Another Holocaust?

When Hitler painted all Jews everywhere with his hate-filled brush, many people were caught up in his scary “logic,” and the result was a Holocaust. Today’s Jews should be the group least susceptible to the rampant prejudice that is currently damning all of Islam with sweeping fear-based generalizations. The lesson of the Holocaust for all of us is never again should anyone buy into paranoia and bigotry concerning a whole people, culture, religion, ethnicity, or lifestyle.


Yet, here we go again.


If you don’t like some Muslims (or Jews or Chinese or Hutus …) well, that’s human. But if you hate and fear most (Muslims) because you think they’re all pretty much the same, that’s ignorance and prejudice.


It’s simply not true that most Muslims are quarrelsome, narrow-minded, blood-thirsty fanatics out to dominate the world. Yet I have recently heard that repugnant argument for war from Jews and Christians alike.


Of course we’re all frightened, Muslims too. But violent extremists are found in every culture. America had its own bloody civil war, not to mention lynchings, attacks on civil rights marchers and labor unions, gang wars, office and schoolyard shootings, rapes, widespread child and domestic abuse, crime, and murder. We have our own home-grown steady supply of trigger-happy nutcases, D.C. snipers, Unabombers, and Oklahoma terrorists, all continually egged on into fear and violence by faithless media demagogues and opportunistic politicians, in just the same way that Hitler once terrified the German citizenry into insanity.


FDR gently reminded us that the only thing we have to fear is: fear, itself. During this difficult time, may we have cool heads, loving hearts, open minds, and an abiding faith in the golden rule, so that we may respect and support all of God’s beloved children, everywhere.


Jim Wallis Practices God’s Politics

Jim Wallis’ rich and thought-provoking exploration, God’s Politics, will stimulate a generation of dialogue at the intersection of faith, politics, and contemporary culture. Wallis’ mental exuberance and hyperactivity are easily balanced by his brilliance, generosity, and love. God’s Politics is a must-read.


Wallis argues that values based in faith must inspire American politics, and that this right was guaranteed by our founders when they separated church and state. Wallis feels that the very survival of America’s social fabric depends upon the emergence of political and cultural leaders having a clear vision of justice, peace, environmental stewardship, family, and consistent-value-of-life ethics grounded in the traditions of acceptance, forgiveness, and love preached by the biblical prophets (including, of course, Jesus.) To Wallis, faith cannot ignore poverty, injustice, war, and other attacks upon humanity, nor mean-spiritedly criminalize or marginalize minority voices and choices, nor turn away from those everywhere made in the image of God.


I agree with Wallis that “faith…prefers international community over nationalist religion…” adding my hope that he will consider advocating for respect and support now for the quality of human life everywhere as the highest possible ethical stance (similar to the Catholic doctrine of the value and inviolability of human life.) Acceptance of this stance supersedes patriotism and nationalism, which, however noble, engender polarizing fears that lead to ethnocentrism, hatred, war, injustice, unfriendly competition, and indifference to suffering in other nations.


Wallis offers a wonderful example of a compassionate prophetic voice and life which many will be inspired to emulate. As a rallying cry, though, the concept of “prophetic faith” is not quite universal enough to provide a satisfying ethical framework for political discourse in a multicultural democracy, injecting instead a degree of divisiveness into Wallis' otherwise effective argument, rather than the clarity and commonality he intended. Just deciding which and whose prophets to include would assure a fractious, ultimately irresolvable argument. Furthermore, the words “prophetic faith” unnecessarily threaten many non-religious citizens, while even religious citizens disagree as to which prophets are foundational.


Also, although clearly Jesus spoke with a prophetic voice, many Christians would be confused and offended if Jesus were even temporarily and merely metaphorically reduced to the status of “prophet.”


Does Wallis’ concept of “prophetic faith” embrace the teachings of the wide variety of major/minor prophets from all major/minor world faiths—say, Confucius, Mohammed, “Buddha,” Mao, Marx, the minor biblical prophets, etc? On what basis would he include or exclude prophets?


Will Wallis include other, often controversial, modern-day (dead) “prophets”–Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Billy Graham, Pope John Paul, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others in the prophetic tradition? If so, whom, and on what basis? What about present-day prophets—all visionary moral leaders fitting Wallis’ definition of “prophet”—such as Jim Wallis himself, Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, Oprah, Jim Carroll, Marianne Williamson, the Dalai Lama, Pope Benedict, George Bush, Gordon Hinckley, Bono, etc?


