Friday, August 28, 2009

A New Low in T-shirt "Evangelism"

I wasn't going to dignify this church's anti-Islam T-shirt campaign with a post, but one of the things I'm most upset about in the Christian church is how its intolerance always seems to end at its own door. So let me be clear:
Mr. Terry Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center do not speak for me. If I may be permitted to say so this strongly, I do not think he and his church speak for Jesus, either. Not the Jesus I've come to know, anyway.
The irony is enough to make you cry: A church named after the symbol of peace making money on a T-shirt that defames the belief system of one third of the world's people. (I was kind of hoping we'd gotten past the bumper-sticker Christianity stage, but I see now that we've only graduated to the T-shirt stage.) Has anyone at the Dove church has ever actually spoken to a Muslim, let alone tried to find out what Muslims really believe?

I'll also bet that in the entire history of Dove Church in Gainesville, there has not been nor will there ever be a "conversion" of a single Muslim. Can you possibly guess why that may be?

Why would a Muslim want to come anywhere near the place? What about "Islam is of the devil" communicates God's love for Muslims? What about Dove's "Islam is of the Devil" campaign is remotely likely to attract a Muslim to the church or convince him or her that he or she might find something better at Dove church?

It's easy to galvanize a group against something. This pastor has taken the classic pastor's easy way out: Appeal to the worst in human nature. (Second only to building programs, which American Christians have a particular fondness for, because its a concrete mark of success, anti-whatever movements are the best way to get people to forget their differences and pull together in a fight against a perceived threat.) Did I mention it is lazy? Hypocritical?

Used to be Christians took pot shots at each other. That's why there are literally hundreds of denominations, many of which believe they, alone, are the true worshipers, the true bearers of God's image in the world, and that all others are headed to hell or fall far short of heaven. I sat under a Protestant pastor for a few years, who believed the Catholic church was of the devil (The Roman Catholics, he thought, were the great Harlot mentioned the book of Revelation). That was one of the many reasons I left that particular church.

Now, I guess we've tired of waging wars of words with each other and have turned our sights outward to the watching world. Now everyone can see what only those of us on the inside have had to witness for so many years.

In the Scriptures, the only folks Jesus ever identified with the devil were the hyper-religious folk who thought they had a corner on righteousness and therefore had the right to pass judgment on others. I always thought there was a message there for us. I just can't imagine Jesus with an "Islam is of the Devil" T-shirt on. But then again, I'm no Bible scholar.

At times like these, I wonder why I stick around. I have lots of friends who no longer go to church. They're Christians, but they've disowned the organized church. They are embarrassed by it.

I still hang in there. Christian churches aren't all like Dove, of course. But they all get tarred with the same brush every time something like this happens. Unfortunately, there lurks in every one of them that awful tendency to look out at the world (and each other) not with love but fear, and therefore open the door to hate, which is the classic coping mechanism of choice for the fearful. Pastors are always calling the flock to "take a stand" against that which they do not understand and, therefore, greatly fear. Leprosy, these days, takes many forms.

The apostle John said, "Perfect love casts out fear." We Christians have always had a tough time with that one. Hopefully, Dove is, if nothing else, a teachable moment for the rest of us. Who knows? Maybe Dove World Outreach Center itself will come to its senses and aspire to live up to its name. I still believe in miracles. I just haven't seen very many lately.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Health Care Reform II: An Abortive Effort?

After spending weeks attempting to fabricate issues that would sink not only President Obama's health care legislation but also Mr. Obama's presidency, the Republican party has been handed a real issue this week that could get them their first wish, anyway.

The Democratic bill before the House apparently mandates that the bill's public (government-run) insurance option will collect from the people who elect it, funds that would be kept separate from "public" funds and used to pay for abortion services beyond those currently allowed through Medicaid (only in cases of rape, incest, and threat to the health of the mother). Moreover, private insurance companies that under the reform bill would be subsidized with public funds could elect to do the same.

Needless to say, I'm deeply disappointed. Mr. Obama excuses this before groups like Planned Parenthood by insisting that "reproductive" health care should be covered by the pubic plan. I couldn't agree more. But ... in what way is an abortion "reproductive"? A woman who has an abortion is choosing not to reproduce. Euphemisms, anyone? It's a bit like calling pornography "mature entertainment."

