Category Archives: Religion

Democracy and America in the Middle East

Michael Craven speaks from a decidedly Christian perspective.  I believe this article get some very important issues on the table. Nothing you hear in the popular media – Liberal or Conservative.  Your thoughts?

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For many Westerners, the hope of peace between the Middle East and the West rests in the spread of democracy. The recent protests and uprisings have given many cause for hope as one regime after another is confronted by popular revolt. As the world’s military superpower and reigning vanguard of liberal democracy, many Americans naturally feel that we have a place in supporting those opposing the despotic regimes currently under assault.

In the case of Libya, where unarmed protesters were being attacked by Gaddafi’s (spelling varies) government forces, the questions surrounding military intervention are no doubt exceedingly difficult. My concern is that our present foreign policy in the Middle East is supported by a naiveté that unwittingly identifies with “revolutionaries” and “rebels” as kindred spirits, making us all too eager to deploy military force. But are these revolutionaries in search of the same thing sought by our founding fathers? The fact is, Western and Islamic understandings of democracy and freedom are subject to very different interpretations.

In the West, we speak of democracy in terms of individual liberty and freedom for all persons, regardless of race, gender, religion, ideologies, and so on. Granted, we don’t and haven’t always lived up to these ideals but the ideals themselves have existed since the transformation of Western civilization by Christianity. Long before their cultural acceptance and social implementation, these virtues were often enshrined in our essential governing principles and documents. From the Magna Carta to the U.S. Constitution, the biblical conceptions of human rights and political power were integral to their formation. Furthermore, because they were rooted in the Christian consensus there existed a universal authority above our social and cultural conventions to which the oppressed could appeal.

In the Islamic world, namely the twenty-two member states of the League of Arab States, the concept of democracy does not—indeed cannot—follow this same understanding. Modern interpretations of the Islamic religion include intrinsic barriers to freedom for “all persons regardless of race, gender, religion, and ideologies.” Liberal democracy is a uniquely Western concept that could not have arisen without Christianity. (And likely cannot endure.) Thus democracy remains nonexistent within the Muslim world. According to the Democracy Index published by the Economist, a British journal, the only country in the Middle East that has an “established democracy” is Israel—and it only achieves the status of a “flawed democracy.”

At present, revolutionaries in the Middle East are most likely motivated by one of two objectives, neither of which are democracy in the sense of freedom for all.

To begin with, most Middle East nations are, in effect, “rentier states,” meaning they derive all or a substantial portion of their national revenues from the rent of indigenous resources (i.e., oil) to external clients (i.e., Western oil companies and markets). Rentier states are further characterized by their reliance on this external revenue or rent. As such, rentier states tend not to develop a strong domestic production sector. This naturally limits the nation’s wealth to the export of their natural resource and fails to provide a broad economic opportunity for its citizenry. These rentier conditions are further compounded by the fact that those in power and not the people, end up being the primary recipient of the proceeds.

These are the real conditions oppressing many within the Middle East. Despotic strongmen and monarchs have plundered their nation’s resources for personal gain leaving the people impoverished and without opportunity. Despite increases in oil prices, the total economic output of all Arab countries is less than that of Spain! Thus the “pie” remains very small, leaving very little for the people after the Mubaraks and Gaddafis have had their fill. Not surprisingly, these conditions, along with high unemployment (around 14 % on average among all Arab states) and increased food prices/shortages, have driven many to desperation and public protests. Their motivations are not as connected to idealistic thoughts of liberal democracy as they are the product of desperate people seeking basic subsistence and economic opportunity.

The other motivational force is radical Islamists who seek to capitalize on the public unrest as an opportunity to reestablish Islamic rule. (They succeeded in Iran during the late ’70s.) The Islamists argue that these despots were in league with the West, apostates who abandoned the true faith, and only a return to it (in their view, radicalized Islam) will restore the glory of Islam. In either case, the West is regarded as a coconspirator in their oppression or vilified as an infidel opponent of Islam.

However, does one truly believe that under any new regime—where the Islamic worldview remains the general consensus—that women will receive the same rights as men or that unbelievers and people of other faiths will be welcomed? How can liberty exist where polygamy is still practiced and women are subjugated? How can freedom reign where non-Muslims are not tolerated and justice is a travesty? As such, one has to ask, “Is liberal democracy even possible within a Muslim nation?” The people of the Middle East are oppressed, indeed, but their oppression is institutionalized in Islam and the tyrants who exploit it to serve their own ends.

