Posts filed under ‘Religion’

Dear President Bush…

By Jimmy McCarty
January 14, 2009

This is a brilliant treatise on the Bush presidency, especially his alleged faith.

Dear President Bush,
As you approach the end of your time in the White House, I want to make sure I say,”Thank you.” Thank you for transforming my faith and my politics.

When you were running for president back in 2000, I was an ardent supporter of yours. I believed you were “God’s man” for the job and that you would restore righteousness to our nation because of your personal relationship with God and your commitment to “pro-life” politics.

I was a high school senior at the time, only seventeen and unable to vote, but I was behind you all the way. My dad, a soldier from Tennessee, loved you and so did the preachers I knew, so I did too. I wrote my high school senior thesis on the evils of abortion and was so compelling in my arguments that a few people told me they became “pro-life” after my presentation. I knew the Republican Party was God’s party and so you were God’s man. You made this clear with your references to gospel songs and saying Jesus was your favorite philosopher. If I could have, I would have voted for you.

I remember one of my all-time favorite high school teachers having a discussion with me questioning my support for you. You’ll be glad to know I defended you passionately. He didn’t understand how I could idolize Tupac and vote for you. (Ahhhh…what goes on in the mind of a biracial kid at a high school where students are called “a bunch of thugs” by the students at more “well to do” schools while also attending a conservative church!) See, I was for affirmative action and helping single mothers, but I knew abortion was the most important issue there was and you were the “pro-life” candidate, not that “Slick Willy” chump Al Gore. So, I had your back.

After graduating I began working at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. That’s right, I was working a government job supporting our military. (I even worked on the USS Lincoln before you landed that plane on it with “Mission Accomplished” emblazoned behind you. You’re welcome.) I remember when 9/11 happened. I was driving to another day at work fixing our ships and submarines when I heard about it on the radio. It was eerie. At first they said a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Sad, but to an eighteen-year-old it was an interruption to my morning music (it was the same day Jay-Z’s The Blueprint came out and I was hyped!). A few minutes later they said another plane crashed into it and they didn’t think the crashes were accidents. I arrived at the shipyard to extra security and we watched news the rest of the day. I won’t forget that experience for a long time. I was scared and I was pissed.

It was shortly after that the transformation began to happen. I was making good money (in my world $35,000 to $40,000 is really good money) but was extremely unhappy. I began to question the righteousness of preparing ships for war, and wondered if I would somehow be responsible for the blood of those killed by the weapons on board if they were used. Then you declared war in Afganhistan and Iraq. And it was then God began calling me out of my unfulfilled life to a life in ministry.

At the first church I worked with I heard a sermon about how John the Baptist was a patriot and so we should be too. The implication was clear: “Support our country and our president.” This seemed odd to me considering John the Baptist’s harsh words for Roman and Jewish authorities and his withdrawal from and harsh critique of Jewish society. How could this preacher have missed such an obvious message of the Baptist’s life? Anyways, it was at this point in my life my world began to change and I began to look at faith and politics differently.

I went to Pepperdine University. You’re familiar with it. It’s the private Christian school where Ken Starr is Dean of the Law School and your wife gave the commencement address at my graduation. In fact, she mentioned me by name in that address. I wasn’t the only one that received a degree that day because she was awarded an honorary doctorate. She seemed like a sweet and loving lady. Anyways, it’s not some bastion of liberal propaganda to say the least. But it was there my faith and the course of my life changed.

My degree was in religion, but it was really a Bible and ministry degree. I learned about the Kingdom of God, the Anabaptists, inner-city ministry, and the Civil Rights movement. I have studied the lives of great Christians: Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Andre Trocme, Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, Desmond Tutu, Sojourner Truth, Ronald Sider, Jim Wallis, Clarence Jordan, Fannie Lou Hamer and others. I met devoted Christians, some of the most devoted I’ve known, who were loud and proud political progressives. I did service work in India, Uganda, Kenya, Detroit, and post-Katrina New Orleans. I worked for a nonprofit and a church in inner-city L.A. I was given a worldview that enabled me to make sense of all of the injustice and oppression I saw, and that worldview was Christianity. It was a Christianity different in many ways from the one I grew up with, but it is still recognizably and unabashedly Christianity.

I learned something during my time at Pepperdine: God cares deeply about the poor, hungry, homeless, downtrodden, and oppressed, and about peace, and the Republican Party’s policies don’t seem to. In fact, you haven’t seemed to, in your presidency, either. I thought you were the Christian candidate but I have failed to see Jesus in most of your presidency.

