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.