Friday, February 29, 2008
Thursday, February 28, 2008
“Missional” is an in vogue word in contemporary Christian circles. The “Missional” movement crosses denominational and theological boundaries, attracting evangelicals, mainliners and Catholics to its banner. Whereas earlier generations sent out missionaries, this movement calls on the church be the agency of God’s mission in the world. It is a movement that calls on the church to move beyond seeing mission as something the church does. In this view, mission is what the church is.
To better understand what the Missional church is up to, the author offers a syllogism:
The Church is.
The Church does what the church is.
The Church organizes what it does.
In many ways this is a very theoretical book. You won’t find a six-step plan to more effective ministry or even a ten-step plan for establishing a “Missional Congregation.” What you will find is a sustained call for the church to be engaged in world transforming ministry.
The book’s seven chapters move from basic definitions of “Spirit-led ministry” to an exploration of what this kind of ministry looked like in the Bible. From there the focus moves forward into the present – exploring Spirit-led ministry in a global context and then an American context. With this foundation – rooting missional ministry in context, Van Gelder looks at matters of decision-making, leadership and organization, and growth and development.
The Frontiers of Marital Pluralism
-- John Witte, Jr.
Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams set off an international firestorm this month by suggesting that some accommodation of Muslim family law was "unavoidable" in England. His critics argued that England will be beset by "licensed polygamy," "barbaric procedures" and "brutal violence" against women and children, all administered by "legally ghettoized" Muslim courts immune from civil appeal or constitutional challenge. Consider Nigeria, Pakistan and other former English colonies that have sought to balance Muslim Sharia with the common law, other critics added. The horrific excesses of their religious courts — even calling the faithful to stone innocent rape victims for dishonoring their families — prove that religious laws and state laws on the family simply cannot coexist. Case closed.
This case won't stay closed for long, however. The archbishop was not calling for the establishment of independent Muslim courts in England, let alone the enforcement of Sharia law by state courts. He wanted his nation to have a full and frank debate about what it means to be married in a growing multicultural society. What forms of marriage should citizens be able to choose, and what forms of religious marriage law should government be required to respect? These are "unavoidable" questions for any modern society dedicated to protecting both the civil and religious liberties of all its citizens.
These are quickly becoming "unavoidable" questions for America, too, where we already have a lot more marital pluralism than a generation ago. Various legal options are now available, from Massachusetts, which offers traditional marriage and same-sex marriage, to Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona, where couples are offered either a simple contract marriage or a covenant marriage with more rigorous rules of entrance and exit. Still other options now draw in religious law, too. In more than twenty states, marriages arranged by Hindu, Muslim and Unification Church officials have been upheld, with divorce the only option left for parties who claim coercion or surprise. A number of religious couples now choose to arbitrate their marital and family disputes before religious courts and tribunals rather than litigate them in state courts. Courts generally uphold the judgments of Jewish and Christian tribunals in these cases. Muslims, Hindus and other religious minorities are now pressing for equal treatment.
To deny Muslims divorce arbitration while granting it to Jews and Christians is patently discriminatory. But the bigger question is whether state recognition of any religious marriage laws puts us on a slippery slope that ends with parallel state and religious legal systems of marriage, and no control over the latter if they become abusive. What if religious parties want freedom to "covenant" out of the state's marriage laws and into the marriage laws maintained by their own voluntary religious communities? Which religious laws deserve state deference: just those governing husband and wife, or those on parent and child, property and inheritance, education and maintenance? Which religious communities have religious laws that deserve state deference – Christians? Jews? Muslims? Mormons? Hindus? What about the twelve hundred other religions now in place in America, a few with very different marriage and family norms? These are the frontier questions of religion and marriage that will soon face American courts and legislatures. We don't have much constitutional guidance yet, and to simply invoke the principle of separation of church and state, return all marriage and family questions to the state, and roll back the concessions already made to religious laws and tribunals would have enormous implications for the complex laws of labor, charity, and education, where religions and states cooperate closely.
We have better guidance in the law of religion and education. A century ago, states wanted a monopoly on education in public schools. Churches and parents claimed a right to educate their children in religious schools. In the landmark case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), the Supreme Court held for the churches and ordered states to maintain parallel public and private education options for their citizens. But later courts also made clear that states could set basic educational requirements for all schools. Religious schools could add to the state's minimum requirements, but they could not subtract from them. Religious schools that sought exemptions from these requirements found little sympathy from the courts, which instructed the schools either to meet the standards or lose their licenses to teach.
