Subject: ON 'THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF
BEING' IN 'THE AGE OF EXTREMES'.
13 November 2006
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
An historic question posed by the recent Republican defeats in the U.S.
congressional and gubernatorial races is : Will American citizens enjoy
new domestic economic reforms with a Democratic Party majority in both
houses of Congress, while their government is aerial bombing Iran and
financing Israeli genocide in Palestine?
One lesson from the Second Word War would indicate that significant
domestic reforms are compatible with, and can even facilitate,
imperialist conquest abroad: Hitler used stolen food stuffs from
Western Europe to maintain a consumer society in the German
homeland during W.W. II (even overruling his General Staff who wanted
the pillage sent directly to the Eastern Front where German troops were
suffering scarcities). Hitler's priority was to circumvent at all costs
civil unrest and social revolution in Germany, like the uprisings he
had witnessed as a young man at the time of the First World War.
The politics of consumerism, it would seem, is a tried-and-true means
for stabilizing imperialist expansion abroad, at least until it meets
with effective resistance outside the country. But the point has been
repeatedly made that modern developments in weaponry make the mass
annihilation of most of humanity the more probable outcome of
large-scale warfare in our times.
Indeed, it has been argued convincingly by Gabriel Kolko, among others,
that war is obsolete. Thence comes the metaphor for wartime domestic
reforms that are "like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic."
Items A. and B. are reports sent to us by Professor Edward Herman
on world response to the on-going Israeli crimes against the
Palestinian people living in Gaza.
Items C., through G. are descriptions sent to us by Information Clearing
House on the Israeli slaughter of Palestinian families and the
immorality of Israeli policy makers who try to justify their state
tactics, including the mass murder of innocent men, women and children
in Gaza, with that all-too-familiar brainwash: "God is on our side".
Item H. is an audio essay by historian Howard Zinn on
the important role played by community activities in the making of
social movements in the United States today.
Item I. is a personal reflection by University of Texas journalism Professor
Robert Jensen on seeking his moral bearings in today's jungle
of ultra-violence which is pushing toward the mass annihilation of
humanity as we know it.
Item J. is a short film by Rebecca MacNeice which
captures the prayers, hopes and emotions of Elaine Johnson,
whose son was killed in Iraq on 2 November 2003.
And, finally, item K. is an announcement from National Security Archives
describing newly available documents concerning Robert Gates,
the former CIA Director whom "the almost president" Bush has nominated
to replace Secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, whose resignation
was recently accepted by the Bush administration.
As usual, for the best English-language coverage of current events in
the United States we recommend that you read Amy
column and tune into DEMOCRACY NOW.COM, at : http://www.democracynow.org/.
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies
Director of Research
Université Stendhal Grenoble 3
from Ed Herman :
8 November 2006
Two important statements on Israel-Palestine: Hass on Israeli
oppression, and European Jews Urging compelling Israel to Obey
Two lobbies defend the oppression
There could not have been a worse time to
release the Human Rights Watch report on violence against women within
Palestinian families and society: yesterday, November 7, at the same
time the Israeli army withdrew from Beit Hanun after a six-day assault
that claimed 53 lives. At least 27 of those killed were unarmed
civilians, including 10 children and two Red Crescent
volunteers. Of the 200 or so people injured in the operation, there
were at least 50 children and 46 women. In addition to the casualties,
homes were destroyed and the water, electricity and road networks
by Amira Hass
In the competition over the Palestinian slot in the Israeli media, it
is obvious that a report critical of Palestinian society and its
institutions will trump the option of completing a report on this
assault before the next military raids dismiss it from the media
entirely. In the same fashion, the Israeli media has ignored Ramzi
al-Sharafi, a 16-year-old student from Jabalya who was hit and killed
by an Israeli missile Monday morning on his way to school, as well as
the teacher who was seriously injured by that same missile, and the
kindergarten and grade-school children who were injured or put in a
state of shock.
For precisely this reason, there is no appropriate or inappropriate
time to publish the latest report by the U.S. human rights
organization, which discusses the persecution of girls and women within
their own homes and families and the inability of society and its
institutions to save them from their persecutors - who, in most cases,
are their own relatives.
The report is based on the constant work of both independent and
official Palestinian organizations that are leading the battle against
the societal and masculine disease of persecuting and oppressing women.
