Appreciating Christian Zionists

October 28, 2008

I’ve historically been cool the idea that the Jewish community would ally with groups seeking our conversion or who eagerly view Middle East conflict as leading to the End of Days. It feels like we’re being used for someone elses salvation.  Plus, we probably don’t agree on most of our domestic agenda, I once thought.  Didn’t Jewish social progress in the US emerge through limiting the influence of evangelical and other “public” Christians. Or at least conservative ones.  As I relax my grip on my noble and enlightened sense of self, these issues have receded and I recently found space to appreciate Christian Zionists.

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Radio Silence

October 18, 2008

About 2 weeks ago the campaign left me cold.  I decided I really wanted to figure out a compelling explanation of the Palin phenomenon (why she inspires) to the liberals.  Overcoming such a longstanding rift is no easy task and has brought about a period of silence as I’ve experienced the chasm which separates us.

Strategy and Tactics

October 3, 2008

The near elimination of military history from college catalogs (often in exchange for social history) is one of the reason our public conversation about war is so limited.  Besides the market among older men for WWII or ancient battles, there’s one counter-trend  — the vast number of popular computer games in which the player reenacts historical battles.  For the rest of us, here’s some help from Augean Stables:

Many people do not properly understand the difference between the two, and it is a crucial difference.

There are four levels of warfighting- Policy, Strategy, Operations, and Tactics. Strategy is the marriage between the political ends and the military means. Tactics, to give a boiled-down definition, is what is done when in combative contact with the enemy- the manuevers, attacks, timing, etc. To elucidate with an historical example – In WWII, the policy was the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. One of the strategies to achieve that policy was to knock out the German industrial capacity through aerial bombing runs. There were many operations, or organized collections of missions, meant to ensure that the bombing strategy was successful. The tactics involved in the operations include the decision to bomb at night, non-evasive flying to increase the accuracy of the bombing, and dogfighting manuevers by the fighter escorts.

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Manual for Postmodern Childrearing

October 3, 2008

“How would you bring up a child if you took the lessons from postmodernism literally? The young Swedish writers Athena Farrokhzad and Tova Gerge present a postmodern parenting guide.”

From an otherwise odd and unpleasant list, these are my favorites, especially the last one.

Emphasise the child’s potential mobility in the structure of desire by constantly spinning, shaking and upending the container in which it is kept, e.g. bed, buggy, baby walker and skin.

Combat the metaphorical system in the child’s language acquisition process. Point to a dog and say: “Paw, woof woof, mammal”.

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Fear and Repentance: 5769

September 30, 2008

For many Jews, the most meaningful element of High Holy Days synagogue services is the rabbi’s sermon.  Indeed, careers are won or lost here.  However talented our clergy, reliance on their performance for spiritual elevation reduces our commitment to God to paid entertainment or sound-bite movie reviews.   I hope the ancient liturgy and melodies make the uncomfortable topic of our t’shuvah (repentance) real.  Amid the lengthy Hebrew and English readings, may you find small nuggets that provoke or disturb you after the service heading to Yom Kippur.

With that said, I want to share parts of Rabbi Andy Bachman’s Rosh Hashanah sermon entitled “No Fear.”  Andy reflects on existential fear that, more than anything concrete, pervades the lives of his Brooklyn congregants.  Meaning, Purpose and Rootedness are the themes congregants always use to describe what they want.  Here, toward the end of the sermon, Andy suggests active Jewish life pushes back against fear and allows us to step into the unknown.

Learning, Spirituality and Acts of Lovingkindness. The Pillars of the Universe. Shimon Ha Tzadik said the world stands upon three things: Torah (study), Avodah (service), Gemilut Hasadim (generous acts). Meaning, Beyond the Self, and CommunityEach serve as a kind of antidote to fear that we encounter on a daily basis.

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Novak and New Athiests

September 30, 2008

Jacques B in the Washington Post warmly reviews Michael Novak’s latest, No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers.

First among the virtues of this book is its author’s commitment to civil, sober discourse. “My underlying thesis,” he writes, is “that unbelievers and believers need to learn a new habit of reasoned and mutually respectful conversation.”

…, No One Sees God calmly re-draws the “primitive fresco of Christianity” sketched by the New Atheists. Whereas they depict believers as simpletons and dupes, Novak offers a more complex portrait of the theist psyche. Believers routinely express dismay and anger toward their deity. They often feel betrayed by Him. And they sometimes even doubt that He exists. “The line of belief and unbelief,” he observes, “is not drawn between one person and another, normally, but rather down the inner souls of all of us.”

Novak then addresses the group bias issue familiar to students of Bernard Lonergan or Aaron Wildavsky.

