Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Monks vs. the generals

Tens of thousands of Buddhist monks and their supporters have taken to the streets in Myanmar to protest that country's military government. For days they have peacefully marched in defiance of government orders to stay out of politics -- orders backed by the threatening presence of troops in full battle gear.


According to the Associated Press, "At first the robed monks simply chanted and prayed. But as the public joined the march, the demonstrators demanded dialogue between the government and opposition parties, freedom for political prisoners, as well as adequate food, shelter and clothing."

Even in this country, which has a tradition of separation of church and state, religious leaders have sometimes felt compelled to lead a political movement. Martin Luther King Jr. obviously comes to mind. Using the language and worldview of Christianity, he called on this nation to live up to its own ideals of equality and liberty.

But he, like the Myanmar monks, wasn't proposing a theocracy, where religious leaders hold the power and enforce their own standard of conduct and belief on all citizens. In both cases, they used nonviolent protest to stand for the oppressed and to call for true democracy.

That, I think, is the proper role of religion in politics: to speak up for the powerless and to call the powerful to account.

What is your view?



20 comments:

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more

1st amendment is clear and our founding fathers were clear in their separation.



Sincerely,
Iztok

JAT said...

I'm going to quote at length and interesting recent interview with author James Carroll, which is well worth reading in whole.


"...Carroll: For our conversation, fundamentalist Christianity is a perfect paradigm within which to understand what's been happening in America, a profoundly Christian super-culture. America is also a secular nation, of course. The separation of church and state was a critical innovation, giving us this special standing as a people. The separation's purpose was to protect the conscientious freedom of every individual by making the state neutral on questions of religious conscience. An absolutely ingenious insight.

It's important, however, to understand the profoundly American origins of this insight. The argument began in the first generation. John Cotton, a Puritan preacher, embodied the first idea America had of itself, captured in the image his colleague John Winthrop used in defining the new settlement as "the city on a hill," a phrase that's fodder for political speeches every four years.

Americans don't generally like to think this way, but the United States of America is more descended from Massachusetts than Virginia – an important distinction because the people who settled Virginia were adventurers and entrepreneurs. The people who settled Massachusetts were religious zealots who had left England as an act of dissent against the Church of England, which they considered too Popish. Their dissent was against a certain kind of religion, but not in favor of religious freedom. They came to America assuming the power of the state over the religious convictions of the civic body.

TD: They just wanted a different religion to do the coercing?

Carroll: Exactly. Of course, these folks thought of themselves as reenacting the journey of Exodus. What was the city on a hill? Jerusalem, of course – a biblical reference. They had been brought out of the slave condition of a Popish church. They were now across the water – think of "the Jordan River" as the Atlantic Ocean – in the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey. Hello, there are Canaanites here.

Finally, after 1,600 years, the true vision of Jesus Christ was going to be realized – and there was no room for another way of looking at it, no room for what we would call dissent, and certainly no room for any tolerance of the "paganism" of the Native Americans. One of the first manifestations of the settlers' zealotry was the religious coercion that began to mark their relationships with the Native Americans they met right here in this very place where we're now talking. They felt empowered to offer the ancient choice of conversion or death to the people they called the Indians.

One of the members of this early party objected. His name was Roger Williams and he rejected the coercive violence he saw wielded against native peoples. He rejected the whole idea that the magistrate should be in charge of the religious impulse of the citizen. As a result, he was banished from Boston, exiled to Salem, then banished from Salem. Finally, he started his own foundation in what we call Rhode Island and organized a new kind of state in which the magistrate would have no power over the religious practice of the citizens. This is all within the first generation.

Roger Williams lost the argument in his own day, but he planted the seed of something. He was the first person to use the phrase, "wall of separation" between the magistrate and the religion. One hundred eighty years later, Thomas Jefferson picks up that phrase to describe the distinction between the church and the state...."

http://www.antiwar.com/engelhardt/?articleid=11631

D.J. said...

Sadly, many conservative Evangelicals have turned the mission of the church from a spiritual one to a political one. Christ called his followers to "preach the gospel to all creation," not to topple the tyrannical Roman government that ruled over them. The message of Christ is about the necessity for a spiritual transformation in every human being.

That said, this spiritual transformation will inform every area of our lives, including our responsiblity as citizens of a free society who have the right to be a part of the policy-making discussion.

"That, I think, is the proper role of religion in politics: to speak up for the powerless and to call the powerful to account."

I would agree. That is the conviction that drives myself and many others to speak out against abortion. I can scarce think of any in our society more powerless than unborn children. Should abortion be priority one for the church? No. The gospel should be, and it will change the hearts of people like no rhetoric can. Yet there is a validity, and indeed an importance, for those of Christian conviction to be responsible citizens in our free society and raise issues that concern us.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

DJ, I don't care what you preach in your circle, but when it comes to abortion, please mind your own family, don't push your agenda unto others.

I have one question for all those who talk about abortion in the way you do. How many kids do you foster or have you adopted from DSS?

