WHEN WILL MICHAEL GOLDFARB CONDEMN SARAH PALIN?

As Greg Sargent notes, when Franklin Graham was disinvited from a Pentagon event for saying this –

We’re not attacking Islam but Islam has attacked us. The God of Islam is not the same God. He’s not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It’s a different God and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion.

Sarah Palin responded with this:

His comments in 2001 were aimed at those who are so radical that they would kill innocent people and subjugate women in the name of religion. Are we really so hyper-politically correct that we can’t abide a Christian minister who expresses his views on matters of faith? What a shame.

As Sargent points out, Graham’s language was clear: he believes Islam itself is a wicked and evil religion. Palin believes such a man should be an honored guest of the United States Army currently waging wars in majority-Muslim countries. Graham has since said that he and God love Muslims but they are all “enslaved” by their religion (just like Jews and gay people and such, no doubt). Palin has had a couple days since then to amend or retract her remarks and, like Graham, hasn’t backed down.

This seems like a fair time to ask the same right-wingers always demanding Muslim organizations more loudly condemn “the radicals in their midst” to do the same with Franklin Graham and Sarah Palin.

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HOUSE OF ROCK

Loyal readers may have noticed my latest way of compensating for my neglect of this blog is to search out hooks to link back to things I wrote in the days of not neglecting this blog. In that vein, check out the part of Obama’s speech today where Obama cites the Sermon on the Mount:

Now, there’s a parable at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that tells the story of two men. The first built his house on a pile of sand, and it was soon destroyed when a storm hit. But the second is known as the wise man, for when “the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.”

It was founded upon a rock. We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand. We must build our house upon a rock. We must lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity — a foundation that will move us from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest; where we consume less at home and send more exports abroad.

This strikes me as a good example of an appeal to a religious text on the basis of insight, rather than authority. About a million years ago I blogged about a debate between Sojourners’ Jim Wallis and Americans United’s Barry Lynn where Lynn said the problem with politicians quoting the Bible is that unlike quotes from other literature, quotes from the Bible are appeals to the author’s inherent authority rather than to the author’s particular insight. In other words, biblical quotes are used to support your argument based on who said it (God says don’t oppress strangers) rather than why they said it (because you yourself have experienced slavery). I thought at the time, and I still do, that Lynn was making an insightful distinction, but it cuts against his argument. In a multireligious democracy, we should be concerned when politicians’ arguments rely on appeal to the authority of their particular religious texts (especially if theirs are shared by a religious majority). But contra Lynn, not all Bible quotes are appeals to divine authority. “The Bible says not to steal wages from your employees” is an appeal to biblical authority. “Let’s not copy Moses’ mistake when he hit the rock instead of talking to it” is an appeal to biblical wisdom.

I bring this up because I think it explains why, as a non-Christian (in a democracy with a Christian majority), I’m not bothered on a gut level when a Christian President quotes the New Testament parable about building your house on sand or on a rock to make a point about our economic recovery. The plain meaning of Obama’s speech is not that the Bible commands us to make new rules for wall street, investments in education, etc… His plain meaning is that this metaphor from his tradition, which may be familiar to many listeners, illustrates well why it’s urgent and worthwhile to do so.

This is not always a clear-cut distinction. But I think it’s a useful one. Maybe a useful thought experiment in assessing what kind of appeal to religious text we’re dealing with is to consider: Would using this quote in this way make sense if the speaker’s religion were different from the quotation’s?

This is an election we should have won. This is an election we could have won if the candidate had been working as hard, and as smart, as everybody else that was trying to get him elected. We almost won it anyway. It could be that we did. But given Kerry’s unwillingness to wait as long as folks did in line to vote for him before saying, in the name of national unity, that their votes needn’t be counted, we may never know.