Worse, the provision provides abortion advocates a sleight-of-hand way around the Hyde Amendment, which in 1976, ended Medicaid funding for elective abortions. Since then, the U.S. government has not funded "elective" abortions and all but 17 states have followed suit, enacting similar restrictions for the use of state funds. The Hyde Amendment has been law almost as long as Roe v. Wade (yes, the Republicans are right here: Roe v. Wade was a textbook study in judicial activism and legislation from the bench). Pro-abortion Democrats ought to feel obligated to accord Hyde at least as much respect as they insist that others give to Roe v. Wade as "the law of the land." The fact-checkers have called this one out: It's a big change. Huge.

More disappointing is that it's a big change that has clearly been engineered not to look like one. Mr. Obama set himself up for well-deserved criticism when he responded this week that the health care reform package did not provide government funding for elective abortions. Technically, of course, he's correct. Instead, it requires anyone who elects the public option to pay into a "private" pool of funds that will be used by the government-administered plan to pay for elective abortions. Not exactly "pro-choice." Although Mr. Obama said, during his campaign, that he desired to find a way to reduce the incidence of abortion, the plan he's defending will make them easier to get and imply government encouragement of abortion. Inconsistent, at best. Defenders of the provision say, of course, that folks can opt for a subsidized private plan that doesn't fund abortions. That hardly changes the fact that the public plan will pay for abortions. A bit of bookkeeping chicanery doesn't change that.

These facts prompted serious schism in the reform ranks: Joining the alarm this week were anti-abortion Democrats — enough of them to sink the health care reform, if the provision is not removed. As many as 19 Democrats will refuse to support the bill if it doesn't clearly exclude funding for abortions.

There's no way the reform bill gets out of the House as it stands.

And that would be a travesty. I'd like to stand by my comments in my preceding post on health care reform. I take nothing back. Health care reform is something that needs to happen. If it doesn't get reformed now, it will demand a much more draconian reform in the future. And it will be even more expensive then than now. And if we don't get it, we'll dearly wish someday that we had.

(It's important to note that the provision for voluntary access to subsidized "end-of-life" counseling — advance planning, as in living wills, hospice care, etc. — was introduced and championed by a Republican, not a Democrat. And that Republican, pro-life U.S. senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia says the "death panel" nonsense was just that.)

Unfortunately, the very pubic squabble (one can hardly dignify what's been going on by calling it a debate) about health care reform is sure, now, to take an ugly and terribly unnecessary turn for the worse. No doubt the same crew that has been trying to tar-and-feather the President and run him out of Washington from the beginning will gleefully capitalize on this week's health care events.

Meanwhile, word is that Democrat Nancy Pelosi is in conference with the unhappy anti-abortion Democrats to try to come up with a "compromise." Here's a compromise: Take out the abortion coverage, and you can get your bill passed. If Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Obama are so married to funding abortions that they will permit a "must" health care reform effort to go down to total defeat, they will not have Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich to blame for it. They will have only to look in the mirror.

Those who support the provision, of course, protest that if abortions aren't funded by the public plan, then some low-income women would lose abortion funding they now have under private insurance policies. That is true. If Ms. Pelosi and her compatriots on the far left would like to see abortions funded, there is no law against organizing a private insurance group that offers abortion coverage as supplemental insurance. Those who care to take advantage of it can, and those who believe as Ms. Pelosi does are free to make that plan as affordable as they can make it. Those who want "choice," then, can choose to pay for it. (That would, in some small, oblique way, justify the "pro-choice" label.) More importantly, that would keep the government out of the abortion business, as the law clearly demands. And those among America's 45 million uninsured who rightly maintain that abortion is the taking of human life wouldn't be forced to choose between their conscience and the health of the children they chose to keep.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Health Care Reform: Avoiding a Darwinian Nightmare

Republican-friendly media, like Fox News, the National Review and this outfit, are declaring a victory, today, for the Republicans — in particular, for the ex-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin — as the news circulates that the so-called "death panel" provision has been dropped from the House health care reform legislation.

After the left's pundits pummeled her recent resignation and declared her public future at an end, Ms. Palin vaulted back into the spotlight by raising the "death panel" alarm in the current health care reform debate. At issue, it turns out, is a statement made some years back by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, brother to President Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and an adviser to the Obama Administration's health care reform team. Dr. Emanuel, apparently, contemplated at one time a plan to ration health care.