There are few thousand kids in custody of DSS in North Carolina alone. Yet concern of yours about life of the unborn kids doesn't extend into the actions of taking care of those who are already here.

Position: In process of adopting a 16 year old kid in our foster care.

Sincerely,
Iztok

D.J. said...

Iztok,

The Buddhist monks call for justice, food, and shelter for the downtrodden in their culture. They are applauded for their courage. I call for justice for those I see as greatly downtrodden in our culture, and you tell me to mind my own business. You may not agree with my views on the sanctity of unborn life, but why should I not share my concern for those I view as oppressed? What is admirable about the monks but despicable about me?

Your questions on adoption are a straw man argument. Please deal with the ideas at hand. For the record, I have not adopted (I am 24, married two years, and my wife and I have only recently contemplated starting a family), but I have spent time working with abandoned and negelected kids in orphanages and day camps. I am a student minister in an inner-city community, and let me assure you, I understand better than most the plight of kids and teens given up on by society. I have friends who have adopted several times. To claim that my beleif in abortion is an "agenda" devoid of any actual concern for the oppressed is false, disingenuous, and downright insulting. Please, lets talk ideas, not make personal attacks.

I diverge, but my question remains... why is my concern for the protection of innocent, disregarded human life not worth a chance to be heard in the public square?

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

DJ,

Please define when life begins and what makes it so valued to deserve protection. Once we define this we can go further.

Sincerely,
Iztok

D.J. said...

Iztok,

You are diverting my question into a discussion about whether abortion is right or wrong. If you want to talk about that, that's fine, but please address my question first. You stated...

"DJ, I don't care what you preach in your circle, but when it comes to abortion, please mind your own family, don't push your agenda unto others."

Why is the action of the monks speaking out for those they view as oppressed admirable, yet when I speak out for those I view as oppressed, you tell me those views are not worth bringing into the public square. What is the difference? Once you answer that question, I've got no problem discussing my views on the sanctity of human life. I feel I've been more than forthcoming in answering the barrage of questions posed to me, I'm simply asking you to return the courtesy and address this before we move on. Please deal with the inconsistency in applauding the monks and telling me to, in effect, mind my own business.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

VAN HALEN !!!!!!!!!

Woooooooooo Hoooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

DJ,

when it comes to abortion question is when does one define start of life for it and why such protection should be granted at given point. Discussing monks and born children and adults is one thing as we can all agree at least on the fact that such beings deserve our protection. When it comes to abortion we need to figure out at what given point such protection should be granted and why.

I am not avoiding I was just not stating the obvious reasoning behind it.

Born human beings I agree with you there that deserve protection (while Bible would not in most cases, but that is another story), but unborn, we need to qualify first.

Sincerely,
Iztok

D.J. said...

Obviously, your question is relevant to a discussion on abortion. My point was that your earlier statement indicated that I am intolerant for bringing that discussion beyond my own family - an assertion that makes no sense. You have not even attempted to defend it.

When does life begin? Conception. Any other designated starting point is arbitrary and leads to all sorts of disturbing implications. For evidence, see the writings of guys like Princeton prof. Peter Singer, who has advocated infanticide, among other things, by taking such designations of "personhood" to their logical conclusions. Scary stuff, but I have to applaud his consistency.

Why do they deserve protection? This is where our discussion will break down. Ultimately, they deserve protection because they are human beings created in the image of God. You will reject that notion, but I believe that from a purely secular perspective, they deserve protection if you and I do, for they are human beings just like us. Would it be okay to take a newborn baby, make an incision at the base of its skull, and vacumn out it's brain? Then why is that morally acceptable just a few days prior, when that baby has not yet passed through the birth canal. Such an arbitrary guide to morality has far-reaching implications - once again, just look to Singer. This harkens back to our discussion about the inherent problems with athiestic morality a few posts ago.

As I said, I don't forsee an abortion debate getting us anywhere constructive, my point was simply to say that you are terribly inconsistent when you applaud those monks for speaking out for the oppressed, yet when I do the same thing for those I view as oppressed, you say...

"DJ, I don't care what you preach in your circle, but when it comes to abortion, please mind your own family, don't push your agenda unto others."

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

DJ,

God doesn't shy away from infanticide and even measures his loyalty by seeing how far people would go towards killing their own child to appease him. So that is where we diverge.

Why conception? It is known that about 50% of all such things spontaneously abort as it is (will of God?).

Why I disagree with you about abortion? Because I am not the one that can make a decision for someone else. I am not pro abortion but pro choice. I am not in the position of that particular woman and can't make decision for her. When my friend was in such position I offered to adopt her child (despite the fact that we are not really up to raising a baby) and this was while we were in process of becoming foster parents to adopt a teen from DSS here in NC. We disagree on the way to handle this issue. I would only ask someone if I am prepared to step up to the plate and take care of the consequences. You are not. Yes this is personal but your pushing religious agenda onto others is as well. (I can point out several times in your holy writ where your God doesn't shy from abortion/infanticide.)

Anyway, I don't see different standards in my answers, difference is what we are prepared to do ourselves to make a difference even if this causes burden on us.

