And I am once again ready to take on the world from my progressive Christian viewpoint.
But the New York Times made it too easy for me to start the new year on an indignant note. Today, they published a OpEd piece that I find despicable and entirely off-point.
Of course, it's written about progressive Christians by a research fellow from the highly conservative Heritage Foundation......who thinks it's only acceptable for conservatives to embrace religious faith values as part of their basis for making political decisions.
Here's my theory....he knows that if Democrats are also widely seen as practicing Christians, then the present Republican political coalition will lose its potency. So he fights for Democrats to continue to be viewed by middle-American voters as faithless, opportunistic heathens.
Apparently, the OpEd writer missed the joint statement released in 2005 by the top leaders of five major Christian denominations in the United States.....The Episcopal Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church...... proclaiming that:
"Like many Americans, we read our daily newspaper through the lens of faith, and when we see injustice, it is our duty to say so. The 2006 Federal Budget that President Bush has sent to Capitol Hill is unjust. It has much for the rich man and little for Lazarus.
According to the White House's own numbers, this budget would move 300,000 people off food stamps in the next five years. It would cut the funds that allow 300,000 children to receive day care. It would reduce funding for Medicaid by $45 billion over the next ten years, and this at a time when 45 million Americans-the highest level on record-are already without health insurance.
These cuts would be alarming in any circumstances, but in the context of the 2006 budget, they are especially troubling. For even as it reduces aid to those in poverty, this budget showers presents on the rich."
You can read the entirety of this remarkable and inspiring statement here at my About.com site, at Five Christian Denominations Make Joint Statement Slamming Bush 2006 Budget.
From the New York Times today.....
Nearer, My God, to the G.O.P. by JOSEPH LOCONTE
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, sounded like an Old Testament prophet recently when she denounced the Republican budget for its "injustice and immorality" and urged her colleagues to cast their no votes "as an act of worship" during this religious season.
This, apparently, is what the Democrats had in mind when they vowed after President Bush's re-election to reclaim religious voters for their party. In the House, they set up a Democratic Faith Working Group. Senator Harry Reid, the minority leader, created a Web site called Word to the Faithful. And Democratic officials began holding conferences with religious progressives.
All of this was with the intention of learning how to link faith with public policy. An event for liberal politicians and advocates at the University of California at Berkeley in July even offered a seminar titled "I Don't Believe in God, but I Know America Needs a Spiritual Left."
A look at the tactics and theology of the religious left, however, suggests that this is exactly what American politics does not need. If Democrats give religious progressives a stronger voice, they'll only replicate the misdeeds of the religious right.
For starters, we'll see more attempts to draw a direct line from the Bible to a political agenda.
The Rev. Jim Wallis, a popular adviser to leading Democrats and an organizer of the Berkeley meeting, routinely engages in this kind of Bible-thumping. In his book "God's Politics," Mr. Wallis insists that his faith-based platform transcends partisan categories.
"We affirm God's vision of a good society offered to us by the prophet Isaiah," he writes. Yet Isaiah, an agent of divine judgment living in a theocratic state, conveniently affirms every spending scheme of the Democratic Party. This is no different than the fundamentalist impulse to cite the book of Leviticus to justify laws against homosexuality.
When Christians - liberal or conservative - invoke a biblical theocracy as a handy guide to contemporary politics, they threaten our democratic discourse. Numerous "policy papers" from liberal churches and activist groups employ the same approach: they're awash in scriptural references to justice, poverty and peace, stacked alongside claims about global warming, debt relief and the United Nations Security Council.
Christians are right to argue that the Bible is a priceless source of moral and spiritual insight. But they're wrong to treat it as a substitute for a coherent political philosophy.
There is another worrisome trait shared by religious liberals and many conservatives: the tendency to moralize in the most extreme terms. William Sloane Coffin of the Clergy Leadership Network was typical in his denunciation of the Bush tax cuts: "I think he should remember that it was the devil who tempted Jesus with unparalleled wealth and power."
This trend is at its worst in the misplaced outrage in the war against Islamic terrorism. It's true that in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, some Christian conservatives shamed themselves by blaming the horror on feminists and gays, who allegedly incited God's wrath. But such nonsense is echoed by liberals like the theologian Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University.
"The price that Americans are going to have to pay for the kind of arrogance that we are operating out of right now is going to be terrible indeed," he said of the United States' response to the Qaeda attacks. "People will exact some very strong judgments against America - and I think we will well deserve it." Professor Hauerwas joins a chorus of left-wing clerics and religious scholars who compare the United States to Imperial Rome and Nazi Germany.
Democrats who want religious values to play a greater role in their party might take a cue from the human-rights agenda of religious conservatives. Evangelicals begin with the Bible's account of the God-given dignity of every person. And they've joined hands with liberal and secular groups to defend the rights of the vulnerable and oppressed, be it through prison programs for offenders and their families, laws against the trafficking of women and children, or an American-brokered peace plan for Sudan. In each case believers have applied their religious ideals with a strong dose of realism and generosity.
A completely secular public square is neither possible nor desirable; democracy needs the moral ballast of religion. But a partisan campaign to enlist the sacred is equally wrongheaded. When people of faith join political debates, they must welcome those democratic virtues that promote the common good: prudence, reason, compromise - and a realization that politics can't usher in the kingdom of heaven.
(Joseph Loconte, a research fellow in religion at the Heritage Foundation and a commentator for National Public Radio, is the editor of "The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler's Gathering Storm.")
(US Liberals at About.com)