The House of Representatives has passed an important resolution calling on the U.S. to end support for the Saudi/United Arab Emirates war in Yemen. Congratulations to Rep. Ro Khanna, who has waged this fight for almost two years. (Self-promotional aside: He says he introduced the bill after he read one of my 2017 columns on Yemen. I have the best readers!) I hope the Saudis and Emiratis will get the message and end this tragic war, for which there is no military solution.
One of my concerns is that the opposite will happen: The Saudis might try to embroil the U.S. in a war with Iran,
- partly to bring Riyadh and Washington closer together,
- partly to distract from Saudi problems, and
- partly to teach the Iranians a lesson.
There are plenty of Iranian, Saudi and American ships in the Gulf and hotheads on each side, so it would be easy to have a murky accident that both sides mishandle and then escalate. The crown prince already tried to boost his fortunes by starting one war, with Yemen, and it is conceivable he’ll try to do the same again
President Trump and his staff have often criticized The New York Times and other news organizations for bias, arguing that we should just report what the president says without trying to analyze whether it’s true or is consistent with other things he has said. I think in fact that we should do the opposite: Where we in the media have screwed up the worst, I believe, is in cases like the run-up to the Iraq War, where we were more lap dogs than watch dogs. My colleague David Sanger (whom I met in our freshman year of college and who was the best man at my wedding), has written an eloquent essay explaining why we point out inaccuracies and inconsistencies even though we know the White House will object. His key phrase: “We’re not stenographers.”
Speaking of journalism, it is horrifying to see the way a New York hedge fund, Alden Global Capital, has systematically purchased and pillaged newspapers around the country, squeezing them for a final bit of revenue as it destroys them. Alden represents the worst of capitalism, targeting a public good and systematically trying to destroy it (often for the underlying real estate that newspapers own). Led by Randall D. Smith, R. Joseph Fuchs and Heath Freeman, the company is now trying to acquire newspapers around the country owned by Gannett, presumably so that it can rip them apart as well. I hope for the sake of newspapers around America, Gannett shareholders resist these barbarians at the gate.
It has been a year since the Parkland, Fla., massacre claimed 17 lives, and we remain as vulnerable as ever to shootings — in a way that Canadians and Europeans are not. I originally wrote a piece in 2017 about modest, sensible steps we could take to reduce the carnage, and I’m recirculating it now because it remains tragically relevant. In addition, check out this satirical Times video about when the right time is for politicians to act on gun control.
When we look at history, it’s clear that Christianity is an evolving faith. It only makes sense that early Christians would look for a logical and meaningful explanation for the “why” of the tragic death of their religion’s founder. For the early centuries, appeasing an angry, fanatical Father was not their answer. For the first thousand years, most Christians believed that the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross—the “price” or the ransom—was being paid not to God, but to the devil! This made the devil pretty powerful and God pretty weak, but it gave the people someone to blame for Jesus’ death. And at least it was not God.
Then, in the eleventh century, Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–1109) wrote a paper called Cur Deus Homo? (Why Did God Become Human?) which might just be the most unfortunately successful piece of theology ever written. Thinking he could solve the problem of sin inside of the medieval code of feudal honor and shame, Anselm said, in effect, “Yes, a price did need to be paid to restore God’s honor, and it needed to be paid to God the Father—by one who was equally divine.” I imagine Anselm didn’t consider the disastrous implications of his theory, especially for people who were already afraid or resentful of God.
In authoritarian and patriarchal cultures, most people were fully programmed to think this way—working to appease an authority figure who was angry, punitive, and even violent in “his” reactions. Many still operate this way, especially if they had an angry, demanding, or abusive parent. People respond to this kind of God, as sick as it is, because it fits their own story line.
Unfortunately, for a simple but devastating reason, this understanding also nullifies any in-depth spiritual journey: Why would you love or trust or desire to be with such a God?
Over the next few centuries, Anselm’s honor- and shame-based way of thinking came to be accepted among Christians, though it met resistance from some, particularly my own Franciscan school under Bonaventure (1221–1274) and Duns Scotus (1266–1308). Protestants accepted the mainline Catholic position, embracing it with even more fervor. Evangelicals later enshrined it as one of the “four pillars” of foundational Christian belief, which the earlier period would have thought strange. Most of us were never told of the varied history of this theory, even among Protestants. If you came from a “law and order” culture or a buying and selling culture—which most of us have—it made perfect sense. The revolutionary character of Jesus and the final and full Gospel message has still to dawn upon most of the world. It is just too upending for most peoples’ minds until they have personally undergone the radical experience of unearned love. And, even then, it takes a lifetime to sink in.
At the same time, Jesus ignores or openly contradicts many texts in the Hebrew Scriptures that are punitive, imperialistic, classist, or exclusionary. He never quotes the book of Numbers, for example, which is rather ritualistic and legalistic. He never quotes Joshua or Judges, which are full of sanctified violence. In fact, he teaches the opposite.
Jesus does not mention the list of twenty-eight “thou shall nots” in Leviticus 18 through 20, but chooses instead to echo the rare positive statement of Leviticus 19:18: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” The longest single passage he quotes is from Isaiah 61 (in Luke 4:18-19): “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me. He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, and to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord.” Jesus appears to have deliberately omitted the last line—“and the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2b)—because he does not believe in a vengeful God.
.. He knows how to “thin slice” the text, to find the overall pattern based on small windows of insight. He learned from Ezekiel, for example, that God’s justice is restorative and not retributive (see Ezekiel 18:21-23, 27-29).
.. A hardened heart, a predisposition to judgment, a fear of God, any need to win or prove yourself right will corrupt and distort the most inspired and inspiring of Scriptures—just as they pollute every human conversation and relationship. Hateful people will find hateful verses to confirm their obsession with death. Loving people will find loving verses to call them into an even greater love of life. And both kinds of verses are in the Bible!