Puzzling, Only Vaguely Interesting, and Deadly

Of course parents teach their children values, by example. It’s that look of distaste mom gets on her face. It’s your job to figure out where that comes from. That’s part of growing up – reading others and reacting appropriately. So when some German was mentioned – even a plumber there to fix the drain – mom never explained that odd Czech word she used – šváb. Many years later you’d discover it was the Czech word for cockroach, and the whole of twentieth century European history would open to you. It was that business with the Sudetenland and Hitler and all that followed. She didn’t have much use for Germans.

And of course there were the Russians. Baryshnikov might be dancing on some television variety show and she’d walk out of the room. Yeah, he seemed pleasant enough, but after the Germans in the country where her parents had been born it had been the Russians. And 1968 was a dismal year – Martin and Bobby had been assassinated and the nation had gone up in smoke and the Democratic Convention in Chicago had been chaos and riots in the streets and police state stuff – but that was the summer the Russians crushed the Prague Spring. They rolled in on August 21 – Alexander Dubček was soon gone, and all hope. There was gloom at home in Pittsburgh. The next month it was off to the last year of college, with everyone siding with the long-haired free and open radical hippie folks or becoming Young Republicans with the penny loafers and all, but your head was filled with more than that. How you grow up determines your values.

Of course Alexander Dubček was a Slovak and mom used to kid dad about being a Slovak – her family had been Czech, the sophisticated city folks from Prague. His folks had been country bumpkins, Slovaks. But she had married him anyway, and they kidded about it. The Czech-Slovak dictionary is still around here somewhere. We kids could not make heads or tails of any of it, but from early on we understood there was such a thing as sophistication and class and something else that had to do with openness and simple pleasures and skepticism about those who thought they were so smart and had all the answers. You learn by watching. Each has its place.

But the religion stuff got confusing. She didn’t have much use for the next door neighbors. It’s not that they were Polish – kielbasa is fine, even if the garlic is a bit much. They were Catholics, and she didn’t get the whole Mary thing, and the idea that the Pope was infallible seemed absurd. Maybe that was it, but she didn’t say much. There wasn’t much to go on. Back in those days when the neighbors always had Fish on Friday – the Pope said so – she smiled as dad grilled the steaks out on the back patio and the smoke drifted over that way. That was something, and you remember things like that.

And she didn’t have much use for Lutherans, but there she never said why. Maybe they sang the wrong hymns. That’s still a mystery. We were Congregationalists, although it was disconcerting to hear her father, the minister, give his sermons in Czech and Slovak. It seemed far from the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock. And since no one would teach us Czech or Slovak – we were to be real Americans – all that was just a pleasant way to spend a Sunday morning. It was like listening to bees buzz. It made you sleepy.

But how you grow up does determine your values, and this seemed like a sure-fire way to create someone who finds religion puzzling, and only vaguely interesting. You look in from the outside. The second wife was Episcopalian, and All Saints in Beverly Hills was fine. The music director got the best voice students from UCLA and USC in there each Sunday and Ralph Vaughan Williams never sounded better. And the church had been in the movies – Bo Derek’s wedding in the opening scene of “Ten.” Perhaps God had been discussed. It’s hard to remember. And later friends would urge Los Angeles’ First AME – great gospel music. And there were trips back east for this Bar Mitzvah or that in central New Jersey – but that was cultural anthropology. Hebrew was as odd as Czech. But it was fun. And now America has discovered New Jersey is endlessly fascinating.

But religion isn’t fun. It can be deadly:

Just ahead of renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestine, an influential Israeli spiritual leader has denounced the move, dubbing the Palestinians and their leader “an evil and bitter enemies of Israel” who should “perish from this world.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the upcoming launch of peace talks an opportunity to secure endurable peace, lasting generations. But, Ovadia Yosef, spiritual head of the religious Shas party in the government, denounced the talks, scheduled to kick-start on September 2, and said, “Abu Mazen (nom de guerre for Abbas) and all these evil people should perish from this world.”

“God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians,” Rabbi Ovadia was quoted as saying during his weekly sermon at a synagogue near his Jerusalem home.

See Josh Marshall:

The Iraqi-born Yosef, who is 89 years old, didn’t used to be so hawkish, let alone insane. So some of it may be age. Last year he got people in an uproar by suggesting those murdered in the Holocaust were reincarnated sinners from earlier generations.

