Saturday, April 10, 2004

Scourge the Bunny
It's Easter weekend. This is not a big deal to me, except that it means the temptation of Cadbury cream eggs will soon be gone from my neighborhood convenience store. (I do think it's rather odd that the shopping malls close on Easter Sunday, a purely Christian holiday, while remaining open on Thanksgiving Day, a holiday Americans of all faiths--or none--can celebrate equally.) But it does make it an opportune time to meditate yet again on the religious fevers afoot in the United States at this moment.

In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas famously said that one of the delights souls enjoy in Paradise is watching the torments of sinners in Hell--which might have made perfect sense during the Middle Ages, an era of viciousness and violence unmatched even by our own, but which modern minds ought to find repulsive. Except not all of us do. From Halloween "hell houses" to the recent the scourging of the Easter Bunny at a church in Pennsylvania to The Passion of the Christ, supposedly edifying religious violence is more popular than ever. I have no great pithy point to make about it except to say I'm sick of it. Every time some church somewhere decides that what would be most effective in getting people to believe in Jesus Christ would be to threaten them with some sort of horror if they don't believe, we take a small step backward in our march toward a higher level of civilization. Belief in the efficacy of God-glorifying violence makes it a short leap to what we're doing in Iraq--bombing and killing in hopes of establishing peace and democracy (and, for that matter, love), as well as reveling in the destruction we cause, and blaming the victims for it happening in the first place.

It is a basic tenet of this blog that what this country needs is less religion, and particularly less Christianity, not more. But we're not going to get that, so the best we can hope for is a better sort of Christianity--and it's out there, if those who believe in it have the courage to stand up for it, and against the fundie version. Former president Jimmy Carter sat for an interview recently with The American Prospect, in which he explained how the fundamentalism so popular in the United States right now actually ignores the teachings of Christ. The longtime Baptist Sunday school teacher also explains why he thinks Bible believers can still find a home in the Democratic Party. If you only click one story this weekend, click this one. (Carter may have been in way over his head as president, but he's our greatest ex-president, and the competition ain't close.)

Recommended reading: Also in the Prospect, Robert Kuttner lays out the mess President Kerry will inherit. It looks like the perfect prescription for a one-termer, unless Kerry gets off to a swift and decisive start. Over at The Gadflyer, Bart Acocella has read Zell Miller's new book so you don't have to. And in Slate, Will Saletan explains what Condi Rice meant when she testified on Thursday. A sample: When Rice referred to "law enforcement," that meant Bill Clinton's weak policy of targeting individual terrorists. On the other hand, "hunting down terrorists one by one" refers to Bush's strong policy of targeting individual terrorists.

And one final bit of recommended reading this morning: Best of the Blogs' John McCreery posts a message he received from a longtime friend, ex-Marine, and military history buff who lives in Tokyo, where the Japanese are fearing the fate of three citizens held hostage by Iraqis. He says: "I am sure most people I am now writing to have seen the movie 'Titanic.' Remember that riveting scene as the stern rears up and up just before she takes her final plunge? That is where we now are in Iraq."

(For more on what's going on in Fallujah, click Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan. Cole's getting a pretty good rep in the blogosphere as a thoughtful analyst.)

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