25 January 2007

Shorts in January

According to Wikipedia, the word "semitic" refers most generally to the descendants of Shem, son of Noah, and more recently to the language family that includes Hebrew and Arabic.

The Wikipedia author notes that the negative "...late 19th century term "anti-Semitism" came to be used in reference specifically to anti-Jewish sentiment..." but I would like to see that usage widened to include anti-Palestinian sentiment. If not, why not?

For reasons that are very personal as well as intellectual, I cannot abide anti-semitism. But it is part of a larger phenomenon of evil, the objectification and potential extermination of any category of people based on that category. The Jewish holocaust is just as much an offense against me as it is against anyone else born of a woman. Nobody is permitted to monopolize the offense simply for political gain--say, in order to score points against Jimmy Carter. Equally, I can't sympathize with Muslims who criticize non-Muslims for our critical observations of Islam while failing to confront their own co-religionists' anti-semitism, anti-christianism, and internal murders.

Speaking of internal murderers, I found myself in uncomfortable agreement with these words of Thomas Friedman (NYT $elect): "It’s hard to know what’s more disturbing: the barbaric sectarian murders by Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, or the deafening silence with which these mass murders are received in the Muslim world. How could it be that Danish cartoons of Muhammad led to mass violent protests, while unspeakable violence by Muslims against Muslims in Iraq every day evokes about as much reaction in the Arab-Muslim world as the weather report?"

Christianity Today's Web site includes a very interesting review by Susan Wise Bauer of John Stackhouse's book Finally Feminist: A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender. It's not hard to see why biblical literalists are nervous about Stackhouse's methodology. In any conflict between feminism and biblical patriarchy, as in the essentially resolved conflict between liberty and biblical slaveholding, he essentially proposes giving Jesus the benefit of the doubt, instead of always giving the benefit of the doubt to the social power structure with which the Jesus movement struggled.

Susan Wise Bauer's forthright critique of the "slippery slope" argument is incredibly important for those of us who want to advance a theology of evangelism that has both biblical integrity and intellectual integrity. (Yes, I know that saying that those are not necessarily the same is problematic, but what passes for biblical integrity in some quarters is hard for me to understand.) The onus should be on those who want to limit our freedom to explain on what basis their bondage is distinguishable from the bondages imposed by the principalities and powers. The reality that women were squelched 2000 or 200 or even 20 years ago, and the church somehow finessed it then, is no good basis for repression today.

The "danger" that giving in on one false restriction may cause other ethical boundaries to be breached is not a real argument. The biblical basis for any ethical standard can be discerned and tested on its own merit. We don't need to be shielded by dubious logic from the constant need to keep discerning. And it's far better for non-believers to see us having lively debates than to smell a stagnant, defensive uniformity that honors neither Jesus nor ourselves, just our self-appointed heroic guardians.

Our hero-in-chief lectured us Americans on who our mortal enemies are yet again in his state of the Union speech on Tuesday. Having dissected a previous attempt, I sadly note that he doesn't seem to be reading my blog. I don't propose to repeat the exercise, but others have provided some commentary: for example, Young Anabaptist Radicals, referring to Glenn Kessler's article , "President's portrayal of 'the enemy' often flawed," in the Washington Post. Meanwhile, in the New York Times ($elect), David Brooks discusses the possibility of changing Iraq's whole political landscape: "That option recognizes that Iraq is broken and that its people are fleeing their homes to survive. It calls for a 'soft partition' of Iraq in order to bring political institutions into accord with the social facts — a central government to handle oil revenues and manage the currency, etc., but a country divided into separate sectarian areas to reduce contact and conflict. When the various groups in Bosnia finally separated, it became possible to negotiate a cold (if miserable) peace."

Although I understood the motive of humane realism underlying Brooks' column, the idea gives me an ache. Aside from the prospect of yet another great-power carve-up in the region, I honestly doubt that, even if U.S. forces are "the biggest militia on the block," are outsiders in fact in a position to accomplish such a partition?

The president proposed a bipartisan advisory council to advise him on the fight against Islamic extremism, but the "war" and "enemy" frame that he and almost all commentators continue to cling to has no chance to succeed. Moral leadership must confront evil ideology directly, while addressing those who have been deceived by those ideologies with humanity and courtesy. As long as our leaders spend all their time and lethal resources defining and killing those multiplying enemies, the supposed "victory" gets more vague and distant.

Righteous links:

Sean's Russia Blog refers its readers to a fascinating survey of Russian realities today: Perry Anderson's article "Russia's Managed Democracy." The title reminded me of Russian satirist Mikhail Zadornov's description, "Russia is a democracy ... under the management of the KGB." Unlike some Western commentaries, Anderson's is written with affection and an eye on street-level realities as well as the usual attention to what the puppetmasters are doing and why.

In the world of Quaker blogging, Contemplative Scholar once again honors us with an instructive glimpse into her own struggle to take up the space she's entitled to--no more, but also no less. My intuition is that this is a huge task for many of us. I know it is for me.

The Christians-feeling-sorry-for-ourselves department did not go wanting this week. Monday Morning Insight has a thoughtful commentary on WifeSwap vs the American Decency Association.

Scot McNight's helpful summary of the "emerging church" movement appeared this week on Christianity Today's Web site.

Here's a blues clip that should erase some of the political gloom I'm afraid I've spread with this post: Big Mama Thornton performing her pre-Elvis version of "Hound Dog" with the always-expressive Buddy Guy introducing and accompanying her.

A more recent version--same Big Mama Thornton--appears here.

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