Palestinian women's organizations are fighting to end the leniency of
both society and the law toward those who murder female relatives,
including the protection offered to rapists and the concept that incest
and physical abuse against women and girls are "internal family
The Human Rights Watch report, like the work of these Palestinian
organizations in general and women's organizations in particular, prove
that human rights have no ethnic, political, geographic or gender
borders, and that there are also no borders to the demand that they be
respected or to those making that demand.
The traditional-masculine lobby in Palestinian society co-opts the
Israeli occupation in order to set the borders of the public,
institutional debate and deter the critics and the voices demanding
social change. Twelve Palestinian women - eight from Gaza and four from
the West Bank - have been murdered since the start of 2006 by relatives
on the pretext of "family honor." How convenient for the traditional
lobby that Israel is attacking ceaselessly, facilitating the
concealment of this fact and the perpetuation of the idea that women
are the property of the male head of the household.
In the same way, the demon of anti-Semitism makes it convenient for
Israel and its overseas lobbyists to make light of international
resolutions (regarding the annexationist route of the separation fence,
for example), to violate bilateral agreements (such as by
discriminating at the borders between Jewish and Palestinian foreign
citizens), and to destroy, kill and demolish, mainly in Gaza but also
in the West Bank, in routine assaults that are not even mentioned in
the Israeli media.
Most of the Israeli public locks itself behind a well-defined,
impenetrable wall that it has built for itself. This wall distinguishes
between the rights of Jews and the rights of others, between the pain
of Jews and the pain of others. This separation wall, which gives the
army's commanders and its emissaries within the government a free hand,
blocks out not only all public debate over morality, but also questions
based on realpolitik.
For six years now, we have been hearing that the Israel Defense Forces'
attacks have racked up important gains in damaging the terror
infrastructure, killing and arresting terrorists and confiscating arms
caches. At first, these achievements were against youngsters throwing
stones, then against people throwing Molotov cocktails and gunmen
shooting at roads in the West Bank, and later against suicide bombers.
At first, homemade rifles were seized; later, the number of regular
rifles that were seized increased. The more they are confiscated, the
more they proliferate.
In Gaza, before the Qassams, the gains were against people who
infiltrated the settlements or who placed explosivesbeneath tank
treads. Now, three or four years later, the gains are always against
the rocket-launching teams. Once, their range was short, amateurish.
Now, so say the experts, their range is expanding constantly. Our army,
meanwhile, continues to rack up victories. It threatens new assaults,
and in Gaza, Hamas gains in status. After all, it is their militants
who headed into battles against the enormous Israeli force that had
invaded Beit Hanun - battles that were lost before they began, but were
nevertheless heroic, in their eyes.
Is it possible that the army and the politicians commanding it can't
see the fearful symmetry between the deepening Israeli military
oppression and the ongoing Palestinian arms buildup? Between the
oppression and Palestinians' support for that arms buildup, however
backward and meager, compared with Israel's might? Or is that exactly
what the Israeli government wants, with or without Avigdor Lieberman -
to perpetuate the military conflict and bolster the Palestinian
military lobby, in order to repel any chance for a political solution?
from Edward Herman :
8 November 2006
Jews for a Just Peace: Steps to Compel Israel Respect Intnal Law
European Jews for a Just Peace
P.O. Box 59506 1040 LA Amsterdam The Netherlands
+31 20 67955850 email@example.com http://www.ejjp.org
take strong and impartial steps against the humanitarian catastrophe in
Gaza Over the last months the actions of the Israeli army have
culminated in an unbearable level of suppression and persecution of the
Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip. The massacres and murder of
unarmed Palestinians, including many children and women, cynically
named in the summer months “Operation Summer Rain” and now, bearing the
title “Operation Autumn Clouds”, are beyond description. During the
last four months 335 Palestinians have been killed, 85 under 17 years
of age, and 30 women. In the last few days 47 people in Beit Hanoun,
among them women and children, were killed and many men between the age
of 16 and 45 arrested and taken to an unknown place. According to
Israeli media 130 of those killed were armed. To say it clearly:
Within less than half a year 252 civilians have thus far been murdered
by the Israeli army in Gaza not to mention the hundreds, who have been
wounded and maimed.
What are the reasons that drive the government of Israel to authorize
its army to take such actions? Is it for security? Is it to demonstrate
its power against those resisting occupation? Is it for any rational
The inhumanity of ongoing psychological and physical attacks day and
night has no other reason than to sow fear and demonstrate strength.
