I've had a number of conversations recently that worry me a great deal. A number of news stories have contributed to my concern. At some point, and I'm not really sure when, facts started becoming relative for some people. At some point, wanting to believe something has started to become enough to make it true if you believe hard enough.
I've noticed something else about this trend. It seems to be more pronounced in people who 1) watch a whole lot of Fox News or 2) are Tea Partiers. Admittedly, they are frequently one in the same, but there seems to be a dramatic spike in them in terms of percent of the general population who see 'facts' as relative.
This is not to say we don't all do this. We do. But for most of us it is about little things. Even though I am trying to lose weight, I sometimes have piece of cake after dinner and tell myself that it really won't hurt my efforts. Well, that simply isn't true - it will.
My problem is with those who have moved this human tendency from a convenient way to justify relatively harmless, everyday happenings to a way to justify what they want to be facts in the face of actual facts.
A friend asked me, "Why do you keep Xing out Christ in Christmas?" I explained that I wasn't Xing out Christ, rather I was substituting the English approximation for the Greek Chi, as in Chi Rho
like the ancient symbol representing Christ that uses the first two letters in the Greek word for Christ - Christos (Χριστός). "Well," he says, "I think you are Xing out Christ." "I'm not," I explained, "I am honoring the original language of the New Testament and the royal title from which we take our nomenclature for "Christian.'"
This went on and on until he said, "You are crossing out Jesus' name and I find it offensive. You should stop doing it." I had so many problems with what he had just said that I didn't even know where to begin, so I simply said, "Look, stop trying to tell me what I'm doing. I've tried explained why I do it and you continue to insist that you are right despite the facts." At which point he said, "I don't care about the facts. I know what I know and you need to stop it."
Well, how do you even begin to argue with that kind of...um, that kind of ...logic(?). Can you even call it logic?
It worries me because we are de-evolving into a society where there is an increasingly unlikely chance that solid critical thinking and respectful debate will be used to come to resolutions and to help us make the best choices moving forward. Critical thinking and intellectual debate are the foundations of modern progress. Invention, discovery and advancement happen because of them.
The lack of willingness from a large portion of society to engage in them point me to a slowing of progress.... which is exactly what Conservatives would like to see. Lack of progress means lack of change, which means those who currently have power in this increasing plutocratic nation will continue to have power and increase in it.
The problem is they are looking at the short game. What good is all that power if the means of getting it halts progress in a significant way? In the long game, it will cause you to fall behind and soon you will be the most powerful people in a nation with surprisingly little power.
Now personally, I'm all for it. Christianity, while for everyone, is certainly biased against the powerful (particularly the powerful who abuse their power), but I can't help but think that no longer having power and influence is a thing that strikes fear into The Christian Right and many conservatives.
It certainly is easier to influence the masses once you convince them that critical thinking and facts are negotiable at best and not needed at worst. It makes manipulation through fear, misinformation and emotional hyperbole all the more easy, but it also puts our great nation at risk over the long run as it will cause us to fall further and further behind the rest of the world relegating us to nothing more the the world's schoolyard bully.
Facts, then, are patriotic and those who deny them and substitute their own desires for them are threatening this nation and should be treated much like we would treat anyone who puts us at risk.
Games. I'm tired of all the politically divisive games. I used to be able to point primarily at Republican when it came to political and anti-intellectual games but now Democrats are increasingly getting enticed by the thrill of the game. It's perfectly understandable. The inverse of the game is very heady, reflective and well (let's face it) a bit nerdy. When you play the game your emotions get ramped up, you are energized and you have people who give your frustration a face. You are no longer fighting the nameless, faceless battle of quagmired government, you are fighting the Republicans (or Democrats, or Tea Party).
I can already hear liberals (of which I am one) shouting “false equivalency” at their screens and firing up their post blog rebuttal. I've already observed this new favorite line of my progressive friends popping up all over progressive blogs and Facebook pages, particularly anytime that it is suggested that Fox News and MSNBC are to some degree in the same business. “Foul!” “False equivalency!” The whole matter worries me.
