What’s a Pro-Life Voter to Do?

The archbishop of Denver criticized Nancy Pelosi for misrepresenting catholic teaching on abortion (here).  She claimed that the church was ambiguous on the question of when life begins.  Archbishop Chaput answered that the church has never been ambiguous about abortion–it has always condemned the practice.  Archbishop Chaput even quotes the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said,

“the destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed on this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.”  (From Bonhoeffer’s Ethics)

Candidate Obama has voted against restrictions on late-term abortions and even against a law protecting infants who survive unsuccessful abortion procedures.  A nurse from Chicago has testified under oath several times that she has witnessed this phenomenon several times.  Babies (that’s what everyone calls fetuses after they are born) have been left to die after surviving induced abortions (here).

We are not talking about subtle nuances here–whether a fertilized egg is a person–we are talking about near-term fetuses or even babies surviving outside the womb.

So how can a pro-life voter support a candidate who opposes any restrictions on late-term abortions?

But there is another life-issue–war.  The other candidate says he will keep us in Iraq for one hundred years, if necessary.

Looking back on these two issues, we are really talking about elective abortion and elective war.  No one on the pro-life side wishes to deny abortion when it is medically necessary to save the life of the mother. What bothers so many is when abortion is not necessary, but a choice, an elective option.

The same is true of George Bush’s war in Iraq.  It was an elective war.  We were not under attack, nor were we in imminent danger of attack from Iraq.  Even had it been true that Saddam Hussein was still trying to develop Weapons of Mass Destruction, no one believed he had a missile ready to launch.  So this was an optional war–not a war forced upon us but a war chosen to accomplish a good cause–eliminating a tyrant, bringing democracy to the Middle East–but not a war undertaken for immediate self-defense.

Only one candidate had the judgment or courage to vote against that war.

Help me out readers.  Am I being selfish to think of my own family? In sixteen years my grandson could be sent to Iraq.  Maybe he will be told that the Iraqi government is almost ready to stand on its own–they just need a little more time.  Right now we don’t have a draft–but the current system is unfair to those who enlisted, and there have been senators calling for a reinstatement of conscription.

I assume that all those who enlist for active duty or in the reserves are motivated by the desire to serve their country.  I assume they believe they will not been sent into optional or elective wars.  They will not be called upon to enter harm’s way unless it is absolutely necessary.  In that case we will want a president with a proven record of good judgment.

So here is my problem.  How can I vote for a candidate who supports elective, optional late-term abortion?  How can I vote for a candidate who supports elective, optional war?

You might say the answer is either don’t vote or vote for a third party candidate.

The problem with that for me is that it would be avoiding my responsibility.  Barack Obama or John McCain will be our next president (of course, barring unforseen tragedies or divine intervention).  I have a responsibility to choose one of these candidates.  Which pro-life issue is more important?  Or do I call it a draw and vote on the other issues?  In that case, the choice to me is clear enough.

Beautiful Prague

I am traveling again.  I am in Prague with my daughter Tabitha.  We are going to present a paper at the International Bonhoeffer Congress, which is meeting here this week.  We arrived early to do a bit of sight seeing.  I am learning to speak without vowels and type on a european keyboard.  Well, thez reallz do have vowels, it§s just that letters like l, r, m, n etc. can be used as vowels.  And z an y trade places on the kezboard.

I am planning to see the statue of Jan Huss today.  he was the earlz reformer.  A hundred years before luther he opposed the selling of indulgences.  In his days the indulgences were sold to finance papal wars.  He was promised safe passage to go to a conference to discuss his views but was betrayed and burnt at the stake.

Lets hope european conferences are safer and more civilized these days.

Religious Wars

The Reformation Era by Robert D. Linder

Westport, CN and London: Greenwood, 2008

I have just finished reading Robert Linder’s new book on the reformation and plan to write a formal review. Dr. Linder is distinguished professor of history at Kansas State University.

A couple years ago he graciously agreed to speak to a small conference we had in Manhattan. I asked him to address the health of evangelical Christianity in the United States. He agreed, and as the date approached changed the working title of his lecture.

His first title was something like “The Health of the Evangelical Church in America.” Later he revised it to “The Seriously Ill Evangelical Church in America.” When he finally gave the lecture, the title was “The Apostate Evangelical Church in America.”

But that’s another story . . .

The book on the Reformation is written for high school and undergraduate students wishing to write a term paper the topic. It is packed full of information, including many primary documents, glossaries, brief biographies of major players, charts of main events and other helps, along with the main narrative. The book will prove very useful for its intended readers. I suspect that it will also be useful for graduate students preparing for exams. But I’ll finish the formal review later.

