Friday, October 30, 2009

Hamas Not Using Hostages

A key defense of powerful nations that terrorize with their military is that civilian casualties are unavoidable because the real terrorists fight dirty using hostages. When Israel besieged Gaza last year they alleged that Hamas was using mosques and hospitals and schools as weapon storage lockers and stuffing them full of civilians in order to incite international outrage when Israel bombed those sites. According to the UN this was a lie. When Israel bombed these locations, the civilians were there, yes, but not the armaments.

Ken Silverstein interviews "Desmond Travers was one of the four members of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, which produced the controversial Goldstone Report":

We found no evidence that Hamas used civilians as hostages. I had expected to find such evidence but did not. We also found no evidence that mosques were used to store munitions. Those charges reflect Western perceptions in some quarters that Islam is a violent religion. Gaza is densely populated and has a labyrinth of makeshift shanties and a system of tunnels and bunkers. If I were a Hamas operative the last place I’d store munitions would be in a mosque. It’s not secure, is very visible, and would probably be pre-targeted by Israeli surveillance. There are a many better places to store munitions. We investigated two destroyed mosques—one where worshippers were killed—and we found no evidence that either was used as anything but a place of worship.

So Israel's justifications for targeting these locations proves to be baseless. Will people stop screaming "anti-semitism" now every time the subject of war crimes comes up in relation to Israel? Probably not.

Here's the thing about the hostage argument: if a madman is holding hostages in a building the solution to the problem is never going to be to bomb the building. Negotiate. Wait them out. Prepare to pounce when they make a mistake. Do not, under any circumstances, start lobbing grenades into the room with the hostages! Hamas was not holding hostages, but even if they had been it would be unconscionable that Israel launch an assault under those circumstances.

Yes the terrorists fight unfairly. Sure their tactics are designed to inflict maximum international pressure on Israel. So why give them more ammunition by bombing mosques and hospitals? It just proves there are two madmen in this situation and they are holding everyone else hostage between them.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

But What Will Protect Us From Orthodoxy?

Aric just put up an insightful post pointing out the speciousness of the argument that orthodox doctrine will save us from catastrophe. I must ask the question, however - What will save us from orthodoxy?

It is a fallacy to claim that orthodoxy is necessarily, or even on balance, a force for good in the world. For the vast majority of the history of Christianity, orthodoxy has been a stated justification for preventing women from being ordained, warfare, assassination, torture, execution as "heretics" of whoever is inconvenient to the status-quo, slavery, imperialism, genocide, repression, censorship, and any number of awful things you can think of.

Now I'll be the first to support the claim that political and theological motivations are complex. Sex, money and political power are caught up in claims of orthodoxy - of course they are, and we can't lay bad stuff at the feet of orthodoxy alone. What we can do is easily look back in history to find loads ways that orthodoxy has been used as a justification for really horrific things. Far from saving us from catastrophe, orthodoxy has been an engine of catastrophe.

Is it without value? Not at all. But the idea that orthodox = good does not hold water after even a cursory glance at history. So even given a case where we can point out where orthodoxy has staved off disaster, we must also acknowledge places where orthodoxy brought disaster upon us, or was called upon to justify what we would now identify as evil.

Perhaps I should say "what passes for orthodoxy", since too often supposed orthodoxy seems so distant from Christianity as I understand it that I feel like my head is going to explode. It must be said, however, that moving toward orthodoxy does not mean moving toward good, and the orthodox have been villains (as well as, yes, heroes) many times in our past.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Doctrinal Orthodoxy Doesn't Work

People I like and respect, and even people I usually agree with, sometimes repeat this idea that a certain theological doctrine is important or correct or true or good because it will protect us from... (insert atrocity here, bonus points if it involves Nazis). The version of this argument which pops up most frequently in the circles I navigate is the one about Barth, Barmen, and the Confessing Church in Germany.

The story goes like this: liberal protestantism, infected with natural theology, a loose-cannon Holy Spirit, romantic progressivism, the relics of christendom, (or your favorite theological punching bag), sold its soul to the national-socialists and contributed to the Holocaust. Barth in a stroke of unmitigated brilliance saw the doctrinal roots of this problem and courageously spoke against it, helping to write the Declaration of Barmen and thus nipping that problem forever in the bud.

The moral of this story is that if your theology is not Barthian you are a Nazi (or will soon become one).

