consistency with the internet, since it gives any person the complete authority to represent a certain religion or faith "without bounds." Some of us have posted on this website ( including myself) our own individual ideas and beliefs on behalf of our faith. I recognized myself as Catholic on the very first blog I posted. Someone reading that I am Catholic and believe in religious pluralism, and that God is not the one and only God, but more of an energy will find my beliefs ridiculous. I would not be considered a true Catholic. This is where I find faultiness in using the internet for spiritual teaching or accuracy in what one's faith encompasses. Not to say free speech and reading different ideas about one's faith are interesting and appealing- I just think there is a lot of garbage that may not represent one's faith with complete accuracy and validity.

And to argue the other side, maybe more importantly than lacking accuracy- I would hope this could somehow prove that we as people have more in common than we think. Just maybe certain intersections of faiths, identities and beliefs can be positive in understanding each other. Maybe we should not be so concerned with the differences that divide us. Maybe these individual websites and ideas will bring more people to a common ground where positive discourse can be had. Perhaps human interaction is what is needed most- not interaction with a screen.

I guess I may be a bit old school in thinking that one should probably go to an actual church or gather with their community in person to discuss and learn about their religion. Human interaction is necessary and should be wanted for our society. Human interaction should be desired within any forum- religious, political, athletic, social, etc. The internet has caused a bit too much independence, enabling a lack of community in times we may most need it.

TV Turns Religion Into a Popularity Contest (Blog 4)

When you turn on the television, there is hundreds and thousands of stations. It is hard to choose which station to watch, but technology easily categorized these stations -sports, comedy, news, drama, cartoons, kids, stations for men, stations for women, etc. This makes it easy for one to choose. If one wants to feel spiritually connected to God, one can turn on religious channels. The media has definitely made religion conveniently accessible.

Religion has capitalized on the benefits of technology. It used to be that churches are the central place for an individual to connect and to know God, but with the coming of technology, the church has lost it’s central role. For example, Christianity is all over the television, radio, internet, etc. One would find it hard to avoid since it is broadcast everywhere. They use the media as the instrument for their services because this means of communication is quick, easy, and can reach a larger audience. They are able to feed their messages at a faster speed to a wider range of people at varies times.

For some people, television has become a kind of religion for them since it informs them of news about the world. The people of religion has utilized the media to make a place for themselves in these people’s homes. They would preach their values to the masses in various different ways, trying to include and to entertain everyone. For example, there are performances by Christian rock bands, shows on using the power of God to heal the sick, etc. In a sense, it is sort of like missionary work, trying to promote their value and religion through publicity. It also leaves the impression that the Christian religion is on a display and is for sale.

The media has become a spiritual marketplace. People can now pick and choose the type of messages they want to hear and create their own interpretation of these messages. On the basics of their own interpretation, they are able to get their own conclusion. The media appears to be an influential voice, which makes frightening.

Access and Power

A book came out recently called Tempting Faith: an Inside Story of Political Seduction by David Kuo. Kuo is the former deputy director of the White House office of faith-based initiatives. I have not read the book but I read an article by Julion Borger in The Guardian and I heard an interview with the author. According to Kuo, the Bush administration met often with leaders of the Religious Right and claimed to be supporters of their religious agenda, but behind their backs Bush officials described them as ridiculous, out of control and just plain goofy. And Karl Rove, a long time political advisor to President Bush, is quoted as calling evangelical Christians “nuts.”

I am glad this is finally coming out into the open. I did not know for sure what the Bush advisors might say about the religious right behind their backs, but I seriously doubted that very many of them really believed in the Christian right’s agenda. Supposedly President Bush does, but why do we almost never hear about George Bush attending church anywhere and he supposedly is a Methodist which is a mainstream protestant denomination, and not part of the Evangelical movement by a long shot. The Religious Right has anointed Bush as their leader and I think he is enamored with that idea, but somehow he doesn’t have to do anything religious to earn that position.

The Republicans are a smaller party than the Democrats and they have long been the party that represented rich, white people. This made it hard for them to win elections, and though they held the presidency often in the past fifty years, the Senate and House of Representatives had been controlled by the Democrats for many years. The Republicans and the Religious Right need each other, but there is nothing in the background of most wealthy, long time Republicans that would lead me to think that they are really born again Christians. They are more likely to be reading the Wall Street Journal and checking on their stock portfolios than reading the Bible and praying. But the Republicans came to the realization that if they claimed to support and were willing to advocate certain issues of the Religious Right (anti-abortion, anti gay, pro-prayer in school etc.) they would get more votes from middle to lower class, mostly white Evangelical Christians that were more than willing to believe that the Republicans are the party of God, as long as they promote the Conservative Christian social issues. Economically most of these people have no business voting Republican.

