Saturday, August 27, 2005

A Pagan with the Gift of Discernment?

If Huck Finn had indeed headed off to the territory as it is suggested he did in the novel, he'd have gotten off the paddlewheeler in my hometown, Fort Benton, Montana. Back then, it was the head of navigation for the Missouri River. (LUI, or Likely Useless info: James E. Trott, my father as well as renowned western artist, did the steamboat painting in the above URL's background.)

I grew up listening to Hal Holbrook albums, on which he did wonderful interpretations of Twain. One thing I didn't hear Halbrook perform, though, was an interpretation of Twain's "War Prayer." I'll have to see if I can find one.

I know Twain is rumored to have been quite impatient with Christianity, finding it a dubious enterprise. Like others I can think of (to quote playwright Tennesee Williams), Twain caught "the powerful odor of mendacity in this room" where Christians were concerned.

In my opinion, that discerning gift of Twain's was never more deadly than in "War Prayer," of which I offer a swath from here:


An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there, waiting.

With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal,"Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside -- which the startled minister did -- and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said

"I come from the Throne-bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd and grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import-that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of-except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of His Who hearth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this-keep it in mind. If you beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer-the uttered part of it. I am commissioned by God to put into words the other part of it-that part which the pastor, and also you in your hearts, fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory-must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle-be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it-for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause)

"Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits."

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Assassinate Spammers?

On a lighter note, I've had to institute "word verification" for comments here due to the fact that spammers have apparently discovered bluechristian in droves. Argh. Anyway, it just means you have to type in a few letters extra before being allowed to post. Sorry for the extra bother, but if I see one more cialis spam I might have to SHRIEK in CAPITAL LETTERS! Hehehehehe...

Pat Robertson: All About Accountability

So, Robertson now lies about what he said, claiming that the phrase "take him out" meant something different than assassinate Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez.

I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should 'take him out.' And 'take him out' can be a number of things, including kidnapping; there are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted by the AP, but that happens all the time.

No, you were not misquoted. It's on tape, Pat:

You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he [Chavez] thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.

Wait... so fibbing didn't work, and now Roberton says he's sorry. "I spoke out of frustration, he says. And then turns around and hints at comparisons between himself and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the WWII German Christian who participated in an unsuccssful attempt on Hitler's life. Well, Bonhoeffer had two legs and so does Robertson, so they're alike there...

Forgive me for not taking Robertson's apology at face value for the present... he's abused the rest of us for too long for me to trust him.

Ted Olson on CT's Weblog has done a nice job of covering evangelical responses to Robertson, though was kinder than I would have been. Weblog also underscored just how out of control Robertson has been over the years, both in comments the evangelical broadcaster has made and in highly suspect business deals (including one involving a gold mine with the murderous Liberian dictator, Charles Taylor). Robertson has an immense personal fortune and years back negotiated a deal where he sold his Family Channel for millions, as well as insuring his 700 Club gets aired on the Family Channel no matter what happens. ABC/Disney, who bought the channel from FOX, is stuck with Pat's rants.

Worse, so are we.

Bottom line? Robertson is accountable to no one, no one except a voice he says is God's. Trouble is, to an observer that voice and the voice of selfish greed appear to be indistinguishable.

Does that sound harsh? Of course. Is it true? I sure think so.

Robertson's comments would be one thing if limited only to himself. But how much do they reflect some of the trends among evangelicals overall?

Robertson's comments about assassinating Venezuela's president didn't come about in a vacuum. They are rooted in the same confusion between the cross and the flag many evangelical American spokespersons seem to suffer from. Consider National Association of Evangelicals President Ted Haggard's comments regarding Christian prayers leading to the deaths of Saddam Hussein's sons. (Regarding Robertson, Haggard expressed a mixture of disappointment in Robertson and disappointment in the media for making it such a big deal. Sure, buddy, blame that ol' seklar media.) Or how about one of the initial four planks used back in the 1980s founding of the allegedly Christian Moral Majority: "A Strong Military."