This is not a new story. It is the same story that has always been used to command doctrinal orthodoxy. If you don't hold the right ideas, you will be responsible for disaster x. The church has spent the past two millenia, for the most part, doing exhaustive historiography to support this idea. Every bad thing that has happened, ever, has been explained somewhere by a champion of all that is pure and noble as stemming from heterodoxy. Orthodox doctrine could protect us from all of this, they allege. The question which never seems to get asked is, "does it work?"

I mean, according to the orthodox, the right doctrine has been available for a long time and it hasn't changed. It's been out there. People have believed it. Lots of people. Did it work? Did it protect them from... whatever it is this stuff is supposed to protect us from?

Orthodoxy certainly hasn't succeeded in eradicating heresy. Every heresy the church has ever named is alive and flourishing today. There are probably more Arians and Unitarians in the USA today than Chalcedonians. There are definitely more semi-pelagians around than "saved by grace through faith" reformed-types. Orthodoxy doesn't eliminate or diminish heresy - it's the opposite actually. Orthodoxy is the ground-of-being for heresy and vice-versa. They can't live without each other.

Even if orthodox doctrine could somehow "protect" us from bad ideas - and there are plenty of bad ideas out there - so what? Who made it a priority to be protected from the intellectually inane and the logically laughable? Besides that isn't what people claim. People claim orthodox ideas can actually save us from life-threatening catastrophes like the holocaust. So show me, in practical, non-ideological terms, how orthodoxy has accomplished this in the past. How many Jews did Barth save because he had the correct theological insights? Where are the concentration camps that would have existed if it hadn't been for his courageous opposition to the heresies of German liberal protestantism?

Honestly. I'd love to see the proof. Show me how orthodoxy protects us from something deeply and obviously harmful. You can't use Hell, either. Why? Here's why: if you don't finish reading this sentence a meteor will fall out of the sky and crush you where you sit. Aren't you glad you read that sentence now? I just saved you from a terrible fate you can't ever prove wasn't going to happen if you hadn't done as I commanded. Be grateful.

For the most part, ironically, I am a pretty orthodox guy (yes in my own estimation the same as it is with anyone else). But I'm really tired, in theological discussions, of everything being cast in apocalyptic terms as if the consequences of disagreement were really anything other than the usual social awkwardness of realizing that reasonable people frequently come to different conclusions, and yes sometimes those conclusions are downright wacky. Wackiness, however, is not a credible cause of genocide.

Friday, October 16, 2009

30 Republicans Come Out In Support of Rape

I just needed to post on this because it was so disgusting and, even for a cynical person like me who so often assumes the worst, it was still surprising. Apparently, 3/4 of the Senate Republicans are, to put it blankly, in favor of U.S. contractors writing fine print into their own contracts preventing rape victims from suing them.

These august Senators, in their wisdom, think that arbitration is probably the better way to go.

From the article I linked below:

Makes sense — after all, it's really important for rape victims and the companies that hold them in locked shipping containers while disposing of evidence come to an amicable settlement in a friendly, non-litigious atmosphere. Bonus points if that atmosphere is controlled by the company, as opposed to an impartial court. Because since outsourcing the Iraq war to Halliburton worked so well, we might as well outsource the settlement of rape claims to them too.

Read the story for yourself.

In case you are a voter, here are the names of the Republican Senators who voted against legal rights for a woman who was gang-raped and then locked in a shipping container by employees of a U.S. contractor who is receiving billions of dollars of tax money.

Alexander (R-TN)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Bond (R-MO)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Graham (R-SC)
Gregg (R-NH)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johanns (R-NE)
Kyl (R-AZ)
McCain (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Wicker (R-MS)

I wonder if any of these...people...have daughters? Or children at all?

I wonder, if their daughter (or son) was gang-raped and locked in a shipping container while evidence was destroyed, whether they would feel that arbitration would be the right way to go.

Well done, Senate Republicans. I didn't think I could still be desensitized.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Part 1| Obama Addresses Gay Rights Group [Human Rights Campaign]

Worth checking out.

"You will see a time in which we as a nation finally recognize relationships between two men and two women as just as real and admirable as relationships between a man and a woman." -President BHO

Friday, October 9, 2009

Mutual forbearance, Presbyterian style

Mutual forbearance, Presbyterian style

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The No-Peace Prize

President Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. No one thinks he actually deserves it - even the White House speech writers. The Peace Prize Committee itself says they are awarding it more on his future potential than based on his peacemaking accomplishments thus far. They hope the award will spur him into living up to some of his promises. I hope they are right - I really do, but it seems like an epic fail at the moment.