The really compelling question asked by this book goes something like this: How can God’s existence, which is so abundantly obvious to believers, seem so incomprehensible to nonbelievers? To help frame the debate, he invokes the idea of a “blick,” a “way of viewing reality that is not usually overturned by one or more pieces of countervailing evidence.” Coined in about 1950 by the British philosopher R.M. Hare (who spelled it “blik”), the term refers to a mental filter through which people sift information, admitting some things as facts and rejecting others. To simplify somewhat, atheists and theists process information about the cosmos in radically different ways.

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Factchecking the Debate

September 29, 2008

From Factcheck.org via Newsweek.  Evaluate violations for yourself.

Analysis
The first of three scheduled debates between Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama took place Sept. 26 on the campus of the University of Mississippi at Oxford. It was sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. It was carried live on national television networks and was moderated by Jim Lehrer, executive editor and anchor of the PBS “NewsHour” program.

Summary
McCain and Obama contradicted each other repeatedly during their first debate, and each volunteered some factual misstatements as well. Here’s how we sort them out:

  • Obama said McCain adviser Henry Kissinger backs talks with Iran “without preconditions,” but McCain disputed that. In fact, Kissinger did recently call for “high level” talks with Iran starting at the secretary of state level and said, “I do not believe that we can make conditions.” After the debate the McCain campaign issued a statement quoting Kissinger as saying he didn’t favor presidential talks with Iran.
  • Obama denied voting for a bill that called for increased taxes on “people” making as little as $42,000 a year, as McCain accused him of doing. McCain was right, though only for single taxpayers. A married couple would have had to make $83,000 to be affected by the vote, and anyway no such increase is in Obama’s tax plan.
  • McCain and Obama contradicted each other on what Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen said about troop withdrawals. Mullen said a time line for withdrawal could be “very dangerous” but was not talking specifically about “Obama’s plan,” as McCain maintained.

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The Truth that Dare Not Speak Its Name

September 27, 2008

Patrick Deneen and others at Culture 11, that lively, new conservative-ish blog I mentioned a few weeks ago, suggest what candidates should say in the debates. Deneen would have McCain transfer his cache of military virtue to address our own complicity in the economic and ” devote a McCain presidency to restoring virtues of frugality and self-governance.”  To address Obama’s Red State weakness, he should “call for an economy that rewards the lower and middle class, not the wealthiest, and an effort to paint these commitments as the most fundamental form of traditional values.”

Deneen declares Americans must be taught about limits and let go of the corrosive growth ideology shared by both parties. He knows, too, that none of this will happen.

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Brothers-in-Arms? Secular Humanism and Religious Faith

September 26, 2008

I have a favorite recent First Things post. Edward Oakes explores a mostly unknown T.S. Eliot essay which he recently stumbled upon.  Eliot, writing in 1930 in an anthology on the modern condition, suggests secular humanism, even aggressive anti-Christian skepticism, challenges the religious person to clarify and refine their faith, thereby serving as an ally for truth.

[V]ery little knowledge of human nature is needed to convince us that hierarchy is liable to corruption, and certainly to stupidity; that religious belief, when unquestioned and uncriticised, is liable to degeneration into superstition; that the human mind is much lazier than the human body. . . . If we cannot rely, and it seems that we can never rely, upon adequate criticism from within, it is better that there should be criticism from without.

Eliot then demands more original secular critiques!

Oakes adds:

Even a passing glance at what I have earlier in these pages called “pop atheism” is enough to show how pathetically mediocre are the recent apologetes for atheism. Going from Nietzsche to Bertrand Russell to Richard Dawkins and ending with Sam Harris is quite a declension.

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Do Human Rights Monitors Increase Violence?

September 25, 2008

From Richard Landes at Augean Stables:

B’tselem’s Cognitive Egocentrism Increases Palestinian Violence

The Elder of Ziyon blog has an insightful post up about B’tselem’s [A Jewish Israeli Human Rights monitor in the West Bank] decision to provide West Bank Palestinians with cameras so that they can document settler violence. B’tselem, through a shallow understanding of Arab culture, or through wanton desire to demonize Israeli soldiers and citizens, has likely caused an increase in violence through their move. Their cognitive egocentrism keeps them from understanding it, the cameras do not inhibit “Israeli aggression”. Instead, since they benefit from scenes of Israeli violence, Palestinians are actually encouraged to do whatever they can to cause Israelis to react so that they can be captured on film.

This is hard for me to fully integrate. Part of me is proud that a Jewish NGO seeks to reform abusive practices by Israeli soldiers in the territories. Aren’t such left-peaceniks simply holding Israel to its founding liberal, democratic and Jewish standards?  We should not become a monster to fight a monster.

However, there has been solid evidence of Hezbullah’s and Hamas’ manipulation of visual footage to garner  international support and create “martyrs” for the war against Israel.  Richard Landes covers this well at Second Draft and has coined the term “Pollywood” for this practice.  Still, I refuse to declare from now on all footage of Israeli army abuses are staged.

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