Saturday, March 04, 2006

Syllabus of Errors

Ever wonder what the Golden Age of church supremacy was like? Try this papal document from 1864 on for size.

Some statements the encyclical condemned as false include:

"human reason... is the sole arbiter of truth and falsehood, and of good and evil" (No. 3)

"...hence reason is the ultimate standard by which man can and ought to arrive at the knowledge of all truths of every kind." (No. 4)

"in the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship." (No. 77)

"Protestantism is nothing more than another form of the same true Christian religion, in which form it is given to please God equally as in the Catholic Church" (No. 18).

"the Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church." (No. 55)

"every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true." (No. 15) and that "it has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship." (No. 78)

"the Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization." (No. 80)

It may seem unfair to bring up material from almost two centuries ago, but keep in mind church apologists are attempting a little "historical revisionism" to rehabilitate the church's image in the West. The church is particularly anguished about the downturn in its hold over Europe, where attendance at, and support for, the Roman Catholic church, and Christianity in general has been in sharp decline for decades. The turning away from the church in states where the church is given official status should be a hint and a half for today's rabid evangelicals, dedicated to eradicating the separation of church and state. Meanwhile, today's conservative church spokesmen tend to attribute the church's decline in the West to a sufficient lack of orthodoxy among its leadership (among conservative Catholics, the modifications in the lurgy resulting from Vatican II are brought in for particular scorn) rather than the church's documented history of hostility to democracy, freedom and human rights.

On a somewhat related not, I've picked up a book about Opus Dei, the strict, secretive Catholic sect portrayed in The Da Vinci Code, but also known for its real life wealth, and the elites that comprise its membership, including Robert Hansen, the FBI agent caught spying for Russia a few years ago, as well as U.S. Senators Sam Brownback of Kansas and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, both of whom have been mentioned as presidential candidates in '08. The case of Sam Brownback is particularly interesting, since he was until recently a devout evangelical, and hails from a part of the U.S. that is likewise strongly protestant.

The Hits Keep on Coming

Army Opens Criminal Probe of Tillman's Death

Probably not going to help rehabilitate the President's public standing.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Facing Religion

Regular readers of this blog know I've been wringing my hands waiting for leading Democrats to put together some type of response regarding the role of religion in public life, rather than letting Republicans and their "tear down the 'wall' between church and state" interest groups hog the spotlight with only one highly distorted view of faith and religion.

E.J.Dionne has a column in today's Post outlining just such a statement by Catholic Democrats in the House, 55 of them to be exact who have signed on. If the excerpts reflect the document's content, I think it could prove a useful blueprint for other Democrats and media pundits:

"As Catholic Democrats in Congress," the statement begins, "we are proud to be part of the living Catholic tradition -- a tradition that promotes the common good, expresses a consistent moral framework for life and highlights the need to provide a collective safety net to those individuals in society who are most in need. As legislators, in the U.S. House of Representatives, we work every day to advance respect for life and the dignity of every human being. We believe that government has moral purpose."

The statement is only six paragraphs, which gives it clarity and focus. After a paragraph on Catholic social teaching about the obligations to "the poor and disadvantaged," the writers get to the hard issue, insisting that "each of us is committed to reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and creating an environment with policies that encourage pregnancies to be carried to term."

What's significant is that this is not a statement from pro-choice Catholics trying to "reframe" the abortion question. The signatories include some of the staunchest opponents of abortion in the House, including Reps. Bart Stupak, Dale Kildee, Tim Holden, James Oberstar and James Langevin.

In other words, Democrats on both sides of the abortion question worry that it is crowding out all other concerns. And in very polite language, the Catholic Democrats suggest that their bishops allow them some room to disagree. "In all these issues, we seek the church's guidance and assistance but believe also in the primacy of conscience," they write in an echo of Kennedy. "In recognizing the church's role in providing moral leadership, we acknowledge and accept the tension that comes from being in disagreement with the church in some areas."

With any luck, this statement will provoke two debates, one outside the Catholic Church and one inside.

One of the troubling aspects of 2004 was the extent to which partisan politics invaded the churches and seemed to enlist them as part of the Republicans' electoral apparatus. But there is a difference between defending the legitimate right of churches to speak up on public questions and the hyperpoliticization of the church itself.

For Catholics with moderate or liberal leanings, the argument from some bishops that they could vote only for staunch foes of abortion posed a wretched dilemma. It seemed to demand that such voters cast their ballots for conservative or right-wing candidates with whom they might disagree on every other question -- social justice, war and peace, or the death penalty. All are areas where liberals are often closer to the church's view. "Our faith does and should affect how we deal with issues," DeLauro said. "But we're rebelling against the idea of a one-issue church."