Marriage, like education, is not a state monopoly, but the state has long set the threshold requirements of what marriage is and who may participate. Religious officials may add to these state law requirements but not subtract from them. A minister, for example, may insist on premarital counseling before a wedding, even if the state will marry a couple without it. But if a minister bullies a minor to marry out of religious duty, the state could throw him in jail. If religious tribunals get more involved in marriage and family law, states will need to set threshold requirements. Among the most important rules to consider: No forms of marital union not recognized by the state. No violation of elementary freedoms of contract and conscience. No threats or violations of life and limb. No violation of basic rules of procedural fairness, and more. Religious tribunals may add to these requirements but not subtract from them. Those who fail to conform will lose their licenses and will find little sympathy when they raise religious liberty objections.
This type of arrangement worked well to resolve some of the nation's hardest questions of religion and education. And it led many religious schools to transform themselves from sectarian isolationists into cultural leaders. Such an arrangement holds comparable promise for questions of religion and marriage. It not only prevents the descent to "licensed polygamy," "barbaric procedures" and "brutal violence" that the archbishop's critics feared. It also encourages today's religious tribunals to reform themselves and the marital laws that they offer.
John Witte, Jr. is Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University in Atlanta.
Editor's Note: A longer version of this essay is available on the website of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, at http://www.ajc.com/opinion/content/printedition/2008/02/24/marriage0224.html.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
She has been so discombobulated that she has ignored some truisms of politics that her husband understands well: Sunny beats gloomy. Consistency beats flipping. Bedazzling beats begrudging. Confidence beats whining.
Experience does not beat excitement, though, or Nixon would have been president the first time around, Poppy Bush would have had a second term and President Gore would have stopped the earth from melting by now.
On the other side, Hillary seems willing to trudge along for at least another week. Last night's debate, from the clips I saw and the analysis I've read, show that Obama held his own, offered a dignified presence, and made no major gaff. There are suggestions that Hillary received more than her share of attention from the moderators. That may well be true. Whether or not the press has taken it easy on Obama, the reality is that now she's the one with something to prove. She's far behind in actual delegates (Superdelegates can change their minds) and hasn't won since February 5. The question at this point isn't whether Obama is fit to be President but why she's holding out. The question of whether he's fit to be President will be taken care of in the campaign with John McCain.
Yesterday offered us a different sign of hope. While I don't think McCain and Obama are pals, McCain's actions yesterday in rejecting the statements of a hate mongering Ohio Republican talk show host who had been called on to warm up the crowd suggests that his campaign won't swift-boat Obama. If the two sides can sit down and figure out how to have a dignified issues driven campaign, the fall campaign season could be a bit different from what we've seen in recent years.
My advice then to Hillary is this: bow out gracefully now, before you do damage to the party and the nation.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Dodd says what a lot of party leaders are thinking. It's time to end the campaign. Obama has taken a clear national lead among Democrats. He has a significant lead in pledged delegates (not including super-delegates). Hillary would have to run the table, which isn't likely unless Obama just flat out does something stupid -- like have an affair. Since that's not likely, the time is now to get ready to face John McCain. By continuing her attacks all that Hillary is doing is giving fodder for the McCain campaign.
As Robert Novak, no Democratic leader, asked: Who will tell her? I think Chris Dodd is the first to tell her. Biden will be next -- I expect.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Martin Marty, of course, is as always a keen observer of these things. In brief compass, he helps us understand the situation. So, here is this week's Monday morning publication of Sightings.
On Rowan Williams
-- Martin E. Marty
The Church of England today is a weak institution with a strong leader. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, though given few official powers, uses his office and voice in efforts to hold together the polarized eighty-million-member Anglican Communion. He is also a first-rate theologian and respected moral philosopher. So when he speaks, many pay attention. He spoke this month and many listened and reacted. As is well known, on February 7 he made a statement which some found outrageous, others merely provocative, still others realistic, and still still others a well-intended effort to reduce religious tensions in Britain. Was he "throwing in the towel" in the face of a growing and sometimes militant Islamic presence there, or reaching out as people in the biblical tradition should to "the stranger in their midst"?