I’ve heard that one of the reasons the Democrats took back the Senate and House of Representatives is that Evangelicals either stayed home for the first time in many years or they voted Democrat. I can’t help but think that the leaders of the Religious Right understood what was going on and they just played along with it because it gave them access and power. Though the average, not wealthy church-goer was being played as a fool by both sides and it is about time some of them at least know the truth, even if they are not sure where to go from here.

jesus camp (extra credit)

Extra Credit Blog
Spencer Brady
Jesus Camp

In class we talked a little bit about the new and controversial movie “Jesus Camp” and I just wanted to talk a little more about it. It is about a camp for young kids, or you could even call it a boot camp, where they learn to embrace the extremist side of Evangelical Christianity. This group of people takes their faith to a whole new level, and they are always heavily pushing their beliefs upon their children. They are a great example of how church and state get intertwined, and they do this by exploiting their children.

Clearly this particular group of Evangelical Christians are passionate about their beliefs, and that is why they are so efficient when it comes to persuading their children to follow in the same foot steps. Pastor Becky Fischer is one of the Evangelical leaders and she runs a camp in Devils Lake, North Dakota. Here at her summer camp we see the children taking part in activities where they are praying to a card board figure of George W. Bush. If that is not extreme enough for you, than while they are praying to Bush, they are also crying hysterically, speaking in tongues, and lying on the floor holding little fetus dolls. To me that is a little too heavy for anyone, especially children that young. Becky Fischer also said, “Think of this camp as a boot camp for the future army of God.”

This is just a small part of the “Jesus Camps” that are taking place across America. It is scary to me that there are so many children out there that are already completely convinced of the extremist Evangelical Christianity. It reminds me of how some extreme Islamic Fundamentalists go about their faith. I think giving your children some direction is a good thing, but pushing them to be completely obsessed with a religion is another thing. In this article “At this Camp, Indoctrination is Hardly a Game” in the San Francisco Chronicle, they say that the counselors… do not use war as a metaphor but a sincere and formidable call to arms aimed at “Taking America back for Christ.” It is just my opinion, but I believe they do more damage to the future people of America, than they help them.

Interpretation

I came across this article through a blog on another website and it caught my attention for a few reasons. The article talks about the most recent decision made about a cross that is placed on publicly owned property in San Diego. I’m from San Diego and have seen this cross many, many times (it’s located on Mt. Soledad... which is known for its view) and remember hearing little bits of the controversy over the cross for over 10 years of my life. I had completely forgotten about this issue until I came across this article.

The article just tells about the most recent legal attempts made involving the cross. I’m not interested in whatever decisions have been made/are going to be made regarding the cross (because its been the cause of a 17 year legal battle and has yet to actually be moved), I’m interested in the debate over the cross. In the article I read, it says that supporters of the cross “argue that it is the centerpiece of a war memorial that salutes veterans, not religion”. Even if this is the case, why is it a Christian cross that was chosen to represent the veterans? Why is it still a Christian cross? What about everyone else... many of whom were probably veterans?

The main argument used against the cross is the separation of church and state deal, naturally. I was reminded of part of an essay by Barbara McGraw that was published in the book Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously in which she stated, “the Constitution is a document that should be interpreted by reference to its underlying framework, principles, and purpose and not by reference to whatever majoritarian interests hold sway at any one time, whether religious or secular”. I feel that McGraw’s opinion really shows itself in action within this cross controversy. The “correct” solution to this problem seems obvious to me, yet the fact that the public has yet to come to an agreement shows us that there is no clear-cut right and wrong. This 17 year battle over this religious/political/social issue has been and will be a difficult one to end. McGraw feels that their needs to be this interpretation of our political framework, an interpretation that is left to many... many who don’t agree.

Check out the history of this controversy and the different arguments (any one of us could have written this so take it with a grain of salt)