If that is the case, can any good come from our continued military intervention in the Middle East? Does our involvement bring peace or foment further division? Might we and the Middle East benefit by removing the U.S. as a convenient scapegoat for all their woes? Every step toward social progress and human rights within the West has been the result of internal examination and confrontation with our own ideas and values. Any attempt by an outside force to challenge us on these various points would have no doubt been perceived as an act of aggression. Should we expect the Muslim to think any differently?

I am not a pacifist by any means, but our recent military actions in Libya have nothing to do with national defense and may only serve to establish the next radical Islamic regime. By not understanding (or ignoring) the differences between our respective worldviews, our thoughts of democratizing the Middle East are misguided at best and destructive at worst. If we are called to be peacemakers, should the church encourage and pursue means other than war when it comes to nation building if nation building is the goal? Isn’t Jesus the only hope for peace, prosperity, and freedom in the Middle East?

I remain uncertain as to the proper course and role of government at this point but I am convinced of this: the church can (and must) offer better insight and solutions than our government, which no longer understands—and subsequently rejects—the essential role of religion in the formation of Western government much less the Middle East.

© 2011 by S. Michael Craven

This commentary is published every Monday on Crosswalk.com, Christianity.com, and The Christian Post. You can also subscribe via email or RSS feed.

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The Jews of our time | Michael J. Horowitz

WORLD Magazine | The Jews of our time | Marvin Olasky | Apr 11, 09.

This is a great interview. I am surprised that more readers have not commented.

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James Allen Walker for WORLD

The career of Michael J. Horowitz, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., displays the best of Jewish liberalism and then the best of Jewish conservatism, with a growing appreciation of Christians throughout. He has taught law at the University of Mississippi and at Georgetown, practiced law in New York, served in the Reagan administration, and built coalitions with evangelicals to fight Sudanese oppression, international sex trafficking, and other evils.

Q: After growing up in Judaism, did you move away from it?

I could never move away from it, but I remember when I ate my first non-kosher meal I thought the heavens were going to open and swallow me up. I also stopped going to synagogue. So yes, I thought of myself as a Jew, but the observance part seemed to me too problematic, often too suffocating.

Q: How did your relationship with evangelicals develop?

I taught at the University of Mississippi Law School. That offered extraordinary exposure for me to the Christian community. I was house Jew for every Baptist retreat in northern Mississippi for at least a couple years, and it was an extraordinary experience for me to be there. . . . People were struggling with the race issue. I again discovered what my immigrant grandfather taught me just about every day. He said, “Michael, this is a blessed land. Don’t ever forget it.” And it is. I saw more openness and more decency and more possibility of change on race issues in this caricatured, Christian Mississippi than I knew would ever be possible in the New York City that I grew up in.

Q: What did you observe when you came back to New York City?

I saw this great city that I loved, that I had grown up in, that was so yeasty and vibrant, descend into meanness and poverty. . . . Politicians were giving away money they didn’t have for political reasons and the city went bankrupt. It was a great moment for me because growing up one identified “caring” with being liberal in politics, and there I was thinking, “I don’t believe this stuff anymore.”

Q: And that movement away from conventional thinking led you into the Reagan administration?

My own conservative “coming out of the closet” really came from being in New York City when the city went bankrupt and seeing that the rhetoric that often surrounded caring was, in some cases, a psychological need to fill the empty spaces that people felt inside themselves. In other cases it was mindless, and in some cases it really did involve a worship of secular gods—the notion that somehow if we redistribute income or pass enough laws we can create the Promised Land. That too was part of the ideology of New York City—and I saw it fail.

Q: When did you start thinking about the situation of Christians?

I started looking at [human rights] and I made an eerie discovery: In so many ways, Christians had become the Jews of our time—the scapegoats of choice for the thug regimes around the world. One hundred years ago, if you wanted to know whether there were human rights in a country you didn’t need a fancy human-rights survey, you’d go in the local synagogue and if the Jews were persecuted you knew that there was some dictatorship persecuting everyone else. Now, going into remnant communist countries or Muslim countries, you don’t need a fancy survey. Go to an Evangelical church, go to a house church, and if they are scared and if they’re getting arrested and persecuted you know no one else is free.

Q: You also learned something counterintuitive about the relationship of coalition-building and legislation . . .

