Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What Does a Religion Nerd Get for Christmas?

I'm excited about three books I got under the tree.

Blessed to Follow: The Beatitudes As a Compass for Discipleship by Marth Ellen Stortz. This one was on my wish list because of the two essays I've read by Stortz that I've really liked. I'm pretty bad about the devotional/prayer side of things and Stortz is very good at them. So I'm hoping this helps get my butt in gear.

The Great Reversal: Ethics and the New Testament by Allen Verhey. I got about a third of the way through this book a year and a half ago before someone left my car unlocked and an enterprising person decided my messenger bag looked like a laptop bag. What I got through the first time I liked very much. Looking forward to being able to finish it this time.

Earth Community, Earth Ethics by Larry Rasmussen. From everything I've heard about this book, it should be a great read. And Rasmussen was the Niebuhr professor of ethics at Union Theological Seminary so it has good provenance. :)

A note about buying books. I use Amazon's wish list to keep track of the books I'm interested in reading. Then instead of looking to buy them new, I look at the used option on Amazon. For instance, Rasmussen is going for 4 cents (plus $4 shipping probably). Verhey $2.81. Stortz $1.89. I've bought many books this way and haven't gotten one yet that isn't in good condition. Even the ones listed "acceptable" are usually closer to Very Good. eBay is another option for finding cheap books. Since there's more rotation in what is offered there, saved searches are convenient.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Is the Tea Party Racist? (Reprise)

There's no use rehashing old topics -- unless of course new information comes to light. I've previously addressed whether I think the Tea Party has a racist bent. A question I answered in the affirmative.

Now some new articles about Ron Paul's newsletter offer a bit more "evidence" for my assertion. The most recent story references how RP walked off the set after being asked about statements made in a newsletter that bore his name. 

This story links back to a previous one with more information: The Story Behind Ron Paul's Racist Newsletters. In this story, newletters bearing RP's name contained statements such as: this one concerning the LA riots "Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks" and that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a " world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours" and who "seduced underage girls and boys." 

Paul's defense is that he used a ghostwriter and that those inflammatory statements came from him/her (although he isn't able to identify who it was). This is, unfortunately, no excuse in a publication that bears your name and which publishes articles written (supposedly) by you. Hence "ghostwriter." No one is supposed to know the identity of the other writer and the named author bears all responsibility for it. 

Anyways, in a bit of comic relief, RP in a Youtube video here actually compares himself to MLK! I wonder if that comparison includes the accusations made in his newsletter . . . 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

10 Best Books

I have officially graduated. M5 approved and grades posted. I started in Jan '09 and finished just shy of 3 years later. Looking back on everything I've read, here are the 10 best books I've encountered. Some of them were direct results of research for papers. Some were "for fun."

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman -- This is a surprisingly brilliant work. A graphic novel where Jews are depicted as mice, Germans as cats, and Polish as pigs? Seriously? But somehow Spiegelman pulls it off. It's an incredibly moving and creative work.

Just and Unjust Wars by Michael Walzer -- A phenomenally complete review of just war thinking along with case studies. And it's not 800 pages long! Walzer is a great social analyst and casuist. I liked this book a lot. It really turned me from a pacifist to a just war adherent. With that said, even just war criteria pronounce "no" the overwhelming majority of the time!

Embodiment by James Nelson -- Nelson is central to Christian sexual ethics and this is one of his primary works. He does a great job establishing a liberal (i.e. not status-quo) Christianity that doesn't simply jettison Scripture.

In Memory of Her by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza -- Piggy-backing on my last comment above, Schussler Fiorenza really surprised and impressed me with her ability to reconstruct early Christianity while relying on Scripture. I figured she would ignore Paul as a misogynist, yet she embraces him and brings out a feminist (i.e. not anthrocentric) reading of Scripture.

Suffering by Dorothee Soelle -- I simply love Soelle. She's probably my favorite theologian. Perhaps Niebuhr is a close second for his pragmatism, but Soelle's emotionally poignant theology with its focus on "the least of these" is great.

The Death and Life of the Great American Public School System by Dianne Ravitch -- This is where my degree and occupation line up. A Religious Studies degree with an emphasis on Christian ethics along with 10 years of public school teaching made me a big fan of Ravitch's book. For any teachers or parents with kids in public school it's a must read.

What Was Asked of Us compiled by Trish Wood -- I believe in the primacy of experience when it comes to making sense of the world. Since we simply can't experience everything, vicarious experience is necessary. Narratives, especially first person, are extremely important to me. This compilation of interviews with soldiers recently returned from Iraq merely supports the importance of saying "no" to war when it is not just.

Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy by Joseph Schumpeter -- I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed a book by an Austrian economist this much. Schumpeter not only takes Marx seriously, he unbiasedly conisders Marxism/Socialism as a possibility to capitalism. In the end, he decides on capitalism, but it is refreshing to see a conservative economist for whom "Marx" isn't a bad world. The two paragraphs where Schumpeter lays out Creative Destruction simply blew me away.

I and Thou by Martin Buber -- This is a short book. It could probably be even shorter. While some of the esoteric stuff I didn't get too well, the central premise of relating to others as a "thou" as opposed to an "it" is important for anyone other than anchorites. It proved important to establishing "mutuality" for my thesis.