Williams appraised the current inter-religious and legal situation in Britain and assessed that if there was to be social cohesion there, the nation must adopt some elements of Islamic sharia. What he evidently thought was a judicious proposal was very widely heard as injudicious. Just as Pope Benedict XVI roused furies when some seasons ago he quoted a figure from long-ago to the effect that the prophet Muhammad fostered conversion through violence, now Archbishop Williams fuels a different set of furies. Mention friendliness to minority Islam in majority secular Britain and you face a nation that is on edge, bewildered about how to live with its pluralism, and hostage to firebrands who use Williams-type comments and proposals to exploit the fears and befuddlement.
I decided to do my sighting this week in the British secular press, namely in the Economist, a London- and Washington-based weekly which naturally reflects British viewpoints. Editors of the February 16 issue were not as spooked out as many in Britain (and the U.S.) were about the prospects of sharia law having a say. Given the record of such law in many nations, there is reason to be spooked out. The Economist reflects secular Britain's nervousness about accommodations already made in England to policies that erode lines between "church" and "state", especially because privilege to the Church of England still exists. Why, the editors ask, show favor to one body? "Faced with this anomaly, the archbishop proposes to expand the privileges of all religions;" but, editors write, he should instead rethink the situation of his own faith. "Nor does it make sense in a largely secular country, to give special status to all faiths."
The editors then look our way: "Even in determinedly secular states like…the United States, the political authorities often find that they are obliged, in various ways, to cope with the social reality of religious belief." They cite exceptions to existing law made for the Amish or others in matters of family law, where quasi-courts of the faiths share rule. Next the editors notice Canada, which they cite as a place "where fear of Islam has made religious arbitration untenable." Here's an interesting closing note: The presence of Islam is changing habits, rules of the game, and perspective. "Defining the relationship between religion and the state was certainly easier when it could be assumed that religion's hold over people's lives and behavior was in long-term decline." Now with Islam on the rise and Christians more defensive, things are more tense. "On that point at least, Archbishop Williams was quite correct."
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
February 24, 2008
How far should a nation go to protect its people? Where should we draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable measures of gaining information from suspects and sources? This isn't a hypothetical question. It's a question being debated at the highest levels of government, because we live in dangerous times.
When we discuss interrogation methods in this country, we don't like to use the word torture. Torture is something barbarous that others may engage in, but not us. On several occasions President Bush has declared that the United States doesn't condone torture, nor does it practice it. Instead, we use “enhanced methods of interrogation.” When put this way, U.S. practices don't sound as harsh and unseemly, and besides, the information gained from these interrogations is said to keep us safe. But is a practice such as waterboarding simply torture by another name?
It is waterboarding that has become the focus of the current debate. The White House recently admitted that the CIA has used this method of interrogation on three al-Qaida suspects, a method of interrogation that dates back to the Spanish Inquisition. In practice, waterboarding simulates drowning. It doesn't leave physical marks, but it is mentally and emotionally intense. The Geneva Conventions, of which we're a signatory, outlaw torture and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.” Does water boarding fit this description?
Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who knows something about torture, has given strong support to our adherence to these conventions and has said: “Anyone who knows what waterboarding is could not be unsure. It is a horrible torture technique used by Pol Pot and being used on Buddhist monks as we speak. ... People who have worn the uniform and had the experience know that this is a terrible and odious practice and should never be condoned in the U.S. We are a better nation than that.”
The sad truth is that we have made use of this practice, and the current Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, is unwilling to rule it illegal or inappropriate, even though he admitted in Congressional testimony that he personally would experience it as torture.
Recently legislation passed the House and Senate that would require the CIA to adhere to the methods stipulated in the Army Field Manual and would prohibit actions such as waterboarding. The president, unfortunately, has threatened to veto this legislation.
Whatever the name given to the practices, torture is immoral. It's because torture is a moral issue that I joined more than 18,000 other religious leaders and signed the National Religious Campaign against Torture (http://www.nrcat.org/ ). This is a statement of conscience declaring that “Torture is a moral issue.” It calls on the American people to oppose any use of torture, even in the protection of our national security:
“Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved - policy-makers, perpetrators, and victims. It contradicts our nation's most cherished ideals. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable.”
“There is a special dignity in every human being that comes from the fact that we are brothers and sisters in God's one human family. It is because of this that we all feel that torture is a dehumanizing and terrible attack against human nature and the respect we owe for each other.”
