Saturday, February 26, 2011

Bill Maher and I Agree!

If that title doesn’t grab some attention, I don’t know what will. :) Recently, on Bill Maher’s show on HBO titled Real Time with Bill Maher, he was having a debate with Tavist Smiley, a nationally known talk show host from radio and PBS. Smiley was asserting the following,
“…that when we have these conversations how they treat women, as if somehow we treat women better here in this country, it…”
(Maher interrupts) “We do!”
(Smiley speaks on.) “It demonizes Muslims. It demonizes Muslims all over the world.”
(Maher speaks in the midst of Smiley and after) “No, it’s not demonizing, that’s, that’s saying that I’m prejudiced. I’m saying I’m not prejudiced. That’s prejudging. I’m not prejudging. I’m judging. I’m judging. They’re worse. What’s wrong with just saying that. You’re a cultural relativist. It’s not relative.”
Smiley responds, “I don’t think there’s a worse version of sexism. It’s either right or wrong. It’s acceptable or it’s unacceptable. You’re trying to shade this thing, Bill.” (audience applauds)
The debate goes a little beyond that and then Maher is heckled by a member of the audience who is forcibly removed by security.

I will rarely agree with anything that Maher stands for, but the basic point he is arguing for here is one that I wish more in the media would stand up and acknowledge. The point I am referring to is not just regarding our treatment of women versus Muslim treatment of women, but the cultures that are most clearly linked with Islam as opposed to our culture. It is not bigoted to state that there are quantifiable differences between the two, and those differences are NOT only differences that highlight preferences resembling different “flavors of ice cream”, but the differences are more accurately represented by different ethical, moral, and philosophical choices that flow from the religion of Islam. These differences create hindrances for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I am not even going into the political debate about whether or not freedom and democratic rule is possible in the Middle East or other Islamic regions. Islam is a religion that has certain truth claims. It is built on certain tenets, revolves around a specific history, was established by a specific individual, and has been maintained by a small handful of groups claiming authority in continuing to lead muslims. Arab culture has been greatly, though not solely influenced by Muhammed and Islam. It is not only NOT wrong to put forth a judgment about their culture. It is a wise thing to allow our discernment to grow through exercising it, and yes, even occasionally speaking that judgment out to give it a chance to sink or swim when in the face of outside criticism. Perhaps the saddest thing about this entire interaction to me came when the audience applauded Smiley’s follow up point.

The point I am making is not that we have good culture and they have only bad culture, but that the notion of NOT engaging in discernment is somehow applauded while an incredibly true and honest observation is seen as scandalous and arrogant. Write down the date. There may never be a time when I defend Bill Maher and anything else he stands for after this. :)

Saturday, February 19, 2011


The book of Judges begins at Joshua's death. It is a book that follows the story of Israel once it has conquered the majority of the inhabitants of the "promised land" known as Canaan. These geographical borders becomes their national borders of Israel. Primary function of the judges found within Judges was to lead the people to freedom from oppressors and lead them during times of peace. More than half of this period is lead by six judges for approximately one generation for each judge. Joshua, Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah & Barak, and, finally, Gideon all lead the Israelites for 40 years or more at a time. Their rule is characterized by beginning with conquering an enemy. They then lead the people during a time of relative peace for the remainder of their life.

However, the people are consistently plagued by their own unfaithfulness that is accelerated by the remaining presence of local peoples that they were supposed to have wiped out during the initial conquering of Canaan. As they drift away from their love and fear of God, and they are seduced to pursue the other gods of the local people and their practices, they are consistently given over to new oppressors by God to teach them the consequence of unfaithfulness to Him. This destructive cycle seems to get worse after about 200 years of living in the conquered land, and the judges rule begins to osciallate to a range of 3-23 years instead of the 40 year cycle that existed early on in their history. This exponential downward spiral is highlighted in a couple of ways besides the straightforward recorded history itself.

There is also a structure within Judges that seems purposefully designed to illustrate the consistent AND worsening unfaithfulness of the people and the consequences that follow. The majority of Judges is chronological, but the last few chapters are stories that are highlighted within this time period. They seem to be chosen more for their importance and ability to demonstrate how bad things got during this period of Israel's history known as the time of the Judges. First, there is the story of the corruption of the entire tribe of Dan as they steal and appoint their own priest to a graven image as they march off to claim their inheritance. Secondly, there is a gruesome story that is very reminiscent of the account given of Sodom and Gomorrah from Genesis. It, however, involves the tribe of Benjamin within the nation of Israel. The book of Judges begins on a high note with two brothers(tribes) going up together to help conquer the judged inhabitants in obedience, and it ends on a tragic note of all the tribes coming together to wipe out the majority of their youngest brother(tribe) in judgment of the thorough corruption that has been found to permeate it.

Something to consider during this time is the fact that the judges were only one of a few primary means of leadership and governance within Israel during this time. The priests also had a major role and carried God given authority in discerning and making judgments in many areas. Also, there were "lesser" or lower level judges below those explicitly mentioned in the book of Judges. These were elders and respected peoples within various families, clans, and tribes.(Exodus 18:24-26) The judges, both the lower level ones and those mentioned by name in Judges, arose from within all the various tribes. The priests, however, were explicitly restricted to those who were from the tribe of Levi. As we will soon see in I Samuel, this structure of God raising up leaders from within all the various communities is rejected by the people of Israel because they insisted on trying to solve their nation's problems by structuring themselves after their surrounding neighbors who were led by an institutional King that flows from an existing family line.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Thoughts about Egypt

These are some rambling thoughts about the developing story in Egypt.

First, Wow! If I'm getting an accurate read on this, this could be a HUGE development in the region and possibly even the world.

Next, "Who's side should we take?" seems to be one of the questions floating around out there. It is an extremely valid question. I want to look at what may be a few angles of that question that may not be explicitly brought out in the media.

Does the U.S. pick the leaders of these countries? No, but we are certainly a force that is considered when whoever is leading these countries moves forward and crafts its own domestic and foreign policy. Why is that? You ask. Well, there seem to be quite a few reasons. First, let me point out, I pray I'm not your sole source of info on this, and if I am, please educate yourself elsewhere as well as here because I am by no means an expert in this or any other area. That having been said. We are influential because of our unique position of power in the world both economically and politically. Also, and perhaps most prominently, we utilize our nation's "checking account" quite liberally when it comes to gaining "allies" for our various foreign policies. I believe I've heard that Egypt has been receiving one of the largest of these kinds of checks for quite some time. It is also my understanding that Egypt, just like many other countries around the world, have a very limited scope of economic resources within their borders to drive their economy. They nationalize these industries and only a certain percentage of their population is able to make a living from employment and economic activity surrounding these industries directly. Therefore, the countries divide the profits up and dole them out at their discretion to keep the remaining population from starving. These checks seems to have been getting smaller and smaller.(thanks to my friend, Jason for this insight) When you understand this arrangement, you begin to see the important role our "foreign aid" checks play in these countries. For better or worse, our contributions are being used to prop up an ECONOMIC system that does NOT work. Welfare states don't work here or there. It lends itself to centralized control which further and further limits freedom and robs the people of the opportunity to realize and pursue their own economic self-interests. The problem, of course, is that our concerns about Egypt's foreign policy out strips our concerns about their domestic policy. I doubt very seriously that a new government birthed in the midst of such dire circumstances as the starving people of Egypt or any other nation will produce the fruits of democratic change the people are looking for in the streets, but I genuinely sympathize with their plight and can only pray for them, their leadership, and ours as we navigate this mess. I hope you can and will do the same in the days ahead.