If nothing else, these Catholic Democrats will haul out into the open a discussion with their bishops, with their fellow Catholics and with their constituents that has been festering underground. "We were silent for too long," DeLauro said. "And that meant you were defined by others, not by yourselves."

These excerpts reflect what appears to be strong, yet wide-spanning statement, one that acknowledges differences of opinion about sexual issues, such as abortion, and that affirms the church's right, indeed urges it, to speak out on those as well as other issues of moral significance. Yet it asserts the rights of parishioners and church members to make decisions based on freedom of conscience, reminding church leaders, and other politically motivated members, of the wide array of moral choices that parties and candidates espouse, and from which church members are able to choose.

Even were I to hold a staunch anti-abortion position, it hardly seems reasonable to make that the one issue upon which to vote, a decision that would in effect give conservative Republican mizers a pass on every other matter of public policy, from tax cuts and health care, to worker and consumer rights, voting rights protection, the right to privacy, war and foreign policy, and a host of other important matters.

Even if one issue were to carry significantly more weight than any other, an important element or elements in making a voting decision on that issue would be the matter of whether government policy requires or allows a questionable action and what the balance of power in the relationship is. This is particularly important regarding abortion, where the "actor" or "oppressor" is either left undefined by anti-choice advocates or is misdefined to infer that the government, in the form of the courts or liberal Democratic members of Congress, is morally responsible for the behavior of medical providers and the private decisions of women. Since anti-choice legislation either penalizes no one or penalizes only the doctor (see the S.D. legislation for an example) and leaves the person getting the abortion uncharged, the anti-choice movement is essentially disregarding the moral choice of the woman, a strange policy decision in the sense that the woman is not regarded as being a relevant actor in the situation, although because penalizing the woman would no doubt cause a firestorm of protest, this decision by anti-choicers is at least somewhat understandable, however illogical.

For a church hierarchy to make this one issue (or any one issue) essentially the only one of importance for its members is to do a great disservice to parishioners and the public. Considering the backtracking church leadership has had to do on a number of issues and decisions over the course of history, from the burning at the stake of people innocent of any crime other than doctrinal heresy (such as John Huss) to the punishing of scientists such as Galileo for daring to pursue knowledge apart from the church's belief in scripturally revealed "truth", and the support of Protestant churches in the south for slavery and segregation, the church, in its Catholic and Protestant manifestations, has good reasons to be careful in the area of public policy, at least in so far as it threatens to restrict its membership to one political party or on the basis of any one issue.

This isn't to say that the "church" should only speak out on economic issues, or only on behalf of the poor, or that the church should otherwise shut up about issues of sexual morality. I doubt the church would or could be restricted in that way, and even for those of us who may vigorously disagree with conservative bishops or theologians on any particular issue, I believe its vital that the churches give us the benefit of their study and reflection.

I also recognize that churches and doctrinal belief systems are inherently conflictual and controversial, and I don't expect religious leaders and believers to avoid any and all offensiveness. Most moral choices of necessity carry with them such offensiveness and conflict. I'd hope the church would eventually start siding with have nots rather than the haves of society, but I will welcome their contributions to the realm of public policy in any case. But Democrats need to come prepared to debate these issues and provide their constituents with the information and advocacy they deserve. These issues have been forced underground, not the least of which by Democrats themselves. It's time to bring them out of the closet, and for Democrats to be more assertive about discussing, and criticizing where need be, institutions and principles of faith.

In any event, bravo to Rep. DeLauro and her co-sponsors. I look forward to reading the document in its entirety.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Stop Me Before I Read Joe Klein Again

You know, as much as I want Democrats to win in 2006 and 2008, there's a vindictive part of me that hopes the GOP stays in control. Joe Klein, like many members of the media, is a Republican addict: He won't admit he has a problem until "he has hit bottom", as attendees of 12-step groups say. It isn't enough that you and I are feeling the pain. The Republican addict still doesn't get it. It may take another 2 to 4, maybe even six years for them to truly admit their problem, the first step in any successful recovery program. Of course, the world may be on fire by then. But if that's what it takes...

Fighting the Iraq War with "One Arm Tied Behind Our Backs"

Along with the "blame the left" theme that will be trumpeted by conservatives in and out of the media when Iraq crumbles into oblivion and civil war (as if it hasn't already), prepare to hear another Vietnam era line as well: we didn't win in Iraq (Vietnam) because we had to fight the war "with one arm tied behind our backs".

