Vinoth Ramachandra

Pious Nonsense

Posted on: October 26, 2012

I am sorry for my American friends. They deserve a better choice when it come to electing their president. And, given that this is the most powerful political position in the world, we non-Americans feel cheated too.

But, as I pointed out in my last post, an electoral system appropriated by the super-rich is not likely to deliver the best candidates for public office. While waging wars in the name of “promoting democracy” abroad, the US is increasingly shackled by a political system that is converging towards that of many Third World countries. (Voter turn-out is usually much higher in the latter, though).

Neither Obama nor Romney offer anything that addresses the problems that global society faces, or even the American public. But the latter should not forget that, in the eight years preceding Obama’s presidency, government greatly expanded its reach into individuals’ lives, constitutional safeguards against executive power were shredded, the deficit ballooned, the economy was wrecked, corporate reform shelved, and American soldiers sent abroad to fight two unpopular wars. There is thus a huge gulf between Republican principles and the Republican track record. That is why I said that anybody who votes for Romney/Ryan has taken leave of reality.

But, more tragic than U.S  politics is the sorry state of those sections of the American Church that proclaim themselves “Bible-believing”. Wealth not only corrupts politics, it dulls vision and kills prophetic speech. It turns the Church into a cultural ghetto. It has no voice in the public square, except for the shrill voices within it that regularly denounce abortion and homosexuality. One shudders at the call by Franklin Graham (son of Billy) for a new “moral majority” that will only elect politicians who promote “the sanctity of marriage” and “protection for God’s beloved nation, Israel.” (Decision magazine) Such pious nonsense is exported to the rest of the world by Americans who do not care to learn from the global Church.  Vociferous “Bible-believing” Americans like Graham have simply lost the (Biblical) plot.

Since Rheinhold Niebuhr and Martin Luther King, Jr., no Christian public intellectual has emerged in the US. Yes, there are outstanding Christian theologians and philosophers; but most of them seem to talk only among themselves. Younger Christian scholars in major secular universities are too busy securing an elusive tenure to stick their necks out and expose the public myths that sanction injustice. And by the time they get tenure, they have nothing substantial to say.

The late William Stuntz, a law professor at  Harvard, was an exception. Just before his death last year he published a masterly work detailing the collapse of the American criminal justice system, a work that is unlikely to be read in any white-dominated Christian college or seminary. (There is a plethora of Christian colleges and Bible seminaries in the U.S- probably more than the rest of the world combined. Outsiders marvel at what effective brainwashing techniques they use to turn out so many ill-informed and chauvinistic alumni).

A typical refrain from the subculture that is misleadingly called “evangelical” in the US is that to be “pro-life” means always voting Republican. The politically naive vote for Republican candidates in the hope that they will repeal the abortion law. They are constantly fooled. They voted for Reagan in 1980, and Reagan cynically used them and let them down. Indeed his divisive economic policies forced more women into poverty and increased abortions and children born out of wedlock. On the foreign policy front, he armed and trained death squads all over the Americas, and brutal dictators all over the Middle East and Asia. No “pro-life” evangelical church leader ever raised his voice against these policies. If “pro-life” is taken to mean that American foetuses are more valuable in the eyes of God that Palestinian babies or Iranian and Pakistani children dying because of American governmental actions, then that is not the God of the Bible.

Unlike many evangelical church leaders who are blatantly and cynically one-sided in their “pro-life” rhetoric,  the US Catholic Bishops Conference tends to be much wiser and more comprehensive in their ethical stances. Roman Catholics also run many adoption agencies and counselling centres in poor neighbourhoods, thus offering mothers an alternative to abortion, something that the vociferous evangelicals seem not to do.

Then there are those who attack Obama for having “divided America”. They cannot have read much of American history. When was the US ever united? Obviously no black will make such a comment. Nor will anybody who lived through the 1960s as an adult, or the 1980s under Reagan. Bush’s controversial “war on terror”, with its shredding of constitutional safeguards for Americans with Arab names, seems to have faded from memory. And the substance of my post was about the Great Divide between the 1 per cent and the rest of the US, a divide that one cannot blame on Obama.

Isn’t the moral outrage of the rich a wonder to behold? In the Republican lexicon, when governments take from the poor it is “efficiency”, but when they take from the rich it is “theft”! Those poor, persecuted billionaires.