Right now I am thinking about all the bloody religious wars during that era.

This week I visited the ruined cathedral of Elgin. The remains are impressive enough–but how did the cathedral get ruined?

This one was actually destroyed well before the Reformation by the Wolf of Badenoch, son of the illegitimate father Robert II, in revenge for his excommunication.

But after the Reformation many of the catholic churches were destroyed by zealous reformers. These wars were probably political more than religious–except that religion and politics were so intertwined it was impossible to untangle them.

The thing that impressed me while reading Linder’s book and while visiting historic sites was that the only ones who came out without blood on their hands were the Anabaptists or radical reformers–those who took seriously the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and the nonviolent lifestyle of the pre-Constantinian Christians–the forerunners of the Mennonites, the Brethren, the Baptists and other similar followers of Christ who believed in free association, separation of church and state, and freedom of conscience.

They were suspected of being related to the rebellion of the fanatical Thomas Müntzer, with whom they had nothing in common, and were persecuted mercilessly by protestants and catholics alike. The Anabaptists women in particular showed tremendous courage; many of them were tortured and eventually murdered, usually by drowning.

Train of Remembrance

I hope I don’t get in trouble for plagiarizing myself!  I posted this note on my “Theological German” blog:

Zug der ErinnerungThe Train of Remembrance is making its way through German cities, commemorating German children who were deported by the Nazis.  The German government seems to be dragging its feet in supporting the traveling exhibit.

Margaret, who keeps us supplied in eggs, forwarded this notice from Ursela.

The train will be in Dresden when I arrive in Germany.

Here is the link to the press releases in English.

Idolatry 1

I want to begin a series of posts on the topic of idolatry. The fact that idolatry is considered a sin in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity–maybe in some forms of other religions too–raises several interesting questions.

First, I want to point out what monotheism and the rejection of idolatry does not mean, at least in the religion of the Bible. It does not mean intolerance.

A few years ago, in an address at Harvard, Gore Vidal made this remark: “The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism.” Why? Because, in his view, monotheism is responsible for intolerance and therefore war and strife among nations.

The world has seen it’s share of religious intolerance, hatred, and war. The point I want to make, though, is this kind of intolerance is not based on the teaching of the Bible.

First, in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament–the commandment against idolatry is given to people who have voluntarily entered a covenant relationship with the God of Israel, who is also the universal God of all people. When Israel is unfaithful to the covenant with God, God sends prophets to call them back to faithfulness. These prophetic indictments against unfaithfulness and idolatry are not given to other nations.

When the prophets speak to other nations, they call them to universal standards of justice and human rights. The prophets do not condemn other nations for practicing the wrong religion, but for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The New Testament does portray the mission of the early church with the apostles calling people from all nations to turn from “vain idols to the living god.” They use persuasion, not force to proclaim the good news. The Gentiles who worship their own gods defended the apostles: “These men are not blasphemers of our goddess.”

I am not saying that the Bible teaches tolerance for idols in the sense that serving idols is just as valid as believing in the God of Israel and of Jesus Christ. I am saying that it does not encourage violence against those who practice other religions.

What is Fundamentalism?

I recently had a discussion with another blogger on the definition of fundamentalism, and it got me wondering, what really is fundamentalism?

Early in the twentieth century there was a movement to re-interpret all the traditional doctrines of the Christian faith to bring them in line with the modern world. This movement was called “modernism.” Some theologians from Princeton wrote a series of booklets called “The Fundamentals,” defending traditional Christian beliefs.

The Princeton professors were not ignorant or violent. They were not opposed to science or social progress; they were traditional in their belief. They did not believe there was any essential conflict between traditional beliefs and science or progress.

Fundamentalism was first a theological description. It has now become a sociological description for intolerant, violent extremists in any religion.

We are painfully aware of the violence associated with Muslim fundamentalism, and there are a few fringe groups of Christian fundamentalism that are troublesome.

Recently in Jerusalem a woman was attacked on a bus for refusing to sit in the back. (See “In Jerusalem as well as Tehran.”)

Fundamentalism is not identical with having a holy book. There are Christians, for example, who regard the Bible as the authoritative source of their faith but who also recognize the complexity of the historical interpretation of the Bible. There are also fundamentalist forms of religions that do not rely on a single sacred text like the Bible or the Qur’an.

These are the attributes I see in modern fundamentalism:

1. The belief that a group has exclusive and direct access to the absolute truth, whether it be in the form of a holy book, a living prophet, or an inspired tradition. There is no room for questions of interpretation, subtleties of meaning, or flexibility in application.

