Just When You Though Rush Limbaugh Couldn’t Get Any Sillier…

If that’s not bad enough, here’s more of Rush’s brilliant thoughts on health care reform:

There will be no private insurance once they get a public option. Thatís the dirty little secret. There will be no competition. Thatís the dirty little secret. What public ó once a public option is in place, the insurance companies are not going to be able to compete. Itís ó theyíre not even going to try. The insurance companies are going to try to offload. Once there is a public option, youíre going to see the insurance companies get out of it and get on board the government plan for a whole host of reasons. The dirty little secret here is that the idea of a public option is to end up with a single payer and thatís the federal government.

What’s hilarious about this argument is its resemblence to the case against school vouchers that infuriates conservatives. When liberals say that if we give families school vouchers everyone will leave the public schools, conservatives usually retort with market and competition based responses. The logic is if that public schools which can’t compete in the market context which vouchers would create, then it shows how weak they are and those schools should close. But when it’s private insurance companies that might not be able to compete with a government insurance plan, then the market based logic goes out the window.

Confessions of a Contemporary Fundamentalist

wehavemet01Fundamentalism is an over used, dare I say abused, term. It is thrown around in elite circles with enough frequency to make its meaning all but vaccous. Noted philosopher Alvin Plantinga estimates that in academic circles when one calls someone a fundamentalist they are basically calling them an “ignorant sumbitch”. It is with much trepidation that I use the term self-referentially. I have met the fundamentalist and he is me so to speak.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t interpret the Bible in a wooden literal way. I believe in evolution. I’m not a cultural conservative. I never voted for George W. Bush. I protested the war in Iraq. I even voted for Nader once (it was a phase). My fundamentalism is of another sort altogether, different in content but not in form from the usual sort. Mine is a contemporary, cosmopolitan elitist brand which in the circles I tend to run is socially acceptable, even fashionable. The most recent occassion that served to reveal it to me was reading Matthias Kuentzel’s Jihad and Jew Hatred: Islam, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11.

Kuentzel is an accomplished German scholar who is by no stretch a cultural or political conservative (he’s served as a senior advisor to the Federal Parliamentary Fraction of Germany’s Green Party). He’s a German intellectual that has devoted an enormous amount of time and effort to understanding the horrific phenomena of German anti-semitism. Jeffrey Hurf, another scholar of German anti-semitism, argues that the anti-semitism of the Nazi’s has to be understood as being continuous with old European and traditional German anti-semitic traditions on the one hand while involving discontinuity as well, creating “an antisemitism of unprecedented radicalism.” Kuentzel’s work makes the case for a similar development in the Arab world after World War II, one that drew directly on Nazi ideology.

Kuentzel’s well researched little monograph focuses on the Moslem Brotherhood. He doesn’t just point out the strong ideological echoes and ressonances that exist between European fascism and Nazism and that of the Brotherhood, he also demonstrates the concrete historical connections whereby anti-semitism’s global center shifted from Germany to the Middle East. Kuentzel documents Nazi influence in Egypt in the 1930’s, which went from being somewhat tolerant of Jews to a hotbed for anti-semitic fervor. He discusses the Brotherhood’s decision to widely distribute an Arabic translation of Mein Kampf, as well as the channeling of money and resources to the anti-Jewish immigration movement in Palestine in the late 1930’s. Perhaps most disturbing is Kuentzel’s claim that the idea of using suicide bombers to descimate the New York City skyline originate in Berlin in the 1940’s. An architect and friend of Hitler, Albert Speer, says in his diary that he never saw Hitler “so beside himself as when, as if in a delirium, he was picturing to himself and to us the downfall of New York in towers of flame…[describing] the skyscrapers turning into huge burning torches and falling hither and thither, and the reflection of the disintegrating city in the dark sky.” A Weimar best-seller by Wilhelm Meister calls Wall Street the Military Headquarters of Judas from which, “his threats radiate across the entire world.”