If we had just dropped the bomb on them...if we had just been allowed to incinerate their cities, mosques, and oil lines...if we had been allowed to torture them at will...if we weren't just so darned concerned about morals and treating the enemy nice...if the media hadn't...if the politicians had just stayed out of it and let the military run the war...if the Democrats in Congress had just...if we had just ignored Abu Grab...if we had had a draft...if...if...

Conservatism's Legacy

Mcjoan at the DailyKos says:

As exemplified by the moment Dick Cheney said the United States would be "greeted as liberators" in his March 2003 interview on Meet the Press, never in the history of U.S. governments has an Administration been as consistently and wildly wrong and incompetent.

While most Democrats and other thinking people would undoubtedly agree with this statement, the fact is that the administration's "wildly wrong" judgments and "incompetent" managing doesn't come from anyplace strange.

Consider the recent comments by Arnold Schwarzegger at this weekend's California Republican convention:

One of the biggest rounds of cheers came when he reminded the delegates that he had blocked efforts to allow illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses. And going forward, he promised, he would show "bold" leadership, invoking Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower and, naturally, for the California crowd, Ronald Reagan.

"We Republicans have a history of boldness," Mr. Schwarzenegger said. "I love that. Abraham Lincoln struck down slavery. Teddy Roosevelt fathered the environmental movement. Dwight D. Eisenhower built the Interstate highway. And Ronald Reagan tore down the wall and defeated Communism. This is a time in California's history that calls for similar boldness."

First, consider the line that got the most applause at the convention (according to the article): driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. If the high point for conservative Republican government has been reduced to preventing people from getting driver's licenses, than conservatives, and thinking people everywhere, might reasonably question the movement's usefulness, intellectual heft, and democratic motivations.

Second, the governator reaches into the past for examples of Republican "boldness" and comes up with ending slavery, "fathering" the environmental movement, building the interstate highway system, and defeating Communism. Of the four, the first three of these are "bold" only in the sense that they are clearly, liberal, progressive policy goals and accomplishments. The institution of slavery resided in what was then, and remains so today, as the nation's most violently conservative region. Slavery's defenders included the most reactionary conservative elites in the country, namely the South's wealthy plantation owners and the Christian Church. The ending of slavery was that era's most radically liberal and progressive initiative; and conservatism's vision ultimately lost.

The second, "fathering" the environmental movement, is, needless to say, anathema to today's conservatives. Supporters of maintaining the environment that enables life, such as Al Gore, are regaled by conservatives of nearly every stripe today as "fanatics"; the science of global warming denied and ridiculed as "loony" and anti-business. In some quarters, environmentalists are the de jure "terrorists of choice" for the media and the right when fires consume new housing developments, for example (the fires in southern Maryland were found to have been initiated by dis-satisfied racists wanna-bes).

Meanwhile, "internal improvements", such as interstate highway systems are equally blasphemous to movement conservatism. If you think I'm wrong, consider this comment by a conventioneer:

Mr. Schwarzenegger defended his plan to spend $222 billion on public works, including highways and schools, as an example of bold leadership.

But conservatives have criticized the plan as costly spending, and Jon Fleishman, a former state Republican Party executive director and editor of the widely read Flashreport blog, said, "I thought the speech was a safe double when he could have hit a home run." Mr. Fleishman called it short on specifics and a missed opportunity to say he would fire the chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, and roll back his public works plan.

The only item of the four that could be considered a genuine conservative aspiration is the "defeat" of Communism. Although most thinking people and students of history would point out that Soviet Communism fell on its own accord, and that U.S. "containment" policies such as the war in Vietnam and the toppling of the Iranian government (among other interventions against democratically elected regimes) were spectacular failures that, particularly in the latter case of Iran, have spawned decades of Islamic revolution and international terrorism, it should at least be conceded that the ending of global communism was a genuine conservative goal.

But in any event, one out of four ain't very good.

Moreover, Schwarzenegger would undoubtedly have enjoyed being able to claim other examples of bold leadership over the past two centuries of American politics--the dramatic expanding of the voting franchise, first to propertyless whites in the nineteenth century, than to women early in the 2oth , the establishment of Social Security, college student loans, Medicare, Civil Rights, and Voting Rights protection for blacks, for example, he can't very well point to these because these were not only Democratic initiatives, they were extremely liberal ones to boot.

The governator could have mentioned Theodore Roosevelt's trust-busting policies, but that would have been another "liberal" policy goal I'm guessing his crowd would just as soon not recall.

Fast forward to the present, it shouldn't be surprising that, having been wrong about virtually everything else over the past two centuries, conservative Republican leadership, elected in substantial part by regressive elements of the American body politic, would soon make short and catastrophic work of the budget and international terrain.