Mass Media, Civil Religion and Rev. Billy

Blog #4 + Blog #5 Extra Credit

Watching Rev. Billy in class the other day and discussing whether or not it is or can be considered a religion got me thinking about what a religion is or must have to be considered a religion. This, I believe, necessitates a discussion of mass media and the role it plays in our modern lives. The vast exposure most of us have to this form of media on a daily basis has shaped and changed our society as a whole and is perhaps part of what Rev. Billy preaches against. As a parenthetical aside, this topic was too broad to cover in 650 words and feeling passionately about it I have decided to cover it in 2 continuous blogs that will constitute my 4th and 5th blog entries.
In Lee Gilmore's paper entitles "Public Ceremonies: Ritualizing Civic, Media, and Social Life" there is a mention of Bellah's idea of "civil religion" that it is " 'an institutionalized collection of scared beliefs about the American nation.' " It is my belief that in the same way that the book Sociology of Religion by Christiano talks about the way the media has transformed religion, the mass media has transformed American culture as a whole; that through endless advertising and product placement (http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/parents/marketing/advertising_everywhere.cfm) mass media has created a civil religion of consumerism, of shopping. We are constantly told either directly or otherwise that we must get the latest product to be cool, to have sex, to be liked, or that this beer or soda is the best because girls will like you better or it has 3 calories less (and you don't want to be fat-- no one on TV is). These messages berate us everyday whether we are aware of it or not. In fact even after 9/11 we were told by the PRESIDENT that we MUST continue to shop, to consume that this was our duty, this is what we could do to be patriotic (Rev. Billy's "...and patriotism is shopping?" is hauntingly, pointedly revealing here). We are told to believe that consuming, shopping is a duty that it is patriotic, we are even told that where and how we shop is important. Many of you may have heard that if you buy counterfeit products you are supporting terror (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5059960) it may be true but regardless- it has setup within this "Church of consumerism" a good vs. evil a system of morals where there is good and bad consumerism, just as there is good and bad behavior within religion itself. There is a God and a Devil in this Church- Starbucks and Knockoffs, Wal-Mart and Bootlegs, Home Depot and illegal downloading. No it is not a conventional religion and no it's certainly not a conventional Church- but it does tell you how you should behave, what is good and bad behavior, it even tells you when you should buy more or what you should buy when and it has it's own holidays-Christmas and Valentine's day fits the bill for both. This country is very focused on GDP (Gross Domestic Product- a measure of all the output- goods and service in the economy); it is not focused on quality (healthcare, education, equality in income or even in taxes) but quantity. While I won't get too technical with economic indicators suffice it to say that all of this has the result of the U.S. having one of the lowest savings rates and highest indebtedness rates (for its citizens and the Government itself) of almost any industrialized nation in the world. What this means is that both the Government and it's people save the least go into debt the most and more foreboding than either is the vast amount of debt and deficit this country has (we owe other people and countries 8.6 TRILLION dollars and it increases by almost 2.1 BILLION per DAY) (http://www.brillig.com/debt_clock/)
This is where Rev. Billy enters the picture he is the leader (pastor?) and creator of the Church of Stop Shopping and perhaps, in light of all this, a modern day messiah (hyperbole). As Gilmore describes Billy's performances "...can be understood as a form of public ceremony that participates in public and civil religious discourse." If the civil religion of the mass media and perhaps America is (partly) consumerism then Billy's is its Anti-church and Billy himself the Anti-Christ of this message. Billy questions the patriotism of this "blind consumerism" and his ceremonies while certainly activist also touch a spiritual level. In fact if the traditional Church is one of God, deity and the hereafter, Billy's is one of patriotism, justice and the right here and now. Where the "Church of consumerism" has a system of good and bad, right and wrong so too does Billy's- Mom and Pop's vs. Wal-mart, community vs. multi-nationals, true value vs. corporatist greed and profit at any cost. While religion goes more and more towards a "spiritual marketplace" and mega-churches continue in popularity, Billy has a different vision for the future. He sees a return to old values, to a "God that is not a product" as vital and necessary. While many, perhaps most, would argue that Billy's is not a religion I would be inclined to agree with a caveat. I think it is not a traditional religion but that it has many religious elements and if nothing else vastly blurs the line and at least begs the question and further thinking on the matter. There was a time when all religions were just beginning, where many people would not have looked at Christianity, Mormonism, or Islam as real or true religions. As we all know from this class defining what religion is and for that matter what constitutes a religion is difficult if not impossible. What Rev. Billy is doing right now may seem to most to be a "non-religion" but that is not to say it will always be considered as such- in fact it seems more likely, to me, that as America continues down this road of consumerism toward its inevitable conclusion that Billy's message will become more and more religious and certainly more resonate with the mainstream. Also, I think it is hard to overlook or argue the fact that this consumerism has become part of the civil religion of this country and I think it is hard to argue that Billy's message is one of rebellion and dissent against directly this. Cannot it not be inferred, therefore, that just as the enemy of my enemy is my friend, that the message against a message of religious (even if just civilly) nature is itself also religious. This is to say that since the mainstream message partly of civil religion is consumerism and Rev. Billy's message is antithetical to that idea, does his message not also become one of somewhat religious nature.
I do not have the absolute or final answer on this and am not entirely sure where Rev. Billy and his church fall in terms of religious categorization, what I do know is that his message is important and necessary in modern life today and that I see it becoming only more and more necessary as time goes on. What I do know is that Billy utilizes many things which religion also utilizes ritual, preaching, right vs. wrong etc... and that at the very least this blurring of lines makes this very marginal idea propagated by very few today must become more mainstream and accepted than it currently is if we as a people are to have any chance of fighting of the barrage of consumerism and consumerist ideals we are force fed on a daily basis.