I am worried because we are becoming more of a reflection of the Fox Newsers everyday. (I know, I know “false equivalency!”). Just in shouting “False equivalency,” we are proving it. Much like the Beck-heads ingest and then regurgitate Beck's talking points (I am intentionally saying Beck's and not Republican's, because the tide has reversed course a bit in that relationship) with little to no thought and manage to do it with the kind of convicted dedication that you usually only see in suicide bombers, we are slowly beginning to do the same.
As you can see in the video below, the phrase “false equivalency” is one that Obermann, and others at MSNBC, are using to reorient the argument in a way that makes them a clear winner (and quite frankly a bit of a victim as well). So, not only are we buying into it and using their terminology to defend it (like Beck watchers are prone to do), but we are buying into a false argument that has been artfully crafted in much the same way that Fox News has done so many times.
Here's why it is a false argument. Those of us who say Fox News and MSNBC are practicing similar 'news' styles and by doing so are hurting the country are not making the argument that the two are the same; we are making the argument that they are similar. Much like Almond Joy and Mounds are similar – one has nuts and the other doesn't.
That does not mean we believe they are equal, just similarly inserting divisive perspectives on national issues in a way that negatively impact our overarching ability to engage with the other side in reasoned dialog. Let's face it, they both are businesses and gain monetarily by putting a negative face on the other side. While MSNBC clearly bases their commentary more on facts in comparison to Fox's fear based commentary, the demonetization, name calling and false urgency that both sides practice are only serving to further divide this nation and that divide helps halt progress... so, which side of the debate do you think our current approach helps the most?
I'm not saying it is easy to have dialog with the other side (see my xtranormal video
). I'm not even saying they want to engage in dialog (not engaging plays to their desired outcomes
). I am saying that relationships are always at least two-sided. You do not get to simply point to the other side and say it is their fault. Like it or not, it is a relationship and not only are we in it, but we are partly (not necessary equally) responsible for the tenor of our debates.
It is all a matter of degrees not a matter of equivalency. You don't have to be exactly the same distance from “sanity” to be too far away from it to be helpful. MAD, mutually assured destruction, doesn't require both sides to have the same weapons or an equal number of them. It only requires for both sides to be far enough away from peace that the other side will be too frightened to make a move. “Would you like to play a game?” (shameless reference to one of my favorite childhood movies, “WarGames
Christians are offered a third way out of the false dichotomy that humanity always tries to place on itself. Theologian Walter Wink calls it, Jesus' Third Way
. I wrote a sermon based on it that you can find here
. This response begins with loving your enemy not villainizing them. It looks like nonviolent resistance. It stands over and against any type of violent response.
It doesn't have to be physical violence. Bullying is violent. And while we on the Left are great at standing up and demanding that the world stop bullying teens who are gay, we tend to do it in a Facebook post that is followed by a grown up version of bullying as we call Beck and idiot or paint a Joker face on Bush in response to the one that was done on Obama. I'm just as guilty as anyone. The xtranormal video I made doesn't exactly play fare in the false dichotomy it paints between the mental facilities of the Tea Partier and the member of The Christian Left
. Just because you try to intellectualize the content of your bullying, it doesn't make it any less bullying.
I'm tired of these games we play. What scares me is the way we on the Left are slowly falling pray to joyfully playing these games, that stand over and against what Jesus taught, just so we can hold on tightly to what want to believe. If you are on The Christian Left, God calls you to a better path. For that matter, if you are a Christian, period.
I'm tired of the games - tired of the mutually insured destruction to which these games lead. It is not what God wants. God want for us, plans for us, hope...and a future. The current path is not the path that leads us there.
On this episode, Mark and Zac discuss the "Political Church," Capitalism and the Church, and the most interesting part, "The Sacrament of Conscience." TCLC welcomes the music of Daniel Bailey.
If you cannot see the video above,
just click on this picture
and watch it on Youtube.
