George Jones, R.I.P.

The country legend has passed away at the age of 81.

Davy Jones, R.I.P.

I’d be betraying my childhood if I didn’t note with sadness the passing of Davy Jones. I loved The Monkees TV show as a kid–I used to watch it every day after school on WPGH-53 out of Pittsburgh, which showed it in syndication. And the first album I bought with my own money was a Monkees greatest hits collection on cassette.

The show wasn’t just a farce aimed at kids: it had an absurdist, anarchic sensibility reminiscent of the Marx Brothers. And for all the needling The Monkees received as the “Pre-Fab Four,” their music holds up well and compares favorably to a lot of other pop from the era.


And just for kicks, here’s the Frank Zappa cameo from the TV show:

MLK, nonviolence, and the fusion of ends and means

My recent visit to the newly opened Martin Luther King Jr. memorial here in D.C. prompted me to pick up Harvard Sitkoff’s 2008 biography, King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop. To my embarrassment, I actually don’t know a lot about the details of the Civil Rights movement or King’s life in particular. Sitkoff’s relatively brief (under 300 pages) and very readable book is helping fill in some of those gaps. In contrast to the dominant picture of King as a rather unthreatening and universally beloved American icon, he emphasizes both King’s political radicalism and his rootedness in a profoundly Christian religious vision that sustained him in the struggle for justice and equality.

I’ve just finished the chapter on the astonishingly successful boycott of the segregated buses in Montgomery in 1955-56. This, at least in Sitkoff’s telling, was the time during which King went from being a somewhat reluctant leader of the boycott to the head of a new kind of social movement and a convinced principled exponent of Gandhian-Christian nonviolence. One thing that strikes me is how the nonviolent means King adopted were intended to effect change in both the oppressor and the oppressed. King was a canny political strategist who recognized that nonviolence had great potential to win allies to the anti-segregationist cause. But at the same time, it was a way for African-Americans suffering under the yoke of Jim Crow to assert their own inherent dignity as persons created in the image of God. King’s advocacy of nonviolence was neither pure pragmatism nor pure principle indifferent to consequences, but a stance that grew, in part, from the “personalist” philosophy he imbibed as a graduate student at Boston University. The ends and the means were fused in an inseparable unity. By refusing to treat their oppressors as less than fully personal beings, the participants in the movement were simultaneously demonstrating and affirming their own personhood.

The Christian politics of Mark O. Hatfield

Former senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon passed away this week at the age of 89. He was one of the last of the liberal Republicans–someone who bucked his party on many issues.

But Hatfield wasn’t simply a liberal Republican in the Nelson Rockefeller mold. He was a devout evangelical Christian, a virtual pacifist, and a “seamless garment” pro-lifer who opposed abortion and capital punishment.

Hatfield played an important role in the rise of the nascent evangelical Left in the ’70s. This article from Religion Dispatches describes his unique political outlook:

Hatfield did not embody the evangelical left perfectly; he was, after all, an anti-New Deal fiscal conservative in the Republican Party. But he pursued its unorthodox agenda in most respects. He was an unambiguous social conservative on abortion, but against capital punishment. He was an anti-war environmentalist. His populist call for “genuine political, economic, and ecological self-determination” meant reducing “excessive concentration of power” everywhere—not only in the executive branch of government and labor unions, but also in big corporations and the military.

At Reason magazine, Jesse Walker points out that Hatfield once expressed sympathy with the ultra-libertarianism of economist Murray Rothbard, even reading one of Rothbard’s articles into the Congressional Record. Hatfield was so admired on the Right and the Left that both George McGovern and Richard Nixon considered him as a potential running mate!

Hatfield’s outlook seemed to be equal parts evangelical Christianity and New Left counterculturalism. I’m not sure what larger lessons should be drawn from this except to note that there were times when the boundaries between Left and Right seemed much more fluid then they are now, and the role of Christianity in U.S. politics was up for grabs. An alternate history where the most influential version of Christian politics was decentralist, anti-war, environmentalist, and consistently pro-life would certainly be an interesting one.

The witness of John Stott

I’ve been reading some of the remembrances of John Stott, the Church of England pastor and evangelical icon who passed away today at the age of 90. One of the most striking things is that Stott seems to be fondly remembered by nearly everyone across the spectrum of evangelicalism. He combined theological orthodoxy (even conservatism) with a passion for social justice and social action in a way that looks slightly odd from a U.S. perspective–where we tend to think that conservative evangelicalism goes hand-in-hand with right-wing politics. (He was also, by all accounts, a genuinely humble and gracious man.) R.I.P.

Sad news

Philosophy professor Todd Bates, who blogged under the name Anglican Scotist, died suddenly this week from a brain aneurysm. R.I.P.

