Friday, April 25, 2008

Defending The (Seemingly) Indefensible

Reverend Jeremiah Wright has given an interview to Bill Moyers and the media has taken this chance to commence pounding on the Obama/Wright target again. There are several segments of past Wright sermons being used against Obama, but the most damaging is the one where he reaches a crescendo, shouting: "The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three strike law and then wants us to sing God Bless America. Naw, naw, naw. Not God Bless America. God Damn America! That's in the Bible. For killing innocent people."

It is simply a given in today's political environment that the mass exposure of such a statement will disqualify the speaker, and by extension anyone associated with the speaker, from any possibility of serving in public office. But... believe it or not there are very fundamental precepts of Judaism, Christianity and, I presume, Islam which Reverend Wright may call upon to buttress his inflammatory statement.

The mainstay conservative fundamentalist preachers very commonly use the same precept, if not the inflammatory language. The reverends Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson famously claimed that 9/11 was Gods punishment for the ACLU, Pagans, lesbians, abortion and various other social issues. Reverend John Hagee still refuses to recant his position that Hurricane Katrina was Gods wrath upon New Orleans because of a gay pride parade that was scheduled to take place.

The traditions which lead preachers to thunder about the punishment of God upon a sinful nation is hardly a modern day phenomena. In fact this tradition has roots directly connected to the days of the old testament prophets who caused a lot of problems for the rulers of their times. Ahab was the unfortunate king when the prophet Elijah started denouncing the religious duality of the nation of Israel. When Ahab met Elijah the King of Israel called him "thou troubler of Israel". This would be the equivalent of President Bush denouncing the Reverend Wright as being un-American. I'd be willing to bet that if the people who automatically think that Wright was wrong to condemn America could be beamed back into a past life they would be shocked and appalled at that loud mouthed Elijah fellow. Just to prove Ahab's point on how much of a troubler of Israel he was, Elijah then personally slew all of the prophets of Baal... which would probably be frowned upon in modern times, and actually did land Elijah in hot water with Israels first lady... who lent her name (Jezebel) to women of loose moral character from that time until this.

When the kings son sent soldiers to arrest him, Elijah called down fire upon them, killing two groups of fifty. Can you imagine the outrage in this nation if a wild eyed overtly unpatriotic and wanted preacher man ever oversaw the deaths of 100 law enforcement or military personnel sent to arrest him? Imagine the uproar if all the ATF agents sent to arrest David Koresh had been slaughtered, and Koresh fled to Mexico and escaped prosecution. Yet most main stream Jews, Christians and presumably Muslims are certain that Elijah was a man of God, divinely inspired and worthy of veneration as a true prophet.

Elijah is hardly the only example of old testament prophets telling the state of Israel or the kings who lead Israel that they were doomed to various punishments by God for wrong behavior. But this post is already turning into a book so I'll forgo compiling more examples...

Which brings us to the modern day examples of preachers warning America of impending doom, or pointing the finger at some portion of society they do not agree with as responsible for calling Gods judgement upon the neighborhood. The particular message about Gods role in national suffering from Hagee, Robertson, Falwell and Wright are essentially the same, save that Wright comes from a different political perspective, and the word which Wright uses is commonly accepted as a vulgarity. Compare the message of Wright: God damn America for killing innocent people, with the message of Pat Robertson: being struck by terrorists and natural disaster is Gods retribution for "those who shed innocent blood". It seems to me that the only difference between making one socially acceptable and the other a social outrage is the political perspective of the preacher in question.

Does anyone call Robertson's, and/or Hagee's love of America into question? It certainly seems to be a given that they are patriotic. In fact I'm certain Elijah was patriotic as well. All of these firebrands just have impassioned beliefs about what is or isn't the right way forward for their nation. And I for one am willing to extend the same benefit of the doubt to Reverend Wright.

It may come down to purely a question of the vulgarity which Wright uses in his message. In fact, I do find that sort of language coming from the pulpit to be startling. However, if proper language is the only objection, we have come a long way towards understanding Wright's meaning. Hearing a preacher curse should hardly serve as a reflection on the parishioners of that preacher.

Besides, reluctant as I am to go here because this is partially me playing devils advocate... there is a case to be made that what Wright said was what he meant in the literal sense. Damn may be used literally, in proper context, and not considered a vulgarity, as demonstrated many times in the bible. In modern society the expression used by Wright would typically be used in an off handed context not literally dealing with God's opinion on the issue in question. Yet Wright was preaching on Gods reaction to a nation killing innocent people. It is most likely his opinion that the expression he used literally meant just what Wright intended to say.

Be that as it is, I think that it was appropriate that Obama disavowed the Wright remarks. I don't appreciate that type of sentiment from the right wing preachers, and I'm not about to start liking it from the lefty preachers either. We may be able to trace this type of inflammatory rhetoric back to the old testament but there are many thousands of examples of people who were flat out wrong about what God told them who did more than just prophecy the ruination of their country at the hand of God. Some of these apostates wrought death and destruction on a biblical scale, and this type of mistaken inspiration leads me to doubt the efficacy of firebrand type preachers.

Now we just have to figure out how long it will take McCain to disavow Reverend Hagee's comments, which I must add go far beyond anything I've mentioned in this post.

Fantastic post. You're dead on.
The problem with Reverend Wright is not the sound bite on which you are focused. It is his entire message of "don't trust the government." He tells us that the government created AIDS to kill blacks. He is anti-Israel. He is fanning the flames of mistrust between the races. If he sees sin, he should speak out against it. But his sermons seem more inclined to incite hatred, than prevent his congregation from sinning. And I wonder how much his anti-American invective influenced Obama.

Of course, the American government is the worst in the world, except for all of the others. If he wants to preach against oppressive taxation or war or corruption, that is great. But he seems to be telling blacks that whites (dominating the government) are out to get them.

If a spiritual leader calls for God to curse America, do you want one of his followers to be our president?
Now Obama has come out agreeing with me (and renouncing Wright.) He's finally seeing the light.
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