Against what threat? The incursions in Gaza by the Israeli army cannot
be justified by using as an excuse the launching of Qassem rockets or
the taking as hostage by Palestinian militants of the Israeli soldier
Gilad Shalit. Indeed, the arbitrary and immeasurable violence of the
Israeli army have probably endangered his life.
The use of the new, illegal and deadly weapon called DIME (Dense Inert
Metal Explosive) has no justification whatsoever. It is evident that
people living as a captive population under a brutal military
occupation are being used as objects for the testing of advanced,
One must ask whether the true motive of Israel's disengagement from
Gaza was to pave the way for any form of killing and destruction.
According to the United Nation's Charter Israel, as any other member of
the international community must be judged, made accountable and
deterred from imposing undeclared wars, from the killing of civilians,
the devastation of nature, and the destruction of the industry and
infrastructure of its neighbours.
As European citizens we are not willing to be silent about crimes being
committed against a captive, occupied people, who are the victims of
the events of European history.
As Jews we will not make the same mistake which we have often blamed
others for, silence about crimes against humanity.
It is utterly essential that strong, decisive and impartial steps
finally be taken by the European Union to compel Israel to adhere to
international law. We request that peacekeepers be dispatched
immediately to Gaza by the European Union for the protection of the
people living there. The humanitarian catastrophe has already begun!
EJJP Executive Committee
Dror Feiler (Chair) Sweden
Dan Judelson (Secretary) Great Britain
Paula Abrams-Hourani Austria
Paola Canarutto Italy
Liliane Cordova Kaczerginski France
from Jennifer Loewenstein :
11 November 2006
An opened jaw with yellowed teeth gaped out of
its bloodied shroud. The rest of the head parts were wrapped in a
plastic bag placed atop the jaw and nostrils, as if to be close to the
place to which it once belonged.
from YNETNEWS.COM :
11 November 2006
Supporters of assassinated rabbi Meir Kahane hold
ceremony to commemorate killed rabbi, say 'holy canon' fired shells at
family in Beit Hanoun in which 18 Palestinians died on Wednesday
from Gilad Atzmon :
11 November 2006
Though the man is seen by some as an Israeli left
intellectual, I see in his speech nothing but hard core Jewish
supremacy and even maintenance of the old crude Zionist racial agenda.
from Haaretz Service and the Associated Press :
11 November 2006
Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh suggested in
comments published Friday that Israel might be forced to launch a
military strike against Iran's nuclear program - the clearest statement
yet of this possibility from a high-ranking Israeli official.
from Information Clearing House :
11 November 2006
"The prime minister is going to be focusing on
the Iranian issue - how to get the world on path with what are
essentially very similar views between the United States and Israel,"
said Olmert spokeswoman Miri Eisin.
from Howard Zinn :
11 November 2006
There is nothing more satisfying than to
participate with other people in a struggle or a good cause. That
whatever sacrifices may be required of you, whatever troubles you may
go through, whatever threats may be made to you, once you have been
part of such a movement, you will never forget it. It will be a high
point of your life.
from Robert Jensen :
28 September 2006
The Struggle Over
What It Means to be a Christian Today
by Robert Jensen
Way Back to Church ... and Getting Kicked Out
This past year, after decades of steadfastly
avoiding churches of all kinds, I returned to church. Ironically, and
completely by coincidence, I returned to a Presbyterian church, the
denomination in which I was raised and to which I swore -- in both
senses of the term -- I would never return. But return I have,
prodigally perhaps, depending on one's position on various doctrinal
issues, which we will get to tonight in due time.
I don't want to be overly dramatic, but my early experience with church
had been life-threatening: I was bored, nearly to death. For me,
growing up in a middle-of-the-road Protestant church in the Midwest,
religion seemed a bland and banal approach to life -- literature,
politics, and philosophy seemed far more fruitful paths to explore. As
I have confessed to my pastor, in my entire life I have cheated on only
one test -- the exam to pass confirmation class so I could fulfill that
requirement imposed by my parents and be done with the whole
enterprise. For that sin, I have neither sought nor been granted
So, my friends and family were somewhat startled with I joined -- of my
own free will, being of sound mind and body -- St. Andrew's
Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX. Some friends gravely warned me to be
careful getting mixed up with "the God crowd," as one put it. Well, it
turns out that this decision has gotten me in a bit of trouble, though
not in the ways my skeptical friends could have predicted.