I think the most striking find in the exit polls was that significant majorities said they supported Kerry on Iraq but Bush on the war on terror. Funny thing is, main thing Bush has done in the name of stopping terror is ignore Osama bin Laden and create a terrorist playground in Iraq, while refusing necessary funding for homeland security. This says to me that Bush succeeded in making terrorism a question of character rather than of policy. Kerry was certainly savaged by the media in the same way Gore was, while Bush too often got a free pass. But Kerry failed for months to put out a coherent, comprehensible message on Iraq (as on too many other issues), and while voters rightly prefered an alleged flip-flopper to an obvious belly-flopper on the issue, I think he shot a lot of his credibility as a strong leader and he may have lost the rhetorical battle for Commander-in-Chief. His unwillingness to aggressively defend himself, especially from the vile Swift Boat Vet attacks, can’t have helped. What’s tragic, of course, is that Bush has flip-flopped far more, even on whether we can win the war on terror, and that the extent his policy has been consistent, it’s been stubbornly, suicidely dangerous. On this issue, as on every issue, some will argue that Kerry was just too left-wing, which is anything but the truth (same goes for Dukakis, Mondale, Gore). A candidate who consistently opposed the war and articulated a clear vision of what to do once we got there could have fared much better.

Then there’s the cluster of issues the media, in an outrageous surrender to the religious right, insist on calling “moral values” (as if healthcare access isn’t a moral value). Here Kerry got painted as a left-winger while abjectly failing to expose the radical right agenda of his opponent. Most voters are opposed to a constitutional ban on all abortion, but Kerry went three debates without mentioning that it’s in the GOP platform. That, and a ban on gay adoption, which is similarly unpopular. And while he started trying towards the end to adopt values language in expressing his position on these issues and on others, it was too little, too late. An individual may be entitled to privacy about his faith and his convictions, religious or otherwise but a Presidential candidate shouldn’t expect to get too far without speaking convincingly about his beliefs and his feelings (I’m hoping to get a chance to read George Lakoff’s new book on this – maybe Kerry should as well).

This election will provide further few to those who argue that Republicans are a cadre of libertarians and the poor are all social conservatives who get convinced by the GOP to ignore class. The first problem with this argument when folks like Michael Lind articulate it is that it ignores the social liberalism of many in the working class. There are others – like the economic breakdown of voting patterns in 2000, which would make David Brooks’ head explode because the fact is Gore got the bottom three sixths and Bush got the top. But few can argue that a not insignificant number of working class voters in this country consistently vote against their economic interests, and that at least in this election, they have enough votes to swing the result. Here too some will argue the Democrats just have to sell out gay folks and feminists to win back the Reagan Democrats. I think Thomas Frank is much closer to the truth: People organize for control over their lives and their environments through the means that appear possible, and the Democrats’ ongoing retreat from an economic agenda which articulates class inequality has left the Republicans’ politics of class aesthetics (stick it to the wealthy liberals by putting prayer back in schools) as an alternative. For all the flack he got over wording, Howard Dean was speaking to an essential truth when he recognized that working-class southern whites don’t have much to show for decades of voting Republican, and Kerry didn’t make the case nearly well enough. He also seems to have bought into Republicans’ claims that Democrats always spend the last few weeks beating old folks over the head with claims that they’ll privatize social security and forgotten that Republicans, in fact, will privatize social security if they can. So he let too many of them get pulled away to the GOP. Part of the irony of the debate over the tension between the left economic agenda and their social agenda, and whether being labelled with the latter stymies the former, is that as far as public opinion goes, I see much more reason for confidence that we’ll have gained tremendous ground on gay marriage in a generation than that we will have on economic justice. As far as policy goes, the next four years are a terrifying prospect for both, and for most things we value in this country.

Don’t mourn. Organize.

In the latest round of the struggle for political license over Catholicism, Democrats, including my Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, have prepared a “Catholic Voting Scorecard” designed to demonstrate that when one integrates candidates’ stances on issues, from DOMA to child tax credit refunds, on which the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken stances, Democrats are better Catholics. Personally, I’d rather see John Kerry et al articulating the kind of Catholics they are and the policies that dictates (“My personal faith and political conviction demand that we mean what we say when we promise that no child is left behind”) than touting their fidelity to the policy proscriptions of the Conference of Bishops (“I’m 74% faithful!”). But this scorecard seems worth it, if nothing else, only for having elicited this tragically ironic condemnation:

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said both the bishops and the Democrats are confusing means with motives. “Many of the issues they’re talking about really have nothing to do with actual Catholic teaching or religion,” he said. “It is interpretation of economic policy.”