You lied, as far as I can tell (even the youngest Sunday school student knows that’s a no-no) about the reasons for going into Iraq, and are convinced that killing people is the best way to stop other people from killing people. This does not square with Jesus’ message to love one’s enemies, pray for those who persecute you, do good to those who do bad to you and renounce violence. We have lived, during your presidency, by the “smart” bomb and guns, and I am afraid we may die by them as well.

Taking from the poor to give to the rich is an evil thing to do. It is the opposite of Jesus’ declaration that his ministry, and that of Christians, is to declare the year of the Lord’s favor. (This is a reference to a policy in the Hebrew Bible where God commands Israel to redistribute wealth every seventy years so that, in effect, generational poverty is stamped out.) And yet you did just that with your tax cuts to the richest one percent of the nation. You have continually given the rich more and the poor less. In no way does that square with Christian faith.

You talked loud about giving more funding to religious (code-word Christian) organizations performing social services and backed it up with little real money. (David Kuo opened my eyes to this.) This is just one example of the way you wooed Christians with good rhetoric and failed to fulfill your promises. Using religious faith as a political tool is what history’s villians have done, and I am afraid you may be closer to that than you realize.

When Hurricane Katrina happened you stayed on vacation (I just learned today my tax money paid for you to spend one year, 1/8th!, of your presidency at your ranch in Texas) instead of getting to work. And then with black people floating on New Orleans’ streets you said you couldn’t wait to chill on the racist Trent Lott’s new porch. It made me wonder if Kanye West was right. Do you really care about black people (or poor people of any color)? God’s Kingdom is a kingdom of all nations and colors. Hurricane Katrina, and the government’s response to it, demonstrated that the United States clearly is not in many ways.

You approved of the use of torture. How can you, one who claims to call a victim of torture Lord, in good conscience condone treating human beings in the way Jesus died so that humans would never have to die in such a way?

You approved of and condoned as unregulated a free-market as possible and have watched as our nation falls into economic collapse. You encouraged excessive greed and now millions are paying the price when it proved unsustainable. Millionaires and billionaires padded their pockets with money they had no use for while literally millions are on the brink of homelessness or are already homeless. You helped build America’s house on the sand and now that the storm has come it may not stand.

One of the first jobs God gave to humans was to care for the earth God created. You have continually drawn the ire of those seeking to live this call by seeking public policy that threatens some of the little nature we have left. You have perpetuated our dependence on oil which harms the earth when taken from it and when it is used. This does not make America any better stewards of what God has graciously given us.

I have become an adult during your eight years as president, Mr. Bush. I watched your presidency closely and have renounced the politics many of my formative teachers and mentors taught me. I am one member of the generation Jim Wallis talks about that has had a “Great Awakening” and moved beyond the “Religious Right.” Your presidency opened my eyes to how un-Christian Republican public policy can be and led me to reject it as it is today. Thank you for helping me to live more like Jesus in every part of my life.

Yes, even my political life.

Jimmy McCarty is a student at Claremont School of Theology studying Christian ethics, a minister serving cross-racially at a church in inner-city Los Angeles, and a servant at a homeless shelter five days a week. He blogs at JimmyMcCarty.

January 17, 2009 at 10:25 pm Leave a comment

Religion is Ridiculous?

Sightings  10/23/08

— David G. Myers

Ridiculous, and worse.  So say the new atheist books:  In God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens does not mince words, calling religion “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.”  Now Bill Maher’s movie Religulous lampoons the plausibility and social effects of all religion, ominously concluding that the world will end if religion does not end.  But I suggest that social science data point to a different conclusion than do the new atheist anecdotes of hypocritical and vile believers.

Many in the community of faith gladly grant the irrationality of many religious fundamentalists − people who bring to mind Madeline L’Engle’s comment that “Christians have given Christianity a bad name.”   But mocking religious “nut cases” is cheap and easy.  By heaping scorn on the worst examples of anything, including medicine, law, politics, or even atheism, one can make it look evil.  But the culture war of competing anecdotes becomes a standoff.  One person counters religion-inspired 9/11 leader Mohammed Atta with religion-inspired Martin Luther King, Jr.  Another counters the genocidal crusades with the genocidal atheists, Stalin and Mao.  But as we social scientists like to say, the plural of anecdote is not data.

Maher and the new atheist authors present anecdote upon anecdote about dangerous and apparently irrational religious behavior, while ignoring massive data on religion’s associations with human happiness, health, and altruism.  The Gallup Organization, for example, has just released worldwide data culled from surveys of more than a quarter-million people in 140 countries.  Across regions and religions, highly religious people are most helpful.  In Europe, in the Americas, in Africa, and in Asia they are about fifty percent more likely than the less religious to report having donated money to charity in the last month, volunteered time to an organization, and helped a stranger.