mixing religion and politics

Blog # 4
Spencer Brady
Religion & Politics

Religion and Politics are two very controversial aspects of our society, and when they come together it tends to stir up emotion through out the people. We live in a country where both religion and politics are equally important and some how they always seem to transcend into one another. Politicians have and do use religion to aid their campaigns all the time, especially with the major war in Iraq going on. Also, on the other hand religious leaders have a tendency to use political issues when it comes to deciding who is really a member of their religious society. It is said that we are suppose to separate church and state, and let each one stand on their own grounds. This has proved to be impossible so far because they simply go hand in hand with one another.

As we all know, President Bush is a religious man, and he is a strong believer in the Christian faith. Bush tends to incorporate religion into his speeches quite often and people do not really like it when the leader of our nation is giving off the impression that the U.S. is a predominately Christian nation. I read in an article “Religion Plays a Big Role in Bush Presidency” in the ABC News, that Bush invited the Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski to join him in prayer in the oval office. It is incidents like this one that people get uneasy about because he is mixing church and state too much. Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League said, “When he (prays) as a private person practicing his own faith, God bless, but when it becomes part of the official function of the President, then that’s something that’s inappropriate.” People simply do not like the idea that he is communicating to other foreign leaders from the standpoint that he is the leader of a Christian nation. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for separation of Church and State said, “He is treading dangerously close to breaching the idea that this is a secular country.

Then there are also the situations where religious leaders allow politics to have too significant of an affect on what they are trying to do. An example of this is the topic of abortion. Obviously abortion is against some religions, and if you were to support abortion you would be going against that particular religion. I read in an article “Religion, Politics can be Combustible Match” in ABC News, that at East Waynesville Baptist Church in North Carolina there was an issue around this. The people there say that Rev. Chan Chandler told them “Those that did not support Bush needed to leave, that they were sinners that believed in abortion and all the wrong things.” So when some people from that church supported John Kerry’s campaign, they were kicked out of their church. This is the other side of the spectrum, but you can see how mixing Church and State can be detrimental to our society.

Come join the Mass media of Religion

Nowadays religion is not only known for a person going physically to a specific place of worship, but instead it comes in a different form and through easy access without really leaving the comforts of home. The new form of religion is now seen in massive quantities and not only within places of worship but by advance in technology in forms of books, television, and radio. As stated in the chapter titled “Mediating Meaning: Religion in and as Contemporary Religion,” “A massive market in religious artifacts, a flood of books from religious presses and videotapes and compact discs from religious producers, a flourishing of religious devotions on the nation’s radio and television airwaves, and an eruption of religious messages of every possible description…all demonstrate how ideal for Americans is the marriage between the venerable appeals of faith and their concurrent fascination with the modern gadgetry of technology” (Sociology of Religion, 275). Is religion still the same with the form of consumerism? Does it replace the purpose of religion?
The most common is through books that expand pass the bible and other main religious texts and also include such books as, “scriptures, devotional tracts, compilations, of prayers” (279). The books expand from being solely sold within church gift shops, which also bring profit to the church, but also to mainstream books stores that usually do not fit into one particular section titled solely “religion”. Looking down a bookstore aisle and the organization the books instead fit into several categories such as: “faith, devotion, spirituality, Eastern beliefs and the New Age” (281). Through the variety of books the realm of religion is that “…[includes] no single thing, but some of everything; it is as if one had poured the accumulated wisdom from ages of religious thought and practice into an electric blender…[into] a mixture” (281). Should these books be kept separate or together under one title “religion”?
The next advancement is seen through the incorporation of religion within the broadcasting world, and the sounds of church on the sound waves of both television and radio is a different and another way to look at the growing of religion through other media. Television in particular is the main source that airs and conveys those, “public ceremonies [as] those events, that are rendered broadly public by way of their prominence within the sphere of the mass media” (Gilmore). The mix of what occurs within the places of prayer and religion began to be a ceremony that was not only for a private setting, but could be viewed to the public.
Is it a good idea to use the advancement in technology for gathering followers and believers to join in the ceremony and actions of a specific religion? When does mass media become too much? Is it always good to use the new technology? Will church go back to that of a private ceremony and solely within a specific place of worship? The meaning of religion has expanded pass the walls of specific places of worship through the collection of mass media. Religion enters this realm that exists not solely in one specific place but something that could be pulled off the shelves or ordered on television.