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Father, I am seeking: I am hesitant and uncertain, but will you, O God, watch over each step of mine and guide me. (St. Augustine)
Friday, February 22, 2008
Thursday, February 21, 2008
-- Jeremy Walton
As a result of the ideological din and political polarization over the issue, a great deal of perspective has been lost. A broader consideration of the genealogy of the controversy would include the roots of Turkey's stringent secularism in Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's reforms of the 1920s; the turbulent clashes between the Turkish Left and Right during the seventies, which prepared the ground for the revival of political Islam during the eighties; and more recent crises surrounding the headscarf itself, such as the expulsion of a former Parliamentarian after she entered Parliament with covered head in May 1999. While such a thorough examination is beyond my scope here, even a cursory review of the public debate of the past few weeks and months provides insights into the manner in which religion comes to be defined within the purview of political secularism in Turkey. Briefly put, arguments both against and in favor of the freedom to wear the headscarf have attempted to define the "meaning" of religious practices in relation to institutions and privileges of citizenship. In other words, political debate in Turkey has elevated the symbolic status of the headscarf over its pragmatic importance as a means to piety on the part of Muslim women.
For supporters of the ban—the army, as well as journalists and politicians from the secular establishment—the headscarf is only "meaningful" as a symbol of the (political) oppression of women by a patriarchy rooted in religious traditions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, opponents of the headscarf in Turkey are uninterested in its traditional and ritualistic qualities. More interesting, however, is the fact that critics of the ban have been equally interested in its political meaning. The keywords for the progressive Muslims and liberals who have rallied against the ban are "freedom" and "equality"; they have articulated the headscarf as a symbol of the freedom of choice that must be guaranteed to all citizens of the secular Republic, including devout Muslim women. Indeed, the suggested change to the Constitution reads: "No one should be denied their right to higher education due to their appearance or clothing." Any mention of religion per se is absent from the proposal.
During my research among both Islamic and secularist foundations in Istanbul and Ankara—conducted from 2005 to 2007—I spoke to many women who wore headscarves of one type or another (indeed, the political contention that all headscarves are created equal is deeply problematic). While most were unanimous in their condemnation of the ban, this condemnation was almost always followed by a crucial elaboration: As one friend remarked, "The freedom to choose the headscarf is important, of course, but, for us, the headscarf itself isn't what ultimately counts. We are trying to be better Muslims, and the headscarf helps us to do this. That is the important thing."
The political uptake of the headscarf issue has articulated fundamental questions of the relationship among religion, liberal citizenship, and governance in Turkey. It is a mistake, however, to suppose that the political articulation of religious questions exhausts the "meaning" of religious practices themselves. In the case of the headscarf, a veiled university student may be seen to have made a "choice" in her garb, but, from her perspective, this "choice" may be more of an obligation and a means to piety than a political statement. It is this "important thing" itself that has been veiled in the vituperative political debate over the headscarf.
Jeremy Walton is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at the University of Chicago.
The February issue of the Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum presents an essay by M.Cooper Harriss of the University of Chicago, "The Preacher in the Text: Zora Neale Hurston and the Homiletics of Literature." Commentary from Kimberly Connor (University of San Francisco), Dolan Hubbard (Morgan State University), Carolyn Medine (University of Georgia), and Teresa Stricklen (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary) will be available on the forum's discussion board, where readers may also post responses.
Access this month's forum at:
Access the discussion board at:
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
In a season of transition, where America seeks change, 2008 is increasingly looking as if we will have a major choice to make. As Donna Brazile noted last week, the choice is between "Fear, Fear, Fear" and "Hope, Hope, Hope." Which one will you choose? As the parent of a soon to be 18 year old, whose going off to college, I'm putting my money on hope!
The race isn't over on the Democratic side, but barring major missteps, it would seem difficult for Hillary to catch up. I expect that she will become increasingly negative, at least in the near term, but I don't think it will get her anywhere. The next test is March 4th, when Texas and Ohio are in play. Obama is, it appears, already drawing close in Texas. Time will tell, and maybe soon.
Monday, February 18, 2008
-- Martin E. Marty
The cover banners the three major stories. First is Walter Russell Mead's: In sum, "America's evangelicals are growing more moderate—and more powerful." His observations and thesis run counter to favored opinion of not long ago, pioneered by Dean Kelley in 1972 in Why Conservative Churches Are Growing, which contended that in order to grow and grow powerful, churches had to be strict, hardline, demanding, and counter-cultural. Mead notes that today, Adam Smith-ian enterprising competition to 'get butts in the pews" has turned this around. Yes, there are still some latter-day Fundamentalists, but the winners are churches that offer most, are most at home in pop culture, and are "flexible, user-friendly, and market-driven." They are moderating, and thus growing more powerful.