Because I do not hold conventional views about the nature of the
divine, there's been some debate about whether or not I am a "real"
Christian, a controversy I did not expect when I stood before that
congregation in December 2005. Whether I will be allowed to remain a
member of St. Andrew's is currently a subject of deliberation by
various bodies within the denomination, another controversy that took
me by surprise.
Whatever my regrets about the way in which this whole affair has gone
forward, I am glad that the issues raised by my membership are being
discussed. I think this question of what it means to be Christian is
vital not just to the faithful but to the fate of the entire planet.
The direction in which Christianity -- the dominant religion of the
empire, the contemporary United States -- heads in the coming decade is
crucial to the future of everyone. The United States, the most affluent
and powerful country in the history of the world, has an unparalleled
capacity to destroy the world through advanced weapons and/or its
economic policies. About three-quarters of the U.S. public identifies
as Christian, and increasingly in the United States people's religious
beliefs are a factor in the political process. Clearly, the struggle
over the future of Christianity matters, everywhere and to everyone.
Still, the question remains: Why would a doubter and skeptic like me
join a church? There are many reasons, but at the core of my decision
is a simple motivation:
I came back to church because I am afraid.
Let me be clear: I'm not afraid of what is going to happen to me when I
die. I assume that when my bodily functions cease in this material
world, I will start the process of becoming food for other living
things as I go back to the soil, one more chunk of matter returning to
a more elemental state to play its role in creation. About this, I'm
not only at peace but quite happy. I'm glad to do my part. For me,
"dust to dust" is a comforting thought. If it turns out that I have a
soul that is going to shuffle on from this earthly coil to another
realm, that's okay, too. But, whatever the case, I'm not fretting about
it. We should keep in mind the insight from the Buddhist teacher
Chögyam Trungpa: "Hope and fear cannot alter the seasons." My
life, like everyone's, has its seasons, and my hopes and fears will not
change "what lies in the great beyond," as my favorite songwriter puts
it. So, I tend to focus on this world, where there's a fair amount of
work to be done this season.
My fear attaches not to theological questions but to very material
concerns: I believe the human species is on the verge of making life as
we know it impossible. That is, I think we humans are living
unsustainably, in ways that may well have dramatic consequences in the
not-so-distant future. I fear not the apocalypse as it is imagined by
end-time Christians -- a dramatic finish with the saved being lifted up
and the damned left with a heap of trouble -- but rather a steady
erosion of the conditions that make possible a minimally decent human
existence in the context of respect for other forms of life.
I'm also afraid because most of the organic institutions that could
help people confront the political, economic, cultural, and ecological
crises we face have been destroyed, undermined, or co-opted by a
sophisticated system of domination achieved through the unholy alliance
of a powerful state and predatory corporate capitalism. The dominant
political parties are impediments to progressive change; unions have
been gutted and marginalized; and universities serve mostly as
comfortable shelters for timid intellectuals working in duck-and-cover
mode. The institutions in which people traditionally have come together
to learn about the world and organize to change it have mostly checked
out -- except for, possibly, the church.
Whatever one thinks about theology, church is a place where people go
to think about essential questions: What does it mean to be human? What
are our obligations to other people and the non-human world? How do we
create meaning in a world that appears to be playing a cosmic joke on
us -- a world that gives us consciousness, the capacity for complex
thought, and language with which to express those thoughts, but then
denies us any obvious answer to the question, "Who am I and how do I
fit into the bigger picture?"
I think about those questions a lot. I ponder them in the abstract, and
I struggle with the very concrete implications of them in a world
saturated in so much suffering. I am always looking for help in that
pondering and struggling, which is what led me to a new church in my
old denomination. The folks at St. Andrew's were pondering and
struggling in similar fashion, a place where the minister was not only
allowing but actually encouraging people not to accept meaning dictated
by others but to create it themselves.
In short, I found a community in which I could be part of this crucial
struggle over the direction of Christianity.
Am I an atheist?
