Friday, April 25, 2008

Rev. Wright on Bill Moyers:

He comes off even worse than before.

Why? Because instead of the usual short clip of Wright being a hot-head saying "God Damn America" and "Chickens coming home to roost" you were shown extended portions of those respective sermons.

And in those sermons Wright makes an argument commonly found in some Christian, Jewish, and Islamic groups:
Collective guilt and punishment.
Over space and time. Wright cites various transgressions the "United States" has done, starting with beating up on Native Americans, then slavery, ending up with Hiroshima. Past behavior is deemed valid criteria for assessing the nation today. That kind of thinking is similar to that found in 2 Kings, when Josiah, King of Judah, and everyone else in the land, even though they reformed, were defeated by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt (and later the Babylonians) because:
Nevertheless, the LORD did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to provoke him to anger. So the LORD said, "I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple ...
Manasseh was an earlier king who tolerated idols (according to the Bible).

That kind of collective assessment of who done wrong and who deserves punishment is totally inappropriate for the modern world because those kind of grievances can never be assuaged. It's like the Hatfields and the McCoys or those never-ending fights in the Balkans. It's a primitive ethic which threatens Enlightenment values.

That's not to say that Wright is unique or that it's purely an African-American issue. Many conservative Christian groups also think along those lines (e.g. Hagee saying New Orleans "had it coming"). Wright is securely in that tradition. But no matter who does it, this atavistic sense of justice interferes with progress for any modern, diverse, secular state.

ALSO: Moyers didn't ask Wright about the government conspiracy to unleash AIDS on the black community. Instead, we were treated to about ten minutes of a conversation about music.

AND: A quick check of bloggers indicates that many thought Wright acquitted himself well. They weren't paying attention.

UPDATE: This comment was found over at Daily Kos: (emp add)
When I was looking for text of more of Wright's sermons I came across a blog and saw it was a rather conservative Christian blog. Someone had posted the text and maybe sme clips of some sermons but on the page I had gotten to they were discussing their reaction. ...

They were ashamed of how they had judged him based on the clips and just felt so certain in their judgment and hadn't bothered to look at the whole sermons and what he had really said. They didn't know if they were quicker to accept it because it was affecting a liberal or because Wright was black and his style so different but they were wrong. They also discussed what they found so inspiring in his sermons, about tears in their eyes and how effectively he expounded on God's message and the teachings of Jesus.
UPDATE IN RESPONSE TO COMMENTS: From the transcript, parts of Wright's sermons:
"... the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian descent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. ... ... America ... put [Africans] in chains. The government put them on slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields ... God damn America! That's in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating her citizen as less than human."
and (following 9/11)
"America's chickens are coming home to roost! We took this country by terror away from the Sioux, the Apache, the Arawak, the Comanche, the Arapaho, the Navajo. Terrorism! We took Africans from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism!
Those offenses cited by Wright took place over one hundred and fifty years ago. He is clearly saying that America has been found wanting; for that it deserves opprobrium by God ("God Damn America") and recent acts of violence (e.g. 9/11) are part of a normative system of divine justice ("Chickens coming home to roost").

EVEN MORE: A Kos diary with a Harriet Beecher Stowe quote:
"Both North and South have been guilty before God ...     [And if there is no reform, then] injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God!"
FINALLY (?): There is a blog unaffiliated with the UCC, run by a UCC member, but sometime critical, with this to say about the Moyers interview:
Moyers did spend a fair amount of time trying to apply context to Wright's post 9/11 sermon, but all it really did is confirm that Wright connects many of the historically bad things the U.S. has done to 9/11 in a biblical context.


I don't agree; I think you're confusing style ("hot-head") and substance. In fact I think Wright is making precisely the point you are, that grievances can't be assuaged through violence.

Wright didn't say, like his conservative counterparts, that the United States was attacked because God was provoked to anger. He said it was attacked by people who had a grievance against it for acts of the US government. Those heinous acts were justified with the blasphemous belief that the US has God's blessing in what ever it does, which causes Americans to be surprised when others strike back. God damns all acts of violence committed in His name.

Wright says it is the innocent who are invariably the victims of grievances being settled ("babies being bashed against walls" or something like that). The cycle of violence continued seek what we believe is God-sanctioned vengeance on behalf of the innocent, which leads to retribution against us and on and on.

I do agree completely on the AIDS question; shame on both of them for shirking it. There's a great essay about that subject here.

By Blogger gnarlytrombone, at 4/25/2008 11:01 PM  

Past behavior is deemed valid criteria for assessing the nation today

Considering as this behaviour has been essentially nonstop for the country's entire history, and shows no signs whatsoever of changing, it's not clear why the above is not a reasonable point of view.

The US has been slaughtering people and overthrowing governments since the day it was founded, yet all the while claiming special dispensation and absolution as the supposed beacon of hope for Mankind. Why should they get a break?

They've been getting better, making progress? Well, maybe. But they suck down a disproportionate share of the world's resources, outspend the entire planet on military hardware, and arrogate unto themselves the right to maintain military bases around the world from which to launch attacks on any country they choose for any reason.

Wright, for all his faults, is essentially correct. And American cannot on one hand claim that their government is of the people, by the people, and for the people, and then shirk blame for the actions of that government, nor disclaim responsibility when those whom their government has wronged decide to seek revenge for past transgressions.

In other words, yes, America asked for 9/11, and got it.

By Anonymous Mike, at 4/26/2008 2:04 AM  

In his sermon, Wright also differentiates good governments from bad governments. He named periods in history when America had good government. But governments change, he said. The remarks you're calling "collective" were actually directed at the bad American governments. The ones that failed to abolish slavery. The ones that dispossessed the Native Americans, and so on.

I think you should take your post down. It's misleading, or misrepresentative.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/26/2008 2:04 AM  

Have you not watched this video of Wright's sermon? Your update shows you are parsing to an extreme. Wright speaks of bad past US governments, but says, "governments change" and praises Lincoln. He speaks more about bad US govs then says governments change and praises Truman. He says we had an intelligent friend in the WH in Bill Clinton, but 'oh do governments change ... only this time the election was stolen and we got a wealthy republican dixiecrat in the White House who never held a job in his life,' says Wright. He is expressly talking about BushCo and the bad US governments of the past when he goes into his condemnation language. Come on. You are out of line with the main assertion of your post.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/26/2008 3:49 AM  

One last thought, if you insist using the word collective: Do we, as American citizens hold any collective accountability for the actions of our government? From its sanction of slavery, to its dispossessing the Native Americans of their land, to its slaughtering of innocent men, women, and children in Japan, to its of slaughtering innocent men, women, and children in Iraq, and to the upcoming slaughter in Iran? I think we do, and we need to stop picking on Wright and Obama, and start working to make fundamental changes in our government, which is something Obama has pledged to do.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/26/2008 4:12 AM  

Sheesh. I'm an atheist, and even I understand the theological point Wright is making. Even Andrew Sullivan gets it, for chrissake.

Wright is in no way claiming that God condones terrorism or "damns America" via terrorist acts. These are human actions, carried out by people - including Americans - who claim to be acting with God's blessing.

He says God never sanctions violence, even what appears to be righteous retribution on behalf of the innocent. He damns those who claim otherwise.

By Blogger gnarlytrombone, at 4/26/2008 8:07 AM  

Post a Comment