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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Wright's Faith Footnote

The next part of Reverend Wright's sermon [full text here] is actually something he calls a faith footnote. If you're a lawyer, you may remember footnote 4 in Caroline Products which provides the bases for basically all Substantive Due Process review and everything else Justice Scalia hates. If you're an election lawyer, you may even think about footnote 52 from Buckley v. Valeo, which establishes forever and always the "magic words" of express advocacy. No matter who you are, you've probably heard of Reverend Wright's faith footnote.

In his faith footnote, the pastor quotes Ambassador Peck as agreeing with Malcom X, that "America's chickens are coming home to roost" on September 11, 2001. He goes on to say:
We took this country, by terror, away from the Sioux, the Apache, the Arrowak (phonetic) the Comanche, the Arapajo, the Navajo. Terrorism--we took Africans from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism. We bombed Grenada and killed innocent civilians -- babies, non-military personnel. We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with Stealth Bombers and killed unarmed teenagers, and toddlers, pregnant mothers and hard working father. [fullest voice] We bombed Khadafi, his home and killed his child. Blessed be they who bash your children's head agains the rocks.

[fullest voice] We bombed Iraq, we killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed the plant in Sudan to payback for the attack on our embassy -- killed hundreds of hard working people --mothers and fathers, who left home to go that day, not knowing they'd never get back home. [Even fuller voice] We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye. Kids playing in the playground, mothers picking up children after school -- civilians not soldiers. People just trying to make it day by day. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and South Africa and now we are indignant? Because the stuff we have done overseas is brought back into our own front yard.

America's chickens are coming home, to roost. Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred, and terrorism begets terrorism
First, let us distinguish this comment from that of Falwell & Robertson, who said 9/11 happened because of our permissive society. One of the problems with those statements is that they are nonsense, like saying the terrorist attacked us because they hate our freedom. Also, Falwell and Robertson were saying that God allowed the attacks, or caused the attacks, or some other divine intervention way of looking at the world. Wright's reference to historical events does not suggest that to me. He doesn't say we've been sinful in our policies, but that they amount to terror.

So, let's substitute a different sentiment, one in which the causation is similarly plausible. Let's say a socially conservative preacher claimed that the domestic terrorist who bombed abortion clinics did so because the murdering of the abortionists would come back on them. Or let's say a politically libertarian preacher said that the federal building bombers did so because the federal government's repression was held up by implicit violence and that threat was coming back on it. What is wrong with such statements?

I believe it is true that our methods of taking this country from the native people, was wicked and immoral. I believe enslaving Blacks in this country was wick and immoral. I believe we've used our militarily unnecessarily. But, why label American military violence as "terrorism"? Much of the violence he lists is distinctly not the asymmetric warfare that we think of as terrorism. There can be no purpose but to equate those actions with the acts of Al Quaeda on 9/11. That is, to say that the former not only causes the latter, but that the former justifies the latter.

I much preferred the sentiments I heard from my ministers. That is, before we do anything, we need to ask ourselves, "Why do they hate us so much?" Recognize that we have some control over the situation, without justifying the acts of violence from our enemies.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Examining Wright

So, Rev. Wright is back. It will be interesting to me to see if this helps or harms Obama. But in this space I thought it might be more interest to dissect the famous 9/11 sermon and see what we think. The full text is provided by Andrew Sullivan here. For now, let's just start with this part:
"Every public service of worship I have heard about so far in the wake of the American tragedy has had in its prayers and in its preachments, sympathy and compassion for those who were killed and for their families, and God's guidance upon the selected Presidents and upon our war machine, as they do what they do and what they gotta do -- paybacks.

There's a move in Psalm 137 from thoughts of paying tithes to thoughts of paying back, A move, if you will from worship to war, a move in other words from the worship of th God of creation to war against those whom God Created. And I want you to notice very carefully this next move. One of the reasons this Psalm is rarely read, in its entirety, because it is a move that spotlights the insanity of the cycle of violence and the cycle of hatred.
Now this is interesting. Right from the git go, we see that the first authority Wright questions is not the government's, but the psalmist's. So, what about that 137th Psalm:
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.

2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,

3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"

4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?

5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill .

6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.

7 Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
"Tear it down," they cried,
"tear it down to its foundations!"

8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us-

9 he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.
Hmm, didn't Toby Keith write a song like this song not long after September 11. He's right, of course, that we seem to avoid the end of this Psalm, while verses 1-4 are familiar to me if, from nothing else, from Godspell.

I think his warning about not moving to quickly to war is wise. And pointing to how authorization of the divine often accompanies such moves is another point of wisdom. Here's the way he put it a few lines later: Blessed are they who dash your baby’s brains against a rock. And that, my beloved, is a dangerous place to be, yet that is where the people of faith are in the 551BC, and that is where far too many people of faith are in 2001 AD.

Good stuff. Agree?