Archive - September, 2008

Why Rednecks May Rule the World

I’ve carped about the failure of the mainline religious denominations to speak to the daily realities of working people in the United States for so long that when I start those who have heard me before tune out. I don’t get as acerbic as some do, but I’m glad others who share this concern cut through the clutter and get down to the point. Joe Bageant does.

In an essay on the BBC today he explains why “Rednecks May Rule the World.” I’ve spoken with Joe and exchanged ideas about this common concern. He gets it. And he explains it better than anyone writing in the media today. You may find him too sharp and, perhaps, too honest.

Never the less, the failure of progressives to speak the language of working people and to understand their values while also displaying a haughty aloofness from them is not merely politically costly. It’s classist and, in the case of mainstream theology, unfaithful.

For those in the Methodist tradition which rests on the willingness of John Wesley to step out of the pulpit of his Anglican parish and go to the coalfields of Birmingham to preach to miners, and who also organized study groups for poor people who were left out of England’s Industrial Revolution, it’s also a betrayal of their history.

That the church has not been outspoken as working class folks lost their jobs, are exploited by usurious credit, see public education go down the drain is frustrating. We’ve wrung our hands but not been outraged at the rising number of uninsured. We’ve protested the war that takes a greater number of working kids because they see greater opportunity in the military than in the job market at home, but…well the list goes on and on. It makes clear how little the church has to say to working people and the working poor.

If, in this context, Bageant seems outraged, it’s more than understandable. It’s justified.

Malaria Statistics

The new WHO report on malaria estimates raises about as many questions as answers. While the report revises estimates of malaria cases downward in Asia, it also raises questions about the accuracy of the collection of the data.

This is not a new discussion and the most recent report won’t change the minds of anyone. Given the haphazard state of many national health systems in Africa and parts of Asia–too few doctors, nurses and trained technicians, obsolete equipment and inadequate reporting and monitoring–data collection in many parts of the world is based on estimation not accurate record-keeping.

And some health care workers I’ve talked with go further. They tell me diagnosis is also a problem due to lack of testing capabilities and reliance upon labs that lack necessary equipment.

Dr. Bob Snow, an epidemiologist in Kenya cited in the NY Times, says malaria cases may be much higher than reported. He notes that many cases in rural areas go unreported. Others claim many people with fevers  who are assumed to have malaria don’t have the disease.

This doesn’t mean the threat posed by malaria isn’t real. It highlights a deeper problem. Health care systems in resource-deprived regions of the world need significant improvement. If they can’t accurately diagnose, they certainly can’t treat effectively, and data collection in such circumstances becomes meaningless.

Matthew 25 Network on Palin

The Matthew 25 Network calls Sarah Palin’s speech at the Republican convention “sarcastic, divisive and often deceptive.” As it happens, I am preaching Saturday evening at a worship service using Matthew 25 as the text so I was interested to read their email.

The group, made up of a mix of religious leaders from across the Christian community, takes Palin and John McCain to task for making a public display of Palin’s Christian convictions while violating them in her speech. The Network says she “went far beyond what could be considered acceptable disagreement and into what seemed like open contempt for a political opponent.” They also say she spoke falsehoods about Barack Obama’s positions.

While Matthew 25 Network identifies the public presentation of Palin as harmful to the faith, others have made an even stronger case that the merger of religious dogma with political ideology is a dangerous mix. The political operators who have assembled this coalition of right wing politics and evangelical religion may be clever but they are manipulating emotions and deeply held convictions beyond the ability of anyone to responsibly control.

There are too many examples of religion blessed oppression, and equally appalling, of civil wars with religion as a pretext to take the mixture of religious dogma and political ideology lightly.

In his forward to Sarah Posner’s God’s Profits:Faith, Fraud and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, Joe Conason describes an underside of the evangelical right–the gospel of wealth preachers–as “irrational, avaricious, xenophobic, exploitative, and hostile to freedom.”

In his Christian Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Chris Hedges quotes Rod Parsley, the Ohio gospel of wealth preacher, speaking in Washington in 2006. “Man your battle stations! Ready your weapons! They say this rhetoric is so inciting. I came to incite a riot. I came to effect a divine disturbance in the heart and soul of the church. Man your battle stations. Ready your weapons. Lock and load!” (p. 33)

Heges warns about exploiting the frustration of those who feel the cultural and political institutions have failed them, a theme prominent in the politics of the religious right. “These carefully cultivated feelings of persecution foster a permanent state of crisis, a deep paranoia and fear, and they make it easier to call for violence–always, of course, as a form of self-defense.” (p. 29)

Heges sees danger in preachers and politicians who exploit the frustrations born of social dislocation and personal disruption that are sparked by our current economic downturn and cultural changes. Citing William James’ description of Tolstoy’s and Paul Buynan’s conversions to Christianity, which were born of alienation and frustration, “neither…could become what we have called healthy-minded.” (The Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 184)  “They had drunk too deep from the  cup of bitterness,” writes James. (James, p. 184, Heges, p. 59)

The Matthew 25 Network’s  critique of Palin’s speech merits serious attention. They suggest Palin’s elevation to the national stage now makes her the most visible face of Christian faith in the nation. That places a greater responsibility upon her than, perhaps, she or the political operatives recognize.

As the Matthew 25 Netwok implicitly says, sarcasm, diviseness and deception hardly reflect the spirit of Matthew 25.