I joined St. Andrew's not only
because it's a liberal church in terms of the political leanings of the
majority of the congregation, but because its pastor, Jim Rigby, and
many members are engaged a fundamental rethinking of theology in the
modern age. After a couple of years of being a regular visitor to the
church for political events, I decided to ask about joining, though I
still rejected traditional conceptions of God, Jesus, and the Holy
Spirit. When I wrote about that decision in an article published in the
Houston Chronicle and circulated on the internet, I described
myself as "a Christian, sort of. A secular Christian. A Christian
atheist, perhaps. But, in a deep sense, I would argue, a real
My use of the term "atheist" clearly pushed many people's buttons and
appears to have led to the challenge to my membership and, more
generally, to St. Andrew's theology. So, let's start with why I chose
After talking to people about what I believe, they quickly realize I'm
not a dogmatic atheist, the kind who takes pleasure in ridiculing
religion or faith. We've all met such folks, whom we might call them
fundamentalist atheists. I enjoy their company about as much as I enjoy
the company of fundamentalists of other stripes. So, people ask me, why
don't I call myself an agnostic or a seeker or a doubter or something
that conveys more openness? Am I really so sure God doesn't exist in
the traditional form? How can I be so sure?
I can't be sure, of course. It's impossible to prove the non-existence
of God. In that sense, I'm an agnostic, just as I'm an agnostic on the
question of whether or not my life is controlled by tiny magic elves
who live in my desk drawer at work. I can't prove that I'm not under
the influence of those alleged elves, and hence I can't really be an
atheist on the question. But what really counts is not what I can or
can't prove, but how I live. Do I go about my day as if elves are
running the show? Do I sneak a peak into my drawer now and then to try
to catch them plotting? Do I ever offer prayers to the elves to which I
think they will respond? No, I don't. In philosophical terms, I'm
agnostic on the question. In practical terms, I live like an atheist,
on the assumption they don't exist.
In that sense, most people in this culture, no matter what their stated
beliefs about God, live like atheists. Most of us accept the results of
the Enlightenment and the application of the scientific method. We
assume that actions in the world are governed by laws of physics that
scientists have begun to identify, however incompletely. Whatever our
views on the power of prayer, most of us also seek medical help when we
are sick and trust in some worldly system of healing -- whether Western
medicine or alternative traditions -- that is rooted in accumulated
experience and/or scientific experimentation.
An important footnote: This atheism-in-practice that guides the lives
of most of us shouldn't be taken as a boast that we really have a clue
about how the world works, where we come from, or what happens when we
die. About most of these matters, I'm fundamentally ignorant -- just
like all of you. It's healthy to remember that for all that modern
science has revealed about the way the world works, we are far more
ignorant than we are knowledgeable, a point being made in compelling
fashion these days by Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry, and others in the
sustainable agriculture and ecological movements. Human beings are very
clever, and we tend to mistake cleverness for wisdom and deep
understanding. That confusion has given us the ozone hole, global
warming, soil erosion, groundwater depletion, toxic waste
contamination, the dead zone in the Gulf, and other ecological crises
too long to list here. And those are just the ways we've messed up the
non-human world. Add in war, poverty, rape, racism, and other human
crises too long to list here and, well, you get the point. It might be
amusing to hear people talk about how smart people are, if it weren't
It seems to me that we all -- secular and religious alike -- need a lot
more humility, and the recognition of that simple fact is part of what
led me to church. The older I get, the more I'm aware of the scope of
what I don't know, and the more scared I am of the people who claim
great confidence in human knowledge, be it about science or religion.
This point is important because many people who have criticized my
writing about this subject have accused me of being arrogant and
disrespectful, of confronting traditional Christians in a fashion that
seems insulting. Nothing could be further from the truth. After
spending a lot of my life looking down on religious people as
intellectually confused and emotionally weak, in recent years I had to
come to terms with my own ignorance and recognize that I could learn
and grow from being part of a congregation. When I went before the
members of St. Andrew's to ask to be accepted into the church, I did so
acutely aware that I was letting go of some of my own sense of
certainty and security, trusting that in this particular community I
could ask my questions without pretending I had answers.
The personal is
I could stop there, and I
suspect many would accept that explanation of my reasons for joining.
It's a nice, neat explanation. I like it. I think it makes me look
smart but not cocky, thoughtful and self-confident. Yes, I like this
explanation quite a bit. But it's incomplete, for there was another
fear behind my decision to join, one much more personal. It's tempting
to ignore this other motivation, in part because we live in a culture
in which we all understand the acronym "TMI" -- too much information.
We've all been in some situation in which inappropriate personal
revelations have made us uncomfortable. But I can't honestly tell this
story without talking a bit more about myself, with what I hope will be
"NTMI" -- not too much information. This is the story of another kind
of fear I carry.
