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April 24, 2005 - The Christians are going after the Christians as to who are the real Christians...

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Oh my!  The National Council of Churches goes after Bush and Cheney and the evangelical Republican right over the theological issues regarding the environment and drilling for oil and all that stuff.

Really.  There does seem to be a theological issue.

See this: Theologians Warn of 'False Gospel' on the Environment


WASHINGTON, D.C., February 14, 2005 - In an effort to refute what they call a “false gospel” and to change destructive attitudes and actions concerning the environment, a group of theologians, convened by the National Council of Churches USA, today released an open letter calling on Christians to repent of “our social and ecological sins” and to reject teachings that suggest humans are “called” to exploit the Earth without care for how our behavior impacts the rest of God’s creation.

The statement, God’s Earth is Sacred: An Open Letter to Church and Society in the United States, points out that there is both an environmental and a theological crisis that must be addressed.

“We have listened to a false gospel that we continue to live out in our daily habits - a gospel that proclaims that God cares for the salvation of humans only and that our human calling is to exploit Earth for our own ends alone,” says the statement. “This false gospel still finds its proud preachers and continues to capture its adherents among emboldened political leaders and policy makers.”

The statement calls on Christians to take two important steps to enable socially just and ecologically sustainable communities for future generations: first, to “repent of our sins, in the presence of God and one another,” and, second, to pursue, “with God’s help, a path different from our present course.” …


Well, as reported in these pages last December, a previous Secretary of the Interior – 1981, the Reagan years – had a born-again view of how to be a responsible steward of our forests and parks and all that.


James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, 'after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.' - as reported on The Bill Moyers Show


Chop down a tree for Jesus?

Well, a John Hornbuckle sent me a quick email saying the problem is there seems to be no proof that that Watt actually said this.  One book by one author reports this quote, but no other sources confirm that the book is accurate.  And neither I nor Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, could actually find a way to confirm it.  So let’s assume Watt didn’t say it.

But the point is what we have.  Remember Genesis 1:28 and this, in the King James wording? - And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

We’re working on the subdue it part of the passage


If early decisions reveal deeply held values, it would appear that George W. Bush has taken Genesis 1:28 as providing the principle that will govern his conscience with respect to environmental policy. From the beginning he made it clear that he favors opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. More recently, he stated that "all public lands" everywhere should be considered as targets of opportunity for oil and gas producers. Further, he reversed a campaign promise to impose controls on carbon dioxide emissions, even though carbon dioxide is the single most important global warming gas. Bush wrote in a letter to four Republican Senators that carbon dioxide it was "off the table" as far as federal regulation is concerned. This is an astonishing statement given his earlier recognition of the necessity for such regulation. Thus far, it appears that the Bush policy is to talk about preserving and protecting the environment, but at the same time to act so as to encourage and enable corporations to exploit the environment free of government interference. The policy may be summed up in a phrase: "Praise God, but pass the pollution."


One supposes this a matter of theology – and the current theology is clear.

So who has their theology right?

See this from the Boston Globe


WASHINGTON - Sen. John F. Kerry yesterday attacked Republicans for having an "orthodoxy of view" and overly inserting religion into politics, accusing them of using God as a justification for appointing conservative judges.
"I am sick and tired of a bunch of people trying to tell me that God wants a bunch of conservative judges on the court and that's why we have to change the rules of the United States Senate," Kerry told a group of Bay State residents who traveled to Capitol Hill for U.S. Rep. Martin Meehan's annual legislative seminar. …


Well, John is still grumpy about Ohio last November, no doubt.

The environment, what judges decide about what….

We are being told God obviously is on one side and certainly not on the other.

But there is something curious here – an open discussion of the contention that the Republicans have God on their side, and no one else does.

Well, they have the new Pope on their side – and we have been told that he is infallible. The Pope can speak only the truth. You could look it up.

Is the Pope on the Republican side? Yep.

Holy warriors
Cardinal Ratzinger handed Bush the presidency by tipping the Catholic vote. Can American democracy survive their shared medieval vision?
Sidney Blumenthal, April 21, 2005 – SALON.COM

Here is Blumenthal’s reasoning –


President Bush treated his final visit with Pope John Paul II in Vatican City on June 4, 2004, as a campaign stop. After enduring a public rebuke from the pope about the Iraq war, Bush lobbied Vatican officials to help him win the election. "Not all the American bishops are with me," he complained, according to the National Catholic Reporter. He pleaded with the Vatican to pressure the bishops to step up their activism against abortion and gay marriage in the states during the campaign season.

About a week later, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent a letter to the U.S. bishops, pronouncing that those Catholics who were pro-choice on abortion were committing a "grave sin" and must be denied Communion. He pointedly mentioned "the case of a Catholic politician consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws" -- an obvious reference to John Kerry, the Democratic candidate and a Roman Catholic. If such a Catholic politician sought Communion, Ratzinger wrote, priests must be ordered to "refuse to distribute it." Any Catholic who voted for this "Catholic politician," he continued, "would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion." During the closing weeks of the campaign, a pastoral letter was read from pulpits in Catholic churches repeating the ominous suggestion of excommunication. Voting for the Democrat was nothing less than consorting with the forces of Satan, collaboration with "evil."

