Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ward Churchill... Don't Let The Door Hit You In The Ass On The Way Out

My reaction upon hearing about Ward Churchill's termination was one of piqued interest only. That he was being terminated was not surprising. The dance that his hierarchical superiors performed in order to terminate him was bureaucratically clumsy, but effective.

As one of the few Americans to actually read Churchill's article written on September 12, 2001 I can honestly say I'm surprised he lasted as long as he did. As an American he has the right to express his opinion and to be protected from governmental action against him for his free speech. Alas, he seems to have the misguided notion that freedom of speech means that one is protected from the vagaries of public opinion as well.

True, the University that he works for can be construed as a governmental entity. I also find that troubling. While the university might be established by government action, it should be free from any political influence from without. A chancellor, school president, or academic body within in the organization should essentially be free from political influence other than the influence of their own opinions. And every individual in a hierarchy should be free to express those opinions regardless of how distasteful others might find them.

It is entirely possible that the charges brought against Churchill in order to terminate him are trumped up. It is equally possible that the evidence is questionable. Then again, maybe it's not. I haven't seen that evidence so I can offer no real opinion of it. Regardless, if you're going to bring attention to yourself you better have your own house in order and it looks like Churchill's house may have been in need of a cleanup crew.

As for what he wrote, his premise that our prior political and extra-legal interference may have inspired some to take arms against us in the form the actions of the 9/11 terrorists may not be entirely false. That does not mean, however, that those actions were justified on any moral or ethical level. He refers to these terrorists as soldiers and combatants. They are soldiers and combatants in the same sense that private right wing militias and death squads are soldiers and combatants. And therein lies the problem with his argument.

There is a tendency in this country to think of these Arab and Islamic terrorists as radicals, as elements of change, and as a group of people standing up for what they believe in in an attempt to live free of the tyranny of Western culture. Unfortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth.

These people are reactionaries. They're conservatives of the worst sort. The only reason why they want to be free of the tyranny of Western culture is so that they can impose of their tyranny on their own population. They're not seeking change, they are reacting to change by rejecting it, and that is the very definition of conservative thought. Rather than impose an purely economic tyranny they seek to impose a religious/economic tyranny. They want a return to the good old days when they were in charge (if they ever were!)

To compound matters they are racists and bigots of the worst sort. They look upon those who are not of their background and/or religion with contempt and disgust.

So what we have here is a political and economic right wing in America waging war against a political and religious right-wing in the Middle East. From a left-wing perspective, both sides are morally and ethically reprehensible. And neither side is justified.

Alas, humans have that wonderful ability to rationalize any action, and so the trouble continues.

One only has to look at a map to see why Iraq is so important to Western interests. The oil is the political and economic fuel that fire is this interest. And the best place to control a fire is at its heart and Iraq is at the heart of the Middle East. Take a map of the area and put the point of your protractor in Iraq and draw a circle. The area is at the heart of the Middle East. A military base within its confines can easily strike at any point in the region.

From almost any standpoint the entire region is economically, ethically, and morally less progressive, some would say backward, than at least 50% of the other regions and nations of the earth. It is politically polite these days to refer to the area as less developed, or one could even refer to it as economically differently abled. Women are less than second-class citizens, children are chattel, the freedoms of speech and political and religious expression that we take for granted are essentially nonexistent, etc, etc.

I can find only one argument for not interfering in their affairs. Unfortunately that argument is the same one that was used to justify leaving Hitler and Nazi Germany to conduct its own affairs prior to the Second World War. If these religious and Arab reactionaries want to be left alone to conduct their internal affairs as they see fit, which seems to include religious oppression, ethnic cleansing, etc., maybe we should let them be. And if we let them be, then we must be willing to be complicit in their sins.

If you can stand by and turn a blind eye to injustice in any corner of your world and then justify and rationalize your inaction or acceptance of these inequities, then, as a human being, I would have to say that I find you reprehensible.

Watching the left try to justify an identification with these religious reactionaries reminds me of the way socialists in this country once tried to identify with and support the Communists. Communism may have grown out of socialism, but in the end communism was simply a peoples' tyranny, the antithesis of social ideals and political freedom. Calling shit a rose changes not its smell.

Unfortunately, I do not agree with the method by which our government has approached the situation in the Middle East either. Unlike many people who oppose our government's actions, I actually vote. Other than speaking out, voting is the primary means of assenting or dissenting in this country. Violence as a tool for political change is not only against law, it stands against what we as a people feel we believe. I have no patience nor time to listen to nonvoters rationalize their decision not to vote. Which brings up an interesting question, did Ward Churchill vote in the national and congressional elections?