Uh, like the war protestor's sign said... "Who Would Jesus Bomb?" No wonder so many folks like Tim LaHaye novels... their politics just may bring Armaggedon to pass!

This nationalism has haunted evangelicals, and before them, fundamentalists, since the early twentieth century. But it had strong counter-currents within conservative theological circles as well, counter-currents which seem recently to have all but dried up.

But back to Robertson, and his comments re assassinating Venezuela's Chavez. I found the use of the word "doctrine" by Robertson particularly sinister:

This is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I
think the time has come that we exercise that ability.

I can't help sensing a mix-up between doctrine as God's Revelation and doctrine as political muscle-flexing. The Monroe Doctrine in a nutshell can be seen as a strong nation letting everyone else know that it won't take kindly to anyone messing around in its back yard, whether or not that back yard actually belongs to it. The doctrine is pragmatic, not moral, especially when considered from a Christian framework.

But Robertson makes self-evident the same riff I've sensed among many Christian Right folk. What's good for America is God's will. God's will is what is good for America. And we're talking economically here. I love especially Robertson's assumption that the "oil to our south" is de facto ours, no matter that it happens to lie beneath another nation's soil. I also love the fact that a leader elected by the poor -- the very people Jesus Himself goes to considerable pains to side with over against the rich -- is the leader Robertson is freaked out by. Where was Pat during the Apartheid regime? Oh, yes. He was investing in Krugerrands. Where was Pat when my friend John Ngaa was nearly murdered himself, and saw many others murdered before his eyes by Liberian dictator Taylor's troops? Ah. Yes, his gold mine...

What would Jesus do?

I think He'd puke.

As for God being on America's side, it isn't true. Maybe we all ought to re-read Mark Twain's War Prayer again, if nothing else. (I guess it takes a pagan like Twain to slap the self-congratulating faces of us sanctified souls.) God isn't on the side of nations... he is calling humanity to be on His Side. Our response to that call certainly does not begin with oppressing, assassinating, and dehumanizing others as allegedly doing His will.

Did you really think it was?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Pat Robertson: Assassins for Jesus?

Move over, Hal Lindsey... Hal may have fanatasies about Christian mobs attacking Muslims in the U.S., but Pat Robertson is now checking in with his violent tendencies regarding assassinating heads of democratic states we don't like.

As reports, Robertson today (Aug 22) began complaining about the democratically elected Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Before Robertson was able to stop himself, he went well into an absolutely disgusting, and anti-christian, diatribe on how our government should have Chavez assassinated. MediaMatters has the video at the above link; here is the text:

ROBERTSON: There was a popular coup that overthrew him [Chavez]. And what did the United States State Department do about it? Virtually nothing. And as a result, within about 48 hours that coup was broken; Chavez was back in power, but we had a chance to move in. He has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he's going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.

You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger and the United ... This is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.

Friday, August 19, 2005

A Most Unlikely Murder Victim

In a world filled with violent, controlling leaders whose enemies are just as violent, it seemed terribly ironic that the gentle and beloved "Brother Roger" of the France-based Taize community would be a murder victim. He died at Taize, an ecumenical community of Christians, when a mentally disturbed woman snuck up during prayers and slit his throat.

Christianity Today's WEBLOG posted the moving prayer of a fellow Taize member, Brother Francois:

In the Bible, we find these words: "Costly in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his friends."

This death of Brother Roger is costly first of all for all of us, and terribly so. Death is like something being torn away, and a violent death even more so. And even when this death is caused by an unbalanced person, there is a feeling of unfairness, that can even lead to a sense of hopelessness.
In the face of violence, we can respond only by peace. Brother Roger never stopped insisting on this. Peace requires a commitment of our whole being, inwardly and outwardly. It demands our whole person. So this evening, let us communicate peace to one another, and do everything we can so that each person stays in hope.
These words from the Bible say that this death is costly not only to us. It is costly to God. God himself participates in our sorrow. He is suffering with us. This is how God feels "the death of his friends," as the text says.
And Brother Roger was certainly a friend of God. From the beginning, he used all his strength so that we should understand that God loves us with a love that has no end, a love that excludes no-one, a love that accepts us as we are, a love that has no limits.
And if it is true that this death means a sorrow that touches God himself, we would like to do everything to express to him our gratitude, our thankfulness for all that Brother Roger has been among us.
WEBLOG has more links about Taize, Brother Roger, and his death.