I'd like to comment on the issue. But before I do, let me be clear: I am in no way in favor of any plan that would ration health care. I am in no way an advocate for any plan that would fund or encourage euthanasia, forcibly deny health care to anyone for any reason, or even suggest to anyone that they voluntarily forfeit health care, no matter what the reason. When most of the country was criticizing the Catholic church and her parents for "interfering" in Terry Schiavo's adulterous husband's court fight to starve his comatose wife, I was one of the shockingly small number of Americans who publicly railed against the idea.

I don't recall Fox News or National Review or the Republican party rising up en masse in righteous indignation over that one. I heard very little about "judicial activism" in that case. (Nary a word from Ms. Palin or any of her friends. But I do remember a lone politician who stood up and took up the case of Ms. Schiavo's parents — the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who just happens to be black and a Democrat.)

And if I thought for one second that the Obama Administration actually intended rationing in its provision for funding voluntary access to "end-of-life" counseling, I'd be jumping up and down, screaming foul. But if we can get past the specter of "death panels" long enough to look at the realities of the Obama provision and the health care crisis we actually face, it might be possible to see things in a more calm and rational frame.

First, the bill currently before Congress had no such provision (see my previous post). There was no "death panel" awaiting Ms. Palin's son Trig or her aging mother.

Ms. Palin's angst is, at it's most pardonable, about her fears of what government involvement in health care might lead to if health care costs continue to skyrocket and the number of uninsured Americans continues to climb. All the more reason for Ms. Palin and friends to become partners in the discussion and help Mr. Obama find a rational solution to the issue of health care cost and availability, as we'll see.

Second, the Republican media machine now has managed, through innuendo alone, to create general distrust about health care reform. Ms. Palin's illogical leap and unfortunate choice of words provided just the right sort of sound byte right-wing commentators needed to muddy the waters of what Mr. Obama had hoped would be a clean, bi-partisan effort to reform health care.

(How is it that the Republicans, who have railed for so many decades against the bias and lack of objectivity of the "liberal media," are now so enamored of right-wing media celebrities who make no pretense to objectivity, gleefully sneer at anything remotely left-leaning, and cheer on those who disrupt public forums?)

I'd like to suggest that if we set Dr. Emanuel's rationing proposal and Ms. Palin's reaction to it against the proper backdrop, we might find that the two have ground for some agreement and, perish the thought, cooperation in the fight against something we should all want to avoid.

The pundits spend a great deal of time comparing the Obama proposal to health care systems now in existence in Canada, Great Britain, France and Switzerland. What they don't describe very well is what we'll get if we don't reform the health care system. For that, we need only look at the former Soviet Union. Just prior to its demise, health care in Russia was in an abysmal state. I remember reading an article about Russian Olympians at the time, who spent much of their earnings from the Soviet athletic training system stockpiling medical supplies, because in the Soviet Union's failing economy, the kind of health care most of us take for granted everyday was near nonexistent. While the Russian populace went without, what was left of Russia's system was reserved (in a survival-of-the-fittest fashion) for the famous (Olympians and educated technocrats) and the privileged (government officials).

Oh, I know, the Republicans will pipe right up and say, "Well, Mike, that's because, in the Soviet Union, the government ran the health care system." Sorry, that won't fly. Guess who's exporting quality health care all over Latin America? Not us. Sorry, it's Cuba. Its government-run health care system (patterned on the Soviet model) has quietly provided the doctors who are (dare, I say it?) revolutionizing public health care for the likes of Mr. Chavez and others left-wing wannabe despots in Latin America. My point? It's not that we should have government run health care. Rather, it's that we now have a private system whose only resemblance to the Soviet system is that its hell bent on bankrupting most of us and becoming the privilege of an elite. It matters much less who runs it than whether or not we can afford it. In a telling irony, Mr. Chavez has improved health care in Venezuela by exploiting the familiar free-market tenets of supply and demand. Cuba is only too happy to export doctors in trade for oil and cash. The market in action. Let me repeat: It's all about affordability.

Unfortunately, the market isn't handling the task so well, here, so the government has stepped in. The Republicans defeated Mr. Clinton's program 12 year ago, and then for eight years under President Bush, we saw health care costs rise at four times the rate of wages. We watched the roll of the uninsured grow every bit as fast during the good times as the rolls of the unemployed have increased during our current recession. Now we have another shot at cleaning up the mess.

