Friday, March 07, 2003


I've been voting in Pennsylvania for about 15 years, which makes me a two-time member of the Anybody-But-Arlen club. The guy invented the single-bullet theory. He once told a judge that his client Ira Einhorn was not a flight risk. He still has not apologized to Anita Hill. And he shares a name with the arch-villains from the Bond movies.

I attended a "Town Meeting" Specter held in Norristown during the previous Gulf War. In response to one citizen's heartfelt-but-garbled comment that "the system isn't working" Specter launched into a speech about how his exalted presence among us lowly citizens was evidence that the system was, indeed, working. "When I was an attorney in private practice I made $7,000 an hour," the Senator said. "None of you could have afforded an hour of my time, yet here I am today and it doesn't cost you anything. The system is working."

I remember being in awe that anybody so condescending towards and contemptuous of his constituency managed to get elected. And reelected. The man is practically begging to be returned to private practice, and -- like many Pa. voters -- I'd be happy to oblige him.

But as this article (via Hesiod) tells us, the Democratic Party still hasn't lined up an inspiring opponent for Arlen in '04:

Democrats have yet to recruit a suitable challenger to four-term GOP Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.). Not a single Democrat in the Keystone State has publicly expressed interest in taking on Specter -- even though he is one of only three Republican senators who face reelection in states that former Vice President Al Gore won in 2000. Moreover, Specter is seeking election in a state that elected Ed Rendell as its governor, giving Democrats control of that key office for the first time in nearly a decade.

Specter's even facing a primary challenge from right-wing Rep. Pat Toomey, which should weaken him up before the general election. Yet no Democrat is expressing any interest in challenging the senator.

Until now.

Jim Capozzola for Senate?

He's got my vote. And sign me up as a campaign volunteer.

posted by Fred Clark 3:06 PM

Thursday, March 06, 2003


A pastor's pastor asks 7 questions about war with Iraq.

Gordon MacDonald, editor at large of Leadership Journal, a magazine for evangelical pastors, offers the following:


From my journal: There are some questions I'd like to hear more evangelical Christians discussing (and using as a recipe for prayer?):

1. Do we spend enough time pondering the unintended consequences of war: the lingering hate that lasts for generations, the tyrants and tyrannical systems that often arise in the wake of war, the scars and wounds and memories that blight numberless families for decades? (On both sides?)

2. Do we think enough about the children and the old people who suffer unspeakably when armies march? The young men and women -- the flower of nations -- who never return from war? (England lost 70,000 men and 170,000 wounded in three days of war in WWI, and, historian Paul Keegan writes, "[those days] marked the end of an age of vital optimism in British life that has never been recovered."

3. Do we ever think of those on the other side who worship the Lord Jesus too? What does war do to our national soul?

4. Would our movement ever listen to Christian thinkers in other parts of the world on the subject of war ... especially those who have been through it?

5. How many preachers know how to open the Bible on the subject of the morality and the spiritual cost to nations at war, to make their people think ... and engage in intensive intercessory prayer?

6. Does the concept of sanctity of life have any application to war issues?

7. Is the Christian movement of which we are a part a safe community to discuss these things?

= = = = = = = = = = = =

(Gordon MacDonald was a respected and widely read author among evangelical Christians. After serving as a pastoral counselor to then-President Clinton during the impeachment hearings, MacDonald received a lot of hate mail and had appearances cancelled at many evangelical events -- the same thing happened to Tony Campolo for the same reason. Both men remain widely read and extremely popular today -- the pathologically Clinton-hating right wingers are wealthy and loud, but they don't speak for all, or even nearly all, evangelicals.)

(Gracias to Dwight and Brian for bringing this list to my attention.)
posted by Fred Clark 6:07 PM

MUFHH & GWB, 3/6

Daily devotions with our president.

Once again, let's read along with President Bush in his daily devotional of choice, My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers.

Today's reading can be found here.

". . . in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses." 2 Corinthians 6:4

Chambers writes:

We flag when there is no vision, no uplift, but just the common round, the trivial task. The thing that tells in the long run for God and for men is the steady persevering work in the unseen, and the only way to keep the life uncrushed is to live looking to God.

