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John Simkin

Christian Fundamentalism and Politics

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[quote=Mark Knight,Aug 18 2005, 06:16 PM]

In the teachings of Jesus Christ, he said that it was not enough to send away the stranger from your door, to tell him to go get something to eat if he is hungry, to tell him to get some clothes on if he is naked, to tell him to go get a job if he is unemployed...without offering help from within your house. Yet that's what the so-called "religious right" in the US does every day.

Unfortunately, the "religious left" [to coin a similar term] in the US apparently believes that the solution is to tax the people, and to use the proceeds to allow the government to help those who need food, clothing, jobs, or homes. To my way of thinking, the left is just as wrong as the right.

Both seem to deny any personal responsibility for their fellowman. The right's position is to let him fend for himself, or "pull himself up by the bootstraps," according to a popular phrase awhile back. The left's position is that government's involvement absolves them of any personal involvement in seeking the betterment of society.

Did not Jesus Christ himself walk among the lepers and those of both breoken body and spirit? Did he not lay hands upon them to perform feats of healing? Did he not cause miracles to occur, in which multitudes were fed with a few meager loaves and fishes? And yet both the "religious right" and their counterparts on the left want to keep these people who are in need at arm's length--or further--while still claiming to be walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

Only God can judge, so I shall not; in fact, I've found myself among the aforementioned groups, staying safe and snug in my home while others in the world suffer. It's not just the will to change, but the actual act of doing something, that matters. While good works alone won't earn a reward, a faith without good works is dead. "By their fruits ye shall know them," I believe is the line. Recall that Jesus put a curse upon a fig tree that failed to bear fruit, and the tree withered and died. How similar it will be for people who have been planted on this earth and fail to bear fruit for their fellowman!

And what of those whose plans are to store up riches for themselves here on earth? Did Jesus not advise the rich man to sell what he had, and give the proceeds to the poor? Imagine someone of Bill Gates' financial stature doing just that...not merely "philanthropy," which consists of giving from his excess wealth...but donating ALL his stock in Microsoft, and its income, to the poor. Would that not have some impact?

Infortunately, it is inertia which drives most of us to continue upon the path we chose long ago. To counteract inertia, it takes an outside force. To use the words of one who trod here 2,000 years ago, "He who has ears, let him hear."

Peace.

Mark and John:

GREAT POSTS GUYS!!!!!

Dawn

Edited by Dawn Meredith

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In the teachings of Jesus Christ, he said that it was not enough to send away the stranger from your door, to tell him to go get something to eat if he is hungry, to tell him to get some clothes on if he is naked, to tell him to go get a job if he is unemployed...without offering help from within your house. Yet that's what the so-called "religious right" in the US does every day.

Unfortunately, the "religious left" [to coin a similar term] in the US apparently believes that the solution is to tax the people, and to use the proceeds to allow the government to help those who need food, clothing, jobs, or homes. To my way of thinking, the left is just as wrong as the right.

Both seem to deny any personal responsibility for their fellowman. The right's position is to let him fend for himself, or "pull himself up by the bootstraps," according to a popular phrase awhile back. The left's position is that government's involvement absolves them of any personal involvement in seeking the betterment of society.

Being brought up in a society that use to base their politics on progressive taxation I don't agree with Mark when he says that this form is as wrong as the right. The idea of sharing the wealth with the less fortunate through the governments initiative fosters an idea of solidarity. Many times people feel helpless as an individual but they do get impressed with what a collective can do. That's the strength of this action.

Sweden use to be a poor country not to long ago. In the latter half of the 19th century over 1/4 of the population emigrated to the US trying to find a way out of poverty. At that time the relief of the poor was based on the good of a few individual initiatives. The government did not interfer and the gap between the rich and poor was enormous. This is exactly what happens when you let the wealthy run the business without any constraint. Today we see that we are on the way back to this kind of society in a global neoliberal economy. The bigger enterprises are making more profit than ever, they more and more uses the resources of the poor countries (as well as ruining the environment) and the gap between rich and poor is getting wider. Many of these wealthy ruthless people are "mock-religous" - they claim that they are good Christians and they try to portray their life and success as a God given order...

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Anders, I totally agree with you.

What is Sweden like today? In the US we hear all sorts of horror stories, of course, the US media is going to say very little good about a Socialist country. For example how is the medical system, the quality of care and the timeliness of needed surgery? How is the school system? In general what is the quality of life? Level of crime, etc.

Thanks,

Dawn

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Unfortunately, the "religious left" [to coin a similar term] in the US apparently believes that the solution is to tax the people, and to use the proceeds to allow the government to help those who need food, clothing, jobs, or homes.  To my way of thinking, the left is just as wrong as the right.

Both seem to deny any personal responsibility for their fellowman.  The right's position is to let him fend for himself, or "pull himself up by the bootstraps," according to a popular phrase awhile back.  The left's position is that government's involvement absolves them of any personal involvement in seeking the betterment of society.

I agree with most of what you say Mark (as I usually do). However, I question your interpretation of the left’s view on taxation. I cannot speak for the left in the US but it is definitely not the view in the UK that the “solution is to tax the people”. The left is in favour of lowering tax on average and below average incomes. What it is against is the way the rich pay far less of their incomes in tax than the poor (see Pat Speer’s post on this).

The left also has strong views on the disproportionate amount of money spent on the military. This is a con that has been going on for the last sixty years. Despite what they say in public, the “right” are in favour of higher government spending. Right-wing leaders like George Bush and Ronald Reagan give them what they want. Most of this is done via corrupt government contracts going to large corporations paying bribes to politicians.

The U.S. military budget request for Fiscal Year 2005 is $420.7 billion. It was $288.8 billion, in 2000.

In 2004 Dan Briody published a book (The Halliburton Agenda) that explained how the Military Industrial Complex works in 2004.

In 1992 Dick Cheney, head of the US Department of Defence, gave a $3.9m contract (a further $5m was added later) to Kellog Brown & Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton. The contract involved writing a report about how private contractors could help the Pentagon deal with 13 different “hot spots” around the world.

The KBR report remains a classified document. However, the report convinced Cheney to award a umbrella contract to one company to deal with these problems. This contract, which became known as the Logistics Civil Augmentation Programme (Logcap), was of course awarded to KBR. It is an unique contract and is effectively a blank cheque from the government. KBR makes it money from a built in profit percentage. When your profit is a percentage of the cost, the more you spend, the more you make.

KBR’s first task was to go to Somalia as part of Operation Restore Hope. KBR arrived before the US Army. Over the next few months KBR made a profit of $109.7m. In August 1994 KBR made $6.3m in Rwanda. Later that year they received $150m profit from its work in Haiti. KBR made its money from building base camps, supplying troops with food and water, fuel and munitions, cleaning latrines and washing clothes.

The contract came up for renewal in 1997. By this time Cheney had been appointed as CEO of Halliburton. The Clinton administration gave the contract to Dyncorp. The contract came to an end in 2001. Cheney was now back in power and KBR won back the Logcap contract. This time it was granted for ten years. The beauty of this contract is that it does not matter where the US armed forces are in action, the KBR makes money from its activities. However, the longer the troops stay, the more money it makes.

KBR is now busy in Iraq (it also built the detention cells in Guantanamo Bay). What is more Halliburton was given the contract for restoring the Iraqi oil infrastructure (no competitive bid took place).

Cheney sold his stock options in Halliburton for $30m when he became vice president. He claimed he had got rid of all his financial interests in Halliburton. However, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) discovered that he has been receiving yearly sums from Halliburton: $205,298 (2001), $162,392 (2002), etc. They also found he still holds 433,333 unexercised stock options in Halliburton.

This is just one example of how large corporations use the tax system to fleece the American people.

See the following for a debate on this subject:

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=1160

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What is Sweden like today? In the US we hear all sorts of horror stories, of course, the US media is going to say very little good about a Socialist country. For example how is the medical system, the quality of care and the timeliness of needed surgery? How is the school system? In general what is the quality of life? Level of crime, etc.

In Sweden the government socialized medicin many years ago. This system is still the most common one, but today we have private medical care as well. The government spends less money on the medical sector today but in general the system still works. Most people get good or adequate care, but in some cities the timelines for different surgeries can be long... You also hear of a few cases where people have "died in line" and a few cases where an individual has not got the proper care - most of the time due to lack of human resources (cut down of the numbers of doctors, nurses and other personal within the medical sector).

Since I have quite a large family we have used the Swedish health care system fairly often and so far it has worked very well so my personal experience is good. What worries me now is the fact that the government spends more money on the Common Market membership as well as cutting the taxes for the bigger enterprises and less money on hospitals, schools and the retirement funds. This is a trend that started in the 1980's and it seems to escalate. The result is as I described above - less resources in the medical sector.

Another result is less and less resources to schools. Most of the Swedish schools have been on a tight budget the last 15 years. Classes are bigger today, schools are forced to close down even though the numbers of students are going up, less teachers are employed and more administrative duties burdens the teachers within the system + the investments in the individual schools are kept on a minimum. Another sign of this problem is the growing number of private schools - a development that I recent very much! Education should be paid for and everybody should have the same opportunities!!!

We use to have one of the best educations in Europe within grade and Upper Secondary School but Sweden often finds itself somewhere in the middle of the "rankings" today. Our neighbour Finland (my native country) has an Upper Secondary School systems that's top ranked in Europe today. They spend quite a bit more money on their education system. The same goes for our neighbour in the south - Denmark. The problem within the Swedish school system is not only the lack of resources but that is another story...

The crime rate compared with the rest of Europe is still very low and I think personally that the quality of life is good. My family and I enjoy living here. My oldest son has moved to Helsinki in Finland and he thinks it is as good as here. The Nordic countries in general seems to still be a quite little safe corner of the world...

I lived several years in the US, actually one year as a visiting scholar at UT in Austin (we then lived in Round Rock...). When I compare with the life in Sweden I always think about the generousity of the people we met in the US, the intellectual stimulans I got from so many collegues within the educational system at the universities and colleges I worked at and the many good times we had. Therefore I don't understand how you can end up with the kind of political system you have - you deserve much better! :)

Edited by Anders MacGregor-Thunell

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I think Mark's post was just outstanding!

It was because he explained the connections between religious beliefs and political action. Why are you unwilling to do this? Your comments about taxation were outrageous. Yet you appear unwilling to defend them as being Christian.

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  We use to have one of the best educations in Europe within grade and Upper Secondary School but Sweden often finds itself somewhere in the middle of the "rankings" today. Our neighbour Finland (my native country) has an Upper Secondary School systems that's top ranked in Europe today. They spend quite a bit more money on their education system. The same goes for our neighbour in the south - Denmark. The problem within the Swedish school system is not only the lack of resources but that is another story...

It is worth reading this thread to discover why Finland has the best education system in the world:

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=2495

When I visited schools in Finland a few years ago I was amazed by the resources they had. It should be pointed out that Finland is a capitalist country and schools work closely with the business community. However, they seem to have the power balance right. People come first in Finland. See this thread for how they have dealt with the problems of food and health:

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=1563

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I started to notice the power of the "Christian right" in the mid/early 80's. As a Christian myself I became alarmed by the level of intolerance, hatred,  self-righteousness that was espoused by  this "religious/political" group.  As the decades passed I saw this group grow in numbers as well as power.  It never failed to amaze me how little this so -called "moral majority" actually PRACTICED what Jesus taught.   Concern for life was ALWAYS "unborn life", NEVER concern for the millions of unwanted, neglected starving children in this world. Never concern for the poor uneducated mother for whom "choice" is often not even a thought, much less an option. (As an aside I consider the so-called "pro-life movement" falsely named. It's not about life, it's about controlling women's bodies. About keeping her "barefoot and pregnant" and voiceless.)

When the war in Iraq began I felt very isolated at my church....where the members  are STILL buying into W's lies, arrogance and false patriotism. 

The (stolen) electin of 2004 seemed to indicate that all Christians are Republicans and this is just FALSE.  W has many people brainwashed,  spiritual discernment taught by Jesus is  at an all time low, IMO.  But there are liberal Democrats who are also Christians. Who are sickened by having our God "hijacked" by these immoral "leaders".

Good points Dawn. The teachings of Jesus Christ have motivated reformers with a social conscientious for centuries. Most of the much needed reforms that took place in the UK in the 19th century came about because individuals had a good knowledge of the teachings of Jesus. This included the successful campaigns against slavery and child labour in the early part of the 19th century. The demands for universal suffrage and the welfare state in the second-half of the 19th century mainly came from those inspired by the reading of the New Testament. George Bernard Shaw once claimed that Jesus was the world’s first socialist. Others, like the historian Richard Tawney, rightly pointed out that the Labour Movement in the UK had been more influenced by Methodism than Marxism.

The link between Christianity and reform has been in evidence throughout the world. This includes the United States. You have followed a similar pattern to that of Europe. The campaigners against slavery were devout Christians. The early Labour movement relied on the leadership of Christians. After the war, committed Christians such as Abraham Muste, George Houser (two men that deserves to be better known), and Norman Thomas helped establish the first effective civil rights groups such as Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). Like the Quakers, members of the FOR were Christian pacifists (based on their interpretation of the teachings of Jesus).

The success of the FOR inspired the setting up of the Congress of Racial Equality. Again this was a Christian pacifist organization. In early 1947, CORE announced plans to send eight white and eight black men into the Deep South to test the Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation in interstate travel unconstitutional. Organized by Baynard Rustin, this two week pilgrimage through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky was the beginning of the civil rights movement.

CORE inspired others to join the struggle for civil rights. In 1957 Rustin, Martin Luther King and Ralph David Abernathy established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The new organisation was committed to using nonviolence in the struggle for civil rights, and SCLC adopted the motto: "Not one hair of one head of one person should be harmed."

In the 1950s and 1960s several members of organizations like CORE and SCLC were murdered by people who considered themselves as Christians. This raises the important issue: How can the followers of Jesus Christ come to such different conclusions?

History gives us an answer. Christian reformers have mainly belonged to smaller religious groups that have not been under the control of the state. Ever since the nationalization of the Catholic Church by the Romans, the state has been very good at using Christianity to support the status quo.

In recent years, in the UK and most of Europe, virtually all Church groups, have been on the side of reformers. When Margaret Thatcher was prime minister she accused the leaders of the Church of England of being Marxists. Despite this, church leaders continued to give into this attempt at smearing them and they played an important role in stopping the welfare state from being dismantled under Thatcher's extreme right-wing government.

The continued liberalism of religious leaders was reflected in the almost complete unity they showed in the campaign against the Iraq War.

The United States has not followed this pattern. The main reason for this was the McCarthyism that took place in the late 1940s and early 1950s. This period of history managed to virtually destroy the reform movement in America. Those that survived were in such a minority that it was possible to smear them as being “Marxists” or “Communists”. J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI played a very important role in this. All the leading figures in the civil rights movement suffered from being identified as “left-wing”. Leaders of CORE and SCLC were common targets for Hoover. Especially when people like Martin Luther King became concerned about issues like the Vietnam War and the plight of the low paid.

It is this irrational fear of “leftists” that is often displayed by Christian Fundamentalists like Tim Gratz. This is why I asked Tim about his actions during the Civil Rights campaigns. For people like Tim showed no interest at all in civil rights during this period. Instead they joined J. Edgar Hoover in going along with the idea that it was some sort of “communist conspiracy”.

It is no surprise that it is now these old Cold War hardliners are now supporters of Christian Fundamentalism. It also helps to explain why they are unwilling to speak up for the poor and the dispossessed today. Instead they are advocates of maintaining the privileges of the rich and powerful. How can they defend this position that is so different from that advocated by Jesus Christ? With great difficulty and helps explain why it will take a brave (or foolish) supporter of Christian Fundamentalism, to join this debate.

Here is an essay by Bill McKibben which appeared in the August 2005 issue of Harper's Magazine.

THE CHRISTIAN PARADOX

How a faithful nations gets Jesus wrong

By Bill McKibben

Only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels. Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. This failure to recall the specifics of our Christian heritage may be further evidence of our nation's educational decline, but it probably doesn't matter all that much in spiritual or political terms. Here is a statistic that does matter: Three-quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that "God helps those who help themselves." That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture. The thing is, not only is Franklin's wisdom not biblical; it's counter-biblical. Few ideas could be further from the gospel message, with its radical summons to love of neighbor. On this essential matter, most Americans - most American Christians - are simply wrong, as if 75 percent of American scientists believed that Newton proved gravity causes apples to fly up.

Asking Christians what Christ taught isn't a trick. When we say we are a Christian nation - and, overwhelmingly, we do - it means something. People who go to church absorb lessons there and make real decisions based on those lessons, increasingly, these lessons inform their politics. (One poll found that 11 percent of the U.S. churchgoers were urged by their clergy to vote in a particular way in the 2004 election, up from 6 percent in 2000.) When George Bush says that Jesus Christ is his favorite philosopher, he may or may not be sincere, but he is reflecting the sincere beliefs of the vast majority of Americans.

And, therein is the paradox. America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior. That paradox - more important, perhaps, that the much touted ability of French women to stay thin on a diet of chocolate and cheese - illuminates the hollow at the core of our boastful, careening culture.

Ours is among the most spiritually homogenous rich nations on earth. Depending on which poll you look at and how the question is asked, somewhere around 85 percent of us call ourselves Christian. Israel, by way of comparison, is 77 percent Jewish. It is true that a smaller number of Americans - about 75 percent - claim they actually pray to God on a daily basis, and only 22 percent say they manage to get to church every week. Still, even if that 85 percent overstates actual practice, it clearly represents aspiration. In fact, there is nothing else that unites more than four-fifths of America. Every other statistic one can cite about American behavior is essentially also a measure of the behavior of professed Christians. That's what America is: a place saturated in Christian identity.