A promising alternative framework for moral political discourse offering a common unifying vision acceptable to all philosophical and religious bases would be “respect and support now for the quality of human life everywhere,” a belief that Americans already embrace, i.e., “all men are created equal.” The rest of the world would jump at the chance to move in this direction along with the U.S.


No successful political movement would dare reject patriotism; however, a political movement could successfully promote “respect and support now for the quality of human life everywhere” as “the highest moral value,” leaving to individual discussion the various moral implications of this stance.


Wallis‘ argument in favor of choosing a consistent ethic of human life, with its important implications for poverty, injustice, war, violence, etc., fits in perfectly with the above-declared “highest moral value.” His excellent “test” question—“How are the children doing?” also fits well. So too would “Golden Rule Politics” (see other essays on Golden Rule Politics at ).


Mr. Wallis is the founder of Sojourners, a network of Christians working for justice and peace. He edits the acclaimed Sojourners magazine, is a powerful and popular speaker, the author of seven books, a Harvard lecturer, and the founder of Call to Renewal.


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Transfixed by Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation is my (all-time) favorite movie. With so many sad movies about sexual exploitation floating around, it’s a refresher to see two nice, interesting people exchange such powerful, passionate, platonic gifts during a brief, innocent time, without taking advantage of or hurting one another, and leaving one another happier and stronger.


Sofia Coppola’s complex, beautiful, diverse sensibilities drench each frame with implications… revelations… perturbations…. Like all perfect movies, this one is rich, deep, lavishly-textured, and gorgeously-layered. Coppola adds not a questionable jot nor extraneous tittle, and leaves out nothing necessary to her narrative or contemplation. She attends masterfully to imagery, editing, framing, character, dialogue, tension, narrative, symbol, improvisation, serendipity…a small sampling of her range of talents, may she live long and prosper in the movie-making business.


I lived for a few childhood years in Tokyo during the American post-war occupation, and took away beautiful, evanescent impressions, so perhaps I’m more susceptible to the delights of this movie than your typical movie-goer. Watching Lost in Translation, I'm enchanted both by remembered charms and recent technological innovations, as well as by the awkward Japanese embrace of things western.


Lost in Translation is perfectly titled, because Copolla shines her tragicomic vision on the challenges each of us, no matter how talented or well-intentioned, face in communicating, caring, and empathizing across the mile-high/-wide/-deep chasm of human individual differences. Copolla’s laser gaze scintillates not only cultural barriers such as language and custom, but universal obstacles as well—differences in gender, age, social class, lifestyle, goals, values, interests, backgrounds, personalities—and even the molehills and mountains of distance and time.


Lost in Translation is hilarious, even more-so for Japanophiles. I’ve seen it many times, and still am cajoled into explosive snorts. Like any great lover, Copolla brings knowledge, appreciation, honesty, and a creative, playful intimacy to the peculiar amusements and benefits of relating to the Japanese. Japanese culture has its many endearing and frustrating quirks, as do all cultures; Copolla chooses to laugh equally good-naturedly and respectfully at eastern and western pecadilloes.


I cannot imagine a soundtrack more thoughtfully selected or edited in support of the shifting impressions, emotions, and experiences Coppola develops in each new scene.


Bill Murray’s unique talents are all on glorious display, as are Scarlett Johannsen’s equally bounteous ones, which have an umplumbable feel to them. She defiantly withholds an illusive, precious, sensuous little secret—like Garbo’s, like Monroe’s—whose unveiling the world will breathlessly await forever. Casting Johannsen, like casting Gwyneth Paltrow, will elevate any movie. Only great direction can account for the consistent quality of all the other “smaller” performances.


The fact that anyone could enjoy this movie on the level of a simple, poignant, romantic comedy should not detract from its value as a multifaceted meditation upon the human challenges inherent in connecting with any “other”—whether in “translating” one’s self to another, or in meaningfully “translating” another’s mysterious mumblings and gestures in our own direction. Far too often, we are left feeling all alone in the world throughout most of our lives, feeling quite “lost in translation.”


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Depends On If You’re Our Good Guys Or Their Bad Guys

It’s called “terrorism” when they bomb people for political reasons, and “democracy” when we do.