Works cited

Christiano, Kevin J., Swatos Willam H. Jr., and Kivisto, Peter. “Mediating
Meaning:Religion in and as Contemporary Culture.” Sociology of Religion: Contemporary Developments. AltaMira Press: Rowman& Little field Publishers Inc: 2002. 273-293.

Lee, Gilmore. “Public Ceremonies: ritualizing Civic, Media, and Social Life.”

Religious Hypocrites

Reverend Billy’s character to me is that of pure entertainment, acting, and humor. Although he says that one day he just had this feeling to one day say that Mickey Mouse was the Anti-Christ, I do not believe that these sorts of feelings can overcome a person. He says that he was possessed to become this character, and yes it is a character but only a character. No one could have feelings that are true like this in our world, at least I believe so.
Some of the things that went on in the video tape and the audio, was very convincing but that’s when you have to be able to tell the difference between acting and reality. Reverend Billy may be a very likeable person and a lot of people may actually agree with his views but he still has to live a life also. He still has to go shopping whether it is for food or Christmas presents. He still has to get his daily dose of caffeine. Most people no matter what they think or say that they think will eventually become a hypocrite.
Hypocrites in today’s world especially in the religious area are uncalled for. People can believe or not believe. They can not make up their own rules about religion. Yes there are many different types of religion but all are based on some sort of scripture. It might be from God and his disciples, or it could be from the Dali Lama, or even Muhammad. These people came up with rules and guidelines for their beliefs for others to follow. The language barrier does make things a little more difficult as far as translation is concerned but what I am trying to say is that you cannot make up your own guidelines, you either follow it or not.
For example, I am a Lutheran, I believe that Jesus was born and died for our sins and that God is forgiving of all sins. With this said, I have experienced a few religious hypocrites in my lifetime. I have had fellow church members who when they are at church they are al nice and kind and very religious, saying that they pray all the time and so forth. Well then when they are at home they are the total opposite, they are talking about people from our church including our pastor. These sorts of people are fakes, they are hypocrites of themselves and the religion, and they are liars.
What I am trying to say is that everyone including ourselves is a hypocrite, liar and a cheater of religion. Yes there are very devout people such as monks and nuns, but basically there is no getting out of sinning. No matter if what our scriptures say we all make our own guidelines according to how our lives are going, how busy we are, and how are emotions are at the current time. Basically by talking about Reverend Billy, and other people that I know personally including myself, it would be very hard for anyone to say that they are not hypocritical of their religion and its guidelines. No one except for Jesus Christ and God will ever be perfect in this world and throughout this class I have truly learned that.

Left Behind Game (extra credit)

A reflection of how our society has changed through mass media can be seen in the example of a company like Left Behind Games where they are able to enter a market that before would have been seen a Christian based game. The statistics given by Troy Lyndon in “The New God Game,” (http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/dec2006/id20061201_680266.htm?chan=innovation_game+room_top+stories) states an estimated 90 million actually want high quality entertainment that appeal to our core beliefs. The video game Left Behind: Eternal Fore is based upon an interpretation of Revelation in which God comes and takes all believers to heaven. The name Left Behind refers to the idea that those who are left behind are the wicked and the nonbelievers, as wells as those whose fate is not yet known. Michael Pachter, a video game analyst for Wedbush Morgan Securities believes that the inspirational marketplace could represent as much as 10 percent of the video game industry. The author Troy Lyndon believes that from a missionary’s perspective, a quality Christian video game is a means to reach the lost; those without hope or faith.
I believe that the game is targeted to a particular audience and those who are willing to buy it. Not everyone is going to buy the game and people who will enjoy the game should enjoy the game. There are many other games such as Grand Theft Auto which involves killing and stealing cars is also target to a particular audience that is willing to buy and enjoy the game. The game is not targeted to everyone in the public, but only to the people would enjoy the game. All the controversy regarding game is not new, there are many other games and movies that bring the same controversy such as the movie Jesus Camp, it is really up to each individual person to have make the choice of what they believe in.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Should Mass try to appeal to the Masses