In the past year I have begun confronting some unresolved issues from
my childhood involving abuse. The details are not relevant here, but I
will say that it's not a fun process. Those of you who have struggled
with such things know what I mean, and I'm sure others can understand.
I'll stick to my pledge of not too much information, but to leave out
this part of the story would be to ignore another important motivation
that leads people to church: The need for acceptance and love in
community when we are scared and lonely and weak and alone. And, of
course, at some point we all are scared and lonely and weak and alone.
When struggling with any difficult problem in our lives, we tend to
rely on those closest to us. If we are lucky, as I am, we have a
supportive and loving partner. We may have good friends, as I am lucky
to have. We may have the resources to hire a competent therapist when a
problem goes beyond our friends' ability to help. But what we need in
addition to all that is a community in which we can just be. It need
not be a church, but a church is one place where people seek that. In
my experience, we humans tend to want to have a place where we know we
can go without worrying about whether our hair looks good that day, a
place we can find validation and connection without having to prove
that we deserve it that moment. Church is not the only place that can
happen, and there's no guarantee it will happen in church; despite
Christ's admonition against self-serving judgment of others, such
judgment happens all too often in Christian churches and, no doubt,
other churches. But whatever our failures, church is one place we seek
out such acceptance.
I didn't have a conscious understanding of that when I joined St.
Andrew's, but I think I had an intuitive sense that I needed such a
place and that St. Andrew's was such a place for me. In our patriarchal
culture, this need can be particularly difficult for us men to
acknowledge, out of a fear it will be read as a sign of weakness. But
is there anyone who doesn't feel that need at times? And, if we turn
away from this need that we feel, what are the consequences? What part
of ourselves do we bury to ignore that need?
So, am I a
After I joined St. Andrew's
and wrote about my reasons, a complaint was filed with Mission
Presbytery in central and south Texas, the first level of the
bureaucracy of the Presbyterian Church USA, to which St. Andrew's
belongs. In June 2006, the delegates to the Presbytery heard a report
from its Committee on Ministry recommending that St. Andrew's be
instructed on appropriate standards for accepting members and that I be
removed from the active membership roll. The Presbytery delegates voted
156-114 to accept that recommendation, but they also allowed me to
remain a member while St. Andrew's appeals the decision in the Synod of
the Sun, the next level of bureaucracy.
The meeting at which these matters were debated was, frankly, a bit
surreal. After the presentation of the Committee's report, Rigby
cogently defended not only the decision to accept me into the church
but the theology of St. Andrew's. I sat quietly listening to others
debate the state of my alleged soul, without a chance to respond. Some
delegates were clear that they thought I was no kind of Christian no
way, and the sooner I was dispatched the better. Many were conflicted;
one person used the image of Christianity as a circle, saying that so
long as people could put one toe in the circle -- no matter what doubts
they might have -- that was enough for membership. To her, I passed the
one-toe test. Another person said that she was convinced that I had
already been born again. By the end of it, even I was a bit confused.
Before the meeting, Presbytery officials had told Rigby that I would
not be allowed to speak at the meeting. My assumption is that those who
wanted to bounce me didn't want to risk letting the delegates see a
real human being talk about his struggles with the complexity of the
issue -- better to keep me as a symbol of heresy, on the assumption
that delegates would have an easier time voting against heresy in the
abstract than voting against an actual heretic who looks like them and
may even have some of the same questions as they do. But because so
many people had been asking me for more specifics about what I
believed, I did write a statement that was made available to delegates.
This is what I said in that document:
"On God: I believe God is a name we give to the mystery of the world
that is beyond our capacity to understand. I believe that the energy of
the universe is ordered by forces I cannot comprehend.
On Jesus: I believe Christ offered a way into that mystery that still
has meaning today.
On the Holy Ghost: There are moments in my life when I feel a
connection to other people and to Creation that rides a spirit which
flows through me yet is beyond me.
I believe that Holy Spirit can only be nurtured in real community,
where people make commitments to each other. I have found that
community in St. Andrew's. I have tried to open myself up to our
pastor's teaching, to the members of the congregation, and to the
church's work in the world."
That approach to the notion of God not only contests Biblical
literalism but also challenges the conception of God for many
Christians who would not see themselves as fundamentalists. For me, the
key is whether we say (1) God is a mystery, or (2) God is
The difference between those two formulations is important. The first,
with the indefinite article, implies that God is an entity, force, or
being with some shape, but that his/her/its contours are beyond our
capacity to fully chart. The thing that God is, is in the end a mystery
to us. But God is, something.