The Democrats, at least, are trying. And, by all accounts, most physician's groups and professional health care organizations are onboard. Only the Republicans seem to prefer things the way they are. But that makes sense, doesn't it? The G.O.P. has for a long time been the party of the monied elite: Those who can afford to self-insure. Those who own the insurance companies. Those who believe the poor are poor by choice. It's no skin off their noses if 45 million Americans are uninsured. Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh don't bear the cost of treatment for these folks at emergency rooms, because Beck and Limbaugh and their friends can afford the lawyers and accountants it takes to weasel out of the taxes that pay for it. Wall Street doesn't foot the health care bill for the poor folks who live on the side streets that branch off from Main Street. Main Street foots the bill.

Set against that backdrop, Dr. Emanuel's "rationed care" proposal, formulated years ago (and which he now disowns) still has no appeal. But it is understandable when we consider that if we continue on our present course, it would be the lesser-evil alternative to de facto rationing based on far less attractive criteria: Those who control the guns and money get quality health care. Everyone else gets what's left ... or nothing at all. Deja vu, Soviet Union. If we're going to be fearful about something, let's be fearful about that prospect, shall we?

Unfortunately, the Republican right seems bent on derailing Mr. Obama's attempt to avoid this truly Darwinian nightmare by postulating an entirely fictitious Orwellian nightmare, in which the government controls and predetermines our health care options.

We must be clear: The same thing happened with Mr. Clinton's plan: The right appealed to exactly the same fears, and there was no reform. Since then, your premiums and mine have climbed far faster than our incomes. And the rising cost of health care for the uninsured is paid for by the same taxpayers who see their premiums going up. (Actually, that's not really true, is it? It'll be paid for — maybe — by our children and their children, because its all borrowed money. Medicare, a key plot point in the health reform drama, is one of the largest contributors to our national debt).

Can we really afford to see health care reform go down the drain again? Do we really want to pass this problem on (again) to the next generation?

No one, not even Dr. Emanuel, wants to ration health care. That's why health care reform is on the docket. If it falls off the docket again because people fear what might happen instead of facing up to what will happen if we don't do something, then we'll inevitably get what Ms. Palin and Dr. Emanuel both fear most.

Now that the objectionable provision is no longer part of the bill, there's no good reason why Mr. Emanuel and Ms. Palin and their friends can't get on with a rational, productive debate about what might be the best way to do what we all ought to fervently believe needs doing.

That assumes, of course, that Ms. Palin and friends are actually interested in health care reform. The evidence, so far, indicates that assumption is unwarranted. Hope I'm wrong about that.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Birthers, Teabaggers, Townhallers & Death Panels

First there were the Birthers, bent on proving that President Obama was not born on U.S. soil.

Then there was the group — this one, so low-profile (not to mention, just plain low) that it didn't even earn a nickname — that claimed Mr. Obama was a closet Muslim.

Then there were the Teabaggers, who twisted the message of the original Boston Tea Party participants from "no taxation without representation," to "no taxation," to prevent Mr. Obama from laying some of the burden for necessary health care reform on those most able to absorb its financial impact.

Now it's the Townhallers, who think that, by disrupting public meetings run by Democrats to push the health care reform legislation now before Congress and, thereby, preventing a reasonable discussion of the plan's merits and demerits, they somehow serve the interests of those whose medical burdens will continue to mount unless something is done.

It's no secret that an ever-more militant group of Republicans, not so sure that the Obama presidency will fail, are making it their business to ensure that failure. They openly desire his failure even if that failure means the country suffers a depression. Even though few regard the effort as anything more than a purely partisan effort to ensure that a Republican makes it to the White House next time around and that Republicans reclaim the Senate and House.

Unfortunately, this well-organized right-wing outfit, which was pretty laughable when it first surfaced as the "birthers," is now, inexplicably, proving quite successful. Mr. Obama's approval rating recently slid below the 50 percent mark. Part of the reason is that the militants have callously played on the fears of Americans economically devastated by a recession that was largely the product of Republican/centrist Democrat policy and that began with a Republican president in the White House. (Let me make clear, here, that I am no mere bystander in this regard. While I still possess a job, I have taken a near 30 percent cut in pay. I feel the ouch. I have experienced the fears. I'm looking over my shoulder, hoping I don't see the ax fall, just like every other Main Streeter).