Mass media has a strong influence on both our culture and religion. It has shaped our lives to adapt to the preset time. In the article, “Should Mass try to appeal to the Masses” by Terry Mattingly (http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/newssun/lifestyles/156430,5_5_WA01_RELIGION_S1.article) discusses the changes that religion institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church have to make to keep their followers. As discussed in class, mass media interactive where it creates normals, reinforces normals, and reinforces a perception. In our fast pace society, there are many people who lack the focus to want attend and be at mass. With the rise and popularity of Megachurchs style that produce its Sunday service more like variety-show entertainment than a traditional Protestant worship experience attracting a far greater number of followers.
As noted by Terry Mattingly “There are many reasons shy American Catholic want to edit and tweak their ancient rites. They know that Protestants megachurch offer rock-concert quality mass media, ample parking, free babysitting, health clubs, and every conceivable form of special programs for all ages but especially for the young.” Protestant megachurch are more attractive to many people living in our society where are the Roman Catholic seems to be ancient. The mass media has made it difficult for Catholics to compete in a market place where mass is usually portrayed as a painful and long event. One of the examples that Mattingly sue in his article is of the popular video website YouTube in which there a video of a Halloween costume Mass in California in which the parish ended the mass with the priest recessing out of the church dressed as Barney the purple dinosaur. The Catholic Church has to reconsider their approach since the mass media has really glorified megachurch as more entertaining and more suited better to out present time. The interactivity and experience that the Catholic Church preset is toward an older way in which mass is presented with dignity, grace, and a sense of quality.
The images of the megachurch reflect a youthful image where consumerisms play a part of their lives. Mattingly points out, “Megachurch promotes its free Starbuck coffee and Krispy Kreme donuts,” which Megachurch modern entertainment also deals with economics it is important for them to survive and continue. Megachurchs can be seen as aspiritual market place and example of this was given in a blog report about Ted Haggart.
The mass media and our culture has adopted to our fast pace lifestyle and technology in which could be seen in the article, “Word of God goes mobile in Cell World,” by Michele Boorshein (www.fortwayne.com/mld/journalgazette/16148800.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp) in that it discusses the way we perceived and experience religion. James Katz, who studies the cultural and social meaning of cell phones at Rutger University notes that evidence of what he calls a “talismanic” connection many people have with their cell phones such as Catholics who text message their atoning Hail Mary prayer. Mass media has influenced a new medium for ministry offering faith-based content in a more youthful and attractive manner through modern technology, where people are able to view their bibles on their cell phones. At Harvest Christian Fellowership, pastor of media ministries, Paul Eaton, discusses the connection between people and their cell phones saying that are more personal than radio or television. The issue of mass media can be seen as being the center of our cultural and religious landscape it is a big part of our lives.

Politics vs. Religion

In a recent November 2006 article in the Los Angeles Times, there was an article about an All Saints Episcopal Church being investigated by the IRS. The church is being investigated because during the 2004 presidential elections. Rev. George F. Regas tried to persuade his congregation to vote one way. Apparently, the Pasadena church put out newsletters and flyers during the election and the church now refuses to comply with IRS and hand the newsletters and flyers over. The challenge that the church is making is whether or not they violated any federal laws.
This surely isn’t the first time this has happened, is it? I’m sure many churches over the years have tried to persuade their congregation to vote one way or the other. Even USF did. During the mid-term elections, many students received pamphlets on how they should vote?
Does the church have a right to influence how you should or shouldn’t vote? Politics and religion should not correlate. However, that is not the case. As much as we try to not to relate them together, religion will always have an influence over politics. On the other side, isn’t it their right of free speech to preach whatever they want?
What I don’t understand is why the IRS needs to get involved. Why is this a matter of national security? What harm is the church in Pasadena doing?
Americans still judge politicians on what religion they believe in even though it has nothing to do with the issues they are dealing with. In the 60’s, John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic president and many people were more skeptical about their new president solely because he was Catholic. In recent news, the first Muslim in Congress, Keith Ellison is making news because he’s Muslim. I don’t think Americans should worry because if Congressman Ellison is a good politician, then his religion should not interfere with the choices he makes in Congress.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Keep Shopping, Just don’t bring the products to church!

Keep Shopping, Just don’t bring the products to church!

A recent survey entitled "Clergy know more about Bush than Brangelina," commissioned by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention found that amongst 2,000 protestants (ministers and churchgoers) that a cultural gap was present between the two groups. In the Article entitled “Pastors no masters of cultural coolness” written by Anita Wadhwani for Tennessean.com (see full article here:
http://www.dicksonherald.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061203/NEWS06/612030371/1297/MTCN02 ) Wadhwani writes that this gap is mostly a “pop culture gap” and “the gap is widest on celebrity news, fashion, and video or computer games.”

This gap is more on the religious than political landscape in the church (when in direct relation to the churchgoers) and instead of falling on the political spectrum in this case, trying to fill the pop culture gap tends to fill the role of politics. When pastors such as take fall on the political spectrum when pastors such as Rob Morgan say that "I do think pop culture raises interesting questions and it could be that it's equally important as politics in where my limited time should be invested.”

The above quote was in relation to the limited amount of time that the pastor had. He affirms that looking into pop culture at events such as the Tom Cruise/ Scientology relationship and extracting information to project to a congregation would bridge this gap and make the audience more in tune with what the message was. This is a scary thought.