The second suggests that God is simply the name we give to that which
is beyond our capacity to understand. God is another name for mystery
-- for the vast, unexplainable mystery of the world around us and
I prefer the second, as I suspect do a fair number of theologically
moderate and liberal Christians who might not share all my politics but
have a similar sense about this question. I also suspect a lot of those
folks don't speak openly about their views, out of concern that it will
create tension within a church or family. Part of the reason for the
intensity of the reaction to my essay, I think, is simply that I said
out loud what a lot of Christians think but rarely discuss.
So, am I a Christian? Am I a real Christian? I give up. But I'm
sure someone will figure this out and get back to me.
We are all
afraid of something
As I listened to the
discussion on the floor of the Presbytery meeting, one question kept
coming to my mind: What are these folks afraid of? The question was
genuine. I thought it then -- and I ask it now -- not as a taunt or a
subtle insult but because I really wanted to know, and I still want to
There seemed to me to be two different kinds of fear on the floor that
day. One was easy to identify -- the fear of some that this divisive
issue would tear apart people of common faith. Many people who spoke
wanted to find a resolution that would allow St. Andrew's to follow its
own path -- honoring the denomination's democratic tradition of local
control and the larger Protestant notion of a "priesthood of all
believers" -- without endangering the unity and work of the larger
church. That's also easy to understand; people who had given part of
their life to an institution that they believe does good work in the
world would naturally want to see it continue that work.
The unstated fear that I sensed in the room came from the people who
wanted me banished. Here, it was not the explicit words they spoke but
the underlying hostility I felt from some of them. They seemed angry
with me, as if I had committed a grave offense against them or against
Scripture, maybe even against God. I sat there somewhat stunned,
struggling with how people committed to a faith tradition that
routinely invokes the phrase "God is love" could seem so unloving
toward someone (me) for speaking honestly about my spiritual journey,
toward a pastor (Rigby) who has given so much of himself to building a
vibrant and loving church, and toward a congregation (St. Andrew's)
full of so many socially responsible and theologically engaged members.
I can hypothesize that those who were so angry at me were afraid either
that (1) my understanding of God was reasonable and, therefore, a
threat to the understanding with which they had grown comfortable, or
(2) an open acceptance of church members with a similar theology would
undermine their control and power in the denomination. I suspect that
for some of the people who were angriest not only with me but with
Rigby and St. Andrew's, those explanations might be sound. But those
explanations also seem too easy to me. Because I have a hard time
getting those folks to talk to me about these issues, my hypotheses is
based more on speculation than evidence.
Not surprisingly, it's difficult for any of us to talk about our fears.
I have spoken about mine because I think it's only fair to be open if
one asks others to do the same. If I really want to know what fears
motivate those on the other side of this issue, I have an obligation to
look inside myself and, to the best of my ability, report on what I
I've tried to do that in this talk. Because of the theological and
political positions I have taken, many Christians are going to see me
not as a brother in faith but as a threat to that faith. If in the end
those people decide that I don't even have one toe inside the circle, I
can accept that. But it seems to me that such a conclusion can't be
reached until we share our fears in a space we enter not as combatants
squaring off in a fight, but rather as people recognizing our mutual
need. A place like a church where God -- however we imagine the concept
-- is truly love.
For that work, I know that St. Andrew's doors are open.
Christ said it
was hard, and he was right
The statement about my beliefs
that I submitted for the Mission Presbytery meeting ended with these
"Abe Osheroff, a friend of mine who just turned 90 years old, told me
recently that he had come to see that in his life he had no
destination, just a direction -- toward ever-greater love and
I believe that when we are truly open to the wonder of Creation, that
direction becomes clear. I am trying to walk a path in that direction.
I find that it is hard, as Jesus said it would be. In Matthew 7:12-14,
he said, 'Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is
easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For
the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those
who find it are few.' I believe that is true."
The older I get, the less I know and the less certain I am about what I
believe. But I'm pretty sure about that one point -- being human is
hard sometimes, maybe most of the time, maybe all of the time. We are
cursed with the capacity for critical self-reflection and a linguistic
ability that allows us to express much -- but never quite enough -- of
what we feel. That's why we need poetry and art and music, to try to
close that gap between what we feel and what we can rationally explain.