Love and Justice by Reinhold Niebuhr -- This book is a collection of short essays and letters by Niebuhr. Because of that, it is much more accessible than some of his larger works. Since some of them are "letters to the editor" type compositions, the sense of history if preserved more than in his larger works. Yet the same themes that come up in Moral Man . . ., etc. are still present here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Response to Tony Perkins

Tony Perkins is the President of the Family Research Council and recently put an editorial up on CNN.com called "Jesus was a free-marketer, not an occupier." There's a lot to discuss as a response to this editorial. To start with, I dislike anyone stating what Jesus would think or do as if it were some how predictable. But I suppose "most likely" and "probably" are out of vogue in editorial journalism. Absolutes and for-sures are the thing of the day.

I also think it's silly to pretend we would know how Jesus would act if he were here today. I'm pretty sure I know what his opinion would be on the financial elite that caused the mess back in 2008 -- not a single one of whom has been charged with a crime. Compared to the thousands that have been foreclosed through no fault of their own (yes, I'm purposely leaving out the minority who were foreclosed THROUGH fault of their own -- i.e. they walked away from underwater mortgages or they knowingly bought more than they could afford in hopes of "flipping"). I think he would be disgusted at the dichotomy there.

I also think I know how he'd probably feel about the increasing income polarity in this country. What he would DO however is much harder to identify. Would he march down to the DOJ and demand CEO heads on a platter? Would he put the golden roads of Revelation on the market and use the profits to re-purchase the homes lost to foreclosure and give them freely back to the evicted? Or would be pitch a tent in lower Manhattan? I have no idea.

But now for a look at Mr. Perkins's post in specific. Point/counterpoint style.

Here's the direct quote from Luke: "He called his ten servants, and gave to them ten minas, one mina each (a mina today would be worth around $225), and he then told them to 'Occupy till I come.' " (Luke 19:13, King James Version)
Beware of anyone attempting exegesis using only the KJV. NRSV uses "do business." I know, it doesn't tie in as nicely with the #ows movement, but this verges on cherry picking.

 Does it mean take over and trash public property, as the Occupy movement has?

Or as Jesus did to the money changers in the temple?

Does it mean engage in antisocial behavior while denouncing a political and economic system that grants one the right and luxury to choose to be unproductive?

Jesus entire message rests on actions that were viewed as "anti-social." I'll be honest, I don't even understand what the second half of this means. If he's referring to unemployment insurance or welfare, I think it's pretty clear where Jesus would side on those issues. Perhaps that's the stance with the least need to nuance or hedge our wording. Jesus would almost assuredly support unemployment insurance and welfare support.

From a spiritual perspective, the mina in this parable represents the opportunity of life; each of us is given the same opportunity to build our lives, and each of us shares the same responsibility to invest our lives for the purpose of bringing a return and leaving a legacy. Jesus gave equal responsibility and opportunity to each of his 10 servants.

This is true. And hard to argue with. I hope Perkins also realizes that what we do with what we're given is not based solely on merit or hardwork. That is clear in the Bible as well. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Out of work people aren't out of work simply because they wasted their "mina." Admitting that would in no way undermine the importance of hardwork.

The fact that Jesus chose the free market system as the basis for this parable . . . He used a free market system to bring a tenfold return on investment.

Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa . . . Jesus chose the free-market system??? The Jerusalem of Jesus's time was a free-market democracy? That is anachronistic to the point of hyperbole.
 Jesus rejected collectivism
Interesting non-sequitur. I'm not sure he Perkins gets here. If anything, the Gospels and Acts point to a world that was moving more towards collectivism than away.

There are winners and yes, there are losers. And wins and losses are determined by the diligence and determination of the individual.

And if we read the parable in the way Perkins is expecting us to, ENRON would be at the Lord's right hand when his kingdom comes! Again, we should not . . . we MUST not measure merit by success.

Some would argue that such an approach encourages abuses, the likes of which we have seen on Wall Street. While some egregious abuses have taken place, they are not inevitable or intrinsic to free enterprise.
Now Perkins lays out the exception to his rule.  Sometimes the winners AREN'T deserving. But then he twists it so that these undeserving winners didn't win because of the system, but because of something else. Apparently he believes that #OWS is against free enterprise. This is a strawman. #OWS seeks justice, not a revolution from free-market capitalism to socialism. They (we) seek a shift from crony capitalism to democratic capitalism. From stockholder-centric management to stakeholder-centric management.

The parable of the king and the servants endorses the principles of business and the free market when properly employed.
Here is where I have to ask, "Who is Tony Perkins?" This man is attempting an exegesis of a parable and is on CNN.com's front page educating the nation to what Jesus is saying. Look no further.  Tony Perkins is a career politician and now a lobbyist. He is not educated in theology, homiletics, hermeneutics or any other subject that would help him expound upon what Jesus meant anymore than Joe Blow.

Yes, I believe in the priesthood of all believers. That doesn't mean, however, that we all have the appropriate credentials to be interpreting scripture on the front page of CNN.com.