The Colonel’s Got Religion; I’m Gonna Get a Cappuccino…

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi has upset some Italians during his current visit to Italy. On Sunday and Monday, Gadhafi held a series of private meetings with 800 Italian women and a small group of men all recruited online by an agency, Hostessweb. They were all paid by the Libyan government to attend. At the meetings, Gadhafi lectured the attendees on Islam, handed out copies of the Quran, and apparently converted a handful of women.

from Howard Friedman via Religion Clause.

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Conservatism and Liberalism

The working assumption for most of us, is that liberalism vs. conservatism is a zero-sum game. This assumption is reinforced most visibly in the sport of news cycle politics, where a Republican (supposedly conservative) win, means a Democratic (supposedly liberal) loss, and vice versa. We can barely, if at all, imagine liberalism and conservatism being complementary; as having correctives for the shortfalls and excesses of the other; as being in creative tension rather than in win-lose, zero-sum competition. We cannot expect politicians to articulate or practice this complementarity, because their goal is total victory in the next election.

American religion ought to be the place where liberal-conservative complementarity is articulated and practiced; ought to be the place where we learn how to have strong, passionate disagreements that lead to deepening and new possibilities; ought to be the place where people who call themselves liberals, and people who call themselves conservatives, and people who call themselves neither, can find community over a shared meal.

None of this is easy. Freud’s insights (first articulated by the Greek tragedians, especially Aeschylus) are helpful here: broadly speaking, unacknowledged powerful forces are at work in us and in our culture. These forces work against community, connection, and meaning; these forces get their energy from anxiety and fear; and these are forces that political life really cannot tame. Religion– understood as systems of belief and bodies of observant practices whose authority is derived from a real connection to the Higher Powercan tame these forces. Every day we’ll need to begin again.

Beholding and Beheld: Mutual Vulnerability in the Divine Image

In previous posts I traced the strong version of the conservative argument against gay marriage, and also pointed to where the serious, conservative, theologically grounded argument  for gay marriage needs to go. In this post, we’ll lift up one thoughtful reflection– on God, desire, humanity, and sexuality– that leads, at the very least, to the possibility that God’s nature as Creator and Source of Life can manifest in human sexuality in ways other than begetting children. The author of that reflection is Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury.

In a piece entitled “The Body’s Grace” (composed over a decade before becoming archbishop), Williams identifies God’s enlivening, life-affirming nature as present in human sexuality itself. He helps us see human sexual intimacy in terms of the grace of reciprocated desire and delight– a grace and a delight that are in the very image of the trinitarian God, whose nature is love-in-relationship. By that grace we learn to inhabit the fullness of the lives we have been given.

From this perspective, the moral goodness of a sexual relationship is not whether it is homosexual or heterosexual, but whether it is characterized by mutual nurture and care, surrender and vulnerability, and a faithfulness over time that can lead to delight, joy, and an enlarged sense of life. The essential nature of human sexuality is not procreation, but beholding and being beheld. This is not to divorce human sexuality from the divine life, but to ground it in a theology of grace wherein we receive the fullness of ourselves as a gift from another, and from an Other.

Where a Conservative Case for Gay Marriage Needs to Go

A January 2010 Newsweek article by Ted Olson makes what is entitled “the conservative case for gay marriage.” You can read his case here. His attempt is good, but he doesn’t go far enough. A truly conservative case for (that’s right, for) gay marriage is actually stronger than what Mr. Olson proffers.

He makes a two-pronged argument. First, since (as conservatives maintain) marriage is the foundation of a stable society, so all the more should marriage be extended to those people (homosexual couples) who want to be married. The more marriages, the better. Second, he identifies equality before the law as a bedrock American principle; marriage equality must inevitably follow.

As I pointed out in a recent post here, the deeper conservative argument on this question has to do with God’s nature as Creator, and humanity’s special relationship with that God. While nodding in that direction, Olson doesn’t go there.

What the conservative case for gay marriage needs to show, is that the union of two committed, loving, same-sexed humans has a place in the divine life: that there are ways to manifest the life of God in and through homosexual unions, and that those ways are life-producing and life-affirming, even if they don’t include begetting children. Rowan Williams, currently the Archbishop of Canterbury, reflects theologically on sexuality in a piece called “The Body’s Grace.” His reflections are directly relevant to a truly conservative case for gay marriage. We’ll look at “The Body’s Grace” next time.

Same-sex Marriage: The Strong Version of the Conservative Argument

Two arguments against the recognition of same-sex marriage are: 1. that it goes against the tradition that marriage is between one man and one woman; and 2. that homosexual sex is contrary to natural moral law. Neither argument is trifling. The second argument– that homosexual sex is contrary to natural moral law– is the one that so-called “conservatives” need to trace more finely.

If they did trace it more finely, it would go something like this: Humanity has a special relationship to God. God is our Creator; we are God’s creatures. Our purpose on Earth is to praise and glorify God, which means to show forth– in thought, word, and deed– the divine image in which we are made, and to manifest the life of God in our lives. One of God’s most powerful attributes is that God creates; God brings forth life– in a profound way, God’s very essence is Life itself. Therefore, to create– and especially to create life– is a sacred power in the human being, precisely because of its closeness to God’s own creating, creative nature. Homosexual sex is against natural moral law because such sex does not– cannot– produce life, and is therefore contrary to humanity’s purpose in life– which, again, is to manifest the life of God in our lives. (Please bear in mind that I am not owning this argument. I am merely setting it forth).

Most conservative arguments against same-sex marriage stop at moralizing (heterosexual sex is good; homosexual sex is bad– it says so in the Bible), and don’t reveal the moral and theological reasoning behind the conclusion. Liberals are rightly critical this kind of peremptory moral judgment.

For their part, liberals have largely failed to engage the questions that this strong version of the conservative argument raises, namely, What is humanity’s relationship to God?; and How does sexuality relate to the purpose of human life?

Proposition 8: An Opportunity to Deepen the Conversation?

If you haven’t followed recent court rulings on same-sex marriage in California, a helpful summary of the action surrounding that state’s Proposition 8 ballot initiative is here.

In any potentially helpful public conversation about marriage equality, strong conservative arguments– arguments that would, at the very least, invite reflection on the purpose of human life– exist. It’s too bad that so-called conservatives are not making those arguments. In future posts, I will attempt to.

Cordoba Mosque Controversy– Some Context from “Salon”

I am skeptical of tidy, linear, cause-and-effect explanations. Still, I think there is helpful context in the following account. The  full article (click on the link at the end) contains, among other references, the link to a Fox TV interview with Daisy Khan, the wife of Feisal Abdul Rauf. I recommend making the time to read/listen.

The way we win against “religiously” inspired “Islamic” extremism (al Qaeda and its branches), and against puritanical, reactionary Islam (Salafism), is to befriend moderate Muslims in America, welcome their presence, and support rigorous, truth-seeking inter-religious dialogue. The premise of violent, puritanical Islam, is that Islam and Western values are incompatible. We need to pursue– and show– a more excellent way.

Blogger Pamela Geller and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

A group of progressive Muslim-Americans plans to build an Islamic community center two and a half blocks from ground zero in lower Manhattan. They have had a mosque in the same neighborhood for many years. There’s another mosque two blocks away from the site. City officials support the project. Muslims have been praying at the Pentagon, the other building hit on Sept. 11, for many years….

via How the “ground zero mosque” fear mongering began – Ground Zero Mosque – Salon.com.