Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Whose Religion

The news pages and air waves are full once again of verbal hand-wringing and head wagging over Jeremiah Wright, the preacher the Obama chose to repudiate after some of his sermons were uncovered by the Hills's campaign hit team—her "swift boaters," as it were. The chief complaint seems to be that Wright argued that America might have brought the attacks of September 11, 2001 on itself, through its hubris, its mistreatment of other people, and its moral decadence. Much of that sounds like the Reverends Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and other evangelical prophets of self-righteousness.

The brief against Wright seems, as well, to include his embrace of 'black liberation theology,' based on the much admired and heartily despised—depends on which side you're on--"liberation theology.” Developed in Latin America in the 1960s and '70s by Father Juan Luis Segundo and others, “liberation theology” says the Church should turn its attention to improving the lives of everyone, especially the poor and downtrodden. The gospel should help liberate people from injustice, suffering and bondage here and now. It should not be the servant of the power structure. The late Pope John Paul II and then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, threw the weight of the papacy behind smashing it.

In the U.S., the Reverend James H. Cone of the AME church and Union Theological Seminary developed a “black theology of liberation” to bring the movement for equal rights for all Americans into the global flow. What the hell is wrong with that? Oh, Wright has also said in a play on "God Bless America," "God damn America." All I can do is point to the scriptures and say let those who have never done the same cast the first stone, and let them swear that were they downtrodden in America, they would never say the same. That's granting for the sake of argument only that saying, "god damn America" is a "crime"--I don't believe it myself. I know I frequently say worse when I view the horror show of Iraq or the repressive oligarchies we back or the torture of prisoners or the singling out for prosecution for one half-assed crime or another young men whose only real crime is having a different skin color--phenotype, as it were.

Today, the fuss focuses on more inane comments Wright has made on his ego-trip tour of national media outlets eager to give him a stage. The media than sling his one-liners at the Obama or wield them like clubs to bash him. 'Repudiate this man,' they demand. Here's a link to the New York Times transcript of the latest Obama dash through the media gauntlet. I wonder why each candidate is not required to repudiate torture and pledge to send the Bushies to The Hague to face war crimes charges. The current frenzy is beyond guilt by association.

What's driving the frenzy in the mainstream media is that these are black preachers and a black man making a serious run at the presidency. I say that because, truth be told, no one has made half the fuss about the white candidates who solicit and lap up the endorsements of white evangelical preachers, nor has anyone—to my knowledge—dug through every utterance of every preacher whose church those candidates have attended. I haven't seen a big deal made of the reactionary Congressional prayer group, commonly known as the Family. that the Hills religiously attends. The Family provides a religious, American cover for the very groups that stand in staunch opposition to "liberation theology"--that is, oligarchs from the worlds of business and politics. For that matter I have seen no major questions raised about the influence the Catholic cult of self-mortifiers, Opus Dei, has on Antonin Scalia.

The reason is that most people understand that parishioners don't agree with every word out of their pastors' mouths, even if the pastor is the priest. A fundamental principle of protestantism, of course, is that a person talks directly to god, without the intercession of the priest. Except in cults and in hierarchical religious bodies presided over by inquisitors, lockstep thinking is frowned upon. (To be fair, the German pope, the former grand inquisitor, could rigorously enforce church discipline only by losing millions of "pick-and-choose followers.")

The Obama's "critics" seem to forget that large numbers of American believers choose a church or shul or mosque or temple for a host of reasons—familial, social, convenience, politics, necessity, as in, it's the only show in town or because they are banned from the church of choice by virtue of their skin color or sexual predilections. Catholic politicians, like John F. Kennedy and Mario Cuomo, to mention only two Americans, have taken positions opposite that of the Catholic Church and proven time and again that a politician is not beholden to a theology, unless he chooses to be.

It's long past time for the media to bury this dead dog, and make no mistake, it is long dead--arguably still born--and make no mistake, the media is keeping it on expensive life support, with more than a little prompting from the Clintons and their paid mudslingers. Were the hand-wringing head waggers to look honestly at what they were nattering about, they would probably not only learn a few things but also decide that there are a lot more important stories to pursue--having to do with war, hunger, health, and justice.

No comments: