Friday, April 30, 2010

The Legacy of Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers has ended The Journal. It is possible to make too much of this. Moyers will still be around and will not be entirely silent. He will, however, no longer host a regular television show. Though this may very well be the right thing to do for the soon to be 76 year old journalist, it is a sad thing for the rest of America.

Much could be written about Moyers' contribution to journalism. From his time in the White House as press secretory and his impact on the founding of the Peace Corps, to his interviews with Joseph Campbell, on death and dying, and on world religions - to name but a few of his many creative and informative projects. But others have done this far better than me. I refer to Eric Alterman's fine piece on what Moyers has meant to journalism and the country and Fresh Air's thoughtful retrospective involving past interviews with him.

There is little I can add to the tributes I mention. I will say only this: In an age dominated by partisan hacks and pompous blowhards, when shock jocks are the norm and vulgarity toward one's opponents encouraged, Bill Moyers remained a Christian Gentleman.

Always courteous, kind, generous, respectful and well-mannered, Moyers nevertheless spoke the truth to power with courage, stood on principle no matter what, and battled against power interested for the good of working people everywhere.

He has been the most honest man in journalism.

Moyers' professionalism, commitment to truth, openness to others, and above all genuine integrity and humanity have seldom been seen together in a single newsman.

It is above all his combination of passion for truth, commitment to principle, compassion for his fellow human beings, together with his generosity toward others, respectful tone, courteous manner, open mind, and refusal to engage in the smear tactics and name calling that have dominated journalism and media for some time now, that make him a personal hero to me - (I concede by the way that I've not measured up to his standard here).

Mr. Moyers will be greatly missed by many of us. As for his replacement? Let us be frank: Moyers is NOT replaceable. He is a unique contributor to American Journalism. But we can carry on his mission.

We must all pick up Bill Moyers' mantle. Let us also strive, like Moyers, to seek the truth with gentility, kindness, openness, but also with perseverance, integrity, and a desire for truth over pleasing those in power.

Let's continue to fight his fight!

Let us make it our own.

Here are some of Moyers' parting thoughts (from the second to last episode, not the last):

Friday, April 23, 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

We are part of the Earth: let's start acting like it

We would do well to remember that we are part of this Earth. Sadly We in the west are heirs to a spiritual and ethical tradition that encourages us to think of ourselves as fundamentally separate from the Earth and nature. We think of ourselves as beings injected into the earth from some "beyond." It is not true.

Even more disturbing: Corporate Capitalism encourages us to reduce the Earth to a set of commodities the value of which is entirely reducible to economic worth. This is a travesty of our real relationship to this world that we are part of.

We are earth grown. We are part and parcel of our surroundings. The world is not "out there" its surrounds us and fills us and IS us.

There are a vast number of ways in which we are harming and even destroying our environment. We are quite good at spoiling the earth. The most pressing issue, however, is Global Warming. As there are still some skeptics out there. I will quickly explain why the ENTIRE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY (with VERY rare exceptions) has concluded that human-originated global warming is a fact and dangerous one.

The science behind global warming is actually very simple. Carbon Dioxide traps sun rays in the atmosphere which is how the planet warms itself. This is a natural process. It follows that the more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere the hotter the planet will be. As a clarification, when the planet gets hotter as a whole it does NOT mean that every place on the planet will be warmer. Weather and temperature are complex and massive systems. To increase the warmth of the planet as a whole will result in a wide variety of changing conditions in various places; some places getting more rain, some less, some getting hotter, some colder. Let's please get our facts straight on this.

It is empirically obvious that we are dumping vast amounts of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere. Given the basic facts of planetary warming, it automatically follows that we are increasing Global Warming. But this would never be enough to satisfy a scientist. Science works by testing theories. You test a theory by making predictions. This means that if a certain theory is true, certain observable phenomena will be present. If those Phenomena are not present, we have good reason to doubt the theory.


Here are the basic facts via National Geographic:

Here's the lowdown on why it's happening, what's causing it, and how it might
change the planet.Is It Happening?Yes. Earth is already showing many signs of
worldwide climate change.• Average temperatures have climbed 1.4 degrees
Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius) around the world since 1880, much of this in
recent decades, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.• The
rate of warming is increasing. The 20th century's last two decades were the
hottest in 400 years and possibly the warmest for several millennia, according
to a number of climate studies. And the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that 11 of the past 12 years are among the
dozen warmest since 1850.• The Arctic is feeling the effects the most. Average
temperatures in Alaska, western Canada, and eastern Russia have risen at twice
the global average, according to the multinational Arctic Climate Impact
Assessment report compiled between 2000 and 2004.• Arctic ice is rapidly
disappearing, and the region may have its first completely ice-free
summer by 2040
or earlier. Polar
bears and indigenous cultures
are already suffering from the sea-ice loss.•
Glaciers and mountain snows are rapidly melting—for example, Montana's
Glacier National Park
now has only 27 glaciers, versus 150 in 1910. In the
Northern Hemisphere, thaws also come a week earlier in spring and freezes begin
a week later.• Coral reefs, which are highly sensitive to small changes in water
temperature, suffered the worst
bleaching—or die-off in response to stress—ever recorded in 1998
, with some
areas seeing bleach rates of 70 percent. Experts expect these sorts of events to
increase in frequency and intensity in the next 50 years as sea temperatures
rise.• An upsurge in the amount of extreme weather events, such as wildfires, heat
, and strong
tropical storms
, is also attributed in part to climate change by some
experts.Are Humans Causing It?• "Very likely," the IPCC said in a February
2007 report
. The report, based on the work of some 2,500 scientists in more
than 130 countries, concluded that humans have caused all or most of the current
planetary warming. Human-caused global warming is often called anthropogenic
climate change.• Industrialization, deforestation, and pollution have greatly
increased atmospheric concentrations of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane,
and nitrous oxide, all greenhouse gases that help trap heat near Earth's
surface. (See an interactive feature on how
global warming works
.) • Humans are pouring carbon dioxide into the
atmosphere much faster than plants
and oceans can absorb it
. • These gases persist in the atmosphere for years,
meaning that even if such emissions were eliminated today, it would not
immediately stop global warming
.• Some experts point out that natural cycles
in Earth's orbit can alter the planet's exposure to sunlight, which may explain
the current trend. Earth has indeed experienced warming and cooling cycles
roughly every hundred thousand years due to these orbital shifts, but such
changes have occurred over the span of several centuries. Today's changes have
taken place over the past hundred years or less. • Other recent research has
suggested that the effects of variations
in the sun's output
are "negligible" as a factor in warming, but other, more
complicated solar mechanisms could possibly play a role.

So there you have it. The basic science is pretty flawless. This is a perfect example of a verified Scientific theory. And it is not even very hard to grasp. And yes the Consequences are nightmarish. The effects of Global Warming include:
What's Going to Happen?A follow-up report
by the IPCC released in April 2007
warned that global warming could lead
large-scale food and water shortages and have catastrophic effects on
Sea level could rise between 7 and 23 inches (18 to 59
centimeters) by century's
end, the IPCC's February 2007 report projects.
Rises of just 4 inches (10
centimeters) could flood many South Seas islands
and swamp large parts of
Southeast Asia.• Some hundred million people live
within 3 feet (1 meter) of
mean sea level, and much of the world's
population is concentrated in vulnerable
coastal cities. In the U.S., Louisiana
and Florida are especially at risk
.• Glaciers around the world could
causing sea levels to rise while creating water shortages in regions
on runoff for fresh water.• Strong hurricanes, droughts, heat
waves, wildfires,
and other natural disasters may become commonplace in many
parts of the world.
The growth of deserts may also cause food shortages in
many places.• More
than a million species face extinction
from disappearing habitat,
ecosystems, and acidifying oceans.• The ocean's circulation system,
known as the
ocean conveyor belt, could be permanently altered, causing a
mini-ice age in Western Europe
and other rapid changes.• At some point
the future, warming could become uncontrollable by creating a so-called positive
feedback effect
. Rising temperatures could release additional greenhouse
gases by unlocking methane in permafrost and undersea deposits, freeing
trapped in sea ice, and causing increased evaporation of water
The time has come to cease arguing about human-generated Global Warming. The skeptics have no case and are either willingly blind, grossly misinformed, are simply being dishonest.

The Earth should mean something to us. We should love and cherish the planet which is our only home and the numerous living beings who inhabit it with us. Enough nonsense. No more debate. Global Warming is real and we are causing it.

This Earth Day, let us commit to fighting it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tea-baggers, Tina Fey, and Taxes

Turn on your local news and you will see them, Tea-baggers screeching about high taxes and "evil" government spending. They are, of course, very stupid and very crazy. But we do not do well to merely mock them.

Don't get me wrong, they deserve mockery and we should be glad to give them what they deserve. But they are not merely silly, they are scary. The Tea-baggers are VERY dangerous.

They seethe with the same kind of hate and irrationality that has constantly marked the wild masses who support rising dictators. We should be very worried about these tea-baggers.

They have now expanded their "movement" into the armed forces and militia groups, they are large, influential and growing increasingly violent. To observe how absurd their irrationality has become one need only note that they are belligerently protesting taxes today, when overall current taxes are the lowest they have been in decades!

Just observe them on any television channel or on youtube.

They are a very real danger to this society. As is their leader.

Tina Fey has brilliantly portrayed Sarah Palin as a clueless idiot. Undoubtedly Palin is rather stupid or at least highly uniformed and incompetent. But the former Governor of Alaska is far more dangerous than Fey's ditsy version of her.

Sarah Palin is a highly corrupt, dishonest, and manipulative person. Hungry for power and fame she will stoke the anger of even (perhaps especially) the most extreme and violent members of the tea-bagger party. This should alarm us all.

Sarah Palin and her tea-baggers are dangerous, not just funny.


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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Full story of Health Care reform

I have frequently blogged about how incomplete and flawed the new health care reform is. It far from anything that will provide truly first class care to a high number of Americans. But It is good to have the whole story documented in one place.

Such documentation is now ready to hand.

Tonight's episode of Frontline offers a pretty clear presentation of just what the new health care reform laws are and how the Obama White House got them passed.

Despite the neutrality of the program, the facts make clear how flawed this "reform" is and how much corruption, betrayal, and backroom deals with special interest poisoned the process.

I post the link to the video here:

Frontline: Obama's Deal (April 13, 2010)

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Never again

Today is Holocaust remembrance day. A day we remember, with great sorrow, the horrors of the Holocaust. The Holocaust was the end result of centuries of persecution and hatred directed toward the Jewish people and others. As one of the worst atrocities of history it is good to look to it and try to learn from it, learn how to stop it.

Sadly it does happen again. Often. The world is still full of hate, persecution and violence. We have, apparently, not yet learned our lesson. Perhaps we never will.

But there is hope.

On this Holocaust Remembrance day, let us commit ourselves to non-violence, inclusion, equality, forgiveness, healing and peace.

Maybe if we truly make that commitment it will really never happen again.

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

For those who are not interested in Easter at all, this post will not matter. Also, for those who do celebrate Easter, but as a family (non-religious) holiday, or fertility festival, this post is not relevant either. I have no quarrel with these views, I merely am not addressing them here. Fertility festivals and family holidays can be very fine things, but I want to write on the importance of Easter as a commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus.

Let me state clearly that I affirm the resurrection of Jesus. There is, however, a twist. I do not believe that Jesus was physically raised from the dead. That is, I do not believe that on the third day the body of Jesus was physically transformed and his tomb found empty.

The reasons I doubt this are lengthy and complex and I will here only summarize them: 1) most crucified victims were not buried, and if by rare chance one was they were dumped in a common or shallow criminal's grave. The burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea reads like a contrived tale to (a) save Jesus from this fate, and (b) help account for the resurrection in narrative terms. 2) The stories read like symbolic accounts. The resurrection is said to happen at sunrise, there are angels, the stone is magically "rolled away." This reads like legend. 3) The appearance stories in the gospels cannot be harmonized and are the clear inventions of their authors' theology. 4) It seems clear to me that by presenting the stories as they do, the gospel writers did not intend to convey literal fact. 5) Paul, our earliest Christian writer and a self-proclaimed "witness" of the risen Jesus says nothing about an "empty tomb," and strongly indicates that the resurrection of Jesus - whatever it was - was not the transformation of a corpse.

Nevertheless, I don't want to press this issue. If you believe that Jesus really did bodily rise up from the dead on Easter Sunday, and the tomb was really empty, then fine. I have no desire to combat that belief. My question is this: can the resurrection of Jesus be affirmed by one who does not believe the empty tomb story? Who does not affirm bodily resurrection?

I believe that it can.

Here is how I understand what the earliest followers of Jesus were saying: When Jesus was crucified they were afraid and they fled in despair, but they soon found that the power that they knew in Jesus was still present in them! Not only that, they felt that it was still Jesus bringing this power. That is, the earliest followers of Jesus were somehow aware (visions were most likely involved here) that Jesus was still with them, empowering them to do what he did; to heal the sick, condemn injustice, champion the poor, and include the outcasts.

I do not mean by this that they merely continued Jesus' mission or that his teaching or ideas lived on. Rather, I mean to say that the disciples of Jesus felt the "living presence" of Jesus empowering them to do as he did, and this forced them to say "Jesus lives." Jesus, they now believed, was "with God" and "with them." And I believe they were right.

Don't get me wrong, I have no idea what happens after death. I do not think traditional views of heaven and hell are likely to be true. And I have no idea if any of our personality survives death, in fact I lean against that. But I do think that something of the essence of what we are is eternal and not merely mortal. It is this contact with and experience of the eternal aspect of Jesus' being that caused his disciples to say "He is risen!"

But "Jesus Lives" is only half of the Easter proclamation. These disciples affirmed also that "Jesus is Lord." For them, Jesus did not merely continue to be with them, but to call them and challenge them, and bring to them the very being and power of their God. The risen Jesus challenges those who encounter him to radically reorient themselves; not only his presence but his call to mission is the heart of Easter faith.

I do not profess to know what kinds of experiences these disciples had. I was not there, and what we have (other than Paul) are the purely symbolic accounts in the gospels. But I am convinced that they experienced the real presence of the real Jesus as a compelling power within themselves.

The success of the Jesus movement resulted in the fact that these experiences of the "risen Jesus" were not isolated, but could be had by others. Christians who had never known Jesus during his life, could and did experience him as a "living power" calling for their authentic response.

And what was the call of Jesus? The call to "follow him." And this meant, a life committed to forgiveness, inclusion, compassion, healing, non-violence, social justice, and peace. It is this life that the risen and living Jesus still can bring to those who look to him, and to me this is what faith in the resurrection of Jesus means.

So, what happened to the body of Jesus? Presumably one of the few horrid fates that befell most crucifieds. But it is irrelevant. As the gospels rhetorically ask us, "why do we seek the living among the dead?" The spirit of Jesus lives on calling us. If we answer that call he can empower us to walk as he did and follow his way.

He is risen indeed!

Happy Easter.

Note: Originally Published last year.

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Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday: a Passion for Justice

On Good Friday Christians around the world commemorate the death of Jesus. I confess I've never been able to entertain the strange notion that Jesus' death magically takes away our sins.