As I’ve alluded to before, the modern permutation of religion in political discourse into apologetics for social conservatism and the hollowing out of the economic justice which is central to all faiths is a deeply cynical and tragic abuse of the tradition. Where Jesus preached that the meek shall inherit the earth, Congressman King insists that whether the poor will have a share of the wealth of this nation is a matter of interpretation. This reminds me of nothing so much as last summer’s declaration by the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations that “the budget is not a Jewish issue.”

Dennis Prager (a friend of a family friend of sorts) writes a column that is as shockingly offensive as it is logically absurd, challening William F. Buckley’s “My Cold War” essay of a decade ago (fighting Murphy Brown = fighting Stalin) by arguing that homosexuals are like terrorists in that they want to decay Judaeo-Christian values:

America is engaged in two wars for the survival of its civilization. The war over same-sex marriage and the war against Islamic totalitarianism are actually two fronts in the same war — a war for the preservation of the unique American creation known as Judeo-Christian civilization.

One enemy is religious extremism. The other is secular extremism. One enemy is led from abroad. The other is directed from home.

The first war is against the Islamic attempt to crush whoever stands in the way of the spread of violent Islamic theocracies, such as al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Iranian mullahs and Hamas. The other war is against the secular nihilism that manifests itself in much of Western Europe, in parts of America such as San Francisco and in many of our universities.

The irony is that a federal marriage ammendment has no stronger backer than Usama Bin Laden or the mullahs Prager makes a killing fulminating against.

I was all revved up to respond to this paragraph from Keith Urbahn on The Passion:

Charges of ?anti-Semitism? have been conveniently tossed around by those who object to the film?s portraying of Jews in a negative light. Ironically, many of these guardians of religious sensitivity are the same who defended the desecration of the Virgin Mary in elephant dung at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in the name of freedom of expression, and now with the tables turned, condemn the film as rabidly anti-Semitic and a breach of the norms of decency.

But it turns out James Kirchick, with whom I agree on few things, has beat me to it:

First off, there is a major difference in defending an art museum’s first amendment right to display whatever art it chooses, and advocating that the museum be forced to close the exhibit altogether. I defy Keith to find a statement from Abraham Foxman or any of the other major Jewish leaders he accuses, demanding that the government prevent Gibson from displaying his art, which is what Catholic leaders urged, and ultimately convinced, Mayor Giuliani to do in the “Sensation” episode. Second, as I remember, the “Sensation” exhibit was essentially an elephant-dung stained portrait of Mary, created by a Catholic. However tasteless that piece of “artwork” may be, it does not compare to a Catholic defaming a people of different faith.

Jamie makes the central point: that protesting the nature of a piece of art is not a parallel activity to protesting the freedom of an independant artist to create it or of a publically-funded institution to display it. Intentionally obscuring this line allowed conservative commentators to have a heyday claiming that the Ofili episode was yet another demonstration that liberals hate religion except when it’s aberrant and/or un-Christian. Keith risks echoing that line in the graph above – what exactly does it mean to say “now that the tables are turned”? Now that Jews rather than Christians are allegedly impugned? I trust that Keith doesn’t intend the nastier readings of that line – but it’s an unfortunate turn of phrase.

I do disagree with Jamie, however, on two points. The first, which is incidental, is that I agree with Jack Newfield’s account in this book that Giuliani’s stand against Ofili’s painting was much less about his bowing to pressure from the “Catholic leaders” Jamie references and much more about his ill-conceived gambit to pick up suburban votes for his senate run by sparking a controversy. Second, while I agree with Jamie that the Museum had the right to display “tasteless” art, I think to describe Ofili’s work as “tasteless” is an unfortunate mischaracterization of the piece – a mischaracterization which went largely unchallenged in the press at the time. Ofili was a Nigerian altar boy who set out to create a work to reconcile his African heritage and his Christian identity. The elephant dung was a traditional sign of respect which he incorporated into portraits of other figures as well. “The Holy Virgin Mary” was, in Ofili’s words, “a hip hop version.” I wrote more about this in the early days of this site in a post here (scroll all the way down), on a strangely fitting coda to the whole episode.

In related news, Drudge is reporting that Mel Gibson declined to appear in tonight’s Oscars because he was afraid he’d be booed. So much for redemption in suffering.