The replacement of politics in this religious context is somewhat of a dangerous idea. By going with what the masses want, in other words sermons with an “X box theme or about movies” is detrimental to the human religious experience. Not to say that some peoples National Enquirer is not their bible, it is just that this bible should stay at home and not cross from the consumerist to religious context.

This is where Reverend Billy Comes in. As written about by our professor Lee Gilmore in the chapter entitled “Public Ceremonies: Ritualizing Civic, Median, and Social Life” Reverend Billy is examining this cross of the “corporate, co modified culture” that has “seeped in and colonized spaces within individual souls” (14). Reverend Billy, a novelty Reverend constantly prays for “the demons of blind consumerism” to be driven out (13).

It is only when the religious realm is completely religious that we can experience what religion is all about. With this, I say keep shopping, just don’t bring the products to church!

Diversity that Overcomes Culture Wars (extra credit blog)

In my research on Conservative Christians I came across an interesting frontline interview with Jim Wallis. Although the interview is a few years old, I still found the information valuable to our class discussion on Evangelicalism and also on what McGraw discusses as culture wars. Jim Wallis is editor and founder of the liberal evangelical magazine Sojourners and the head of “Call to Renewal,” a faith-based anti-poverty organization.
In the interview Wallis discusses the evangelical community and its response to poverty, claiming that “it's not a political question. It is impossible to be an evangelical Christian and ignore the vast teaching of the Bible about poor people.” In responding to a question about why there are so many conservative Republican evangelicals who support more conservative economic policies he criticizes those evangelicals who are like “affluent, upper-middle class suburban dwellers” rather than faithfully following the Bible in its teaching on poor people. As an evangelical himself, liberal however, Wallis criticizes American fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson for not truly being in the evangelical tradition, but nevertheless, often serving as the stereotype for most Americans who think of the term “evangelical.”
This article directly speaks to the diversity within the evangelical tradition, just as it is seen within any other religion. Reading Neusner we read that in Islam, for example, the term Muslim can have several different connotations. Primarily, the division between Sunni Muslims and Shiia Muslims, which goes back to Islamic beginnings and historical events, that divided Muslim thought and ideology and has created two very distinct communities. Divisions among religious traditions are often overlooked when huge umbrella terms are employed, such as the term “evangelical” or even “fundamentalist.” In researching Conservative Christians I have found it very valuable to read about liberal evangelicals such as Jim Wallis, who seems to unite the evangelical religion on the basis of biblical teachings.
It is at this point that I see an opportunity for overcoming the negative term “culture war.” While Wallis may be an evangelical, his strongest argument for his religion is the duty to fight poverty as in accordance with the biblical scripture. Wallis views it in terms of a biblical duty, but it can be broaden to be seen more as a social issue. In this sense, it is a social issue that can be fought by people of all religions. McGraw’s chapter on Catholicism, for example, highlights the religions focus on helping those who are in need and an emphasis on the global fight against poverty. It is with issues such as poverty that I see hope for the union of different religions. Or at the very least this is an opportunity to begin to recognize similarities among different religions rather than to divide and differentiate. Perhaps the answer is to focus on issues that can unite people of different religions and less upon specific biblical interpretations. By recognizing the diversity of viewpoints within different religions and denominations the lines of division among different religions become less clear and there is opportunity for education and growth and, perhaps, even an end in sight for the culture war debate.

Conservative Christians finding more ways to block progress in the conscientious public forum

Pastor Rick Warren is the head of the Saddleback mega-church in Orange County, California and author of the best-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life”. He also cares a great deal about the major AIDS related problems around the world. As a result, he made a bold decision that deserves respect and congratulations from anyone that hopes for a society that can come together from all sides of the political spectrum and make progress fighting a global evil and threat to human beings everywhere: he invited prominent AIDS activist and fellow Christian senator Barack Obama to speak at his annual AIDS conference at the Saddleback Church. Yet Warren is receiving quite a bit of angry resistance from fellow evangelical church members and activists for his decision. The reason is simple: Obama is pro-choice. A recent article published by Time reporter David Van Biema explores this issue and asks why exactly what someone believes about abortion has to do with reaching across political lines to join the fight against AIDS. The article (http://pewforum.org/news/display.php?NewsID=12060) quotes several anti abortion activists in the greater evangelical community uttering extremely divisive and closed-minded comments about Warren’s decision to invite Obama to speak at the AIDS conference. These comments include talk radio host Kevin McCullough accusing Warren of betraying the “sacred piece of honor” that is his pulpit by endorsing the “inhumane, sick and sinister evil that Obama has worked for”. Perhaps even more disturbing, Wiley Drake, the second vice president for the 42 million member Southern Baptist Convention told the LA Times, “You can’t work together with people totally opposed to what you are. This kind of conference is just going to lead people astray” (Biema). If one of the top leaders of the largest conservative Christian organizations gives the public message that working with others on a larger global problem is completely out of the question simply because they hold different political or religious views on some other issues, what are the 42 million Southern Baptists and other conservative Christians around the country supposed to think? Again the idea of a “culture war” comes up here, yet this is only more evidence that the only people who seem to want to encourage this idea of a “war” within our society come from the conservative evangelical Christian community. Obviously, this is not a unanimous feeling amongst this community, as Warren himself is leading an effort to bring all fellow Christians and humans together in a common cause. However, how can Drake say Obama, or anyone else, is totally opposed to what he is when obviously they share the same concern about AIDS? By creating and defining pro-choice Christians as “others”, leaders such as Drake are actively contributing to building a culture war where there are two sides, with or against, exactly the same or “totally opposed”, and thus laying the foundations of any kind of “war”.