Now THAT is odd. And Marshall notes that the Yosef statement was so outrageous even Abe Foxman denounced it – that’s the guy who runs the Anti-Defamation League and wants all Muslims run out of Lower Manhattan, even if the stated aim of the Anti-Defamation League is to protect folks from religious persecution. Foxman may want no mosques of any kind in Lower Manhattan, ever – and not even community centers with basketball courts and cooking classes – but he’s not that into calling for the extermination of a people. Jews are funny that way. Yosef is the exception, not the rule.

And anyway, that’s Netanyahu’s problem. Netanyahu needs to hold a coalition together.

But that’s always a problem when religion comes up. There’s always someone who just doesn’t care for Lutherans.

Of course you can try to form a coalition as Glenn beck did at America’s Divine Destiny, the Friday night warm-up to his Lincoln Memorial rally:

The three-hour program at the Kennedy Center for the Arts combined gospel music, patriotic songs, and speeches about the need for spiritual renewal in America. It is impossible to overstate Beck’s assessment of the importance of his events. Toward the beginning of Divine Destiny, he stated, “this is the beginning of the end of darkness. We have been in darkness a long time.” Saturday’s rally, he said, would be a “defibrillator to the spiritual heart of America.” Near the end of the program, he emphatically declared, “We are 12 hours away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America. It has nothing to do with this city or politics – it has everything to do with God Almighty.”

Who could argue with that?

Well, many could. John Perr examines that in Glenn Beck Playing with Fire on Religious Faith – a rundown, with video clips, of the doctrinaire issues that have come up:

In his pivotal address to the Southern Baptists in 1960, John F. Kennedy cautioned those suspicious of his Catholic faith, “Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you – until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.”

That’s the issue – mixing religion and politics. It tears things apart. But the day after the rally, on Fox News, Beck dropped his all-God “non-political” message and claimed that Obama’s worldview was shaped by “Marxism disguised as religion” – and attacked Obama as “a guy who understands the world through liberation theology, which is oppressor-and-victim.”

And people aren’t recognizing his version of Christianity:

“You see, it’s all about victims and victimhood; oppressors and the oppressed; reparations, not repentance; collectivism, not individual salvation. I don’t know what that is, other than it is not Muslim, it’s not Christian. It’s a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ as most Christians know it,” Beck said.

Perr says that the Mormon Beck could have been describing himself:

Sadly for the Fox News host, as many of his Tea Bagging allies view his Mormon faith in precisely the same terms.

As CNN reported on Friday, “Some evangelicals are defensive over partnering with Glenn Beck, a Mormon.”

Well yes – ThinkProgress cites a Christian NewsWire press release titled “Glenn Beck’s Mormonism Will Not Lead to Revival” that wasn’t very nice:

Glenn Beck promotes a false gospel. However, many of his political ideas can help America. … Mormonism is not a Christian denomination but a cult of Christianity. … Many endorse false gospels including Mormonism.

And Perr carries that forward:

If that language of condemnation sounds familiar, it should. As former Massachusetts Governor and LDS member Mitt Romney ramped up his 2008 presidential run, Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network offered a similar primer in a document titled, “How Do I Recognize a Cult?” Mormon religious beliefs, CBN concluded, “are, to put it simply, wrong.”

Perr cites that item:

Mormonism teaches that God is not the only deity and that we all have the potential of becoming gods. … (Remember that Satan’s fall came about because he wanted to be like God.) … There has been constant revision of Mormon doctrine over the years, as church leaders have changed their minds on a number of subjects including polygamy, which was once sanctioned by the church.

In summary, the Mormon Church is a prosperous, growing organization that has produced many people of exemplary character. But when it comes to spiritual matters, the Mormons are far from the truth.

Perr adds this:

As the 2008 GOP primaries approached, Mitt Romney faced an enormous hurdle among the heavily evangelical Republican base. A December 2007 Pew Research Poll found that 45% of evangelicals did not consider Mormons to be Christians. 25% were less likely to vote for an LDS candidate as a result. (A Gallup was also a warning to John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, where a candidate who was “72 years of age” or “married three times” was less likely than a Mormon to get Americans’ backing.) So, it came as no surprise that on December 6, 2007, Romney tried to follow in JFK’s footsteps with his speech, Faith in America.

In a speech that featured only one mention of the word “Mormon,” Romney sought to walk a tightrope, proclaiming his own religion’s just place in the American pantheon of faith without in any way describing it. Ironically, Romney took pains to sing the praises of the rites (and stereotypes) of other faiths while excluding his own:

“I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims.”

He likes Lutherans? How odd. But Romney also said this:

There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church’s distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith.

Perr suggests he’s full of crap:

Too bad Mitt Romney, like Glenn Beck, advocates a religious test of his own.