They’re madmen when they blow themselves up with cheap explosives to achieve strategic goals, and we're patriots when we do the same thing with expensive long-range missiles.


They’re crazy because they kill women and children. We could never do that, ever. Unless it was really necessary, for a just cause, and our patriotic duty. And then, we’d feel really bad about it. They wouldn’t.


They’re dangerous monsters who must be disarmed and sanctioned when they protect their way of life from foreign invaders. We’re freedom fighters when we’re invading and occupying foreign lands, imposing our ways upon people accustomed to completely different traditions, and “controlling distribution” of their valuable resources.


They have crazy religious ideas about jihad and martyrdom, imagining God might approve their sacrifices. We, on the other hand, are pure-and-simple onward-Christian-soldier-crusaders, marching with God on our side and the cross of freedom going on before, whatever that means.


They are violent maniacs who reject foreigners threatening their families and the lands of their ancestors. We would never act so uncivilized if foreigners invaded our country. Would we.


We respect all ethnicities, traditions, and religions. Except the really weird ones with all the strange gods, traditions, practices, foods, languages, doctrines, clothing, rituals, laws, customs, and beliefs. Like theirs.


Their whacked-out culture, with husbands veiling wives and home-schooling daughters, is definitely messed-up. There’s nothing wrong, however, with our own culture’s rates of divorce, sexual and spousal abuse, abortion, teen pregnancy, prostitution, rape, pornography, incarceration, school violence, unwed-motherhood, alcoholism, and drug and nicotine addiction.


They’re nuts, killing their own people. We could never do that. Except for when we kill Rebels…. And Yankees…. And attack civil rights marchers…. And lynch suspicious Negroes…. And murder homosexuals…. And shoot at race and draft rioters and college protesters…. And knife rival gang members…. And terrorize labor union strikers…. And blow away schoolmates…. And abuse prisoners…. And wives…. And children…. And gun down and burn anti-government survivalists and fundamentalists…. And take the lives of convicted murderers…. And then there’s the Unabomber’s victims…. And Timothy McVeigh’s…. And Lizzie Borden’s…. And all the murderers and serial killers….


Nevertheless, our stirring history, beliefs, institutions, rights, freedoms, way of life, political traditions, economic system, and patriotic and religious customs are still well-worth killing and dying for. Theirs aren’t.


They ought to keep their people unarmed and passive, and never acquire nuclear weapons. We, on the other hand, have to have nuclear weapons, so we can be the world’s unelected policeman. As the world’s only superpower, we're obviously the most vulnerable country, so we have to arm ourselves like terminators, unilaterally start up pre-emptive wars, invade, occupy, shoot up foreign countrysides and cities and villages, interfere with sovereign nations’ internal and political affairs, drop nuclear bombs on civilian populations, disrupt livelihoods and lives, kill innocents, and stockpile enough armaments to kill all life on earth many times over.


Although their teensy little country may feel justifiably threatened by our historical aggressions, they certainly don’t need to have “the bomb.” That would be overkill, and dangerous for us, as well. We, on the other hand, need thousands of nuclear weapons, since we are an envied and feared international target. Only an immense arsenal of nuclear weapons can properly back up our huge armies, navies, and air forces, not to mention our defense budget, larger than those of all the nations of the world combined.


The lives of children are infinitely precious and of unlimited sacred value to us. Unless of course they’re someone else’s children. Or they happen to live in a poor country, or in a country at war with our country. We also believe fervently in family values, and supporting families. With, of course, the above exceptions.


Our enviable five-hundred-year-old culture certainly has nothing to learn from their primitive five-thousand-year-old one.


Our ways and traditions and institutions are unquestionably superior to any other country’s. Anyone could tell that, just by looking at our nation’s fabulous prosperity. It’s true we built our success upon genocide of the native Americans who were here first, and then upon the bloody backs of millions of imported African slaves. Not to mention exploitation of the richest swath of virgin land and untapped resources the world has ever known. But none of that really had anything to do with why we’re such a great country—it’s our perfect political and economic systems that are infallible. Everyone should be like us.


So please, try harder to see everything our way. Because, frankly, we’re bigger.


And don’t worry. Trust us. ‘Cause we’re the good guys.


Even though, just for the moment, I can’t quite remember why.


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