But, is it Christian? This is not a matter of angels dancing on the heads of pins. Christ was pretty specific about what he had in mind for his followers. What if we chose some simple criterion - say, giving aid to the poorest people - as a reasonable proxy for Christian behavior? After all, in the days before his crucifixion, when Jesus summed up his message for his disciples, he said, the way you could tell the righteous from the damned was by whether they'd fed the hungry, slaked the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the prisoner. what would we find then?

In 2004, as a share of our economy, we ranked second to last, after Italy, among developed countries in government foreign aid. Per capita we each provide fifteen cents a day in official development assistance to poor countries. And, it's not because we were giving to private charities for relief work instead. Such funding increases our average daily donation by just six pennies, to twenty-one cents. It's also not because Americans were too busy taking care of their own; nearly 18 percent of American children lived in poverty (compared with, say, 8 percent in Sweden). In fact, by pretty much any measure of caring for the least among us you want to propose - childhood nutrition, infant mortality, access to preschool - we come in nearly last among the rich nations, and often by a wide margin. The point is not just that (as everyone already knows) the American nation trails badly in all these categories; it's that the overwhelmingly Christian American nation trails badly in all these categories, categories to which Jesus paid particular attention. And, it's not as if the numbers are getting better: the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last year that the number of households that were "food insecure with hunger" had climbed more than 26 percent between 1999 and 2003.

This Christian nation also tends to make personal, as opposed to political, choices that the Bilbe would seem to frown upon. Despite Jesue' strong declarations against divorce, our marriages break up at a rate - just over half - that compares poorly with the European Union's average of about four in ten. That average may be held down by the fact that Europeans marry less frequently, and by countries, like Italy, where divorce is difficult: still, compare our success with, say, that of the godless Dutch, whose divorce rate is just over 37 percent. Teenage pregnancy? We're at the top of the charts. Personal self-discipline - like, say, keeping your weight under control? Buying on credit? Running government dificits? Do you need to ask?

Are Americans hypocrites? Of course they are. But most people (me, for instance) are hypocrites. The more troubling explanation for this disconnect between belief and action, I think, is that most Americans - which means most believers - have replaced the Christianity of the Bible, with its call to deep sharing and personal sacrifice, with a competing creed.

In fact, there may be several competing creeds. For many Christians, deciphering a few passages of the Bible to figure out the schedule for the End Times has become a central task. You can log on to RaptureReady.com for a taste of how some of these believers view the world - at this writing the Rapture Index had declined three points to 152 because, despite an increase in the number of U.S. pagans, "Wal-Mart is falling behing in its plan to bar code all products with radio tags." Other End-Timers are more interested in forcing the issue - they're convinced that the way to coax the Lord back to earth is to "Christianize" our nation and then the world. Consider House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. At church one day he listened as the pastor, urging his flock to support the administration, declared that "the war between America and Iraq is the gateway to the Apocalypse." DeLay rose to speak, not only to the congregation but to 225 Christian TV and radio stations. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "what has been spoken here tonight is the truth of God."

The apocalyptics may not be wrong. One could make a perfectly serious argument that the policies of Tom DeLay are in fact, hastening the End Times. But there's nothing particularly Christian about this hastening. The creed of Tom DeLay - of Tim LeHaye and his Left Behind books, of Pat Robertson's "The Antichrist is probably a Jew alive in Israel today" - ripened out of the impossibly poetic imagery of the Book of Revelation. Imagine trying to build a theory of the Constitution by obsessively reading and re-reading the Twenty-fifth Amendment, and you'll get an idea of what an odd approach this is. Your might be able to spin elaborate fantasies about presidential succession, but you'd have a hard time working backwards to "We the People." this is the contemporary version of Archbishop Usher's seventeenth-century calculation that the world had been created on October 23, 4004 B.C., and that the ark touched down on Mount Ararat on May 5, 2384 B.C., a Wednesday. Interesting, but a distant distraction from the gospel message.

The apocalyptics, however, are the lesser problem. It is another competing (though sometimes overlapping) creed, this one straight from the sprawling megachurches of the new exurbs, that frightens me most. Its deviation is less obvious precisely because it looks so much like the rest of the culture. In fact, most of what gets preached in these palaces isn't loony at all. It is disturbingly conventional. The pastors focus relentlessly on you and your individual needs. Their goal is to service consumers - not communities but individuals: "seekers" is the term of art, people who feel the need for some spirtuality in their (or their children's) lives but who aren't tightly bound to any particular denomination or school of thought. The result is often a kind of soft-focus, comfortable, suburban faith.

A New York Times reporter visiting one booming megachurch outside Phoenix recently found the typical scene: a drive-through latte stand, Krispy Kreme doughnuts at ever service, and sermons about "how to discipline your children, how to reach your professional goals, how to invest your money, how to reduce your debt." On Sundays children played with church-distributed Xboxes, and many congregants had signed up for a twice-weekly aerobics class called Firm Believers. A list of bestsellers compiled monthly by the Christian Booksellers Association illuminates the creed. It includes texts like Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen - pastor of a church so mega it recently leased a 16,000-seat sports arena in Houston for its services - which even the normally tolerant Publishers Weekly dismissed as "a treatise on how to get God to serve the demands of self-centered individuals." Nearly as high is Beth Moore, with her Believing God - "Beth asks the tough questions concerning the fruit of our Christian lives," such as "are we living as fully as we can?" Other titles include Humor for a Woman's Heart, a collection of "humorous writings" designed to "lift a life above the stresses and strains of the day", The Five Love Languages, in which Dr. Gary Chapman helps you figure out if you're speaking in the same emotional dialect as your significant other; and Karol Ladd's The Power of a Positive Woman. Ladd is the co-founder of USA Sonshine Girls - "Son" in Sonshine, of course, is the son of God - and she is unremittingly upbeat in presenting her five-part plan for creating a life with "more calm, less stress."

