Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why Rick Warren is on my last good nerve

Left: Cross by Wes-Wilson (1968)


In these parts, Rick Warren first hit the big time over two years ago, during a dramatic hostage situation is Atlanta. The Baptist Press covered the story on March 14, 2005:

ATLANTA (BP)--Ashley Smith, the Atlanta-area woman taken hostage by the subject of the largest manhunt in Georgia history March 12, calmed the alleged killer by reading an excerpt from [Rick Warren's] "The Purpose-Driven Life" and talking with him about God. She escaped by persuading him to let her pick up her daughter from an AWANA children's program at a Southern Baptist church.
Certainly, it was a riveting, amazing story. At one point, like something out of Flannery O'Connor, the two connected on a spiritual level:

The alleged gunman, Brian Nichols, overpowered an Atlanta courthouse deputy as he was being escorted to court for a rape trial March 11. He then shot and killed the presiding judge and a court reporter before killing another deputy as he left the courthouse. Later he killed a federal agent in an attempt to flee authorities.

Nichols, 33, held Smith at gunpoint outside her Duluth apartment around 2:30 a.m. March 12, apparently having chosen her at random as she returned from a trip to a nearby store. Once he removed his hat, she recognized him as the man wanted for the killing spree and chose to cooperate with his demands. He tied her up and then began to converse with her.

Smith asked Nichols not to kill her because she was scheduled to pick up her 5-year-old daughter the next morning. Four years ago, Smith's husband died in her arms after being stabbed in a knife fight, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Smith was concerned that her daughter would become an orphan.
As time passed during the early morning hours at the apartment, Nichols and Smith talked about God, family and life experiences while the fugitive apparently became more comfortable with the hostage. She began to help the gunman consider the families of the victims he had shot that day and asked him if he thought about how they might be feeling.

"After we began to talk, he said he thought that I was an angel sent from God and that I was his sister and he was my brother in Christ and that he was lost and God led him right to me to tell him that he had hurt a lot of people," Smith told reporters. "And the families -- the people -- to let him know how they felt because I had gone through it myself."

Nichols held photographs of Smith's family in his hands and said repeatedly that he did not want to hurt anyone else, according to a CNN transcript of Smith's statements to reporters.

"He said, 'Can I stay here for a few days? I just want to eat some real food and watch some TV and sleep and just do normal things that normal people do,'" Smith said.

As they continued to talk, Nichols mentioned that he considered his life to be over.

"He needed hope for his life. He told me that he was already dead," Smith told reporters. "He said, 'Look at me. Look at my eyes. I am already dead.' And I said, 'You are not dead. You are standing right in front of me. If you want to die, you can. It's your choice.'

"But after I started to read to him, he saw -- I guess he saw my faith and what I really believed in. And I told him I was a child of God and that I wanted to do God's will. I guess he began to want to. That's what I think," she said.
Smith convinced Nichols to let her go pick up her child. When safely in her car, at the first stop sign, she dialed 911. The SWAT team surrounded Nichols in Smith's apartment, and he surrendered. (I watched the whole thing on TV, amazed that she had essentially TALKED her way out of there.)

And Rick Warren became a multi-millionaire, if he wasn't one already.


The Crucifixion (stained glass), St Mary's Church side chapel, Greenville, SC.

I haven't quite known what to say about Rick Warren's recent Saturday night follies at Saddleback Church, in which he did a great impersonation of a catechism teacher before Confirmation, thoroughly interrogating presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain. He questioned them extensively about faith, ethics, morality, religion, whether evil exists, and other existential matters. What does any of this have to do with the gig? I don't like FAITH being a litmus test for office, as it obviously is, now that we have Pastor Rick Warren (a feel-good combination of Dr Phil and Billy Graham) conducting the job interview. Why is faith more important than being able to do the job correctly and representing the voters? Do we include these questions in any other job interview?

