Friday, September 29, 2006
'Conflicted' No, He Is A Fake
Iraq, Stem Cells and Abortion * "In Jesus' Camp"
A hypocrite of the worst kind, one who uses the name of God to justify his acts. From Iraq and terrorism to debates about stem cells and abortion, there are discernible gaps between the truth and President Bush's positions.
Michael Kinsley in the Post:
Bush, as we know, believes deeply and earnestly that human life begins at conception. Even tiny embryos composed of a half-dozen microscopic cells, he thinks, have the same right to life as you and I do. That is why he cannot bring himself to allow federal funding for research on new lines of embryonic stem cells or even for other projects in labs where stem cell research is going on. Even though these embryos are obtained from fertility clinics, where they would otherwise be destroyed anyway, and even though he appears to have no objection to the fertility clinics themselves, where these same embryos are manufactured and destroyed by the thousands -- nevertheless, the much smaller number of embryos needed and destroyed in the process of developing cures for diseases such as Parkinson's are, in effect, tiny little children whose use in this way constitutes killing a human being and therefore is intolerable.
But President Bush does not believe that the deaths of all little children as a result of U.S. policy are, in effect, murder. He thinks that some, while very unfortunate, are also inevitable and essential.
You know who I mean. Close to 50,000 Iraqi civilians have died so far as a direct result of our invasion and occupation of their country, in order to liberate them. The numbers are increasing as the country slides into chaos: more than 6,500 in July and August alone. These numbers are from reliable sources and are not seriously contested. They include many who were tortured and then killed, along with others blown up less personally by car bombs and suicide bombers. The number does not include the hundreds of thousands who have died prematurely as a result of a decade and a half of war and embargos imposed on the Iraqi economy. Nor does it include soldiers on both sides, most of whom are innocent, too. Last week the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan surpassed the number of people who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Bush is right, of course, that the inevitable loss of innocent life in wartime cannot be a reason not to go to war or a reason not to fight that war in a way intended to win. Eggs, omelets and all that. "Collateral damage" should be a consideration weighed in the balance. But there is no formula to determine when you have the balance right. It does seem to me that both our wars in Iraq were started and conducted with insufficient consideration for the cost in innocent blood. Callousness, naivete and isolation -- isolation of the decision makers from democratic accountability and isolation of citizens from the consequences, or even the awareness, of what is being done in their name -- all have played a role. I don't see anything coming out of this war that is worth 50,000 innocent lives, although a case can be made, I guess.
But it is hard -- indeed, I would say it is impossible -- to reconcile Bush's absolutism over allegedly human life when it is a clump of unknowing, unfeeling cells with his sophisticated, if not cavalier, attitude toward the loss of innocent human life when it is children and adults in Iraq.
'Tongues of Fire'
"Jesus Camp" opens with an unsettling sequence, during which young Christians -- dressed in camouflage and with their faces painted brown and green -- enact a warlike ritual dedicating themselves to fighting for God. Soon after, we meet the film's stars: 12-year-old Levi, who wears his hair cut short except for a rat's tail, declares he was saved when he was 5 "because I wanted more out of life," and now aims to be a preacher; Rachael, 9, who longs to be an evangelist and is practicing spreading the Word at her local bowling alley; and Tory, 10, who loves to dance but shamefully admits that sometimes she doesn't dance only for Jesus, but also "for the flesh." And we also meet Becky Fischer, the outgoing, charismatic leader of a youth ministry in the kids' home state of Missouri, who serves as a counselor at a summer camp called Kids on Fire in (wait for it) Devil's Lake, N.D.
Bookended with news reports about the resignation of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and the announcement of the nomination of Samuel Alito to take her place, "Jesus Camp" takes as its subject the most colorful arm of Christianity, that of charismatic Pentecostalism. Although firm numbers are difficult to nail down, research from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life indicates that Pentecostalism may account for between 15 and 20 percent of evangelicals, who number around 52 million adults in this country, and who in recent years have emerged as a powerful political force.
"Jesus Camp" is composed of images of kids being radicalized spiritually and politically that will be heartening or chilling depending on the viewer. There are moments sure to set secular humanists' teeth on edge: when Tory's mother, who educates her kids at home, dismisses global warming and declares once and for all that creationism provides "the only possible answer to all the questions"; or when Becky excoriates Harry Potter to nervous-looking youngsters ("Warlocks are enemies of God!"). And it's hard not to feel a little frightened watching Becky and her fellow leaders goad their young charges into speaking in tongues, or joining in chants like "This means war!" and smashing coffee cups that symbolize secularized government.