But, in the end, it's a gap that can never be bridged completely. Maybe
that's why we need religion. I'm not sure. I'm still chewing on that
But here's what I'm reasonably sure about: If the powers that be -- or,
perhaps more accurately, the powers that wanna-be powerful -- are to
decide that I am insufficiently Christian to be a Presbyterian, and if
they remove me from the membership roll of St. Andrew's, I'm confident
I will still be a member of St. Andrew's in some form, in some fashion.
I say that not out of arrogance, not because I believe I have any
special value to the pastor and congregation. My confidence about that
isn't based on what I know.
I trust in that out of faith.
Because my theme has been our
limits -- recognizing those things that we can't know and that leave us
in a state of perpetual confusion -- I want to end with a simple story
about that kind of confusion, about my experience of the singing of the
Doxology in the St. Andrew's service.
I don't remember much about the rituals of the church I attended as a
child, but I do remember the Doxology. The version we sang was
different than the one St. Andrew's uses. Both start with the same
line: "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow." Because St. Andrew's
is committed to not using patriarchal language, a policy I
wholeheartedly endorse, in our service it continues:
Praise God, all creatures here below;
God does create, redeem, sustain.
All creatures, praise God's holy name.
That's a lovely version. But in the church of my childhood, those lines
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
I like the St. Andrew's version better; I think gender-neutral language
is important in a world where women still are so often denied their
full humanity. But I also find that the old version still resonates for
me. So, when I'm at St. Andrew's, I sing along with the first line, and
then I silently sing the old version to myself. I find it comforting,
for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. I have mostly negative
memories of that church, and my politics are in line with the St.
Andrew's version. I don't understand why I can't just recalibrate to
this new version. But something in me still wants to hear those words
from my childhood. I don't have to sing them out loud -- for now, it
works for me just to stand there, in a community where I feel loved,
and repeat to myself words that bring me comfort. Maybe someday I'll
find myself singing the new version; maybe those words will find their
way into me. But for now, I am praising Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
I asked my pastor about this, and Rigby said it was okay. That's what I
like about St. Andrew's -- it's okay to struggle, to be uncertain, to
doubt, to search. In short, St. Andrew's Presbyterian is a church in
which it's okay to be a human being.
Am I a Christian? I don't know. But I'm pretty sure I'm a human being.
Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of
Texas at Austin and a member of the board of the Third Coast Activist Resource
Center. He is the author of The
Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege and Citizens
of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
from TruthOut :
10 November 2006
Subject: VIDEO | A Mother's Prayer
Filmmaker Rebecca MacNeice captures the prayers,
hopes and emotions of Elaine Johnson, whose son Darius was killed in
Iraq on November 2nd, 2003.
from The National Security Archives :
Subject : The Robert Gates File
10 November 2006
THE ROBERT GATES FILE
(The Iran-Contra Scandal, 1991 Confirmation Hearings and
Excerpts from new book "Safe for Democracy")
ashington, DC, November 10, 2006
- Bush administration nominee for Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
had a long career in government which showed a notable combination of
ambition and caution, according to a new book by Archive senior analyst
John Prados ["Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA" (Chicago:
Ivan R. Dee, 2006)] which deals with Gates among its much wider
coverage of the agency since its inception.
As Director of Central Intelligence in the immediate aftermath of the
Cold War, Gates faced criticism for moving slowly with reforming the
agency for the new era, and thus missing a moment of extraordinary
opportunity that occurred at that time. In earlier posts at top levels
of the CIA, Gates figured in the Iran-Contra affair, in which he
engaged in sins of omission if not commission, hesitating to make
inquiries and pass warnings that might have headed off this abuse of
power. As the CIA's top manager for intelligence analysis in the early
1980s he was accused of slanting intelligence to suit the predilections
of the Reagan administration and his boss, Director William J. Casey.
Excerpts from "Safe for Democracy" related to Mr. Gates were posted
today on the Archive Web site. They are accompanied by the full three
volumes of the extraordinary confirmation hearings of Gates for CIA
Director which took place in 1991, and which at the time constituted
the most detailed examination of U.S. intelligence practices carried
out since the Church and Pike investigations of the 1970s. Also posted
is the portion of the report by Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence
Walsh which concerns Mr. Gates, along with his response to those
THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE is an independent non-governmental
research institute and library located at The George Washington
University in Washington, D.C. The Archive collects and publishes
declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act
(FOIA). A tax-exempt public charity, the Archive receives no U.S.
government funding; its budget is supported by publication royalties
and donations from foundations and individuals.