Contrast this with the major and tragic story, "God's Country" (Nigeria) by Eliza Griswold. "Using militias and marketing strategies, Christianity and Islam are competing for believers by promising Nigerians prosperity in this world as well as salvation in the next." There are mass conversions, defects, animosities, and massacres in this dire competition between the Muslims of the North and the Christians of the South. Rene Girard's thesis about "the mimetic principle" is in effect: The two sides imitate each other and escalate in both marketing efforts and militial action. The well-document killings by Muslims are truly abhorrent; Christian belligerency, reactive or initiatory, is apocalyptically fierce. Griswold tells, for example, how the Christian Association of Nigeria "militia" attacked a Muslim town, killing 660 Muslims, burning twelve mosques and three hundred homes.
Griswold's father had been primate of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A at the time of the massacre, and a colleague of Archbishop Peter Akinola, who was then the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria. Akinola is now the head of the eighteen-million-member Anglican Church in Nigeria, and the spiritual and ecclesiastical host to many dissident American Anglicans who have accepted him as their bishop. To put it politely, Akinola, stiffing Griswold, launched into an attack linking Islam and liberal Protestantism while defending what Americans call "the prosperity gospel." "I've said before: let no Muslim think they have the monopoly on violence." Both sides in the Muslim-Christian conflict cite their Scriptures; one pastor legitimated rape by Christians on the basis of Matthew 24:19: "But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days."
Those who think Atlantic is interested in religion only when there is conflict in its name can find a match for Mead's piece in a third article by Alan Wolfe, a regular commentator on religious trends in the U.S. He writes on "the coming religious peace" in an article called "And the Winner Is…" The price of peace, says Professor Wolfe, is an American version of "secularism," which pervades market- and success-minded churches. I think his definition is a bit too neat and he is too sure about its victory, but he has a strong point overall. Given the cost in lives—on both sides—of Nigerian religious self-assurance, the American compromise looks attractive. Archbishop Akinola would call that confession a sell-out, typically "satanic," and would cite biblical texts to back himself up.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
February 17, 2008
Mount Rushmore enshrines the visages of four presidents, each of whom left their mark on the American experience. Two of those so honored were born in the month of February, a fact that has given birth to our celebration of President's Day this weekend.
Looking back through history America has been led by a series of presidents. Some, like Lincoln and Washington, Jefferson and Roosevelt, left a legacy of service and wisdom. Others, of course, have been disasters, though I'm sure we'd have a vigorous debate as to who belongs on this latter list. History is, ultimately, the judge of one's legacy. Some, who were judged great in their own day, haven't been treated quite so well as time has wore on. Others, considered failures in their own day, are enshrined as great leaders. I think Lincoln fits this latter category quite well. Others, either because of illness or the assassin's bullet, didn't live long enough to leave a legacy. The greatest of our presidents have left a lasting legacy that has been passed on from one generation to the next. These legacies inform our lives and guide us into the future.
Some of this excitement is due to the historic possibilities of the first woman or the first person of color being president. Even if that doesn't happen, we have reached a point of no return. The time is here, whether in this election or not, that the nation has begun to embrace its full diversity.
Friday, February 15, 2008
February 13, 2008
For more information contact: Linda Gustitus (202-557-8867)
NRCAT Praises Senate Vote to Stop CIA "Enhanced Interrogation" Program(Washington, D.C.)
Statement of National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) President Linda Gustitus on Senate vote on Intelligence Authorization Conference Report:
"Congress has spoken with a majority voice against the CIA's use of 'enhanced interrogation techniques' as authorized by the President. These techniques have included torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Our country and the world are breathing a sigh of relief. Now it is up to the President to sign this bill and make the CIA comply with the Army Field Manual while conducting interrogations. If he does so, then we will finally be able to turn the page on this shameful period of history."
National Religious Campaign Against Torture 316 F Street NE, Suite 200Washington, DC 20002
Clinton has offered experience and some well-thought-out policies. That might be enough in a different year. But when it comes to a larger theme, her campaign has been all over the lot.
You can tell a campaign has difficulty establishing a message when its slogans keep changing. In recent weeks, the Clinton campaign has featured one banner after another: "Big Challenges, Real Solutions," "Working for Change, Working for You," "Ready for Change, Ready to Lead" and "Solutions for America."