In 2004 Bush increased his margin of Catholic support by 6 points from the 2000 election, rising from 46 to 52 percent. Without this shift, Kerry would have had a popular majority of a million votes. Three states -- Ohio, Iowa and New Mexico -- moved into Bush's column on the votes of the Catholic "faithful." Even with his atmospherics of terrorism and Sept. 11, Bush required the benediction of the Holy See as his saving grace. The key to his kingdom was turned by Cardinal Ratzinger.


Hey, it worked!

So now the core of the Republican Party – the “values coalition” who accept huge deficits and a disintegrating economy, fewer jobs, reduced benefits, healthcare insurance only for the lucky few, heavy taxes on the working folks and light taxes on the rich, and all the rest - know that they are on the side of God, and no gay couple will get married, nor will any woman’s nipple be bared for all to see at any halftime show anywhere.  And that crackpot theory, evolution, will not be taught to THEIR children.  On much of this stuff the “values coalition” – who are neither rich nor at all safe from the gyrations of the economy – votes against their own interests.  But that doesn’t matter.  Their own sons and daughters die in the dusty wastes of Iraq, or return maimed or mad.  No matter.  Voting for any Democrat is nothing less than consorting with the forces of Satan, collaboration with "evil."

The Pope says so.  And for those who don’t want to have anything to do with that Cult of Mary, well, they’ll hear from James Dobson or Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell on the evangelical side.  Or they’ll hear from the leader of the Senate, Bill Frist.  Coming up?  Dobson’s Family Research Council’s “Justice Sunday” - where Frist will speak and work on aligning all “people of faith” against Democrats and liberals.  The immediate issue is judges who care more about the constitution than they care about God.

Cool. Should be fun.

But the Presbyterian Church doesn’t think it will be fun at all -

Frist Draws Criticism From Some Church Leaders
David D. Kirkpatrick and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times, April 22, 2005


As the Senate battle over judicial confirmations became increasingly entwined with religious themes, officials of several major Protestant denominations on Thursday accused the Senate Republican leader, Bill Frist, of violating the principles of his own Presbyterian church and urged him to drop out of a Sunday telecast that depicts Democrats as "against people of faith."

[Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, a top official of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.,] said Dr. Frist's participation in the telecast undermined "the historical commitment in our nation and our church to an understanding of the First Amendment that elected officials should not be portraying public policies as being for or against people of faith."

… Religious groups, including the National Council of Churches and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, plan to conduct a conference call with journalists on Friday to criticize Senator Frist's participation in the telecast.

The National Council of Churches is asking members to organize news conferences denouncing Dr. Frist.


And a little more


Tony Perkins, organizer of the telecast, claims that “people of faith … see a connection between the filibuster and judicial activism.” But polls show that more Americans support than oppose the filibuster, and Republican senators may be starting to realize that “extremists of faith” aren’t supported by mainstream “people of faith.”

… Republicans are beginning to notice that the arrogant attempts of religious extremists to impose their will on the country aren't sitting well with religious people who don't share those extreme views.

In addition, 406 clergy members signed a petition prepared by the Interfaith Alliance urging Frist “to defend the nation from efforts utilizing deception and fear-mongering to manipulate Americans of faith.”


Yeah, yeah.


It seems what used to be called, shall we say, “the religious mainstream” is NOT the mainstream any longer.

But what is Blumenthal taking about when he says Bush and the Pope, and by extension the evangelical right, have shared medieval vision?  Say what?

After a long discussion of the new Pope’s life, he gives us this –


… The new pope's burning passion is to resurrect medieval authority. He equates the Western liberal tradition, that is, the Enlightenment, with Nazism, and denigrates it as "moral relativism." He suppresses all dissent, discussion and debate within the church and concentrates power within the Vatican bureaucracy. His abhorrence of change runs past 1968 (an abhorrence he shares with George W. Bush) to the revolutions of 1848, the "springtime of nations," and 1789, the French Revolution. But, even more momentously, the alignment of the pope's Kulturkampf with the U.S. president's culture war has also set up a conflict with the American Revolution.

For the first time, an American president is politically allied with the Vatican in its doctrinal mission (except, of course, on capital punishment). In the messages and papers of the presidents from George Washington until well into those of the 20th century, there was not a single mention of the pope, except in one minor footnote. Bush's lobbying trip last year to the Vatican reflects an utterly novel turn, and Ratzinger's direct political intervention in American electoral politics ratified it.

The right wing of the Catholic Church is as mobilized as any other part of the religious right. It is seizing control of Catholic universities, exerting influence at other universities, stigmatizing Catholic politicians who fail to adhere to its conservative credo, pressing legislation at the federal and state levels, seeking government funding and sponsorship of the church, and vetting political appointments inside the White House and the administration -- imposing in effect a religious test of office. The Bush White House encourages these developments under the cover of moral uplift as it forges a political machine uniting church and state -- as was done in premodern Europe.