Not that any of this is so bad, in itself. We do have stressful lives, humor does help, you should pay attention to your own needs. Comfortable suburbanites watch their parents die, their kids implode. Clearly I need help with being positive. And, I have no doubt that such texts have turned people into better parents, better spouses, better bosses. It's just that these authors, in presenting their perfectly sensible advice, somehow manage to ignore Jesus' radical and demanding focus on others. It may, in fact, be true that "God helps those who help themselves," both financially and emotionally. (Certainly fortune does.) But if so, it's still a subsidiary, secondary truth, more Franklinity than Christianity. Your could eliminate the scriptural references in most of these bestsellers and they would still make, or not make the same amount of sense. Chicken Soup for the Zoroastrian Soul. It is a perfect mirror of the secular bestseller lists, indeed of the secular culture, with its American fixation on self-improvement, on self-esteem. On self. These similarities make it difficult (although not impossible) for the televangelists to posit themselves as embattled figures in a "culture war" - they offer too uncanny a reflection of the dominant culture, a culture of unrelenting self-obsession.

Who am I to criticize someone else's religion? After all, if there is anything Americans agree on, it's that we should tolerate everyone else's religious expression. As a Newsweek writer put it some years ago at the end of his cover story on apocalypticvisions and the Book of Revelation, "Who's to say that John's mythic battle between Christ and Antichrist is not a valid insight into what the history of humankind is all about? (Not Newsweek, that's for sure; their religious covers are guaranteed big sellers.) To that I can only answer that I'm a ...Christian.

Not a professional one; I'm an environmental writer mostly. I've never progressed further in the church hierarchy than Sunday school teacher at my backwoods Methodist church. But I've spent most of my Sunday mornings in a pew. I grew up in church youth groups and stayed active most of my adult life - srarted homeless shelters in church basements, werved soup at the church food panty, climbed to the top of the rickety ladder to put the star on the church Christmas tree. My work has been at times, influenced by all that - I've written extensively about the Book of Job, which is to me, the first great piece of nature writing in the Western tradition, and about the overlaps between Christianity and environmentalism. In fact, I imagine I'm one of a fairly small number of writers who have had cover stories in both the Christian Century, the magazine of liberal mainline Protestantism, and Christianity Today, which Billy Graham founded, not to mention articles in Sojourners, the magazine of the progressive evagelical community co-founded by Jim Wallis.

Indeed, it was my work with religious environmentalists that first got me thinking along the lines of the essay. We were trying to get politicians to understand why the Bible actually mandated protecting the world around us (Noah: the first Green), work that I think is true and vital. But one day it occurred to me that the parts of the world where people actually had cut dramatically back on their carbon emissions, actually did live voluntarily in smaller homes and take public transit, were the same countries where people were giving aid to the poor and making sure everyone had health care - coutries like Norway and Sweden, where religion was relatively unimportant. How could that be? For Christians there should be something at least a little scary in the notion that, absent the magical answers of religion, people might just get around to solving their problems and strengthening their communities in more straightforward ways.

But for me, in any event, the European success is less interesting than the American failures. Because we're not going to be like them. Maybe we'd be better off if we abandoned religion for secular nationality, but we're not going to; for the foreseeable future this will be a "Christian" nation. The question is, what kind of Christian nation?

The tendencies I've been describing - toward an apocalyptic End Times faith, toward a comfort-the-comfortable, personal-empowerment faith - veil the actual, and remarkable, message of the Gospels, When one of the Pharisees asked Jesus what the core of the law was, Jesus replied:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Love your neighbor as yourself: although its rhetorical power has been dimmed by repetition, that is a radical notion, perhaps the most radical notion possible. Especially since Jesus, in all his teachings, made it very clear who the neighbor your were supposed to love was; the poor person, the sick person, the naked person, the hungry person. The last shall be made first; turn the other cheek; a rich person aiming for heaven is like a camel trying to walk through the eye of a needle. On and on and on - a call for nothing less than a radical, voluntary, and effective reordering of power relationships, based on the principle of love.

I confess, even as I write these works, to a feeling close to embarrassment. Because in public we tend not to talk about such things - my theory of what Jesus mostly meant seems like it should be left in church, or confined to some religious publication. But remember the overwhelming connection between America and Christianity; what Jesus meant is the most deeply potent political, cultural, social question. To ignore it, or leave it to the bullies and the salemen of the televangelist sects, means to walk away from a central battle over American identity. At the moment, the idea of Jesus has been hi-jacked by people with a series of causes that do not reflect his teachings. The Bible is a long book, and even the Gospels have plenty in them, some of it seemingly contradictory and hard to puzzle out. But love your neighbor as yourself - not do unto others as you would have them do unto you, but love your neighbor as yourself - will suffice as a gloss. There is no disputing the centrality of this message, nor is there any disputing how easy it is to ignore that message. Because it is so counterintuitive, Christians have had to keep repeating it to themselves right from the start. Consider Paul, for instance, instructing the church at Galatea: "For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment," he wrote. "'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

American churches, by and large, have done a pretty good job of loving the neighbor in the next pew. A pastor can spend all Sunday talking about theRapture Index, but if his congregation is thriving you can be assured he's spending the other six days visiting people in the hospital, counseling couples, and sitting up with grieving widows. All this human connection is imprtant. But if the theology makes it harder to love the neighbor a little farther away - particularly the poor and the weak - then it's a problem. and the fominant theologies of the moment do just that. They undercut Jesus, muffle his hard words, deaden his call, and in the end silence him. In fact, the soft-focus consumer gospel of the suburban megachurches is a perfect match for emergent conservative economic notions about personal responsibility instead of collective action. Privatize Social Security? Keep health care for people who can afford it? File those under "God helps those who help themselves."