Friday Links

–Today is the Feast of the Annunciation; here are some thoughts on that. BLS also has one of her outstanding musical offerings for the day.

–John Piper, theological nihilist?

–Catholics are “more supportive of legal recognitions of same-sex relationships than members of any other Christian tradition and Americans overall.”

–How to live without a mobile phone.

–A proposal for a vegan-omnivore alliance against factory farms. Related: Mark Bittman on prospects for laws protecting farm animals.

–A semi-defense of B.R. Myers’ anti-foodie polemic.

–On the anniversary of Bishop Oscar Romero’s assassination.

–Washington, D.C.’s black majority slips away. Related: the percentage of the nation’s black population living in the South has hit its highest point in fifty years.

–An interesting blog I recently discovered: Marginal Utility, hosted at PopMatters; it covers the culture of work and technology from a leftish perspective.

–Why is media coverage of Africa so unrelentingly negative?

–The Lutheran theology journal Dialog currently has its Spring 2011 issue available free online; it includes some reflections on Carl Braaten’s recently released memoir, which apparently (and not surprisingly) has some harsh words for the ELCA. Added later: Here’s another take on the Braaten autobiography from last year.

–Let the D.C. beer renaissance begin.

Added even later: Gateways to Geekery: Kurt Vonnegut.

Friday Links

–Why Washington doesn’t care about jobs.

–At the Moral Mindfield, Marilyn has more on the question of whether welfare reforms benefit animals raised for food.

–Metallica’s classic album Master of Puppets turned 25(!) yesterday. This was the first real metal album I ever heard, and it’s still one of the best.

–NPR’s “First Listen” is streaming the new REM album in its entirety.

–For all the sci-fi nerd parents of small children out there: Goodnight, Dune.

–David Brooks will decide when it’s time for you to die.

–A lecture from Peter Singer: Evolution versus ethics.

–From the blog Experimental Theology, a series of posts on universalism: part 1, part 2, and part 3.

–How all the extra noise created by human beings affects animals.

–On James Alison and discipleship.

–Peter Gomes, the black, Republican (at least until late in his life), openly gay Baptist preacher who was the long-time minister at Harvard’s Memorial Church, died unexpectedly from complications associated with a stroke this week. Michael Westmoreland-White has an overview of Gomes’ life and work.

–Two good ones from Fred Clark at the (newly moved!) Slacktivist: The epistemology of Team Hell and Should I not be concerned?

–In honor of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day on March 9th, Oxfam is “raising awareness about hunger, climate change, and other crises facing women worldwide.”

ADDED LATER: Glad to see Marvin back in action with posts on Christian Taoism, the politics of union-busting, and the Rob Bell-universalism brouhaha.

What’s a radical?

Since I’m reading his book, I’ve been reading up a little on Howard Zinn (who died last year). This is from Bob Herbert’s column right after Zinn’s death:

I always wondered why Howard Zinn was considered a radical. (He called himself a radical.) He was an unbelievably decent man who felt obliged to challenge injustice and unfairness wherever he found it. What was so radical about believing that workers should get a fair shake on the job, that corporations have too much power over our lives and much too much influence with the government, that wars are so murderously destructive that alternatives to warfare should be found, that blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities should have the same rights as whites, that the interests of powerful political leaders and corporate elites are not the same as those of ordinary people who are struggling from week to week to make ends meet?

Incidentally, Herbert himself has become one of the few national columnists I make a point of reading. Today’s column on the ongoing economic hardships facing working people in the U.S. is a good one. It’s had to think of another major columnist who focuses consistently on people at or near the bottom of the economic ladder.

Tillich on Barth

I’ve been reading Langdon Gilkey’s Blue Twilight, a collection of essays on religion in America (broadly speaking) that covers topics like religious pluralism, the environmental crisis, creationism and evolution, and the rise of the Religious Right. Gilkey was a student of both Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich and was in many ways trying to carry on the spirit of their work. He also includes some interesting and at times amusing anecdotes about these theological giants. For example, here’s Tillich on Karl Barth (the two were arguably rival candidates for most important Protestant theologian of the 20th century):

Tillich liked to invite a few special students to his apartment to what he called a privatissimum, a quiet theological conversation accompanied by some splendid Moselle wine. One time we asked him about Barth. He put down his glass carefully and said with immense seriousness: “Venn you fight a dictator and he has swallowed up all of culture, zenn you wish to have Barth on your side to defend you; he gives you the ground on which to stand. But I was right about theology and correlation; all theology, even Barth’s, reflects its culture, and so you had better think theologically about that. Also, I left Germany for the right reason: to protest the persecution of the Jews, and not to defend the Lutheran pulpit! Thirdly, he went home; I left home–and I left on an earlier train!” With that Tillich picked up his glass, smiled, and we resumed our conversation. (p. 100)