We are only 9months into his presidency so I continue to hold out hope that he has some kind of long-game which will turn everything for the better but thus far Obama has been a disaster for the cause of peace. He has extended and expanded the war in Afghanistan. He has not pulled out of Iraq. Gitmo is still open and it looks increasingly likely that he will miss his own 1year deadline. Worse - he has aggressively fought in the courts for the continuation of all of the horrific Bush/Cheney policies including indefinite detention, extraordinary rendition, the legal blackhole at Bagram. He has tried to evade or demolish the Freedom of Information Act, he is pushing warrant-less wiretapping, he has continued embargoes on Cuba, and he made no progress on major peace promises from his campaign like nuclear disarmament. In fact, on issues related to war and terrorism his policies are virtually indistinguishable from the Bush administration.

Granted his rhetoric is very different from Cheney and friends, and I am not one who believes words are worthless. He has changed the climate already in foreign relations. America is much less reviled than it was a year ago. His diplomacy with Iran has already yielded tangible results. His negative stance on Israeli settlements in Palestine is a courageous shift from previous administrations. He continues to promise much and if he comes through with it then he may actually deserve this award, but he is nowhere even close at the present time.

Even if he were to end all our current wars and usher in the era of transparency he promised however, could he really be a credible dove? Could any president of the United States? We are the country that continues to spend almost as much on our military as the rest of the world combined. We sell about 70% of all arms worldwide. We are a perpetual warmongering state. Throughout the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st we have moved continuously from war to war to war without break, all of them wars of aggression. We invade, we destabilize, we reconstruct, and we abandon country after country with undetonated mines, clusterbombs, and depleted uranium left behind in our wake to terrorize for decades. What would it take for the commander in chief of our military to actually qualify as any kind of peacemaker?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Conservatizing the Bible

Because the Bible has a well known liberal bias.

A project to authorize a completely conservative translation of the Bible is underway. Their goals include removing later liberal additions, emphasizing the "Free-market parables", and ensuring the hyper-masculinity of the text. I love people like this. They completely remove my need to create straw-men.

I'm curious though, will they rely on the past two centuries of liberal scholarship that has constructed the annotated hebrew and greek manuscripts now universally regarded as the best available source material? Maybe as true conservatives they should use the Vulgate and then they can just write a New King James Version. Oh wait, that already exists.

I Am Excited About This

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Rob Harrison, The Gauntlet is Thrown

So, I recently challenged Rob Harrison of The Spyglass blog and Conservatives4Palin to post 10 mistakes or weaknesses he sees in Sarah Palin. I did this because he had recently posted about the hero-worship displayed for Barack Obama, and I retorted that I saw hero-worship aimed at Palin at C4P and in some of his posts. He offered up 4 posts he thought were more pro-Obama, and I'd say that of the 4, about 2.5 of them were actually prObama, but good enough. I imagine praising Obama is at least as painful for Rob as the following was for me.

Now, Rob turned the thrown gauntlet back on me, and challenged me to post about 10 strong characteristics or good decisions of George W. Bush, at which point he would accept my right to challenge him. I think that this is a bit of a cop-out (I'm looking at you Rob), to challenge the challenger, but it was an intriguing idea - to revisit what is to me perhaps the worst presidency in American history and to try to find the diamonds in the steaming mound of poo that was the second Bush presidency.

::cracks knuckles:: Ok, let me begin. These are in the order that they come to me, or that I find them, since this was actually pretty challenging and took some research. I'm sure that had nothing to do with my political views.

1. Bush banned what is often erroneously called partial-birth abortion, or more accurately late-term abortion. I'm not sure what the moral argument in favor of late-term abortion would be.
*Addendum: I sould have had the modifier "healthy" added there somewhere. As Aric pointed out, I think there is an argument for an abortion at any stage where the fetus in question has such projected health complications that meaningful life is impossible. Of course, the rub there is, what is "meaningful"? But if, say, the fetus will have fluid instead of a cerebral cortex, or will never have a functioning heart, etc. Anyway, I ramble.