Chambers is talking about what Eugene Peterson calls "a long faithfulness in one direction." Keeping your eyes on the prize and pressing on through the long-term, detailed grunt work that the vision requires.

One of my favorite preacher stories on this topic is about the traveler who comes across the site where the workers are building a great cathedral. The traveler sees a man cutting stones and asks the man, "What are you doing here?"

"I cut stones," the man says. "All day every day I cut stones to specific size. Today, I'm cutting stones that are two feet wide and one foot tall. It's not very exciting."

The traveler sees another man carving stones and asks him, "What are you doing here?"

"I carve stones," the man says. "All day every day I carve stones in a particular pattern. It's not very exciting."

Next the traveler sees an old woman with a broom, sweeping up after the stone cutters and stone carvers. "What are you doing here?" he asks.

And the old woman says, "I'm building a great cathedral for the glory of God."

(A lot of preachers tell that story. So did Al Gore during his 2000 campaign, so it's probably best that Chambers didn't include it. Despite all the daily devotional reading, I still get the feeling that George W. Bush hates Brother Gore.)

posted by Fred Clark 5:52 PM

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

MUFHH & GWB, 3/5

Daily devotions with our president.

Once again, let's read along with President Bush in his daily devotional of choice, My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers.

Today's reading can be found here.

". . . so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus." Acts 20:24

(Yesterday and today were from Acts, the day before that we were in John. Tomorrow we're off to the Epistles. You don't get the sense that this book was planned as a lectionary -- it seems more arbitrary, like someone took the Collected Sermons of Oswald Chambers, cut them up with scissors into little two paragraph chunks, tossed them in the air, then stapled them together to form this book.)

Today is a reiteration of yesterday's theme, as evidenced by the title Chambers gives to today's entry: "Is He Really Lord?" Chambers again points to God's sovereignty and reminds us that our own agendas, causes, value systems are all subsidiary to God. Chambers is after the sort of thing Kierkegaard was getting at in his discussion of the sacrifice of Isaac (somewhere in Fear and Trembling, I think -- if I look it up now I'll never finish this post).

God's sovereignty is an essential theme in all Christian political thought, an important reminder to kings and principalities that their power is limited, finite, temporal. In Western nations shaped by Christendom, the doctrine of God's sovereignty undergirded the evolution of limited government, democracy and the protection of rights for minority groups. This doctrine is partly responsible for why we have a president and not a king.

Yet despite all the democratic checks and balances on America's limited government, the American president still has more power -- more power to build or destroy, to heal or to kill -- than any monarch or emperor of years ago. The American president needs to be reminded, more than any other leader, that he is not God.

Presidents who forget this are liable to begin eroding the people's constitutional rights, treating the country's military like an imperial army, and in general screwing the poor and the oppressed.

posted by Fred Clark 5:00 PM

Tuesday, March 04, 2003


Slacktivist: Stating the obvious since June 2002.

There's a story about the notoriously terse Calvin Coolidge coming home from church one Sunday when his wife had missed the service. Mrs. Coolidge asked what the sermon had been about. "Sin," Cal said.

"Yes," his wife said, "but what did he say about it?"

"He's against it," the president said.

Which also calls to mind this bit of wisdom from The Tick: "You don't have to be a genius to know that evil is bad! ... And good ... isn't!"

All of which is to say that I feel like I should apologize for covering some pretty obvious territory in a string of recent posts. Slavery is bad. Emancipation is good. Al-Qaida, terrorists and torture are all bad. Racism is bad. The deliberate targeting of civilians -- by stealthy terrorists or stealth bombers -- is bad.

This is all blatantly, screamingly obvious.

Except for when it isn't. All of those posts were reactive -- responses to those who are, today in this country, arguing that torture is good, that emancipation was bad, that the good guys are allowed to strike first and to kill women and children. Wolf Blitzer's poll on the use of torture found more than 5,000 Americans -- about 48 percent of his respondents -- approving of torture.

posted by Fred Clark 1:41 PM


Body counts and other wacky trivia.