Take Alabama as an example. In 2002, Bob Riley was elected governor of the state, where 90 percent of residents identify themselves as Christians. Riley could safely be called a conservative - right-wing majordomo Grover Norquist gave him a Friend of the Taxpayer Award every year he was in Congress, where he'd never voted for a tax increase. But when he took over Alabama, he found himself admisistering a tax code that dated to 1901. The richest Alabamians paid 3 percent of their income in taxes, and the poorest paid up to 12 percent; income taxes kicked in if a family of four made $4,600 (even in Mississippi the threshold was $19,000), while out-of-state timber companies paid $1.25 an acre in property taxes. Alabama was forty-eighth in total state and local taxes, and the largest proportion of that income came from sales tax - a super-regressive tax that in some counties reached into double digits. So Riley proposed a tax hike; partly to dig the state out of a fiscal crisis and partly to put more money into the state's school system, routinely ranked near the worst in the nation. He argued that it was Christian duty to look after the poor more carefully.

Had the new law passed, the owner of a $250,000 home in Montgomery would have paid $1,432 in property taxes - we're not talking Sweden here. But it didn't pass. It was crushed by a factor of two to one. Sixty-eight percent of the state voted against it - meaning, of course, something like 68 percent of the Christians who voted. The opposition was led, in fact, not just by the state's wealthiest interests but also by the Christian Coalition of Alabama. "You'll find most Alabamians have got a charitable heart," said John Giles, the group's president. "They just don't want it coming out of their pockets." On its website, the group argued that taxing the rich at the higher rate than the poor "results in punishing success" and that "when an individual works for their income, that money belongs to the individual." You might as well just cite chapter and verse from Poor Richard's Almanack. And what ever the ideology, the results are clear. "I'm tired of Alabama being first in things that are bad," said Governor Riley, "and last in things that are good."

A rich man came to Jesus one day and asked what he should do to get into heaven. Jesus did not say he should invest, spend, and let the benfits trickle down; he said, "Sell what you have, give the money to the poor, and follow me." Few plainer words have been spoken. And yet, for some reason, the Christian Coalition of America - founded in 1989 in order to "preserve, protect, and defend the Judeo-Christian values that made this the greatest country in history" - proclaimed last year that its top legislative priority would be "making permanent President Bush's 2001 federal tax cuts." Similarly, a furor erupted last spring when it emerged that a Colorado jury had consulted the Bible before sentencing a killer to death. Experts debated whether the (Christian) jurors should have used an outside authority in their deliberations, and of course the Christian right saw it as one more sign of a secular society devaluing religion. But a more interesting question would have been why the jurors fixated on Leviticus 24, with its call for an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. They had somehow missed Jesus' explicit refutation in the New Testament: "You have heard that it was said, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But, if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also." And on and on.

The power of the Christian right rests largely in the fact that they boldly claim religious authority, and by their very boldness convince the rest of us that they must know what they're talking about. The're like the guy who gives you directions with such loud confidence that you drive on even though the road appears to be turning into a faint, rutted track. But their theology is appealing for another reason too: it coincides with what we want to believe. How nice it would be if Jesus had declared that our income was ours to keep, instead of insisting that we we had to share. How satisfying it would be if we were supposed to hate our enemies. Religious conservatives will always have a comparatively easy sell.

But straight is the path and narrow is the way. The gospel is too radical for any culture larger than the Amish to ever come close to realizing; in demanding a departure from selfishness it conflicts with all our current desires. Even the first time around, judging by the reaction, the Gospels were pretty unwelcome news to an awful lot of people. Ther is not going to be a modern-day return to the church of the early believers, holding all things in common - that's not what I'm talking about. Taking seriously the actual message of Jesus, though, should serve at least to moderate the greed and vilence that mark this culture. It's hard to imagine a con much more audacious than making Christ the front man for a program of tax cuts for the rich or war in Iraq. If some modest part of the 85 percent of us who are Christians woke up to that fact, then the world might change.

It is possible, I think. Yes, the mainline Protestant churches that supported civil rights and oppose the war in VietNam are mostly locked in a dreary decline as their congregations dwindle and their elders argue enlessly about gay clergy and same-sex unions. And the Catholic Church, for most of its American history a sturdy exponent of a "love your neighbor" theology, has been weakened, too, its hierarchy increasingly motivated by a single0issue focus on abortion. Plenty of vital congregations are doing great good works - they're the ones that have nurtured me - but they aren't where the challenge will arise; they've grown shy about talking about Jesus, more comfortablewith the language of sociology and politics. More and more it's Bible-quoting Christians, like Wallis's Sojourners movement and that Baptist seminary graduate Bill Moyers, who are carrying the fight.

The best-selling of all Christian books in recent years, Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life, illustrates the possibilities. It has all the hallmarks of self-absorption (in one five-page chapter, I counted sixty-five uses of the word "you"), but it also makes a powerful case that we're made for mission. What that mission is never becomes clear, but the thirst for it is real. And, there's no great need for Warren to state that purpose anyhow. For Christians, the plainspoken message of the Gospels is clear enough. If you have any doubts, read the Sermon on the Mount.

Admittedly, this is hope against hope; more likely the money changers and power brokers will remain ascendant in our "spiritual" life. Since the days of Constantine, emperors and rich men have sought to co-opt the teachings of Jesus. As in so many areas of our increasingly maket-tested lives, the co-opters - the TV men, the politicians, the Christian "interest groups" - have found a way to make each of us complicit in that travesty, too. The have invited us to subvert the church of Jesus even as we celebrate it. With their help we have made golden calves of ourselves - become a nation of terrified, self-centered, obsessed idols. It works, and it may well keep working for a long time to come. When Americans hunger for selfless love and are fed only love of self, they will remain hungry, and too often hungry people just come back for more of the same.

End of essay.

Bill McKibben , a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College, is the author of many books, including The End of Nature and Wandering Home: A Long Walk Across America's Most Hopeful Landscape.

His last article for Harper's Magazine, "The Cuba Diet," appeared in the April 2005 issue.

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What a fantastic article? One of the best I have ever read on the subject of religion. Thank you for posting it Terry. It is difficult to know how the Christian Right can defend themselves against this well-argued piece. Not that they ever get involved in intellectual arguments. The Christian Right is only interested in one way dialogue. It is why Tim Gratz will ignore it.

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Anders, I totally agree with you.

What is Sweden like today? In the US we hear all sorts of horror stories, of course, the US media is going to say very little good about a Socialist country.  For example how is the medical system, the quality of care and the timeliness of needed surgery? How is the school system? In general what is the quality of life? Level of crime, etc.