D.J. said...

"Why conception? It is known that about 50% of all such things spontaneously abort as it is (will of God?)."

Spontaneously abort? One might as well say that 50% of 90-year olds "spontaneously abort." So the fact that a person could possibly die of natural causes makes killing them okay???

"I would only ask someone if I am prepared to step up to the plate and take care of the consequences. You are not. Yes this is personal but your pushing religious agenda onto others is as well. (I can point out several times in your holy writ where your God doesn't shy from abortion/infanticide.)"

And we come full circle.

Let's bypass your baseless declaration that I (whom you know as nothing more than an online moniker) am unwilling to "step up to the plate" for unwanted kids. You justify that personal potshot by saying that my "pushing [my] religious agenda onto others" is the same thing. This is the point I have made from the outset - you say that my desire to speak up for those I see as oppressed (the unborn) is "pushing my agenda on others." Yet never in a million years would you chide those buddhist monks for "pushing their religious agenda" on the Myanmar government. The monks and I speak from a common basis (religious conviction) for those who cannot speak for themselves. Why do you applaud them and chastise me? You still have not answered that question. I don't expect you to agree with me on abortion, I do expect logical consistency.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

DJ, just for the record. I don't agree with abortion but I can't force this to others. It is legal and it is their body. There is a difference between sentient beings and bunch of cells. Hence I asked you when do you think we should make a cutoff. But again I disagree with abortion but I don't push this to others. I even disagree with your God when it comes to violence he commits and infanticide he commits in your holy writ. Do you agree that your God is infanticdal? Do you think infanticide is ever justified? Sounds like you don't condemn your God of infanticide.

Anonymous said...

Until relatively recently, the Roman Church's position on when the unborn became a distinct person was that it was at the quickening, rather than at conception.

Now, D.J., I'm fairly certain that you are not a RC, so tell me what your reasoning is for choosing conception rather than quickening?

D.J. said...

Apologies, Anon, but I'm not familiar with the term "quickening." If you could explain, I'd be happy to discuss. Thanks! Indeed, I'm not RC (for those who know the origin of the term "Soli Deo Gloria," that would be ironic indeed :)

BTW, Anon, Are you still Iztok, or a different Anon? Just would be helpful to know if this is a continuation or a new conversation.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

DJ, I always sign mine.

Sincerely,
Iztok

The_Weaver said...

Speaking up for the oppressed? How about women? Having had a misscaraige I have my own feelings as to the beginnings of life, however, I can't speak for other women considering that I have also been raped. There are one hundred other circumstances for women as well. It could range from a woman getting pregnant while on Acutane to a woman with severe schizophrenia or bipolar disorder getting pregnant knowing what a pregnancy is going to do to her (having to stop meds and having to go through PPD and PPP). When you can conceive come talk to me.

Buddhist monks would never, in a million years, impose their beliefs on another person, however, they will come together as a community. Buddhism doesn't believe in proselytizing at all. They only came together to make a "statement" and pray for mercy, as they felt that their presence would not affect the people behind the situation. Rather, their presence and prayers would bring peace and joy to the entire situation. Buddhists don't pray as Christians do. It doesn't work the same way.

Let me take a step back to proseltyzing, as I'm exhausted and forgot to mention it earlier. There are only two religions that I know that engage in this practice: Christianity and a sect of the Vedic traditions (erroneously known as Hinduism), Hare Krisnas. Not even Islam engages in proselytizing except for the extremists, but...

Keep religion and politics seperate. It's that easy. If you read the documents by our Forefathers; the Treaty of Tripoli, the Federalist Papers, letters to ministers and other public officials, it's quite evident that this nation is not a religious nation nor was it ever intended to be. I will not endorse nor allow any religion or philosphy whose doctrine openly esposes violence (especially to me) to enter office. It won't happen. I'm very emphatic about this topic.

As for morality, Iztok, correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't you say that morality basic human nature, and it's only when we start nit picking that we become zealous and begin to differentiate and establish detrimentally exclusive idealogies?

Anonymous said...

the weaver,

I agree, morality is obviously predating any holy writ and it all points to being an evolutionary benefit from our ancestors. We can observe it on other mammals (yes for those creationists, we are mammals and no we didn't evolve from the monkeys!) as well.

Also, as you know Buddha is not a god and their Buddhist ritual that ignorant radio host from one of the local radio stations walked out of is not ritual of worshiping god. Wish our colleges would have mythology classes where we would get better education on all major religions (including Christianity, Islam, Jew, Hindu etc...).

The_Weaver said...

Iztok,
You are correct. Sidartha, the Buddha was not a god. However, Buddhism starts, even while he was alive, to get a little interesting where deity is concerened. I studied it at length. When you get into Tibetan Buddhism, you start getting into really interesting misticism. It's not centered simply around philosophy. There is definitely some mythos and what some would call "supernatural," especially as it spreds eastward into China and northeast into Japan. Intriguing stuff.

Anonymous said...

DJ,

about abortion: "O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones." (Psalm 137:8-9)

How do you explain this?