The American Revolution, the Virginia Statute on Religious Liberty, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were fought for explicitly to uproot the traces in American soil of ecclesiastical power in government, which the Founders to a man regarded with horror, revulsion and foreboding.

The Founders were the ultimate representatives of the Enlightenment. They were not anti-religious, though few if any of them were orthodox or pious. Washington never took Communion and refused to enter the church, while his wife did so. Benjamin Franklin believed that all organized religion was suspect. James Madison thought that established religion did as much harm to religion as it did to free government, twisting the word of God to fit political expediency, thereby throwing religion into the political cauldron. And Thomas Jefferson, allied with his great collaborator Madison, conducted decades of sustained and intense political warfare against the existing and would-be clerisy. His words, engraved on the Jefferson Memorial, are a direct reference to established religion: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

But now Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay threatens the federal judiciary, saying, "The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a separation of church and state that's nowhere in the Constitution is that Congress didn't stop them." And Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will participate through a telecast in a rally on April 24 in which he will say that Democrats who refuse to rubber-stamp Bush's judicial nominees and uphold the filibuster are "against people of faith."


Oh, that’s cheery.  And moves us from the realm of theology to political theory.  Just what is a government supposed to do?

After running down many quotes from Jefferson and Madison and the like – and making them sound awfully worried about encouraging anything like a theocracy – Blumenthal quotes John Kennedy, who had to say that, honest, he really could be a good president, even if he was a Catholic.


"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference ... I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish -- where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source -- where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its official."

Now Bush is attempting to create what Kennedy warned against. He claims to be conservative, but he seeks a rupture in our system of government. The culture war, which has had many episodes, from the founding of the Moral Majority to the unconstitutional impeachment of President Clinton, is entering a new and far more dangerous phase. In 2004 Bush and Ratzinger used church doctrine to intimidate voters and taint candidates. And through the courts the president is seeking to codify not only conservative ideology but religious doctrine.



It is fairly clear the Republican Party – for all its history – is now the evangelical party of God, not the party of business interests and small government and balanced budgets and all that old stuff.  And Christianity is now only for the medievalists – as much as the National Council of Churches protests and the United Church of Christ kicks and screams (in a loving way).  Heck, even the Unitarians are learning that what they have isn’t a REAL religion.

It’s a new world.  Or if Blumenthal is right, actually an old world, a medieval one.

Well, conservatives value the past.

This past?


The Papal Inquisition was an outgrowth of the Council of Toulouse held in 1229 (not an ecumenical council) where a special ecclesiastical tribunal was established to counter the heresy of Albigensianism. Until 1231 the duty of detecting and repressing heresy had fallen on the bishops but in 1231 Pope Gregory IX appointed a number of Papal Inquisitors. Pope Gregory IX was opposed to torture, but Pope Innocent IV approved its use for the discovery of heresy, and Pope Urban IV confirmed this usage, which like the death penalty for heresy, had its origins in the Roman Law. Although intended for all Christendom, it was active primarily in southern France. This inquisition died out around 1300 with the demise of Albigensianism.

The Spanish Inquisition was a state rather than church inquisition. Established in 1481 by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the king appointed the Grand Inquisitor and the other officials, and also signed the decrees; the penalties were inflicted in his name. The purpose of this inquisition was to remove any potential traitors (secret Muslims or Jews) who might aid in any Muslim attack or any internal uprising. At that point in history, Spain was the only country which had allowed Muslims and Jews to remain within their boundaries. The inquisition was triggered by a Turkish storming of the Italian city of Otranto in 1480. The Turks put some 12,000 people (half the population of the city) to death, including every priest in the city, and sawed the Archbishop in two. They offered to spare many of their captives lives if they would embrace the Muslim faith. Pope Sixtus IV approved the Spanish Inquisition because he was under the impression that an ecclesiastical inquisition was to be established but when the true state of the case was brought to his knowledge the following year, it was too late. All that he and his successors could do was to protest against its excesses, which they did. The Spanish Inquisition was abolished in 1834. … Complete records of the Spanish Inquisition do not exist but it is recorded that between 1540 and 1700 a total of 100,000 cases were tried with 10,000 individuals being submitted to torture and 828 individuals being put to death. It should also not be forgotten that John Calvin, the founder of the "Reformed" churches, burned Michael Servetus at the stake for heresy and established his own inquisition in Geneva for the punishment of unmanageable Christians.

The Roman Inquisition began in 1542 and was the least active and most benign of the three inquisitions. This is the inquisition which tried Galileo. The Galileo affair was a matter of science, not religion. It did indirectly concern the Church and spiritual interests because of the circumstances of the time, and Galileo's own diversion into theological speculations. Galileo would not have clashed with religion had he not interjected his own interpretations of Sacred Scripture regarding what he thought to be a contradiction between the Bible and the scientific discoveries. The Church as Church did not digress from spiritual matters in the Galileo case. Some at the time ridiculed Scripture regarding the sun, etc. Because of the spiritual implications, the Church was seriously concerned. …


The more things change, the more they remain the same, of course.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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