I'm going to do something that is becoming increasingly unpopular amongst some Progressives: I'm taking Jon Stewart's side on what it will take to help the U.S. move forward - to progress rather than regress by getting stuck in the muck of our current political content and disposition.
The Right would love for the Left to buy into the dialogical framework they have built. It avoids facts (or manipulates them), does not engage in conversation (more interested in who is the best or loudest bully), answers difficult question with non sequiturs and makes calls to broadly defined archetypes such as 'patriot', 'liberal' and 'socialist' in order to demonize or promote something or someone by evoking an emotional response from the audience rather than being bothered with facts. The frame work is founded on the perception of being unchangeable and irrefutable. The purpose of that foundation is precisely to mask the reality that the whole thing is a shell game where everything is
changeable and refutable.
In much the same way that parts of MSNBC are becoming a mirrored response to Fox News, the Left is falling into the Right's dialogical framework – and it serves the Right well. Not surprisingly, progress is antithetical to the goals of the Right. A system bogged down in name calling, shouting and an 'us vs. them' disposition will never move forward (or will only move forward begrudgingly as we try to pull the nation's legs through the muck).
They not only want
us to do it, but in order to continue to support their agenda of not changing things too rapidly (which insures that those who are currently powerful remain powerful), they need
us to do it. They feed us a message of divide that over-inflates the importance of everything as if the wrong choice will be catastrophic. People on both sides lap it up feeding the worst part of our humanity.“But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.”
-Jon Stewart at the Rally to Restore Sanity
I'm decidedly with Stewart on this one. Those who will not engage in substantive discourse show either a lack of concern for the truth or a fear that their preconceived 'truth' isn't durable enough to hold up to scrutiny. Riding under both positions is a general unwillingness to nuance your current belief.
As Stewart said in a recent interview with Rachael Maddow, “My problem is, it's become tribal." Our nation has bought into the framework set up by the Right. We choose sides, come out fighting and act as if our very lives are counting on it. I suppose they are, but just not in the immediate fashion our passion would suggest.
My question is this, if it matters that much, why choose the path of mutually insured stagnation?
Yes, it has been far too long since the Left has had a charismatic, sharp minded leader to both represent us and give voice to viewpoints countering the ones expressed by the likes of Beck and Palin. We hunger for that person to step up. Olbermann is fine, but he's not the one. We thought Obama was the one, but the realities of the quagmire in D.C. have put an end to that. Rachel Maddow may be the rising star, but her admirable commitment to MSNBC may tie her in so closely with the response to Fox that it will hamper her ability to do it with all of the credibility she deserves.
We hunger for that kind of leader so deeply that we are willing to crown Stewart our leader, when he doesn't want to be our leader. He seeks to be a voice of reason, of sanity, calling out into the wildernesses
of political and religious divide. As you can both see demonstrated and hear articulated in the video clip below, he believes that the intentionally divisive nature of our current national discourse is counter productive to progress. And I agree.
I hunger for substantive discourse in this great nation and I think most progressive do as well. But the frustration of banging your head against the wall you meet almost every time you try to engage a hard core Fox News devotee in civil debate has led us to do a most surprising, yet somewhat understandable thing. We have not only disengaged from substantive discourse with them
, but at times with ourselves. Worse yet, as can be seen in the disappointment some have expressed with Stewart after the rally, we are looking for someone to give it back to the Right utilizing the same tactics and framework they use.
Our fault is in thinking our new leader has to be a progressive mirror image of the leaders on the right. What we need is someone who is different from all of that. Someone who can stand outside of the fray, asses the real issues, point to the fundamental flaws in each side's arguments and then bring us to the table for dialog, all-the-while calling BS on us if we start to slip back into fallacious debate or party -line politics.
It turns out that while Jon Stewart might not be the voice we want, he just might be the voice we need.
As a Christian minister, I hope that he is, or that someone with a similar message is just waiting in the wings for the right opportunity. This divided nation does not reflect a God who created us all equal. This divided nation would rather demonize the other (see the devil in them) than see the reflection of the divine that God has planted in them – we would rather hate our enemy than love them. Our lack of substantive dialog does not point to a God who delights in wisdom daily.