Kuentzel’s previous book on the war in Kosovo consciously avoided issues like Islamism and jihad. By his own admission, the absence of such discussions was deliberate. Kuentzel wished, as an author “with roots in the political left, to avoid if possible terms that might have racist connotations.” After 9/11, Kuentzel’s “avoidance policy collapsed along with the Twin Towers.” He focused on a single question after 9/11: why? After a year of reading the bulk of scholarly research on the origins of Islamism, the Egytian Muslim Brotherhood, and the links to National Socialism, al-Qa’ida, Hezbollah and Hamas, he published Jihad and Jew-Hatred. His description of its reception is startling:

By then, most of my erstwhile politcal friends on the left had excluded me from their world-a world that had either greeted 9/11 with unconcealed gloating or interpreted it in an “anti-imperialist” framework, with the wicked USA on the one side and an understandable, if a misguided act of resistance on the other…the initial response of the wider German public to my book, which explains Islamist terror as a product of a delusional mind set rather than American foreign policy, was also hostile. It was described as “political propoganda,” to quote one example from Germany’s leading public service radio station, Deutschlandfunk. My book “follows in the slipstream of ultra-conservative warriors for culture and civilization of the Samuel Huntingdon type.” Apparently I had “replaced knowledge with ideas that would be music to the ears of the Bush camp and apologists for current Israeli policy.” My critics did not, however, point out any actual errors of fact or failures of logic. In fact, the first expert in the field to publically defend and recommend my book was a Muslim, the Syrian-born political scientist Bassam Tibi.

Kuentzel’s critics reject his work out of hand without engaging it. He is a heretic. He has challenged the dogmas of his community and thus was summarily excommunicated. Just as evolution can’t be taken seriously in some fundamentalist circles because it goes against what is perceived as uncontestably true and revealed, so in other circles one cannot point out the religious and ideological roots of Islamist aggression because it too challenges uncontestable truth. I find myself feeling guilty and self-conscious as I read Kuentzel’s well documented analysis. I find myself saying, “this can’t be true.” Dogmatic parochialism knows no bounds, geographic, cultural or political. We can all be fundamentalists now.

America’s Populace Describes Itself As Mostly Conservative

This is a really interesting recent Gallup poll…

PRINCETON, NJ — Thus far in 2009, 40% of Americans interviewed in national Gallup Poll surveys describe their political views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal. This represents a slight increase for conservatism in the U.S. since 2008, returning it to a level last seen in 2004. The 21% calling themselves liberal is in line with findings throughout this decade, but is up from the 1990s.


What Is Systematic Theology?

People not familiar with the term or discipline often ask me what systematic theology is. Now, after reading an essay in Colin Gunton’s Theology Through The Theologians, I feel as though I might actually have an intelligble response. Gunton’s great summary statement reads as follows:

Simply, we can say that systematic theology is the articulation of truth claims of Christianity, with an eye to internal consistency, on the hand; and, on the other, to their coherence with Scripture, the Christian tradition, and other truth- philosophical, scientific, moral and artistic.

Gunton claims that it is possible to profess Christian doctrine as a discipline, and yet not be concerned with being a systematic theologian. Christian doctrine could be taught as an authoritative given as a physicist might handle the theory of relativity. Or one could treat Christian doctrine as a historical fact from a previous era. But neither of these will do because of the post-Christian nature of our culture, or at least the post Christian sensibilities of our culture’s prevailing intellectual presuppositions. Our modern western context requires, “some account, certainly from the university theologian, but also from the Church, of the intellectual credentials of what they profess.”

But the need for a systematic account of the faith doesn’t just arise from exterior cultural pressure. There is an internal demand as well. The Gospel claims to make universal truth claims about God, the world and the nature of human being. “It therefore requires that attention be given to its systematic structure, that is to the interrelation of the various levels and dimensions of its truth.”