People think you need coalitions to pass laws and that the coalitions are the means and the laws that get passed are the ends. The truth is exactly the opposite. It’s the effort to pass laws, not fake laws but laws with teeth in them, and the means of making sure those laws get enforced that build coalitions. The end is a coalition of people who have purpose, experience, and most of all confidence in their ability to make history and to make change.

Q: What do you see as the restraining influence of Christianity on sin?

Let’s assume God was not dead as the 20th century dawned. Let’s assume Nietzsche was wrong in thinking that the Christian God had lost his viability. Evil, ambitious people would have gone to where the action was. If the action was the church, that’s where they would have headed. And a guy named Lenin would have looked at the Eastern Orthodox Church and said, “This is the route to power,” and he would have been Bishop Lenin; he might have been Pope Lenin of the Eastern Orthodox Church. And people would have said, “Look at the hypocritical church! Here’s Pope Lenin with all of his Christian whatnots and he used his power to kill 20,000 people.” And he would have. No doubt about it.

Q: And what really happened?

Let me tell you the glory of your faith: As Pope Lenin, with all the power at his command, he could have killed 20,000 people. As Commissar Lenin he easily killed 60 million people. There’s something in that faith that inhibits us. It doesn’t turn us perfect, but it makes us better, and it makes the world a better place.

Q: How can Christians involved in politics make the world a better place?

Take a look at what William Wilberforce did. His lessons: Be very attentive to defining yourself and not letting others define you. Understand that politics is seductive and corruptive. Understand that “us against them” and demonization of the other side is not very Christian—and won’t succeed. And don’t simply say, “I care about these issues” and sign letters, because that doesn’t count.

Q: What should young Christians guard against?

Going into the enclave. People who have come to their Christianity later on in their lives, they can deal with the real world and hold on to their faith. They really have a core faith that they’ve earned that nothing is going to stop. Young people’s faith is much more fragile because it hasn’t come under challenge, because they’ve just lived it and been brought up that way.

Q: You see lots of problems with the religious right . . .

An aspect that’s really insidious—and it’s true of both left and right politics in America—is direct mail. Groups get their money by sending out these letters. You can raise a lot of money by saying, “The baby killers are at the gates. Please, they’re going to take over the world, send me a check for $25.” . . . It works for the other side, also: They’re saying, “These Christians want to put you all in concentration camps . . . send me $20.” These forces are out there splitting us apart.

Q: How would you handle an issue like abortion?

Take a pro-choice doctor who stays up until 1 o’clock in the morning reading the New England Journal of Medicine so she can help her patients—is she just a “baby killer”? And yet that’s the type of rhetoric that comes out. Why don’t you go to that person and say, “Listen, I care deeply about this issue because as a Christian I care about vulnerable human beings. And it makes me sad that you don’t share my view that a fetus is a vulnerable human being. But please let me tell you something, I care about the abortion issue for the same reason that I’m against the trafficking of women—the slavery issue of our time—or prison rape, or AIDS in Africa. See it in those terms. Maybe you don’t agree with me, but let’s keep talking about it.'”

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Where Have All the Presbyterians Gone?

Russell D. Moore: Where Have All the Presbyterians Gone? – WSJ.com.

But there are some signs of a growing church-focused evangelicalism. Many young evangelicals may be poised to reconsider denominational doctrine, if for no other reason than they are showing signs of fatigue with typical evangelical consumerism.

For example, artists such as Keith and Kristen Getty and Sojourn Music are reaching a new generation with music written for and performed by local congregations. Yes, prosperity preacher Joyce Meyer sells her book “Eat the Cookie, Buy the Shoes,” which encourages Christians to “lighten up” by eating cookies and buying shoes (seriously). But, at the same time, Alabama preacher David Platt is igniting thousands of young people with his book “Radical,” which calls Christians to rescue their faith by lowering their standard of living and giving their time and money to Church-based charities.

And though nondenominational churches are growing, the Southern Baptist Convention—the nation’s largest Protestant group—has over 10,000 students studying for ministry in six seminaries right now.

If denominationalism simply denotes a “brand” vying for market share, then let denominationalism fall. But many of us believe denominations can represent fidelity to living traditions of local congregations that care about what Jesus cared about—personal conversion, discipleship, mission and community. Perhaps the denominational era has just begun.

Mr. Moore is dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

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