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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Religion, Here and Abroad

The government announced Monday that it would accept a system of Islamic law in the Swat valley and agreed to a truce, effectively conceding the area as a Taliban sanctuary and suspending a faltering effort by the army to crush the insurgents. ...

Many of the poor who have stayed in Swat, which until the late 1960s was ruled by a prince, were calling for the Shariah courts as a way of achieving quick justice and dispensing with the long delays and corruption of the civil courts. The authorities in the North-West Frontier Province, which includes Swat, argued that the Shariah courts were not the same as strict Islamic law. The new laws, for instance, would not ban education of females or impose other strict tenets espoused by the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

-- "Pakistan Makes a Taliban Truce, Creating a Haven"

As I note here, we should not let "Islamic law" or such necessarily scare us. In fact, it can be quite progressive, particularly when there are the proper safeguards. It is also a bit naive (or worse) to think all areas can jump directly to our system of separation of church and state, imperfect as our system might be. Note also the power of mosaic law in Israel. And, sometimes when the alternative is worse, compromises can (or must) be made. We saw the danger of not letting "Islamic courts" keep the peace in East Africa.

On a related subject, Amy Sullivan is part of a group that want Democrats to be more friendly to religious groups. The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap is a fairly good book in this regard. Her overall message, though her mode as shown by her writings at Washington Monthly etc. at times turned some off, holds true. The libel that Democrats and/or liberals are not "value voters" and are anti-religious underlines the problem. Her chapter on Clinton alone suggests how fictional this really is.

And, it is not just a one way street. More can be done to bring in groups some deem not worth the trouble. This is a lesson we can learn by looking within. Blacks are often socially conservative in various ways, but Republicans cannot take advantage because the party as a whole mistreats them, leading most blacks to vote Democrat. Lack of respect is often key here; the same applies to "religious" voters, here focusing on evangelicals and Catholics. They too have a progressive side, or another not to be so much of a prime Republican voting block. And, respect is also part of the issue. Voting is not just about positions; it is also about values.

My problem with the book is that every ten to twenty pages or so, Sullivan says something stupid. We learn, for instance, that "in the early days of the republic, religion was hardly a partisan affair." The "partisan" religious debates of the Election of 1800 (Jefferson = Antichrist etc.) are not even mentioned, nor the Know Nothing Party and other aspects of anti-Catholicism (a major issue for some, including in the public school funding arena). Maybe, she needs to read Forrest Church's book -- nearby on the library shelf -- So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State.

[That is simply shoddy writing. A more venal, but still annoying sin, is not being able to handle simple facts. For instance, she got the result of Board of Education v. Allen, which upheld lending books, wrong. She said it said just the opposite! Meanwhile, she ignored all the rulings that upheld such aid.]

Talk about the value of focusing on abortion reduction and how the issue overall caused problems was a useful discussion. But, again, she left things out. Clinton's veto of the partial birth abortion ban does not include his reason -- no health exception -- or that fact that it fit in with his "safe, legal and rare" message. The procedure is "rare" and without it, abortions later in the pregnancy still will be "legal," but just less "safe." The fact Catholic justices voted to upheld abortion rights, as well as the division of Court Catholics on such issues, also would have been a useful detail. Other "aggrh!" moments existed.*

But, the book on the whole is worth reading, especially how Kerry mishandled the religious issue in 2004. Finally, to end a religious themed post, here's a cute 7th Heaven episode, focusing on a more grown-up Ruthie. The "kiss me" song near the end is sung by a Christian pop rock band. ruthieluver77 does a nice job here spelling out the episode's charm.


* Rick Warren popped up too. Turns out that John Edwards is a fan. She also notes that he relented from an earlier statement that abortion, gay marriage and such were lines in the sand that would make supporting a candidate on the wrong side impossible. His support of AIDS research, global warming, and inviting Obama to speak was noted. But, the fact he still holds many distasteful views was glossed over. We are stuck with strange bedfellows in other contexts, sure, but this should be noted all the same.