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3 March 2004

Another political bludgeon

Anna Quindlen writes recently about how religiosity — which is not the same as faith — has become the Roman flaying of politics.

When did it first become gospel that only
conservatives knew God? It sure wasn’t true 40 years ago for a Roman
Catholic kid in a Catholic neighborhood, when the knock on John F.
Kennedy was that religion was likely to be too much a part of his
politics and he’d be on the phone to the Holy See so often, the pope
would be a de facto cabinet member. Jimmy Carter’s faith was as much a
part of his persona as that Chiclets smile, and I’d like to meet the
guy who could go head to head with Mario Cuomo on theology and not cry
for mercy by the end of the exercise.

that made perfect sense to me because I had long ago concluded that I
had become a liberal largely through religion. Loving your neighbor as
yourself, giving your cloak to the man who had none, blessed are the
peacemakers: taken together, all of it seemed a clarion call to social
justice and the obligation of individuals and institutions to help
those who needed help. Jesus was the first radical rabble-rouser I’d
ever read about in school, and the best.

…What emerged was the knee-jerk assumption that those with left leanings
were never people of faith. This was also complicated by the fact that
many of us not only lack a simplistic way to talk about the subject but
also resent even being asked to do it, to slap the contents of our soul
down to establish the bona fides of our political positions. Those
positions are the product of the ability humans have been given to
reason, to interpret and to understand, not some literal textual
interpretation that makes dialogue or disagreement unnecessary or

…Any time I hear a guy going on and on about
how his road to the statehouse or the White House was paved with prayer
(not to mention a good bit of soft money), I get the uncomfortable
feeling he’s doing what Mel Gibson has done with his movie: trading on
God for personal gain. The modern version of 30 pieces of silver.

connection between politics and religion for me lies in the motto of
Cornelia Connelly, the Philadelphia wife and mother who founded the
order of nuns by whom I was lucky enough to be educated. Actions, not
words. Touch the sick, the poor, the children, the powerless, as Christ
did, and never mind quoting Leviticus. For the record, I have never
written the name of God without capitalizing the G. But that is the
letter. What truly matters is the spirit.

I was told as kid, by a former John Bircher who was also a youth leader
in my church, that you couldn’t be a Christian and be a Democrat,
because the Democratic party stood for so many things that were
anti-biblical.  The only example I recall him offering was the Dems
position on abortion.

So you want to know what motivates my politics? 
It’s complex.  I have religious reasons for each of the positions
that I take — my theology of public life is carefully thought out, so
that I can talk to my fellow Christians, to Jews, to Muslims, to
Buddhists about the interaction of my spiritual and political
lives.  So my positions on gay rights, war, the care of the poor,
the divide between church and state, and all that sort of stuff has
roots in what I believe spiritually.

But I also believe in the project of the
republic, and I believe that I must not have purely particularist reasons
for the positions I take on public issues.  So I also — right
alongside the “faith-based” reasons and NOT as a “cover” for them — have arguments and positions
based on reason, logic, and analysis.  I believe that the public arena
deserves nothing less.

Quindlen points out the “worship gap” — the idea that weekly church
attenders tend to be much more conservative than those who don’t attend
every week.  But she also rightly notes that among those who go
“most of the time” or “several times a month”, support for Democrats
and “liberal” positions is much stronger.  Also, importantly,
these people are the vast majority of the people polled.  Those
who claim to go to church “every week” or “never” are the vast minority
of Americans.  (And people tend to overestimate in polls about
stuff like this and the good works they do.)  Those who
occasionally miss church but are still faithful attenders are the great
mass of Americans.

(I might note that I attend church two or three times a week.)

But I have grown tired of a highly politicized
group of religious believers laying exclusive claim to labels like
“Christian.”  I usually identify as an “Episcopalian” because the
word “Christian” has been co-opted by a group with a particular agenda,
a particular politics, and a particular theology, none of which I agree
with.  And it seems to me that some members of these groups, like
the “Christian” Coalition, and such ilk, by participating in politics
exactly as everyone else does, engaging in “war” and working mostly in
demagoguery toward their opponents, bear false witness to the faith
they proclaim.  Although they believe in a transformative God,
their faith has not transformed them.