2. The denial of any other form of access to the truth. If reason, conscience, or experience conflict with the group’s truth, they must be suppressed.

3. A siege mentality: the belief that the group is engaged in a mortal struggle with the forces of evil, that all those outside of the group are enemies.

4. The justification of all means necessary to defeat the enemy: coercion, violence, or deception are equally valid.

The Clinton Hate Meme

(Warning: Some of what follows makes for unpleasant and disturbing reading. If you are faint-hearted, scroll down to the “One Book” post.]

Richard Dawkins created the meme–or at least the word and the concept. Dawkins is a geneticist by trade. His first bestseller is called The Selfish Gene. He believed that this one concept can explain all the diversity of life. The gene is basically selfish–it’s only desire is to preserve its structure by replicating itself. Of course, the gene doesn’t know that it is selfish. What he means basically is that those genes that replicate themselves are the ones that survive; and those that don’t, don’t. Genes which cause behavior that leads to the replication of the gene are the genes that survive.

Even altruism, for example a vixen who risks her life to save her kits from a fire, is just an example of the selfish gene in action. The vixen is being impelled by her selfish genes. They don’t really care about her or the kits, they just want to copy themselves, on to eternity if possible.

Dawkins noticed a curious similarity of behavioral and cultural traits to the behavior of genes. Cultural artifacts–things like language (including its elements, such as individual words, grammatical patterns), traditions, customs, beliefs are memes. They are not literally passed on by mechanical reproduction like genes are; but they they do continue to replicate and survive.

Many memes survive because they are advantageous to their bearers. For example, patriotism has had a value in preserving groups of people from their enemies. Some memes, however, are like viruses or parasites. They survive with remarkable tenacity in spite of the ways they harm their hosts.

I lived across the river from Arkansas during the Clinton years. I was surrounded mostly by Christians, which meant (of course) conservative Republicans–even in a traditionally democratic region of the country. Politics is a rough sport, and people can have passionate opinions. I can understand people taking a stand on issues; I can understand believing that character is important. What I never understood was the level of vitriolic and irrational hatred of the Clintons. It became a self-replicating meme that survives to this day.

Bill Clinton had a distant relative who was raped by a thug named Wayne Dumond. So great was the hatred of the Clintons, that when Dumond was convicted of the crime, many people believed Dumond was innocent and had been railroaded due to the influence of the president. “The enemy of my enemy is my hero.” Dumond had earlier confessed to two sexual assaults and participation in a murder. Nevertheless, he became the hero of the Clinton haters.

Dumond himself was the victim of a brutal assault (many believe) by friends of the local sheriff under the Arkansas version of Sharia law. He was beaten and castrated. The sheriff had his testicles collected and packed in a pickle jar filled with formaldehyde; and he then displayed the specimen in his office. Many assumed the vigilantes were avenging the attack on the seventeen-year-old cheerleader; but it may have been more because he had threatened to expose corruption in the sheriff’s office.

Dumond was convicted of the rape and sentenced to life plus twenty years. Some Arkansans take things pretty literally, so I assume they would have kept Dumond’s rotting corpse in jail for twenty years after he expired from natural causes.

The conservative Republicans and conservative Baptists evidently pressured the new governor, Mike Huckabee, into freeing their persecuted hero, Wayne Dumond. Huckabee turned a deaf ear to the pleas of the mother of one of Dumond’s victims. She warned him that he would attack again, and not leave a witness to testify this time. The governor withdrew plans to pardon Dumond by direct action; but members of the parole board have testified that they were pressured to do the governor’s bidding.

Many sociologists believe rape is a hate crime motivated more by rage and the desire to dominate and humiliate, than by lust. In that sense, there is no real way to disarm a rapist. Dumond did attack again shortly after being released. He murdered a woman in Missouri.

Politics is a rough sport. Maybe Governor Huckabee made an honest mistake. But if a rising candidate can be derailed by an irrationally exuberant shout, it’s only fair that Reverend Huckabee be called to account for his tragic intervention to free a dangerous predator. The governor’s tragic mistake may have been fueled by the irrational hatred of Bill and Hillary Clinton which captured that segment of the political spectrum that has always prided itself in law and order, and family values.

[More details in the Arkansas Times]

Walk for Women

In some countries they punish the victim. A woman who was brutally raped by seven men in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to 90 lashes because the crime occurred while she was in the company of a man not related to her. When the woman appealed her sentence, it was increased to 200 lashes because, by speaking out, she had insulted the dignity of the court.