2. Bush cut taxes. My personal windfall from this cut was about $300, and I remember spending that money on bills that month. I heard that some other people got bigger windfalls, but I'm trying to stick to the positive here and not get all jealous. It was 300 bucks I wouldn't otherwise have had.

3. Bush also raised the child tax credit from $600 to $1000, which I can only imagine benefited families with children after 2003 (I don't have children, but how could it not?). Parents? Was it helpful?

4. In many ways, Bush stuck to his neoconservative guns, and really gave us a very clear view of the America that neoconservatives want to build. That way, we are able to make a clearer decision about what kind of America we want to let them build. By holding to what seem to be his core beliefs and suppositions, Bush was the Elucidator for many of us.

5. I think that in person W probably had a lot of charisma. I read a lot of articles where someone would at some point talk about how this is a guy you'd love to have a beer with. I think that it's hard to fake friendliness long-term, so this is probably true (I say probably because I never met him, nor did any close friends I could ask).

6. Bush's Texas ranch is geo-thermally heated and cooled, off the grid, uses passive solar energy, and has a grey water system. Portions of his home are made from waste-materials from a local quarry. But his private home is, ironically, very eco-friendly.

7. From many accounts, Bush spent his young adulthood snorting coke and binge drinking. He admits to abusing alcohol until he was 40 years old, attributing his stopping drinking to religious conversion. At the very least, I know pretty well how hard it is to get sober after a long time drinking, and there are plenty of people who fail to do so even after a conversion experience.

8. Bush tripled direct humanitarian aid to Africa, and as I recall, increased five-fold the aid we send to Africa to fight the spread of AIDS there. No snarky comment here - this is just a good deed that helped a lot of people. In fact, I will say that this is the best thing that George W. Bush ever did.

9. It seems that Bush worked to limit the damage that Dick Cheney sought to do, and seeing them as they departed office, with Cheney still grumblingly reprehensible and Bush actually able to name some mistakes he had made, was telling. Apparently Cheney considered Bush's second term too dovish, and wanted more warfare and more torture all around. So I'm glad that Bush had the wherewithal to push back and do some Dick Cheney damage control for the rest of the world. If you have to have a monster, it's better to have it on a leash. (And no, Rob, I am constitutionally unable to come up with 10 positives about Cheney - and I challenge anyone who is not a sociopath to do so)

10. Bush fired Rumsfeld - the only decision, I think, that Cheney publicly disagreed with. That was a move that needed to be made.


There, Rob. The gauntlet, for the second time, is thrown to you. It was painful to find these diamonds, but find them I did.

And so it is clear to everyone, I will copy and paste my original challenge, and put it in italics no less. Then all shall see whether Rob picks up the gauntlet in turn. ::maniacal laughter::

Rob, I have a challenge. I dare you to post ten mistakes, or more deliciously, flaws of Sarah Palin. Reading your blog, the impression I get is that there is nothing that Palin can do that is wrong, and nothing that Obama can do that is right - at best, only tactically correct, or maybe impressive, but not *right*. I'm curious if this is really your operating assumption :)

Next, I *double* *dog* dare you to post the mistakes/flaws post to Conservatives4Palin. See, my theory is that hero-worship is just part of politics, and my guess is that it is just as operative with Palin supporters as it is with Obama supporters. If proven wrong, I would count that as a huge feather in the cap of the Palin crowd.

Often you bring "liberals" to task for failing to point out the mistakes of 'our own'. I could easily find ten things I disagree with about Palin which I could characterize as flaws - I'm curious how balanced, or nuanced, your view of her is.

Enjoy :)

If Rob can live up to the double-dog dare on top of the single-dog dare, and post the 10 flaws or mistakes to Conservatives4Palin, then we will see if he will return with an even greater challenge for yours truly.


And Rob, in reference to our comment-thread conversation, I read some more of Conservatives 4 Palin, and we'll probably have to agree to disagree. I think that where you feel the blog is writing facts and analysis and working to push back against an anti-Palin bias, I see a lot of hero-worship. The Joan of Arc of Alaska? At least it made me grin. I'll agree that Obama-worship is stronger, and perhaps even more egregious with its messianic overtones, but it is far from unique.

This Is A Public Service Announcement

So, this seems like a good idea. It is a blog called The Ranting Pastor. Let off some steam, religious professionals!

The Ranting Pastor

Religion, conservatism, and teen pregnancy

Religion, conservatism, and teen pregnancy

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