Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Lay UU Does Public Theology

Speaking of UUs doing more public theology, as we were discussing recently at Philocrites and PeaceBang...

Are all religions other than Christianity false? Should they be tolerated in our society? Who decides?

UU newscaster Keith Olbermann weighs in here.

I agree with Olbermann's position about religious tolerance, which it seems obvious to me is informed by our own UU emphasis on the necessity of free personal discernment, but I wonder if his mockery of John Gibson's discussion of Christianity isn't a little unfair. If so, is that only Olbermann's own grandstanding or is it also a common UU trait?

(QuickTime video clip, courtesy of WMV video file here.)


At December 28, 2005 at 9:50:00 AM EST, Blogger Bill Baar said...

I didn't want to load the plug ins so didn't listen to Obermann,

Religion should be respected, not tolerated.

It's the sad fate of parishoners to tolerate hum drum preaching though, but they have the right to leave the Church.

As for is Christianity false? Or if any Religion is false? I'm firmly with Pilate on Truth at least,

John 18:37 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

John 18:38 Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault [at all].

Like Pilate, I don't know; so avoid finding fault when I can.

At December 28, 2005 at 10:03:00 AM EST, Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

My personal opinion here is that Keith Olbermann's presentation is right at the ambigious boundary between "criticism" and "mockery." It's also an example of the blurring of the line between "real news" and the "Daily Show."

Given what Gibson said and his subsequent denials, the criticism was deserved. Saying something that was recorded and then denying that you said it was very weaselish (assuming that the audio clip isn't a forgery).

On a slightly related note, I remember hearing a guest UU minister in our pulpit who suggested that agnosticism is the "official" religion of the United States.

His reason for suggesting this was the First Amendment ... we have no "state-sponsored" religion because we implicitly acknowledge that we don't know which religion is the one true religion. In other words, our official government choice of religion is agnosticism.

At December 28, 2005 at 12:36:00 PM EST, Blogger Jess said...

While there may be a bit of grandstanding involved, as is Olbermann's style, I think his calling Gibson on the carpet is justified. Why should someone in his position have to play nice when the other side clearly never does? Gibson is an outright bigot, and has proven it in all sorts of places - this time he got caught backpedaling and it's about time someone called it.

I find that mainstream media is always hesitant to point out deficiencies in the statements and actions of so-called Christians like Gibson, O'Reilly, and Pat Robertson because they don't want to be seen as attacking "people of faith," but those same public figures don't hesitate at veiled and open ridicule of non Christians. Or true Christians, for that matter, who stray from the religious right's talking points of intolerance and hatred and actually try to live the way Jesus did.

There was a special "48 Hours" on last week about "The Mystery of Christmas," which tried to solve the issue of a literal interpretation of the Christmas story. They had all these fantastic scholars on in the beginning (Elain Pagels, John Dominic Crossan, and a few more), but who were seriously edited until they sounded like fringe quacks - the transcript doesn't come across quite as harshly, but in the video, they kept cutting to the cynical smirks of the interviewer.

Then they traveled to Israel with Ben Witherton, who proceeded to point to places and ruins and say, "This is where it happened. So it must be true," without any kind of academic or historical proof. His idea of being a "biblical scholar" seemed to be to read nothing but the Bible over and over and not in an historical context or in reference to the scholarship of anyone else.

And yet, the vast majority of the program was devoted to his ramblings, and it wasn't balanced by the historical scholarship in such a way that made both sides seem reasonable. The scholars were pretty much dismissed in favor of "faith," while anyone who has ever read Pagels or heard her speak knows that she is just as strong in her Christian faith (if not more, I think) than any number of fundamentalists.

So, after that tangent, I think Olbermann was justified. I applaud his insistence on at least some measure of integrity in public discourse - if you're going to say something hateful, especially on tape, have the guts to own up to it.

At December 28, 2005 at 12:56:00 PM EST, Anonymous ClydeGrubbs said...

Confrontation with Gibson's type of "theology" is needed, I wish it was a UU characteristic to do that kind of confrontation. Because Gibson's position is dangerous to our pluralistic nation, and it rests on such weak sounds like mockery.

At December 28, 2005 at 6:12:00 PM EST, Blogger fausto said...

I agree that the so-called "Christian Reconstruction" movement, which holds that the US was founded as and should be governed as a Christian nation, is poison to a pluralistic society that values religious freedom. (If I remember right, there's even a letter from our own Unitarian President John Adams, concerning the Barbary Pirates affair, explicitly denying that ours is a Christian government.) "Tolerating" contrary beliefs within a normative Christian framework would be a different proposition than tolerating all beliefs by giving them all the same protection, including Christian ones.

I think Gibson's interviewer may have been closer to that extreme position. However, from the clip it sounded to me as though Gibson was taking a less extreme position, that all religious views should be tolerated, even though (some) Christians (apparently including Gibson) believe theirs is the only "true" faith, and other beliefs are wrong. It's hard to tell from the clip, but it sounds as though Olbermann may have been arguing more against a straw man caricature of Gibson's views than against what he was actually advocating.

I can't get terribly exercised over the notion that Christian traditionalists, especially Protestant conservatives, believe that theirs is the only true religion, especially if they consent to equal protection for other religions that they personally consider "wrong". Just as protecting the equal freedom of all beliefs is a different proposition than the grudging toleration of disfavored beliefs, it is also a different proposition than demanding affirmation of multiple, and sometimes mutually inconsistent, beliefs.

At December 29, 2005 at 7:09:00 AM EST, Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

The Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance have the following definition for "religious tolerance":

"To most religious moderates, religious liberals and secularists, a religiously tolerant person simply allows others to pursue their own religious beliefs and practices freely, without discrimination or oppression. This includes the freedom to change one's own religion, and to proselytize others."

Is the critical commentary by Olbermann in the video clip a form of "discrimination or oppression"?

To me, the answer is "no" ... even with Olbermann's criticism, John Gibson is still free to hold his views and promote them through print and broadcast. Indeed, he'll probably spin this legitimate criticism so that he can claim "martyr" status.

Religious freedom and religious tolerance doesn't mean "freedom from all critical analysis."

At December 29, 2005 at 12:25:00 PM EST, Blogger fausto said...

No, I don't see any "discrimination or oppression" in Olbermann's comments either, but probably the more pertinent question is whether it is present in Gibson's. For a Christian to state the belief that other belief systems are "wrong" isn't necessarily discriminatory or oppressive, but for a Christian to demand that government endorse Christianity and only grudgingly "tolerate" competing beliefs might indeed be discriminatory or oppressive.

It sounds to me as though what Olbermann is really trying to pin on Gibson is this sort of broad intolerance, rather than the narrower error of what may have been only a minor verbal gaffe. Gibson obviously said what he said, and Gibson shouldn't deny his own words rather than clarify what he intended to say, and Olbermann may be right to raise the issue, but I'm still not sure that Olbermann's broader accusation is proved solely on the narrower evidence.

As you said in your earlier post, Steve, Olbermann's attack is right on the edge. I agree. He's on that edge because Gibson was, first. However, given the ambiguity in what Gibson may have intended to say, I wonder if Olbermann isn't being a tad too zealous, a tad irresponsible, to attack Gibson so strongly.


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