In reaction, several liberal Democrats have gone so far as to characterize these folks as terrorists. Although its unwise to throw that kind of terminology around lightly, the truth is, a terrorist is one who seeks to inspire terror in another to accomplish a goal. The definition does not specify the use of a bomb or gun. It, therefore, could easily apply to these folks. (As I noted in my previous post, words are among the deadliest of weapons.)

Although this group would prefer to think of itself as a "truth squad," its current campaign centers on the completely fictitious accusation that the Obama health care initiative calls for "death panels" — government sponsored review boards that will decide who has the right to health care. (This term was coined, apparently, by now ex-Governor Sarah Palin, who really seems to believe that the government, under the Obama plan, will tell us when we have to die. Oh, Sarah, you seemed so promising when you first entered the national spotlight!) This isn't just a twist on the truth. Its an outright lie, of course. Unfortunately, in their eagerness to destroy Mr. Obama, truth is something this group of Republicans is all-to-willing to sacrifice.

Newt Gingrich, Senator Charles Grassley, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have encouraged this blatant falsehood. High-profile, right-wing pundits (the American Spectator, the New Republic, et. al.) regularly compare the Obama Administration's willingness to publicly fund access, on a purely voluntary basis, to "end-of-life" counseling to Nazi Germany's policy of forcible euthanasia for the physically and mentally infirm. The same tactic used by the same pundits discredited President Clinton's previous attempt to reform the health care system.

So ... why are they so successful? Well, let me first say that what I'm about to propose are unscientific observations. I have no poll data to present. No one gathers data on what Mr. Obama so rightly characterized as "what no one says in public but admits to in private." But they are observations I've made over a lifetime of involvement in the particular American subculture I'm about to indict. I know this crowd. I'm in it, and of it, but no longer, as you'll see, quite with it. And these observations are based, in part, on what I've heard folks in this subculture admit to, privately, combined with what are undeniably public facts.

Observation #1: The birthers/closet Muslimers, etc., have succeeded in large part because they have exploited a well-oiled rumor network that exists within conservative American Christianity. Christian fundamentalists, evangelicals and charismatics believe that human beings are sinful and in need of saving (and I'm with them on this). Unfortunately, that makes them all-to-ready to believe a bad report about someone, especially if that someone is not an adherent to their particular brand of American Christianity. If that report comes from another Christian of similar persuasion, well, then, it must be true! Christians are among the world's laziest citizens. They rarely check facts. Suspicious of the media's "liberal humanist" agenda, they reject any official accounts that differ from the rumors they've heard. If it sounds like the devil's work, it must be. The Glen Becks and Rush Limbaughs of the world (both claim to be Christians), do check the facts, but then selectively present them, with plenty of innuendo and illogical giant leaps. Thus, our newest supreme court justice, Ms. Sotomayor, was branded a racist and a "judicial legislator" even after the facts, when they finally were brought to light, pointed to a something much closer to a centrist bent on hewing to precedent.

Observation #2: American Christianity (conservative and liberal) is still one of the most segregated segments of American society. Despite what the Bible has to say on the subject, American Christians are suspicious of differences and take refuge in sameness and uniformity. Although Jesus intended that his church would be a powerful, nonviolent army of fearless lovers of all humanity (as was he), Christianity, particularly the highly organized American conservative kind, has become a refuge for — and a vehicle for the exploitation of — those who seek to escape from a dangerous world. Skin color, accent, educational and/or economic status, gender identity, haircuts, clothing, musical preferences, are only a few of the huge number of items on an exceedingly long laundry list that American Christians use to determine the boundary markers and litmus tests for group membership. For many white American conservative Christians, an educated black, liberal Christian president of the United States is simply incomprehensible. Obama's rise and election raises truly primal fears (race wars, mass rape of white women, you name it, we white Christians can imagine it). No matter that these were the very fears that our Lord, if we had only let him, might have overcome. Right-wing pundits love to exploit these fears by publishing predictions that, by 2050, white Americans will be outnumbered by people of color. It's no secret that white conservative Christians think a top item on the U.S. national security agenda should be the closing of our southern border with Mexico (see Observation #4, below). Conservative Christians are primed to believe any rumor they hear (see observation #1) about "them" — that is, anyone who isn't "us."