Thanks,

Dawn

Sweden is one of the few ideological friends in Europe of the US Trafficking In Persons Office. The Swedes are admired for turning a corner. The Swedish Govt. are popular with many US conservatives. Finland for some reason is not so popular, I have never been able to find out precisely why that is.

Finland is usually given a Tier 2 categorization by the TIP office. Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, I understand (those countries are Tier 3), Finland should be Tier 1 rather than Tier 2. The Finns are more useful to the cause than the British.

The British are awarded a T1 gold-star verdict despite a reliance on compromised labour. The Morecombe Bay scandal for example had a solution applied because the shellfish were in danger rather than concern for the Chinese people who were being used as a disposable resource by gang-masters & criminals.

Edited by Gregory Carlin

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What a fantastic article? One of the best I have ever read on the subject of religion. Thank you for posting it Terry. It is difficult to know how the Christian Right can defend themselves against this well-argued piece. Not that they ever get involved in intellectual arguments. The Christian Right is only interested in one way dialogue. It is why Tim Gratz will ignore it.

********************************************************************

Here's another one from a Minister, Dr. Meyers, that Len Osanic had posted on Prouty's last February.

I was so touched by it that I went to Dr. Meyer's site and wrote him a letter of appreciation for his wonderful speech. See below:

----- Original Message -----

From: Terry Mauro

To: cyasunday@aol.com

Cc: Len Osanic

Sent: Tuesday, March 01, 2005 8:19 AM

Subject: Re: Dr. Meyers' speech at Oklahoma University...

Len Osanic

Guest

Posted: Sat Feb 26, 2005 12:27 am Post subject: The Immorality of Bush's Christianity

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Subject: Courageous Speech by Oklahoma City Congregational Minister: The Immorality of Bush's Christianity

Dr. Robin Meyers' Speech to Students at Oklahoma University

As some of you know, I am minister of Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City, an Open and Affirming, Peace and Justice church in northwest Oklahoma City, and Professor of Rhetoric at Oklahoma City University. But you would most likely have encountered me on the pages of the Oklahoma Gazette, where I have been a columnist for six years, and hold the record for the most number of angry letters to the editor.

Tonight, I join the ranks of those who are angry, because I have watched as the faith I love has been taken over by fundamentalists who claim to speak for Jesus, but whose actions are anything but Christian.

We've heard a lot lately about so-called "moral values" as having swung the election to President Bush. Well, I'm a great believer in moral values, but we need to have a discussion, all over this country, about exactly what constitutes a moral value - I mean, what are we talking about? Because we don't get to make them up as we go along, especially not if we are people of faith. We have an inherited tradition of what is right and wrong, and moral is as moral does.

Let me give you just a few of the reasons why I take issue with those in power who claim moral values are on their side:

a. When you start a war on false pretenses, and then act as if your deceptions are justified because you are doing God's will, and that your critics are either unpatriotic or lacking in faith, there are some of us who have given our lives to teaching and preaching the faith who believe that this is not only not moral, but immoral.

b. When you live in a country that has established international rules for waging a just war, build the United Nations on your own soil to enforce them, and then arrogantly break the very rules you set down for the rest of the world, you are doing something immoral.

c. When you claim that Jesus is the Lord of your life, and yet fail to acknowledge that your policies ignore his essential teaching, or turn them on their head (you know, Sermon on the Mount, stuff like that we must never return to violence for violence and that those who live by the sword will die by the sword), you are doing something immoral.

d. When you act as if the lives of Iraqi civilians are not as important as the lives of American soldiers, and refuse to even count them, you are doing something immoral.

e. When you find a way to avoid combat in Vietnam, and then question the patriotism of someone who volunteered to fight, and came home a hero, you are doing something immoral.

f. When you ignore the fundamental teachings of the gospel, which says that the way the strong treat the weak is the ultimate ethical test, by giving tax breaks to the wealthiest among us so the strong will get stronger and the weak will get weaker, you are doing something immoral.

g. When you wink at the torture of prisoners, and deprive so-called "enemy combatants" of the rules of the Geneva Convention, which your own country helped to establish and insists that other countries follow, you are doing something immoral.

h. When you claim that the world can be divided up into the good guys and the evil doers, slice up your own nation into those who are with you, or with the terrorists - and then launch a war which enriches your own friends and seizes control of the oil to which we are addicted - instead of helping us to kick the habit, you are doing something immoral.

i. When you fail to veto a single spending bill, but ask us to pay for a war with no exit strategy and no end in sight, creating an enormous deficit that hangs like a great millstone around the necks of our children, you are doing something immoral.

j. When you cause most of the rest of the world to hate a country that was once the most loved country in the world, and act like it doesn't matter what others think of us, only what God thinks of you, you have done something immoral.

k. When you use hatred of homosexuals as a wedge issue to turn out record numbers of evangelical voters, and use the Constitution as a tool of discrimination, you are doing something immoral.

l. When you favor the death penalty, and yet claim to be a follower of Jesus, who said an eye for an eye was the old way, not the way of the kingdom, you are doing something immoral.

m. When you dismantle countless environmental laws designed to protect the earth which is God's gift to us all, so that the corporations that bought you and paid for your favors will make higher profits while our children breathe dirty air and live in a toxic world, you have done something immoral. The earth belongs to the Lord, not Halliburton.

n. When you claim that our God is bigger than their God, and that our killing is righteous, while theirs is evil, we have begun to resemble the enemy we claim to be fighting, and that is immoral. We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.

o. When you tell people that you intend to run and govern as a "compassionate conservative," using the word which is the essence of all religious faiths - compassion - and then show no compassion for anyone who disagrees with you, and no patience with those who cry to you for help, you are doing something immoral.

p. When you talk about Jesus constantly, who was a healer of the sick, but do nothing to make sure that anyone who is sick can go to see a doctor, even if she doesn't have a penny in her pocket, you are doing something immoral.

q. When you put judges on the bench who are racist, and will set women back a hundred years, and when you surround yourself with preachers who say gays ought to be killed, you are doing something immoral.