I’m with Quindlen and the nuns who taught her:
“Actions, not words.”  Or as St. Francis of Assisi put it, “Preach
the gospel at all times.  Use words, if necessary.”

Posted in Politicks on 3 March 2004 at 10:51 am by Nate

Elizabeth Bumiller’s Idiocy

Elizabeth Bumiller of the New York Times asked, at the end of the last
Democratic debate on Sunday, “Really quick.  Is God on our side?”

(You can find more facts and opinions here.)

Beyond the idiocy of such a question, it belies a fundamental
misunderstanding by may of the Northeastern liberal elite (of whom I’m
probably a member, on some level) about religion.  The better
question that Bumiller (and her lack-of-religious-understanding bedmate
George W. Bush) might ask: “Are we on God’s side?”

And there’s no easy answer, or even any answer to that question.

Posted in Politicks on 3 March 2004 at 10:36 am by Nate

Harvard Weblogs support leaves much to be desired

Here’s my gripe.  I have contacted every person at Harvard’s
Berkman Center to get some help with the following problem, including
Dave Winer, since he’s the guiding light.  I’ve contacted the blog
support group, the webmaster, the webmaster’s alternate contact, and
I’ve done the whole Manila users’ group over at Userland’s
website.  I have asked for help in every possible forum, and I
have received little assistance.

What chaps my hide the most is that the problem (as I point out) seems
to be with the Harvard weblogs servers, but no one at Harvard will
respond to tell me how I can engineer a fix of my own, whether they are
working on it, or any status whatsoever.

I’m not averse to doing my own coding and all that, but I’ve got no
idea where even to start, especially since it seems like a localized

If some of the Harvard weblog people weren’t so busy leading a
“revolution” (against what?  with what results?  It’s a good
question that remains largely unanswered), and they might actually do
some server maintenance.  I’m annoyed because I’ve been asking for almost two weeks now!

What’s even funnier about all of this is that it’s an open-source
software project that has the rendering bug.  Knowing a bit about
the ideological predilections over there (I read their blogs, so I
think I’m safe in making this supposition), I’m surprised that they
have allowed a rendering bug to affect only open source software packages!  Commercial packages from MS and Netscape work just fine.

But I want to support the open source movement as much as possible, so I’m trying to move away from those packages.

So, if anyone has any suggestions for how to get someone’s attention
here or how to fix the problem I have (you can read its full
description below), please tell me.

I do much
of my work in the latest generation Mozilla browsers (Firefox and Mozilla
1.6), but I can’t work on my blog in them, as my theme seems to
incorrectly render the site in these two browsers. I’m using the
Manila Modern theme
. In
you can see what it does. More than just being an annoyance,
the browser won’t provide full lists of news items or photos, puts some
text entry boxes in the wrong places, and just acts annoying.

I can
provide some more examples of stuff that doesn’t work correctly:

  • News
    Item creation
    , where the text entry field overlaps the sidebar
  • Turning off WYSIWYG editing does
    Which doesn’t really solve the problem.  The news panel render
    better, but the text entry boxes are still misplaced, i.e., when I click
    on a text entry box, such as for the subject or url to assign to an
    entry, the cursor does not end up in the box, but several lines above,
    blinking in the black background area (so I can’t see what I am
    entering).  The green arrow points out highlighted text that should
    be in the “title” box.

should make it clear that in that first picture linked above, there’s a
huge gap between the main news text and the sidebar, where in IE, NS, and
older versions of Mozilla (1.3 and below) the main column and the sidebar
column are flush with one another.

Of course,
the other common Harvard blog themes do not seem to have this problem in
the later Mozilla browsers. Just as a check, the MMM theme that’s at works fine in Mozilla, but the theme as installed at has the same problem as I am encountering in my blog.

Any ideas on how to fix this?

Thanks for any help others might have.

Posted in OnTheWeb on 3 March 2004 at 10:16 am by Nate