Regardless, the violence that we commit in the Middle East in the name of peace and economic stability is still violence and, as such, is morally and ethically reprehensible. The violence perpetrated in the name of Islam and Arab values is equally reprehensible. Neither side has any claim of to high moral ground. Both sides disgust me.

Come to think of it, Ward Churchill disgusts me, too. If it is true, according to him, that some of the people in the World Trade towers were complicit in the actions of our government and economy with respect to the Middle East, then he and all of us are complicit. As a professor working for a State University he is a part of the cultural machinery that churns out the so-called technocrats and bureaucrats and politicians that run our country. His acceptance of a professorship in one of the factories of elitism can only be construed as tacit approval for its existence and its goals.

Little Tiffany and Jeremy come to his university to learn to become cogs in the economic and political machinery of this country. They come to sit in his class out of a sense of political correctness as if praying before the educational idol of ethnic understanding will somehow absolve them of their country's sins. Then they can go out into the world with false sense of moral rightness and then recommit their parents' sins with a clean heart. Reading his article, one gets the feeling that he understands this situation. When he refers to the Tiffany's and Jeremy's of the world and his University it is with disgust and distaste. One gets a sense of self loathing on his part for the role he plays in the system. His sense of ineffectualness fuels his frustration and drives his screed.

Being aware of one's own hypocrisy can do that to a person.

In the end, Ward Churchill had a point, which he expressed with political insensitivity and with very bad timing. His emotionalism and frustration affected his judgment. This only goes to show that you can be incredibly well educated and still incredibly stupid at the same time. It also shows that, although by training and political position he should be ethnically and politically sensitive, he is a boorish and insensitive lout.

And so, Ward Churchill, goodbye and good riddance.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Female Bishop!?!

Oh, my God, a female Bishop!

This is one of those moments in our religious history that is both expected and feared. Given the direction the Episcopal Church has been taking in these past few decades, the election of a woman as chief bishop is to be entirely expected. Alas, any political or religious grouping has its conservative membership---it is the natural order of things--- and so this moment is to be feared as well.

For far too long the liberal wing of the Episcopal Church has tended to dismiss the somewhat smaller conservative element within the American church as something to be quietly ignored. In almost any political setting this is almost certainly guaranteed to lead the bad blood at best and schism at worst. At some point the conservatives' frustration with the church’s more liberal members was bound to boil over ... and that time is now heralded through the calling of this particular Bishop.

By the same token, the conservatives' within the church have stuck their collective heads in the sand, choosing to rally their congregations around them by pointing to the evil Satan driven liberals about them. More than anything else this reminds me of the fairy tale or parable of the Two Sillies. Both sides are ignoring each other and all else around them while they are being robbed blind by those who would take advantage of the situation. In this case what we are losing is our Christianity in the form of our good will towards one another. And we are losing membership to other churches who choose to meet the challenge and make a clear choice. Love thy neighbor as thyself is the second great commandment and that requires listening to one's neighbor as well and understanding their concerns. It is sad to note that many Christians fall far short of attaining oneness with that commandment.

Sigh ...

For the individual member of any individual congregation there will be little change. Unfortunately, for the hierarchy that is the Episcopal Church in America it is a body blow.

About 40 years ago the canons of the church were changed to transfer ownership and control of the property of the individual churches and parishes to the diocese. This was seen as a means of exerting control over recalcitrant members. For the most part, it is a power seldom exercised, although there have been a handful of cases working their way through the courts to assert the church’s dominion. It is my understanding that the Episcopal Church has not entirely faired well in these matters. With more than a few parishes and possibly a diocese or two preparing to bolt from our particular communion, these sections of canon law are going to be sorely tested in the courts. The outcome of these test cases is not assured by any means, and so, given the plodding nature of American courts, this battle will continue there for at least the next decade.

Is there any point of reconciliation between the two sides? Probably not. One side sees no problem with women priests or bishops. The other side sees this as an anathema to Christ's teachings. For my part, I cannot understand how the intent of Christ's good word can be interpreted as to exclude any person called to ministry ... to do so seems so unchristian.

And so, like good Christians we march onward into battle, but this time with each other. Both sides will honor their warriors and fallen dead, both sides will battle fiercely. Who wins this battle and how it will be won will speak to who we are as humans and Christians. I fear it will say very little about our understanding of God
or our relationship with God.


Blessed are the peacemakers... and so I pray: Who will step forward and be ours?