Obama has stuck confidently with the slogan "Change We Can Believe In." Clinton must either get voters to stop believing in the change Obama promises, or make them an alternative Big Offer that they can believe in more.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Here's the trailer for Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull. It's due out May 22nd!
Thugs and Religion in Myanmar
-- Jason A. Carbine
Four months ago, Myanmar was all over the headlines. For the first time since 1988, monks and lay people had staged major protests in the streets. The self-professed Buddhist military had beaten, shot, and killed Buddhist monks. After forty-five long years, the country again seemed poised on the brink of major political change. But where do things stand now? A military clampdown, phone lines cut, internet access reined in, the opposition terrorized into partial submission, a reassertion of military support for Buddhism, and not even page six in the newspapers. It was once suggested to me that much Buddhist history can be understood in terms of the relations between thugs (i.e. despotic rulers) and legitimators (i.e. monks). This dynamic certainly is at play in the Burmese situation: The Sasana, or the teaching of the Buddha, is deeply embedded in paradoxical ways in the current crisis of power that grips Myanmar, and a consideration of the Sasana illuminates the complexity of religion's role in Burmese society.
Traditional Sasana texts and rituals affirm the existence of a multi-tiered cosmos in which countless sentient beings are born, die, and are reborn. In this cosmos, Buddhists are supposed to undertake practices that are meant to help them move through the cycle of rebirth in positive ways. These same practices are also believed to help maintain the Sasana itself, without which people will lose the knowledge of how to escape rebirth. The junta adheres to a model of kingship from ancient India, whereby the lay government should play a significant role in sustaining activities that promote the persistence of the Sasana. The positive effects of the military's emphasis on the "affairs of the Sasana" include publication of Buddhist texts, renovation of numerous temples, funding for lay and monastic meditation centers, and large-scale Buddhist ceremonies.
Nevertheless, the military's excessive violence and repression, coupled with its effort to cloak that violence and repression under the guise of an ideal Buddhist political order, cross the threshold of acceptable behavior for a government performing its proper Sasana role. The massive amounts of money the military has poured into supporting the Sasana cannot undo the negative impact of its own violence. Moreover, by giving so much material support to the Sasana while pursuing so much violence against its monastic representatives, the military has contributed to the strengthening of a powerful enemy: the monkhood itself, motivated by compassion for the suffering of the Burmese people and by the perception that its way of life is under severe attack.
That being said, even if a large number of monks oppose military rule, monks themselves are aligned in a crucial way with the military, in that they serve as key transmitters of the very religious worldview that stands at the heart of the military's ideological effort to sustain its power. However much monks contest the current Burmese military junta, monastic transmissions of the Sasana provide a ready-made, latent system of legitimation for any government that sponsors monastic groups and the Sasana they transmit. To put the point as strongly as possible, monastic transmissions of the Sasana have been conducive to sustaining military rule in Myanmar, and hence to the violence the military perpetuates, precisely because those transmissions laud and often depend upon lay governments (even repressive juntas) that support them as representatives of the Sasana.
Even while they are very much divided over the use of threat, coercion, and repression, monks and members of the military are actually aligned on the general importance of the Sasana. This intermingling of disagreement and agreement seems to be sowing the seeds for that which the junta fears most: profound socio-political change. Is positive political change possible in a cultural setting where religion plays the kind of paradoxical role portrayed here – simultaneously as a basis for alliance between monks and the military, as a basis for monastic and other criticisms of the military, and as a basis of latent legitimation of the military? As the public protests demonstrate, dissident monks and their lay supporters willfully and openly rejected not only the military junta's claim that it is a good sponsor of the Sasana but also the latent legitimating roles of monastic transmissions of the Sasana. If these efforts can be sustained, even with continued repression by the military, and if they can help encourage massive defections from the armed forces, they may finally open the door to the change so many have sought.
Jason A. Carbine earned a Ph.D. from the Divinity School in 2004 and is Assistant Professor of Religion at Whittier College.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
As a possible first Madame President, Hillary is a flawed science experiment because you can’t take Bill out of the equation. Her story is wrapped up in her marriage, and her marriage is wrapped up in a series of unappetizing compromises, arrangements and dependencies.
Instead of carving out a separate identity for herself, she has become more entwined with Bill. She is running bolstered by his record and his muscle. She touts her experience as first lady, even though her judgment during those years on issue after issue was poor. She says she’s learned from her mistakes, but that’s not a compelling pitch.
If Hillary fails, it will be her failure, not ours.