Observation #3: Despite the Bible's declaration that followers of Christ should be the most generous, giving people on earth (the apostle Paul encouraged giving by declaring the "God loves a hilarious giver"), Christians are perceived as stingy, and have earned that reputation in the watching world. Christians are the world's worst tippers. Ask any waiter. Restaurant employees universally hate it when Christian groups come in. Conservative Christians form the base for most tax protest movements and are well represented among the group that refuse to pay taxes, despite the fact that their Bible encourages them to do so. Although Christians give a good deal of money to their own causes (conservatives outdo their liberal counterparts here), even that amounts only to 2.5 percent of gross income, one quarter of the tenth (tithe) a Jew was required to cough up. They contribute very little to causes that directly benefit nonChristians. (United Way, for example, was off-limits for many Christians because a tiny portion of its funds went to organizations that had connections to "family planning"). And despite the fact that America Christians are beneficiaries of the world's richest economy, Christians in poor nations regularly out-give American Christians, per capita, based on percentage of income. We American Christians, therefore, are only too happy to throw in with Teabaggers and Townhallers. Any plan that is going to take money out of our pockets should be voted down — even if it would mean poorer health care or underfunded public education for our neighbors' children.

Conversely, we are numbered among the greediest of the greedy. Generally, companies headed by conservative Christians pay their employees less for the same work than companies run by nonChristians. This is especially true if that organization is engaged in work classified as supporting Christian causes. And for every Bernie Madoff, there are a hundred so-called Christian organizations that fleece conservative Christians with get-rich-quick schemes, pyramid sales schemes (Amway, anyone?), investment programs based on "biblical" financial success "secrets," and day-trader seminars (God blesses gambling, too.). Millions fell — hook, line and sinker — for the so-called "Prosperity Gospel." American conservative Christians are preposterously gullible, especially when the carrot is cash.

Observation #4: Conservative American Christians are in the vanguard of the group that believes the poor are poor by choice. I saw a bumper sticker one time that really set me back on my heals. It said, "Jesus is coming again, and is he ever pissed." I have no idea what the person who printed that bumper sticker was thinking, but when I think of the "they're poor because they want to be" crowd, the image of that bumper sticker always comes to mind. Republicans have exploited this heinously unbiblical belief to oppose anything that smacks of "welfare." It is profoundly ironic that American Christians wouldn't have government "welfare" programs taking money out of their pockets if their churches were living in accord with Jesus teaching. Taking care of the homeless, the orphan, the widow, etc., was always supposed to be our job. American conservative Christians really believe that poor people are just lazy and unmotivated.

The facts, of course, absolutely destroy that illusion. Take the case of the Mexican national who saves, over years, a small pile of pesos earned from a back-breaking job as a laborer so he or she can buy passage across the border to Los Angeles to work two jobs and send money back to Mexico to provide for his/her family. You could call that illegal. You could call that dangerous or desperate. You could call that foolhardy. But you can't call it lazy. People from south of the border have risked (and lost) life and limb for a century to taste opportunities that we would see as miserable options, all to better themselves and their families. Fact: American employers polled for the reasons why they hired illegals overwhelmingly reported that they did so because the illegals work harder than American citizens.

Observation #5: Despite the teaching of much of the New Testament to the contrary, and although we at times talk a pretty good game, American conservative Christians are (with a few notable exceptions) closet bigots: We are protectionist ("Buy American"), fiercely nationalistic (we have a deadly fear of and would gladly disband the U.N.), xenophobic, homophobic and misogynistic. (On that last point, there is no place on earth where women have so much opportunity for fulfilling employment but are denied it so fiercely than in conservative Christian church circles. There are Islamic republics that put up fewer barriers to female employment than women confront in spoken and unspoken Christian prohibitions.)

We are the world's worst serial profilers: We prejudge others based on how they look or talk. We cross the street to avoid anything that makes us uncomfortable. We are driven by numberless fears and misconceptions. We see demonic plots everywhere. We demonize anyone whose terminology or temperament makes us uncomfortable. (It wasn't long ago, for example, that a segment of the charismatic end of the church saw married couples attempting to cast demons out of each other in situations where other folks would assume they were having a common, ordinary martial tiff.)

There is, in fact, no place quite like the American conservative Christian church for rigid, black-and-white, me-and-my-own-and-everyone-else-be-damned, sound-byte analysis of the complex issue we face. We really prefer rules. Our lists of "dos" and "donts" do away with uncertainty. We want someone (Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh , our pastor) to tell us what's good and what's bad, what's clean and unclean.