To be sure, atheists and agnostics have no place in leading Mitt Romney’s America. That meaning was unambiguous in Romney’s 2006 declaration to Fox News that “People in this country want a person of faith to lead them as their president.” The former Massachusetts Governor made the point even more broadly today, proclaiming simply “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.” Columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan observed the omission in Romney’s 2007 speech, concluding “he would have lost the idiot vote” if GOP primary voters thought “this Romney character likes to laud atheists.”

This is tricky stuff. You can have any faith, but you cannot have no faith, and, spite of Romney’s fancy speech, you cannot be a Muslim, which may or may not be a faith. From the last presidential primaries, see Mansoor Ijaz in the Christian Science Monitor:

I asked Mr. Romney whether he would consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that “jihadism” is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today. He answered, “…based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration.”

Romney protested that he was misquoted but Ijaz stood by his account.

It’s a minefield out there. But Perr adds this:

This is not to say that the Glenn Beck and Mitt Romney won’t succeed with their strange political bedfellows. After all, supposed cult member Romney gave the May 2007 commencement address at Pat Robertson’s Regent University, during which he praised “Dr. Robertson’s dedication to strengthening and then nurturing the pillars of this community and our country.” Three years later, Beck himself spoke to the graduates of the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, telling them, among other things, “shoot to kill.”

Beck did say that – listen to advice that he intended to give to his daughter as she entered college, but never did –

Life is hard. And then it gets harder. And then you die.

There are no coincidences in life. Look for them.

Sleep hard, but sleep less.

Only date those who love you as much as I do.

[Weeping] Only date those who will treat you as I have tried.

Anyone who wants to take your choice away is evil.

Shoot to kill.

Every dad tells his daughter that.

Actually the implied message is that religious war is coming. And saying things like that might help overcome his being a damned Mormon. Know your audience.

But there is this CNN item – Brannon Howse, the conservative writer and founder of Worldview Weekend, saying this – “While I applaud and agree with many of Glenn Beck’s conservative and constitutional views, that does not give me or any other Bible-believing Christian justification to compromise Biblical truth by spiritually joining Beck.”

This is why Perr says Beck is playing with fire. You may need a religious coalition to get things done. But such a thing may be impossible. Ask Benjamin Netanyahu. And Perr adds this:

As Glenn Beck touts that “return to God,” many of his political fellow travelers demand Muslim Americans renounce their freedom of religion in lower Manhattan. Others target mosques in Tennessee and elsewhere. All involved would do well to heed the words of President Kennedy from that day in Houston 50 years ago:

“For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been – and may someday be again – a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist.”

And of course it could be a Mormon – or a Lutheran, although Mom never explained that.

But no one explains that. See this item in The Onion:

Local man Scott Gentries told reporters Wednesday that his deliberately limited grasp of Islamic history and culture was still more than sufficient to shape his views of the entire Muslim world.

Gentries, 48, said he had absolutely no interest in exposing himself to further knowledge of Islamic civilization or putting his sweeping opinions into a broader context of any kind, and confirmed he was “perfectly happy” to make a handful of emotionally charged words the basis of his mistrust toward all members of the world’s second-largest religion.

“I learned all that really matters about the Muslim faith on 9/11,” Gentries said in reference to the terrorist attacks on the United States undertaken by 19 of Islam’s approximately 1.6 billion practitioners. “What more do I need to know to stigmatize Muslims everywhere as inherently violent radicals?”

“And now they want to build a mosque at Ground Zero,” continued Gentries, eliminating any distinction between the 9/11 hijackers and Muslims in general. “No, I won’t examine the accuracy of that statement, but yes, I will allow myself to be outraged by it and use it as evidence of these people’s universal callousness toward Americans who lost loved ones when the Twin Towers fell.”

“Even though I am not one of those people,” he added.

There’s much more at the link, including this:

Over the past decade, Gentries said he has taken pains to avoid personal interactions or media that might have the potential to compromise his point of view. He told reporters that the closest he had come to confronting a contrary standpoint was tuning in to the first few seconds of an interview with a moderate Muslim cleric before hastily turning off the television.

“I almost gave in and listened to that guy defend Islam with words I didn’t want to hear,” Gentries said. “But then I remembered how much easier it is to live in a world of black-and-white in which I can assign the label of ‘other’ to someone and use him as a vessel for all my fears and insecurities.”

Added Gentries, “That really put things back into perspective.”

Yes, this is satire. Did that need to be said?

Maybe it did need to be said. Not everyone grew up in a home where all this stuff eventually just became a pleasant background buzz that made you sleepy. And all these people seem to want to kill each other. From the outside looking in that seems absurd. But people will die anyway.

Now what?

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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