Friday, September 05, 2008

An Offering

Photo by mknobil Creative Commons 2.0

A friend was talking the other day about the Internet and putting stuff online. He remarked that it makes all the difference if one proceeds as if placing an offering on an altar. I love seeing new pictures when Mark Knobil posts them, oh and the pictures posted by all my contacts. Everyday postings at social networking site and blog posts enrich my day. The fact of the matter is that there are some very talented people, but they're rare. Talent isn't descriptive enough because what makes some blog writers so worthwhile is depth of scholarship.

Keguro Macharia is home in Kenya and writing about it. Kegurao is a scholar. Gukira is one of my must-read blogs. He has introduced to me cultural studies, and more particularly an outsider's view of American culture. That's a picture that's hard for me as an American to get clear focus. So after studying long in the USA it's great to read his posts from home.

In thinking about American politics and religion the last few days, I've got far more questions than answers. Sarah Palin has made things interesting to me because so many of my questions are not ones easily answered.

At a social network I haunt a question in two parts was asked: First, Was Gandhi an anarchist? Second, How does the rule of law fit into Gandhian theories? I enjoy ongoing social discussions both for great questions like that, and for the contexts surrounding such questions. I don't have informed views on either part of the question. What I have is just a bit of collected knowledge about Gandhi, enough so that I can make some sense of articles posted online. Searching around I found an essay in The Hindu by Anil Nauriya Gandhi on Secular law and state.

Nauriya's essay about Gandhi brought to mind a best selling book in the 1960's, The Secular City by Harvey Cox. I read the book in the early 1970's and still have the paperback. Skimming over the book I was impressed how relevant it seemed to the questions about religion and politics Palin's vice presidential candidacy has brought to the fore in my mind.

Many of my African friends are quite religious and I've found myself describing myself as a "secular humanist." One of my friends is a devote Evangelical Christian and Kenyan. He studied for a while at University in the USA. And I appreciate that even while we "talk" by typing he gets there's a slight twinkle in my eye and wry smile when I say that. Secular Humanism for many on the political right is assumed to be a part of "the axis of evil." My good Christian friend has sophisticated views about his religious faith, so there's a ease to our arguments that's very often lacking with fellow Americans. In the Introduction to The Secular City Cox wrote:
Pluralism and tolerance are the children of secularzation.
There are many in America in 2008 who would respond to this assertion saying pluralism and tolerance are bastards. They insist that Americans is a Christian nation and as such our enemies are easy to find--Those bastards!

My Evangelical friend in Kenya makes a distinction between seculariztion and secularism. He certainly is quite eager for pluralism and tolerance in Kenya. A headline in yesterday's LA Progressive reads: Alaskans Speak (In A Frightened Whisper): Palin Is “Racist, Sexist, Vindictive, And Mean” (hat tip: The Editors). On reading the headline the sarcastic voice in my head sputtered, "Yeah, and those are her good points!" Many love Palin precisely because she's so good hacking red meat. Sarah Palin's selection is widely viewed as a sop to the Evangelical Christian base of Republican Party politics. I wonder what is it that make "mean" so appealing to this base?

We in the West believe strongly in self-interest, or more broadly that people act in terms of their self-interest. Richard A. Epstein, a libertarian scholar, observes:
That self-interest can manifest itself in one of two ways when dealing with strangers; through either aggression or cooperation.
Palin represents the aggressive choice, but that still leaves the question why aggression seems so overwhelmingly thought the right choice among so many Evangelicial Christians in the USA.

One of the reasons to link to the Amazon page on The Secular City is there are two reader reviews, a two-star and a five-star. The author of the two-star review is Gary Scott. The review is well crafted with his thesis statement right at the start: "Basic liberal Christian apology." With mainstream attention on rightist Christian politics, it's tempting to take "liberal Christian" as an oxymoron. But Barak Obama's abiding Christian faith reminds us not to be too hasty.

When we think about it, it's easy to come up with plenty of examples of liberal Christians. "Liberal" as a "brand" has become unpopular lately, and the term "progressive" seems more current. I'm afraid either label doesn't really do justice. In part because to most religious convictions are personal, and the partisan politics in the secular realm. The Christian right form a deliberate political movement, distinct from progressive Christian movements in the USA in the close alliance with and even forming the base for the Republican Party.

Theologian Walter Wink has written about the "myth of redemptive violence." Wink provides as one of the sources of the myth of redemptive violence in the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish. Wink writes:
Religion exists to legitimate power and privilege. Life is combat. Any form of order is preferable to chaos, according to this myth. Ours is neither a perfect nor perfectible world; it is theatre of perpetual conflict in which the prize goes to the strong. Peace through war, security through strength: these are the core convictions that arise from this ancient historical religion, and they form the solid bedrock on which the Domination System is founded in every society.
That sounds close to the world view I hear often expressed by the religious right in America today. It also seems in accord with George Lakoff's "strict father" frame of conservatives. With the centrality of the war in Iraq to Palin and McCain's campaign, Winks connection to the Enuma Elish and their world view is ironic.

I still want to look more closely at Pentecostalism and its relationship to the religious right, but that will have to wait for another time. For today what I wanted to establish was an idea that Christianity does not necessarily equate to Republican Party politics. In addition that secularlization is not inherrently opposed to religion, nor are religious people necessarily opposed to secularlization.


Daisy said...

I tend to think the difference between Pentecostalism and other Evangelical sects is that they have a certain sacramental approach... I think this is why they are making inroads in Catholic countries in South America and Africa.

And yes, full disclosure: I have a bias in that I think Christianity is a sacramental religion at its base (in its very formation), and when sacraments are suspended or missing, then NEW sacraments EVOLVE to take their place. i.e. altar calls, speaking in tongues, whatever. This then becomes "the new sacrament"--taking the place of old or discarded ones.

Pentecostalism is VERY sacramental in that they seem to believe that if certain things have not happened (Baptism by fire/holy spirit, tongues, etc)--then worship has been incomplete or counterfeit.

Just talking, no point, just adding my ditsy opinions! :P

John Powers said...

Daisy your observations are never ditzy! That said by someone who assumes nobody every reads my posts! I'm really struggling here with religious ideas.

You know how people often respond: "I'm spiritual not religious?" My own views about the spiritual are closely bound to mental phenomena emergent in living systems. Mental systems are not just a product of the human mind.

The difference is that whereas mostly what people mean by "spiritual" is there is God above; whereas my view is that mental and material are part of a necessary unity, not two different spheres. I see great wisdom in religions, of course I also have problems with some particular religious beliefs. But the sticking point for me isn't religion but spiritual as something divorced from the rest of what is.

You may not be ditzy, but I am ;-) To your point about sacraments. If I remember right from my training in Christianity a sacrament is: "an outward and visible sign of an inward spiritual grace." What people mostly mean as "God" is separate from all creation, whereas I imagine "God" as immanent in all creation. That's my heresy. But even with such heretical views, what is sacred and when the sacred is made visible has real meaning.

I don't know how else to say it, but I love religion precisely when the invisible grace is revealed.