While we are not a nation of believers, I can't help but imagine what it would look like if those who do profess to worship God actually started acting like it.
Update: More on the dangers of this dialogical divide from one of my favorite thought thinkers: Dr. Seuss. (Thanks to a friend on The Christian Left
for this connection).
It's an upside down world. I can hardly think of a better example of how upside down it is than the relationship between church and state in the United States. We live in a bass-ackward time. Think about it. Those who want to close the gap between church and state, don't want the the state to get involved in issues of social justice and want the state to support the war machine. Conversely, those who want the state to get involved in issues of social justice and want the state to stop supporting the war machine, want to see the gap between church and state reinforced.
Now, of course, there are nuances to each side's perspective that make their take on church and state a little more rational sounding, but in general it just seems crazy.
For me, this is particularly true of those who claim that “America” is a Christian nation. After all, “One nation under God,” and “In God We Trust.” They tend to be the very same people who want the government to get out of welfare, food stamps, social security, Head Start, and basically any program that can even loosely be considered “socialist” (except, of course, things like libraries, roads, police officers, firefighters – well, you get the idea).
Their argument is, the church should take care of those things, not the government. My response is, if the churches were actually taking care of those things, the government wouldn't have to. I also can't help but think their argument might actually be why they don't see the other things I mentioned as socialist or at least don't mind the government doing them. It's not for any biblical standard, it's just that they don't want to have to do them. I mean, can you imagine a road being put down by a church committee? You think road crews just stand around now, just put a church committee in charge and see how long it takes. (They'd probably pave the ones leading into New York, Las Vegas and a few other cities in gold. After all, many of them believe that “the road to Hell is paved in gold.” Oddly enough, in doing so, they would actually be pointing out the irony in their own attempt at metaphor. But I digress.)
I just can't help but wonder, what does it mean for our nation when so many Christians are using the church itself as an excuse to allow the government to operate in such an amoral way? When we allow the government to stop supporting its own citizens by placing responsibility on the the church, we are at best pandering to the very lowest form of displacement of responsibility and at worst we are making the church complicit in supporting institutionalized domination which can easily lead to a plutocracy rather than a social democracy. (And before we know it, the road to D.C. will actually be paved with gold – after all, metaphorically it already is).
If the Church wants to argue that the government should get out of supporting those in need, out of supporting it's citizens who most need it, I say, the Church needs to get to doing a better job of supporting the people who are most in need, because if you were doing it, the government wouldn't have to. To do it any other way – well, it's just bass-ackward.
To the New House Majority:
You say that with this vote America has spoken. I voted. Will you hear my voice?
From what I've seen and heard, I don't think you believe my voice is American enough. It would seem that in your America only those who agree with you get to be 'real' Americans. So, yes, America has spoken, but it is your America, not mine, because that's the only one you can hear.
My America made it's voice be heard during the last Presidential election. It was a resounding voice that was heard around the world! Was your voice heard around the world on Tuesday? When Obama won The Daily Telegraph'
s headline read, “A New Dawn,” with a picture of he and Mrs. Obama embracing. My voice was heard around the world, but you probably didn't hear it. My children have the same problem. I call them to do their chores and they are surprisingly hard of hearing. When I call them for dinner they have better hearing than our dog. I understand.
I am a Christian minister, every day people come into our offices asking for help. They've been stepped on by Big Business, you probably know some of them. Not the people coming into our offices, of course not... heavens no. You probably know some of the Big Businesses that have stepped on them - some of them are the same Big Businesses that paid for your win. Remember who paid for Obama's win? We, the people. That was our voice being heard. Your winning is more about Big Businesses having their voice heard. I guess those are the voices you are hearing.