In Nigeria they also punish the victims. A 15 year-old-girl whose step-father attacked her was sentenced to 100 lashes. We might not be surprised that Iran applies Sharia law in the same way.

Under Islamic law rape is very hard to prove–and an unproved charge of rape could result in the death penalty for the accuser. The law requires a victim to prove she resisted. In the United Arab Emirates evidently stabbing an attacker is not proof enough of resistance. A guest-worker from the Philipines was first sentenced to death for murder when she resisted an attack by her employer. But the enlightened and progressive UAE commuted her sentence to a year in prison, a payment of blood money to her attacker’s family, and 100 lashes.

There are numerous other examples of this kind of brutal punishment of victims.

What do these countries have in common?

Oil.

Does that mean every time we fill up our cars, we are supporting the regimes that enforce this kind of law? How many lashes per gallon does your car get?

Just because we can’t do much, doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. My suggestion is that we start a “Walk for Women” movement. If we walk instead of driving any time we can, and let others know why, it will at least call attention to the problem.

My daughter at Mother Earth News recently reminded me that we in the US actually import more oil from Canada than any other country. Well, I’m not suggesting that Canada is oppressive to women. But oil is sold on the open market, and a gallon sold anywhere affects the price everywhere, so in that sense it doesn’t matter where it comes from–every gallon we buy enriches the flogger barons.

Walking for women is one way to engage in flog-free transportation.

Border Wars

Rivalry between Missouri and Kansas goes back a little over 150 years. The Missouri compromise of 1820 brought two new states into the union–Maine a free state and Missouri a slave state–preserving the balance of slave vs. free states. The Missouri compromise also stated that slavery would not be extended west of Missouri.

In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska act created two future states which would decide by popular sovereignty whether to tolerate human bondage in their borders (thus ending the “freeze” of the Missouri Compromise and re-opening the issue). Pro slavery forces were afraid that a new free state would tip the balance and endanger their peculiar institution. While many of the pioneers to the newly opened territory came seeking land for homesteading or other economic opportunities; many also came to advance political causes–either the cause of slavery or of freedom.

They took their politics seriously back then. The border Ruffians from Missouri were called “Bushwackers” when they made raids into Kansas territory. In 1854 the new city of Lawrence was sacked and burned. Local vigilantes who made revenge-counterattacks into Missouri were called Jayhawks.

In 1864 a misfit from the Confederate army named William Quantrill gathered a gang of bandits that included future leaders of the James gang (Frank James and “Bloody Bill Anderson). Quantrill’s raiders masacred 181 free-state citizens, including women and children.

Lately we’ve learned to settle our differences in the football field.

A few years ago, football in Kansas was a joke. There were rumors that Kansas and Nebraska were going to merge. What would Nebraska get from the deal? All that wheat. What would Kansas get? A football team.

But then in the 1990s Bill Snyder built a respectable football dynasty at Kansas State University. When we first moved into K-State territories I didn’t flaunt my Jayhawk sympathies too obviously. I could root for K-State football and Jayhawks basketball, because KU didn’t have a football team anyway. Now that has all changed.

For the first time in decades KU has a winning football team. They have an 11-0 record and are ranked in the top 3 or 4 in the nation. Missouri also is ranked in the top 4; and tomorrow the warriors will meet in Arrowhead stadium in Kansas City (Missouri)–almost neutral territory–to settle old scores.

My niece Claudia is a manager for the Jayhawks football team, and one of the perks is that she gets two tickets for every game. So my dad and my brother will be there watching the game of the century–or really, the game of two centuries.

I hear that some Missouri fans have a posters saying “Missouri 181, Kansas 0”–a reference to Quantrill’s massacre. I also saw a T-shirt with a picture of John Brown and the slogan “Kansas–Keeping America Safe from Missouri for 150 Years.”

But maybe athletic competition is a more civilized and less lethal way of settling questions or regional pride. After all, whichever team leaves the field heart broken and humiliated–the young men will have lives and opportunities ahead of them.

It does show that people who once were bitter enemies can now enjoy a friendly rivalry. I can imagine someone saying in 1864, “those Missourians and Kansas have been enemies for years, the hatred is bred into them, they will never be at peace.” But today, there are no checkpoints at the border, and I even admit to having friends from Missouri.

It does bother me that there are a few Neanderthals who don’t get it; small-minded, pitiful little people who take everything too literally. There are a few who don’t understand the idea of friendly rivalry, who think the hatred is supposed to be real. I’ve heard of windshields being broken in Lawrence. I have heard there is fear of sporadic outbreaks of violence after the game.

Regardless of the score on the field, those who act this way are losers.  Come on, get a life!