This finding – that the religious tend to be more human than heartless – expresses the help-giving mandates found in all major religions, from Islamic alms-giving to Judeo-Christian tithing.  And it replicates many earlier findings.  In a Gallup survey, forty-six percent of “highly spiritually committed” Americans volunteered with the infirm, poor or elderly, as did twenty-two percent of those “highly uncommitted.”  Ditto charitable giving, for which surveys have revealed a strong faith-philanthropy correlation.  In one, the one in four Americans who attended weekly worship services gave nearly half of all charitable contributions.

Is religion nevertheless, as Freud supposed, and Maher’s film seems to assert, an “obsessional neurosis” that breeds sexually repressed, guilt-laden misery?  Anecdotes aside, the evidence is much kinder to C. S. Lewis’s presumption that “joy is the serious business of heaven.”  For example, National Opinion Research Center surveys of 43,000 Americans since 1972 reveal that actively religious people report high levels of happiness, with forty-three percent of those attending religious services weekly or more saying they are “very happy” (as do twenty-six percent of those seldom or never attending religious services).  Faith (and its associated social support) also correlates with effective coping with the loss of a spouse, marriage, or job. 

Maher would surely call such religiously-inspired happiness delusional.  But what would he say to the surprising though oft-reported correlations between religiosity and health?  In several large epidemiological studies (which, as in one U.S. National Health Interview Survey, follow lives through time to see what predicts ill health and premature death) religiously active people were less likely to die in any given year and they enjoyed longer life expectancy.  This faith-health correlation, which remains even after controlling for age, gender, ethnicity, and education, is partly attributable to the healthier lifestyles (including the lower smoking rate) of religious people.  It also appears partly attributable to the communal support of faith communities and to the health benefits of positive emotions.

These indications of the personal and social benefits of faith don’t speak to its truth claims. And truth ultimately is what matters.  (If religious claims were shown to be untrue, though comforting and adaptive, what honest person would choose to believe?  And if religious claims were shown to be true, though discomfiting, what honest person would choose to disbelieve?)  But they do challenge the anecdote-based new atheist argument that religion is generally a force for evil.  Moreover, they help point us toward a humble spirituality that worships God with open minds as well as open hearts, toward an alternative to purposeless scientism and dogmatic fundamentalism, toward a faith that helps make sense of the universe, gives meaning to life, opens us to the transcendent, connects us in supportive communities, provides a mandate for morality and selflessness, and offers hope in the face of adversity and death.


David Myers is a professor of psychology at Hope College and author of  A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists:  Musings on Why God is Good and Faith Isn’t Evil (Jossey-Bass, 2008).

October 23, 2008 at 5:27 pm 4 comments

Wonderful new website

Check out Kudos to Sarah Lefton and team for making Torah accessible and interesting!

October 22, 2008 at 4:54 pm Leave a comment

Brand new religion blog

My friend Jeremy Hinsdale, web genius for PBS, just launched a brand, spanking new blog on religion, He’s encouraging open, honest, interaction on all issues religious and for the moment, isn’t moderating posts. I’m sure that will change, especially after I start posting!

October 7, 2008 at 3:34 pm 1 comment


This is a word that I throw around casually. But if viewed critically, it’s almost an oxymoron. Cyber: of, relating to, or involving computers or computer networks (as the Internet), Culture: the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations b: the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group (both definitions from

 It’s not hard to see that all things cyber have become part of our culture. If I take a step back though, this wasn’t the case even 5 years ago. What happened to move technology past efficiency tools to becoming integrated into culture? This isn’t a rhetorical question – I really want to know the answer! Well, OK – I do have one theory. Web 2.0.

Wikipedia says (at least as of this writing) “Web 2.0 is a trend in World Wide Web technology, and web design, a second generation of web-based communities and hosted services such as social-networking sites, wikis, blogs, and folksonomies, which aim to facilitate creativity, collaboration, and sharing among users.” They key is facilitating creativity, collaboration, and sharing. For me, when we stopped using computers as passive ‘users’ and started using them to create, cyber began influencing our culture.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but was led to write about it today because of a Facebook group I just discovered. It’s called “I love cutting edge Judaism” and rather than being a religion, culture, or society group it’s listed under “Type: Internet & Technology – Cyberculture.” As one who works with congregations and technology, I’m somewhat sheepish to admit I missed this transition. I’ve been focused (and writing about) technology as a tool for congregations with little to say about how technology is redefining congregational culture. It is obviously redefining religious culture.

The group has a YouTube video listed that I think may be the best explanation of Web 2.0 I’ve seen (heard, read, listened to, etc.). Kudos to Michael Wesch at Kansas State University!

February 16, 2008 at 9:16 pm 3 comments

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