I'm tired of people thinking that because I'm a Christian, I must be a supporter of President Bush, or that I favor civil rights and gay rights I must not be a person of faith. I'm tired of people saying that I can't support the troops but oppose the war. I heard that when I was your age - when the Vietnam War was raging. We knew that that war was wrong, and you know that this war is wrong - the only question is how many people are going to die before these make-believe Christians are removed from power?

This country is bankrupt. The war is morally bankrupt. The claim of this administration to be Christian is bankrupt. And the only people who can turn things around are people like you - young people who are just beginning to wake up to what is happening to them. It's your country to take back. It's your faith to take back. It's your future to take back.

Don't be afraid to speak out. Don't back down when your friends begin to tell you that the cause is righteous and that the flag should be wrapped around the cross, while the rest of us keep our mouths shut. Real Christians take chances for peace. So do Real Jews, and Real Muslims, and Real Hindus, and Real Buddhists - so do all the faith traditions of the world at their heart believe one thing: life is precious.

Every human being is precious. Arrogance is the opposite of faith. Greed is the opposite of charity. And believing that one has never made a mistake is the mark of a deluded man, not a man of faith.

And war - war is the greatest failure of the human race - and thus the greatest failure of faith. There's an old rock song, whose lyrics say it all:

"War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing."

And what is the dream of the prophets? That we should study war no more, that we should beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Who would Jesus bomb, indeed? How many wars does it take to know that too many people have died? What if they gave a war and nobody came? Maybe one day we will find out.

February 13, 2005

*******************************************************************

Dear Dr. Meyers,

I wanted to thank you for your insightful and uplifting speech which I just read on my good friend, Len Osanic's forum for the late Col. L. Fletcher Prouty. Not only has it confirmed for me that there is a man of the cloth, with an enlightened and progressive mind, teaching the Word from a sane and modern perspective, but it also gave me faith in the realization that as long as there are ministers, such as yourself, imparting the gospel with a format based on the present, here and now, there may be hope, for a mental intelligence [quotient] evolution of humankind, to raise our perspective to a higher plane of consciousness, such as may have been the message intended for the human race, all along. Let me confess to you, that until I read your speech, my faith in anything more than, "if there is a higher power out there somewhere in the universe, may the Force be with you." Because, after witnessing the knee-jerk response of most of middle America in voting for a candidate based on his religious leanings, gave me pause to think about what kind of future remained on the horizon, given the radical fundamentalist, holy-rolling doctrine he was preaching in order to get votes. It reminded me more of sheeple, following this fraud of a leader, to the slaughterhouse, instead of "the Lamb of God, and His flock of angels."

I had always deferred to the legal aspect concerning the separation of church and state embedded in our constitutional law as to be taken literally, as a given. You have imparted a whole new aspect to the importance of teaching the philosophy of religion's true meaning as the code of ethics handed down by Moses and Abraham, who carried the messages for the first stage of man's enlightenment. Jesus and Mohammad followed. One, as the Son of God, and the latter as, The Prophet. I once read in a book by Betty Eadie, that she felt that God, or The Father, looked upon all religions, as the tutorial or evolutionary road of mankind in the quest for learning Who the Creator is, and that possibly the different doctrines being taught, are the different levels of understanding needed in this step up to a higher plane of understanding. I am not quoting her verbatim. I'm merely remembering from my own cognitive processes as to what she wrote, as this has also become my own humble opinion in the process of trying to find something to believe in.

Thank you again, Dr. Meyers, for being a light shining brightly through the wilderness. The world is made a much better place for people such as yourself, and your conscientious approach to an extremely sensitive arena.

Sincerely yours,

Theresa C. Mauro

Culver City, CA

********************************************************************

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Televangelist Calls for Chavez' Death

August 22, 2005 10:06 PM EDT

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson called on Monday for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, calling him a "terrific danger" to the United States.

Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition of America and a former presidential candidate, said on "The 700 Club" it was the United States' duty to stop Chavez from making Venezuela a "launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism."

Chavez has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of President Bush, accusing the United States of conspiring to topple his government and possibly backing plots to assassinate him. U.S. officials have called the accusations ridiculous.

"You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it," Robertson said. "It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war ... and I don't think any oil shipments will stop."

Electronic pages and a message to a Robertson spokeswoman were not immediately returned Monday evening.

Venezuela is the fifth largest oil exporter and a major supplier of oil to the United States. The CIA estimates that U.S. markets absorb almost 59 percent of Venezuela's total exports.

Venezuela's government has demanded in the past that the United States crack down on Cuban and Venezuelan "terrorists" in Florida who they say are conspiring against Chavez.

Robertson accused the United States of failing to act when Chavez was briefly overthrown in 2002.

"We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability," Robertson said.

"We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator," he continued. "It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

And this is a minister--allegedly one who preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ--advocating murder.

So...when did they become the "Ten Suggestions"?? I must've missed that.

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Mark, I too found the statements attributed to Robertson appalling.

At least he called for the use of the Special Forces and did not suggest subcontracting the hit to the Mafia.

Edited by Tim Gratz

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[quote=Mark Knight,Aug 23 2005, 06:24 AM]

Televangelist Calls for Chavez' Death

Mark: You beat me to it, I was just about to post this outrageous article.

Ya, good old 700 club "let's just kill him, cheaper than a $200 billiion war".

I wonder what, if anything, our "compassionate conservative" president will have to say: I predict : nothing, as he's likely been seriously considering this, as Chavez has been saying. Gotta stop those Marxists, after all....(I guess Robertson is still an adherent to "the domino theory" :hotorwot Scary, disgusting, and 100% UNChristian.

I wonder if any of his 700 club are outraged. This is, after all, the same man who not long ago was asking for prayer that God would "provide" some openings on the Supreme Court. Praying for someone's DEATH.

Ter: Excellent articles!! Both very timely for this thread. I would add one last sentence to his essay re war: "War does not decide who is right, only who is left".

Dawn

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