Friday, August 12, 2005

"Cha-CHING": Sound of the End Days?

Yes, I do believe Jesus will one day come again. But beyond that, I subscribe to very, very little of what passes for End Days Prophecy these days. End Days Profits is more like it. Tim LaHaye may be king of this lucrative realm, but Hal Lindsey continues to be its Daddy.

For instance, take a few of Hal's comments on post-democracy Russia. Yes, the experiment isn't going well there. (Is it going well here? Hmmm... well, that's a tangent.) Putin seems to have tightened the screws, and though the story is far from over, it isn't looking rosy at present. But check out Hal's twisted take on present-day Russia:

The Western victors of the Cold War are behaving the same way their grandfathers did in 1919. We didn't kill the Russian bear; we just wounded it. After the WWI victory, our flawed diplomacy produced a desperate and angry Germany that embraced Hitler and the Nazis. Today, we are producing a desperate and angry Russian that has a momentous place in Bible prophecy concerning the Last Days. Over 2,600 years ago the Prophet Ezekiel predicted this exact scenario would occur in the Last Days. He foresaw a desperate Russia join forces with nations that are now in the Muslim world and launch a war in the Middle East that will escalate into Armageddon. The current situation appears to be right on track.

Right on track? Hal's almost smacking his lips at the mayhem to come. What I love about Hal's rhetoric is how he turns a nation of a few hundred million souls into a total abstraction: "We didn't kill the Russian Bear; we just wounded it." Guess after WWII we should have used those nukes before Russia had a chance to get any, eh? And as he thrills to the Apocalyptic wonder of an alleged Russian/Muslim alliance, abusing (as usual) the old testament prophets to do so, he gets to sounding nearly orgasmic.

I can't help feeling that this sort of End Times "theology" is in fact quite similar to the God Hates Fags folks' take on homosexuality; it so poisons the waters that serious discussion of such matters becomes the victim of stupidity. In both cases, real human beings become mere cartooned symbols for the Wrath of God. Doesn't it just make you want to rub your hands together in holy glee? Yeeeeach.

Green Day's "When September Ends"

Green Day may not be the favorite CCM band of all time or anything (I don't have any favorite CCM bands, actually). But I must say their newest video, Wake Me Up When September Ends, packs a whack for this particular Christian. See what you think.

Friday, August 05, 2005

More on Judge Roberts

Christian lawyer and pundit John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute is not happy about Roberts' non-compassionate approach to law. A snip:

" So how do you get a decision like the one handed down by Roberts? By taking compassion out of the equation and meting out the judgments of the law in a vacuum, that's how. Roberts is exactly what one would expect George W. Bush to choose--deferential to authority, whether government or business, and certainly not a civil libertarian. Although he appears to be a thinking judge who sees [human] pain, he's like the father who says before spanking his child, 'This hurts me more than it hurts you.'"

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Links on Feminists for LIfe, more....

I've hyped the 33-Year old Feminists for Life before. In case anyone wonders why, here's one good reason.

Speaking of Feminists for Life, it turns out Supreme Court nominee John Roberts' wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, is a high-visibility member. The Boston Globe wrote an in-depth article on both the group and the woman, and the Washington Post wrote an even better one.

But what about John Roberts himself? Frankly, I presently know too little to do more than offer some links. looks at him as a "right wing corporate lawyer" and therefore someone to be opposed. (Sometimes MoveOn's broad-brush approach to politics reminds me of, well, the Republicans.) The New York Times offers some more weighty reasons to feel uncomfortable with his potential social policy, including his close identification with harshly conservative positions during the Reagan years.