We Christians like things simple. We like leaders who make things simple. And we much prefer them to the One who challenged us to take off the religious blinders and, by faith, without certainty, see our fallen world through his loving eyes. The One who asked us to risk getting our hands dirty in the act of giving sacrificially of our "time, talent and treasure" to make the world His world.

If we American conservative Christians don't like what Mr. Obama has in mind, mindlessly following the lead of Birthers, Teabaggers and Townhallers is hardly the solution. Getting rid of Obama won't make our lives simpler, easier or less costly. The fact that so many of us reject Mr. Obama's call for some personal sacrifice in the interest of universal health care — something perfectly in keeping with a biblical faith — because he's black, a Democrat, and unfortunately isn't on the right side of the abortion issue, brands us publicly as the fools and hypocrites that we are.

Doing Unto Others

The recent revelations of marital infidelity on the part of Republican U.S. senators Mark Sanford and John Ensign have sparked a lot of debate over the future of the Republican party, but very little discussion of an issue that (my opinion) might be far more important.

It disturbs me greatly that we who are shielded (in part, because we haven't the courage or vision to aspire to public service) from the glare of public scrutiny into our own moral failures often see the falls of public figures as entertainment.

Maybe I'm unusually beset by personal moral failure. Maybe most Americans sail through life, soaring over the ugly landscape that marks the affairs (illicit or otherwise) of the human heart. Perhaps most Americans, especially those members of the press who currently lead such inquiries, are indeed, without sin and, therefore, have earned the right to cast stones.

But I seriously doubt that. I have yet to meet one person who, after I really got to know them, didn't reveal that time (or those times) in their lives when they fell pretty hard in one way or another. We all have our own personal "Argentina."

Jesus intoned the oft repeated but rarely lived "Judge not, least you be judged" for just such moments. Broken promises, ours and others', are to be grieved, not mocked. They are to be mended, not made into occasions for verbal assassination or mockery.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that I condone adultery. Mr. Sanford should resign, and Mr. Ensign, too. But, frankly, so should have Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy. We forget that JFK's dalliances with movie stars and gangland molls were arranged with the help of paid government employees while the press looked the other way. I'm certainly not suggesting a return to the JFK days. Exposure and a subsequent resignation, ironically, might have saved not only Kennedy's life, but Marilyn Monroe's as well. And it might have set a better tone for public life since then.

Sen. Ensign's affair with the wife of a campaign worker, and his family's sad attempt to conceal "hush" money under the legal fiction of a "gift" ought to be exposed. This is behavior that we cannot have in public officials. It's the type of behavior we shouldn't have anywhere.

But today, with the spectre of "coverup" hanging over their heads, the media/entertainment establishment has now fallen off the horse on the other side. A generation of journalists who grew up wanting to be "investigative reporters" now hover near the supermarket tabloid level as they expose publicly every pecadillo (save those of their own, of course), in as much detail as possible.

We don't need Nathaniel Hawthorne's infamous red letter "A." We don't need to bind people, hand and foot in the Puritan stocks, to be mocked, spit on and ridiculed by the holier than thous. What we have today is far more effective: "The Daily Show" and David Letterman and Op/Ed columnists and other political assassins who masquerade as humorists and pundits — whose TV shows and newspaper columns make public ridicule into international events.

These folks know all too well that sticks and stones break only bones, but words ... well, words are the cruelest tools of torture ever devised.

There was a time when a public figure was faced with the evidence and (not for his/her sake, but to protect a spouse and family from public humiliation) given the opportunity to resign. But that doesn't sell newspapers and magazines. It doesn't inflate TV ratings. We've lost sight of the fact that sparing the victims was what investigative reporting once was all about.

To celebrate the moral failings of others — and make money from it into the bargain — is an act of unspeakable hypocrisy. That we revel in their self-destruction makes us no better than they, and probably far worse. Whatever you think of Sarah Palin, when I meet my Maker, I would rather have to answer for her life than for Mr. Letterman's.

At times like these, it might be wiser to remember that "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," wasn't a suggestion. The Golden Rule comes with an implicit warning: When we visit scorn on another, do we not invite it on ourselves?

There but for the grace of God — and the fact that most of us live outside the media spotlight — go you and I.