There are various versions of how this works: the most common being a very primitive and barbaric suggestion that Jesus died in our place. Such a claim presents a view of God that is hardly lovable.

So I don't prefer to think of today as the day of remembering how Jesus "died in our place" or some other such weird notion.

What I choose to remember is that Jesus was crucified by imperial power. The reason, historically, that Jesus was executed - think about that executed! - was because he disturbed the status quo. In the name of the Kingdom of God - the Jewish God of justice and peace - Jesus condemned the ways of empire, and the system of domination and exploitation.

The death of Jesus was a direct result of his passionate commitment to peace, justice, and compassion in the name of God and God's kingdom. That is what ought to be remembered.

The great Medieval theologian Peter Abelard argued that Jesus' death should not be understood as a substitution or a ransom paid, but as an example of divine love. An example that, if we truly contemplate it, transforms us so that we become better people.

Abelard, it seems to me, was right. The importance of the death of Jesus is that it shows how committed he was to the central goal of his life, and inspires us to be just as committed.

The religious importance of this death, for Christians, is this: Jesus' death was not merely the result of his commitment to justice and compassion. Rather, it was also his firm conviction that God is found chiefly in a life of Justice and compassion; a life he himself embodied.

Note: I originally published this post last year. I thought it worth re-posting

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Do this in Remembrance of Me

Today is Holy Thursday, the day when Christians remember the last supper, the foundation of that most sacred of Christian meals, the Holy Communion.

It is historically very uncertain if the accounts of the last supper actually go back to the Historical Jesus or if they are later constructions of the church. My own inclination is that Jesus did celebrate a "last supper" with some of his followers. I doubt he said the "words of the institution," but I suspect he asked them to "remember him while they ate and drank." But perhaps not even that is historical. There is something more important about this meal.

In standard Christian theology Holy Communion is deeply connected with Jesus "dying for the sins of the world." I'm not very interested in that theology. Jesus' death is very important. He was put to death by an Empire and a leadership that despised everything he stood for to make an example to would be rebels. That death is, in many ways, a profound conclusion to his life and mission. But I don't believe in vicarious sacrifice or magic rituals, so the "dying for our sins" part does not move me. I am, however, deeply moved by the ritual of Holy Communion.

Communion reminds as that we are all one, like cells of one body, and that we were meant for "life together" in Boenhoffer's phrase. It is also a reminder that God is intimately near to us, as near as the bread and wine we digest. But there is more to the ritual even than that. Eating together was a (perhaps the) central element in the ministry of the historical Jesus.

Historians and New Testament scholars are unanimous in recognizing an "all-inclusive table fellowship" or "open commensality" as a central practice of the ministry of Jesus. In the ancient world who you ate or did not eat with mattered very greatly. Table Fellowship was a microcosm of the lager society, you did not eat with the the "lower people" or "outcasts."

Jesus directly challenged this ancient table practice with his own. Jesus dined with all manner of people, rich and poor, righteous and sinner, outcast and respectable soul, tax-collect and harlot, P and scribe. For Jesus, all set together to dine as equals. Jesus, from all accounts, appears to have been principally concerned with undoing the divisions of society. His ministry of eating and healing appears to have been designed to radically transform human relationships from exclusive to inclusive, from hierarchical to egalitarian.

The practice of all eating together as equals was the realization of Jesus' vision. In having all dine together as equals, Jesus was not merely proclaiming, but actually destroying the boundaries that divide. No one was to be an "outcast" any longer.

It all probability that is what communion grew out of - Jesus' mission to unite us all; to break apart the divisions which cause strife between us.

So if you take communion tonight or anytime this Holy Week do indeed remember Jesus. But forget theological claims about his divinity or sacrificial death (I suspect that the Historical Jesus would have found such claims a profound waste of time) try to remember his mission to unite, heal, reconcile, and bring together.

In a world still so divided and marred by the violence of those divisions, perhaps it would be good to remember Jesus' call to unity and to try to live it a little.

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