The people who visit our little church have voices too, but you probably don't hear them. Their voices call out for equality, for health care, for justice, for peace and for a little acknowledgment and respect. They work hard every day just so their kids won't go hungry each night. They beg from people they don't even know because the system has failed them. They get doors slammed in their faces because they haven't been able to keep their water turned on or because they couldn't afford to finish their education. They don't ask for much, just the basics that everyone in such a wealthy nation should have: food, water, a job, a roof over their head, people who care about them and a government that helps them get a leg up rather than helping Big Business step on them. Do you hear their voices?
You say you represent the voice of America. Well I'm American. I'm with The Christian Left
- do you hear our voices? We stand for biblical precepts. We believe that when Jesus said, “When you do it unto the least of these, so too you do it unto me,” he was talking to us and that includes you. We believe that when Jesus turned over the tables in the temple he was sending a message to us and to you that taking advantage of the least of these will not be tolerated! We believe that when he said, "love your neighbor as yourself," it was more than a suggestion; it was a mandate on how we are to conduct our lives. We believe that when he said blessed are the peacemakers that it was a divine calling to war no more. Do you hear our voices?
From the way you ran your elections, it's clear that you hear money better than voices, but contrary to what the Supreme Court's Citizen United decision might lead you to believe, my voice, our voices are supposed to matter more than the voice of Big Business. So I ask you, “Can you hear me now?” ... Can you hear US now?
Say wha... ? That's right, you heard me, Republicans don't really want a Christian President. It's not really all that difficult to believe if you think about it for a minute. Being a Christian frequently is understood to be a “follower of Christ” - Christ-like.
Let's just take a moment and consider, what would it look like if Jesus were President. (After all, he already has the bumper sticker). Jesus said, “ I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” The first thing President Jesus would do would be to greatly reduce the amount of money we have in war related line items (if not get rid of it completely) and, in being “wise as serpents,” shift quite a bit of it over to education. As you can see in the video below, we have plenty to spare.
Jesus said, “When you have done it unto the least of these, so too you have done it unto me.” Specifically, he was talking about 1) the hungry: Jesus would probably increase the budget for food stamps and invest heavily in programs that help people get jobs so that they would have the resources to be financially stable.
2) The thirsty: over 3 million people die every year around the world because of a lack of clean water. Pres. Jesus would shift some of the money saved from de-funding the war machine over to insuring no one dies from a lack of something as basic as clean water.
3) The Stranger: Jesus would open up the boarders, do away with immigration law. He would welcome the strangers into a strange land.
4) Those who are naked: Charity organizations would receive a sizable increase in money from the government to help those in need.
5) The sick: Jesus would immediately institute a national health care plan. Doctors could stop having their first question be, “Do you have enough money to pay for this?” and start having the first question be, “Where does it hurt?”
6) Those in prison: There is an outrageously disproportionate percentage of minorities in jail. President Jesus would not only make certain those in prison were properly cared for, he would also address the inequalities that lead to so many minorities being there. He would deal with systemic issues that led to lives that put them there as well as biases that unfairly focus on minorities. This might include insuring that programs like Head Start are fully funded and as well as fully funding college grants for low-income families.
Jesus also would not have accepted the current arrangement that Big Business seems to have with Washington, D.C. Jesus did not take it lightly when people took advantage of those who already had very little. The power play that is going on between Big Business and bureaucrats would be put to an end as Jesus would take to flipping metaphorical tables.
There are many, many other parts of the teaching of Jesus that would not sit well with Republicans if the President took them seriously, but one in particular would drive them batty. In Luke 20:27-38, Jesus makes it clear that marriage is an institution created by humanity not God. Jesus also spent a great deal of his time teaching his disciples (and us) that we are all equal in the eyes of God and should be treated equally. He also never once said a condemning word about homosexuality. Jesus would drop “Don't ask, don't tell” immediately as well as give everyone, regardless of gender, the right to marry whomever they choose.
I realized the President can't actually make all of those things happen, but if the President were a Christian who was governing from a religious perspective, she or he would be trying to do these things. I'm not even saying that it is or isn't a good idea. I'm just saying, the Republican would not like it.