Via Romanesko, the following from Lou Gelfland in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune:

The "Fun Facts" feature in Variety Feb. 22 said: "More than 333,000 people were killed by the two atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Japan."

Among the respondents:

Denise Mooers: "Maybe someday we'll be able to read about the attacks on the World Trade Center in a future 'Fun Facts' column."

Marcie Shatz-Akin: ". . . another reason why I find myself saying, 'No wonder everyone hates us.' "

Susie Eaton Hopper, assistant-managing editor/features, said:

"The readers are correct; there is nothing fun about this fact.

"The name of this column came from the syndicate that provides the material. It is really a compendium of facts, historical references and oddball events.

"We are going to rename the feature 'Did you know . . . .' "

posted by Fred Clark 1:18 PM


"Make love, not war." -- Aristophanes

I caught a casual-but-fun reading of Lysistrata last night at the charmingly historic Hedgerow Theatre in the heart of Delaware County. It was one of a dozen or so readings in the Philadelphia area, and one of more than 1,000 around the world -- including a secret reading in Baghdad.

The Lysistrata Project organized the worldwide theater event in protest of the Bush administration's willy-nilly rush to war in Iraq. (Jim Capozzola at Rittenhouse neatly summarizes the idea -- and helpfully underlines some of the good parts for those reading along at home.)

The project really was an extraordinary event -- thousands of people in scores of countries and dozens of languages gathering to present an ancient comedy written to protest wars among Greek city states in the years before the rise of Rome.

The play was ideally chosen. The idea of "protest theater" does not usually coincide with the idea of "an enjoyable evening," but in this case it does. Even after more than 2,000 years, Lysistrata is a deliciously funny play (particularly with the traditional staging involving large, er, prostheses).

After rippling around the world, this subversive, gleefully indecent play is bound to enjoy a revival of professional and amateur productions across the country. That's good news for audiences and bad news for power hungry politicians beating the drums of war.

MORE: The New York Times called the play "A Weapon for Peace." Readings were conducted in all 50 states yesterday -- even Delaware.

posted by Fred Clark 11:12 AM

MUFHH & GWB: 3/4

Reading along with the president's daily devotional.

Here's today's reading from Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest:

"But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself." Acts 20:24

Sometimes Chambers loses the plot a bit and offers more rhetoric than substance. Today's entry is more pudding than poetry and it's hard to find much here that's inspirational or devotional -- which may be why the president appeared so bored and perfunctory during his speech this morning at the American Medical Association.

St. Paul told us that the wisdom of God was often viewed as foolishness by men. Bad preaching sometimes tries to defend the inverse of this -- the idea that if it appears as foolishness to men it must therefore be wisdom to God. This is a bit of what Chambers seems to be about in his little riff contrasting "common sense" with a divine calling. It's a reassuring little twist that let's us justify our actions without ever engaging our critics -- dangerous behavior that's out of step with the steadier advice provided in Chambers' second paragraph.

The devotional is on its strongest footing in the final two sentences:

That attitude does not put Jesus Christ as the Guide as to where we should go, but our judgment as to where we are of most use. Never consider whether you are of use; but ever consider that you are not your own but His.

Beneath all the pudding, Chambers' theme is the sovereignty of God. This same theme is expressed in the old gag about summarizing the Old Testament in five words: "God is God. You're not."

That's a useful mantra for any head of state -- even for a state governor -- who appears to wield godlike power over the life or death of others. It's a reminder that God's rule and God's rules apply even to "the most powerful man on earth." Even those rules about just and un-just wars.

Maybe that's why the president looked so troubled this morning.

posted by Fred Clark 10:30 AM


Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times stumbles across the existence of evangelical Christianity in America. Evangelicals are, he notes:

... a group that includes 46 percent of Americans. That's the proportion who described themselves in a Gallup poll in December as evangelical or born-again Christians. Evangelicals have moved from the fringe to the mainstream ...

Yet Kristof doesn't bother to explain or understand exactly who these people are. The only things one learns about evangelicals from Kristof is that they believe in Satan (hardly a trait unique to evangelicals, or even to Christians), and that they do not believe in evolution (which is true, sadly, of many -- but certainly not of all -- evangelicals).