The bottom line is that if there is no discussion within the conscientious public forum, no changes or improvements will be able to occur. Just as McGraw argues that in order for democracy to exist in a legal sense there has to be legitimate discussion within the civil public forum, the same applies to the conscientious forum. By attacking with verbal slander and separating themselves from anyone and everyone that does not hold the exact same beliefs as they do, these leaders of the conservative evangelical community are purposely dividing the conscientious public forum and trying to stop any discussion from taking place. As a result, many terrible problems that face the human community as a whole are made just a bit more overwhelming and challenging to solve. The fact about the AIDS issue is that there is no division over whether or not it is a problem; no groups are arguing that AIDS isn’t a big deal and we should focus on other problems. So there is common ground here, and this common ground should be what unites people from all sides of the political spectrum. Instead, these conservative leaders are looking to other issues to find reason to oppose working together on the AIDS issue. This is a discouraging sign to all those who hope to see an American culture able overcome political or religious beliefs in order to unite against a common threat.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Pluralism

Religion and Politics

Pluralism is the concept that differing ethnic, religious, and political persuasions may co-exist within one society. Two cases from this semester’s studies come to mind. The first is Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to serve in the United States Congress.
Mr. Ellison is quoted as saying, “People draw strength and moral courage from a variety of religious traditions." This statement reflects his tolerance of other religious faiths within our political system, and for Keith Ellison to have been elected to the United States Congress, it reveals this country’s growing acceptance of political figures of all faiths. Mr. Ellison, in describing his philosophy, has also said, "Mine [religious beliefs] have come from both Catholicism and Islam. I was raised Catholic and later became a Muslim while attending Wayne State University. I am inspired by the Quran's message of an encompassing divine love, and a deep faith guides my life every day.”
Mr. Ellison was endorsed in his candidacy by the Twin Cities newspaper, the American Jewish World, which said, "In Ellison, we have a moderate Muslim who extends his hand in friendship to the Jewish community and supports the security of the State of Israel.” Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to a seat in Congress shows Americans are open to the idea of varying religious influences in public life.
Similarly, a devout Mormon and politician is gaining attention the public eye. Massachusetts Governor (Willard) Mitt Romney, 59, is among the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) elite. The controversy over his impending Republican presidential campaign has been more prevalent as the 2008 presidential election nears.
Although Mormons are known for family centeredness, hard work and clean living, many Americans remain suspicious of them, maybe because so many aspects of their faith remain mysterious. A poll conducted in June by the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg found that 35% of registered voters said they would not consider voting for a Mormon for President. Only Islam would be a more damaging faith for a candidate, the poll found (Time Magazine).
Michael Otterson, a Mormon convert who is now the church's director of media relations, called on political reporters when he visited Washington from Utah in October. He wanted them to know that in its 176-year history, the church has never endorsed a presidential candidate, and that much of the lore surrounding its beliefs just isn't true. "The message in a nutshell is, Remember that we're politically neutral as an institution," he says. "The church is about preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Anything else is a distraction."
Romney advisers are debating whether he will need to give a neutralizing speech in the tradition of John F. Kennedy, who told Protestant church leaders in Houston 46 years ago that he was "not the Catholic candidate for President" but instead was "the Democratic Party's candidate for President, who happens also to be Catholic” (Time Magazine).
Both cases reflect that a pluralistic society can thrive. It is important that, in these times of great upheaval in the Middle East, a devout Muslim, such as Keith Ellison, can win a seat in our own national legislative body. And, it is interesting to note how Governor Mitt Romney’s candidacy for president reminds us of the concern over electing a Catholic president nearly a half century ago.
Pluralism is, for me, one of the most interesting and challenging concepts for any society, and I have been inspired by my Society and Religion class to make the study of it the topic for my Final Research Project.