Gunton points to Anselm as an example for systematicians to emulate. First because he engages the sceptic who finds the claims the Gospel makes intellectually dubious. Second, particularly important Gunton thinks in his own English context, is Anselm’s willingness to adopt a conversational approach to the relationship between theology and philosophy, as opposed to seeing them as related in a parallel fashion or compartmentalizing them, in effect separating them. In Anselm, theology and philosophy are integrated into a “unified approach to theological truth.” This results in an essay on the nature of the atonement, generally conceived of in contemporary theology as something “strictly doctrinal”, bearing a striking resemblance in form to Anslem’s discussion of the proof for God’s existence, which today is treated in philosophy of religion.

Another important insight Gunton gleans from Anselm is that theology can be systematic without aiming at creating a grandiose system. Anselm treats the topics of theology “in relative independence of of one another.” That is, one can think carefully and systematically about about baptism, the atonement, the existence of God, or the nature of the future life without trying to connect them all by means of a unifiying principle which would rationally illuminate them all, as in Spinoza’s geometrically ordered philosophy. Anselm, like Irenaeus before him, and like all great theologians, doesn’t feel the need to say everything every time. But he does keep in mind the implications of what he is saying on one occassion for future statements on other occassions.

One Body, Many Parts…

Spent the better part of the evening catchin up with a dear friend. Like most good conversations, the quality of the questions outpaced the clarity of our answers. But we concluded that this much is true:

1. Jesus is bigger and more complex than we are. Which we figured out means we don’t know really what we’re doing.

2. Jesus likes fueling our passions, even if and when they’re off kilter, and we trust he knows where, when and if we’re humble, discerning and attentive, he’ll re-center them.

3. We both feel free. Well more appropriateley freed. Not by ourselves, but by our Lord, Jesus Christ. It’s nice, and daunting. Because the stakes are lower, and higher. The blessings of Christ-centred complexity! Thanks be to God.


dar2I was reading Peter Leithart’s commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel, A Son To Me, and came across this passage:

When he heard Goliath’s blasphemy, David inquired about rewards and spoke boldly against Goliath’s defiance of Israel, and word of the brash young man got back to Saul. David told Saul that he was prepared to face the Philistine because he had already fought and defeated a bear and a lion (17:37). To David’s mind, when Goliath started defying God, he almost ceased to be human and became no more than a bear or lion. And David was confident that the Lord would deliver him from Goliath’s “hand” as He had delivered him from the “hand” of beasts. David was the new Adam that Israel had been waiting for, the beast-master taking dominion over bears and lions and now fighting a “serpent”.

Leithart likens Goliath to a serpent because of the particular attention to the scales of his armor. Here Israel’s deliverer vanquishes the serpent that oppresses God’s people in the wilderness for forty days.

Reading this made me realize how significant food laws and animal symbolism are in Scripture, and how we ignore them at our own peril. In Purity and Danger, Mary Douglass argues that the profound symbolism in the food laws that separated animals into clean and unclean would not be lost on the average ancient Israelite. The distinction between clean and unclean animals corresponds to the distinction between Israel, God’s set apart people, and the nations (who are throughout Scripture referred to symbolically as “wild beasts”). Amidst the clean animals there were only some that could be offered up sacrificially in worship, as there were only a select group that could offer such sacrifices on the people’s behalf. Douglass provides a host of other examples. The parallels are numerous and striking. Every meal offered an occasion for reflection on Israel’s election and vocation as a people.

It’s interesting that in Mark 1:13 we are told that Jesus is in the wilderness being tempted by Satan for forty days, with the wild beasts and the angels who are serving him. Like Adam Jesus is with the beasts and faces the serpent, but he does not succumb to temptation, and the angels are not called into to service to block his entrance into the Garden but to serve him as he procures the way for his people to enter the Holy City. As Prophet he quotes Moses to his adversary that he might not be distracted from his work as Priest, which would erase the distinction between the sheep of his flock and the beasts that would threaten to devour him, taking his place as the rightful King of all people, Jew and Gentile, all cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.