Kristof even refers off-handedly to the idea that America may even now be experiencing another wave of revival, another Great Awakening. This would be, I suppose, some kind of "stealth revival" -- a religious upheaval that didn't actually disturb or displace anything in the society.

Apparently we've all been sleeping through the latest Awakening. Who knew?

The first GA laid much of the intellectual framework for the American Revolution. GA2 was a branch -- perhaps the main branch -- of the abolitionist movement. GA3 was tied up in the Progressive Movement. It's progeny included both Prohibition and the Social Gospel.

What we see today in America's evangelical churches is a culturally determined faith bound up in parochial privilege. The millennial urgency of the second Great Awakening has been replaced with a premillennial pessimism, a dispensational irresponsibility and a circle-the-wagons laager mentality.

Looking for the next evangelical revival? Take this advice from John Patrick Shanley:

If you need a guide. If you're a seeker and you need a guide, someone to counsel you so you can find your way forward into a spiritual realm. And you're on an airplane. Don't look in first class.

posted by Fred Clark 12:44 AM

Monday, March 03, 2003


A daily commentary on the president's daily devotional: 3/3.

"Feed my sheep." John 21:17

Read today's devotional.

Chambers writes:

Jesus has some extraordinarily peculiar sheep: some that are unkempt and dirty, some that are awkward or pushy, and some that have gone astray! But it is impossible to exhaust God’s love, and it is impossible to exhaust my love if it flows from the Spirit of God within me. The love of God pays no attention to my prejudices caused by my natural individuality. If I love my Lord, I have no business being guided by natural emotions -- I have to feed His sheep.

Some of Jesus' sheep have been neglected, Chambers writes, but we must take special care to see that these sheep are "fed" just as well as all the others. Because of the neglect these sheep have suffered, they may be malnourished or unkempt.

Some sheep may even have been the targets of generations of historic and ongoing prejudice that prevented them from getting into law schools in places like Michigan. A good shepherd may have to take extra actions, affirmative steps to ensure that our "prejudices" and "natural emotions" ("natural" here contrasts with "spiritual" -- Chambers is writing here of our sinful emotions, including ethnic or class prejudices) do not continue to harm these sheep.

This affirmative action may be the only way to ensure that all of Jesus' sheep are fed.

posted by Fred Clark 9:14 PM


Read along with the president to find out WWWD? (What Would Dubya Do?)

According to Newsweek's cover story by Howard Fineman, President Bush starts each day -- as many evangelical Christians have over the years -- by reading from Oswald Chambers' devotional guide My Utmost for His Highest.

George W. Bush rises ahead of the dawn most days ... [and] goes off to a quiet place to read alone.
His text isn't news summaries or the overnight intelligence dispatches. Those are for later, downstairs, in the Oval Office. It’s not recreational reading ... Instead, he’s told friends, it’s a book of evangelical mini-sermons, “My Utmost for His Highest.” The author is Oswald Chambers ...

This devotional book is available online here and here (among many others).

Chambers' book is one I've read myself. It is, like much devotional literature by and for evangelicals, individualistic and pietistic. It's also incredibly popular. Chambers' gentle insights and advice can be helpful reminders for his Christian readers, and the book can help to structure one's personal, devotional reading.

Chambers was converted by the ministry of Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and I would be happier knowing that Mr. Bush was reading from Spurgeon's writings every day rather than from Chambers, but you can't have everything.

Our president seems to be a Cardiac Christian -- responding to questions and criticism with assurances that he has "a good heart." His daily Quiet Time with MUFHH probably helps to keep the president's heart pure and good. But this Cardiac Christianity does not seem to work its way into the rest of the president's life -- into his words and deeds and actions and policies.

"The tree is known by its fruit," Jesus said (Matt. 12:33). So let us taste and see, over time, whether Oswald Chambers' words are bearing fruit in the "heart" and -- more importantly -- the life of our president.