I am a Christian, as most of you know. But you can count me with the atheists on this one. The government is NOT supposed to be Christian. (WHY would anyone want that? Do you want to corrupt the Church? How do you think it originally got corrupted in the first place?) We are supposed to render under Caesar, that which is Caesar's. We are not supposed to institute a Christian government. I think the Protestants have forgotten what-all they were protesting against, and oddly enough, we Catholics have not. Europe was once ruled by the Holy Roman Empire, and it got to be a sticky, unpleasant business, with periodic ethnic-cleansing, Crusades and Inquisitions. Have the Protestants not learned ANYTHING from their own criticisms of Catholicism? (Or do they think THEY will get it right, where we didn't?) Church and state should BE SEPARATE, dammit. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

And you know, what about the atheists? Obviously, they were totally shut out of the proceedings. It is understood that the Rick Warren follies were simply not open to them, not their thing. They can't participate. Aren't they citizens, too? On the Happy Atheist forum, a fellow named rlrose comments:
why weren't there any atheist or humanist groups at the "Compassion Forum" that was held with Hillary and Obama in, what was it, May? ALL kinds of Christian groups, asking questions about how they will preserve the Christian beliefs of this nation (!?!?!), but no one representing the non-believers asking how they will preserve our SECULAR beliefs.

And you admitted that an outspoken atheist wouldn't stand a chance. SO... your folks can spew their religious beliefs from every mountain and they are praised and worshipped, but let an atheist even MENTION they're a non-believer and they might as well be handed a shovel to dig their own grave
He's right, you know.

One thing I dislike about the radical atheists, they would call me stupid for being a believer. But when they are right, they are right, and we should have the honesty and integrity to step up and admit this. THEY ARE RIGHT.

A Person Who Exists writes on The Arrogant Atheist:

I remain resolute in disagreement that this [Saddleback Church forum] should have happened. Even if we ignore the fact that the crowd appeared biased toward McCain, the religious test for public office we have put Obama through so continuously is disgusting. Still, Obama joins in and allows his faith to be tested by them. He allows his religion to be questioned, and gives very faith based answers. It bothers me.
Yeah, Person, but the truth is likely that he feels personally peeved and/or hurt that he is being trashed like this, up to and including the Stealth Antichrist Campaign. I believe he is answering honestly. But unless you give the proper right-wing replies, your FAITH is questioned. Right wing politics have also become the litmus test for faith.

Ironically, when Obama does answer honestly, they get angry at him. Another atheist, Amanda Marcotte, writes on Pandagon:

I was quite pleased with Obama’s response that the question of when life begins is above his pay grade. I remember Pastor Tim Russert asking, I think, Claire McCaskill a similar question and she was like, “What are you asking? When does an embryo become ensouled?”

Believe what you want, but the important question for politicians is how such things get translated into… policy. And when McCain says he believes life begins at conception (cheer!) it’s pretty meaningless unless he’s asked to explain how that would be translated into policy. Are blastocysts entitled to child support? Do all late periods need to be reported to the Ministry of Health? And, of course, my favorite: Are those who implant multiple embryos during IVF treatments, knowing full well that most will die, guilty of negligent manslaughter?
Indeed, what kinds of questions are these? Obama is totally correct, this is above his pay grade. Søren Kierkegaard, call your office.

Amanda adds:
I get that the joke was a faux paus because the piety set abhors jokes of this nature, mostly because said jokes draw attention to the fact that they believe horrible things (in this case, that “life begins at conception”, a euphemism for the belief that sperm have more rights than women), and that those horrible things are protected from criticism because they call themselves “people of faith” and are reliably so touchy that most people are scared off the hard questions.
And here, I would have to disagree. The piety set abhor jokes of this nature because of the kind of faith they have, not because they are "people of faith." Like patriotism, artistic ability or any other quality, faith is not one-size-fits-all, and there are as many types of faith (and approaches to religion/spirituality in general) as there are people who have it.

The fact is that these people are neo-fundamentalists, the mellow California pseudo-Dr-Phil variety. As befits their religious tradition, they believe there is nothing they cannot answer or somehow account for in their theology. For Obama to show humility and say, in effect, that's too much for me, is something that makes them uncomfortable.

There is nothing they believe they do not already know, and they want a president who similarly shares this delusion.