This could be interesting.

posted by Fred Clark 8:55 PM


IF you're unfortunate enough to be a student in an undergraduate ethics course, you will at some point be confronted with a clumsily Manichean hypothetical involving the use of torture, Nazis, terrorists, a nursery school filled with innocent children and puppies, and some Hitchcockian menace such as a time-bomb.

IF you express a reluctance to employ torture on your hypothetical evil doers, you'll find that the adjunct professor teaching the course will continually ratchet up the hypothetical until every response other than the one he is seeking -- i.e., the approval of the use of torture -- is eliminated as an option.

(NOTE that any expressed reluctance or lack of enthusiasm for a violent solution will usually result in someone committing hypothetical atrocities and hypothetical violence to your loved ones. Learn to expect this. The spouses and children of death-penalty opponents, for example, will likely be hypothetically raped, tortured and killed nearly every time the subject comes up. Poor Kitty Dukakis was hypothetically assaulted repeatedly on national television. Death penalty advocates commit these hypothetical crimes in order to demonstrate the fundamental decency of their position.)

Back to the classrom ...

YOU MAY be tempted to argue that the exercise seems to have more to do with the adjunct professor's skill in creating perverse hypotheticals than it does with the moral question of torture. The professor may even say, "Yes, but what if your only choice is ...?", which renders the whole exercise absurd. But he won't see this, so don't bother pointing it out.

YOUR ONLY recourse may be to concede and embrace the professor's preferred course of action. Consider this your opportunity to reinject all the real-world, non-abstract details of life that the professor earlier dismissed in order to streamline his targeted hypothetical. Don't simply respond, "Well, then yes, in that [implausibly and ridiculously narrowly drawn] case, I would approve of torture." say instead something like, "Well then I would get a truck battery, wire, a few dozen alligator clips, pliers, forceps, a variety of caustic liquids ..." Be creative and exhaustive. See here if you need some sick ideas.

Note also that many of these would-be ethics professors are not qualified even for an adjunct position, so you may encounter them outside the classroom in online forums. Since these "trolls" or "war-bloggers" do not have the authority over you that the professor would, you're free not to waste any time with them.

posted by Fred Clark 5:55 PM


"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster."

Wolf Blitzer is taking a day off from his "Would you support the wanton bombing of Baghdad if ...?" questions to ask CNN viewers this:

Should U.S. interrogators torture Kahalid Shaikh Mohammed to find out what he knows about [al-Qaida] plots against the United States?

The question is normative ("Should ...") and therefore the answer -- the only answer -- is "no." You're not allowed to torture people. Not even bad people. Not even really, really bad people.

This assertion -- like the repeated reminder that "You're not allowed to kill civilians" -- seems to send some folks scurrying for a copy of the Geneva Convention or of International Humanitarian Law to see if this is really written down somewhere. These 20th-century treaties are excellent and worthy efforts to clarify and encode some of the basic, pre-existent rules governing human behavior but -- as with the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- they have authority because they are universal.

As a Christian, I rely on longstanding moral philosophy that includes things like the just war tradition.

I do not expect those who are not part of the Christian tradition to be bound by its sectarian claims. But no matter what moral or religious system or non-system you follow it likely prohibits both torture and the killing of civilians. Whatever your religion or non-religion, and regardless of whether or not your national government has endorsed the Geneva Conventions or the IHL: You're not allowed to kill civilians. And you're not allowed to torture people, either.

From Moses to Camus, from calculating utilitarians to white-knuckled Rawlsians, we all seem to agree on this.

(The only exception that comes readily to mind is some kind of predatory, Nietzschean will-to-power piffle. And if you truly believe such nonsense then either: A) you are an ubermonster who needs to be locked up for your own good and the safety of others, or B) you are 15 and you'll likely grow out of this adolescent phase.)

NOTE: Blitzer's question assumes that employing torture is an effective means to "find out what [someone] knows." (This conjures up the unpleasant mental image of Wolf Blitzer with a dentist's drill -- "Is it safe?") But is this, in fact, the case? Torture may effectively induce someone to say whatever it is they imagine their torturer wants to hear, but such information seems as likely to be misleading as to be helpful.

posted by Fred Clark 5:50 PM

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?