What the US needs for its cultural renewal and political transformation is not more single-issue crusaders; but, rather, for more “Bible-believing” Christians to become “Bible-reading” and “Bible-obeying” Christians instead. Or, better still, for them to leave their Bibles, read their “secular prophets”- the Chomskys, Stiglitzes, Ehrenreichs, bell hookses- and then return to their Bibles. They will be surprised by what they will discover there.

[No new Blog posts in November as I am on a speaking tour in Western Europe]

25 Responses to "Pious Nonsense"

Well done… I just do not dear to post it on my FB wall… I might loose all my American friends… But yes, when I talked to them, I see the same short-sightness!

I would argue that there are still a few Christian colleges in the US where students are taught to think, rather than parrot authority. Those schools, unfortunately, tend to be labeled “liberal”. There are also scholars and public voices, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Miroslav Volf, Walter Brueggemann, Wendell Berry, among others, who speak sharply about the way the US church has confused capitalism, nationalism, and Christian faith. Those voices, again, are labeled “liberal,” and ignored. Thinking outside the accepted frame is considered dangerous – or immoral – so Christians parrot what their leaders tell them and shut out, or shout down, other points of view.

Good stuff, as usual. We so need an outside point of view in the US. I will quote you on facebook.

As an American living abroad (South America) I didn’t realize the U.S. was that bad. Honestly I don’t think the corruptness matches what I see in my adopted country or for that matter, the rest of Latin America, and that can’t be blamed on the U.S. Sometimes I wish they would send the marines here to clean it up.

Carol, I admire all those people you mention. But none of these names are recognized outside the Church (probably Wolterstorff in academic philosophy departments and Berry in environmental circles, and that’s about it).

I agree that a typical way to deflect criticism is by screaming “liberal” or “left”, as evidenced by responses to my previous Blog post. Strange how “liberal” and “left-wing” are swear words only in the American Bible-Belt and those non-American churches influenced by this subculture, but nowhere else.

Another typical way of deflecting criticism is to suggest that the author is “Anti-American”. A milder variation of this is given by Kent (above): the US is not as bad as some other places (as if anybody was suggesting that it was the worst!).

Kent, does your South American nation claim to be the great defender of democracy or kill people in other parts of the world in the name of promoting freedom and human rights?

(P.S. Where in the word, or even in the US, have your marines done any actual cleaning up?)

Thanks, Vinoth, for your prophetic perspective. I personally wish that we could do with this current election what we do at our seminary when a national search hasn’t produced a good short list — cancel the search, leave the position open, cover the work within the department, and try a new search the next year hoping that some better candidates submit applications! From within America, I’d say back to you that a vote for either Romney or Obama is an act of equal madness, but (God help us) we have to discern which is the lesser of two evils. I find myself very much wanting to vote Obama out, but reluctant to vote Romney in.

Your comments about “pro-life” rhetoric are dead-on. I wish we could adopt a true pro-life stance that takes all human lives across the globe into account. I do wonder about the distinction you make concerning evangelical and Catholic Christians on this score. I have now received three mailings from Catholic agencies urging me to vote for Romney because of the place of abortion in Obama’s health care plan. No other issues are mentioned. I was recently in a Catholic Church (for my step-grandfather’s funeral). As I got the time wrong and arrived an hour early, I perused the literature in the lobby. Again, a lot of material promoting votes for Romney (really, promoting votes against Obama), all focused on the issue of abortion. All that to say, I’m not noticing any real difference between evangelical and Catholic rhetoric here.

“But, on the domestic front, [Obama] deserves some sympathy. He has had to battle racial prejudice and religious phobias.”

Vinoth, I wanted to reply to this line from your previous post here rather than there, just to say that I agree with Dinesh D’Souza on one point about Obama’s election: it was the result of many White Americans voting AGAINST racial prejudice itself, wanting to clear themselves of the suspicion or charge of racial prejudice. I know several such voters personally, as they work at my seminary. If Obama were not black, would he president (for what white person ever rose to the highest office with so little experience in government)? In the balance, I’d say race worked for him, not against him. Therefore I might find sympathy on this score somewhat misplaced, based on stereotypes of racist America rather than the more complex dynamics of Americans not wanting to be racist and voting for Obama to prove it to the world.

[…] From one of my favorite authors, Vinoth Ramachandra, on his blog: […]

“What white person ever rose to the highest office with so little experience in government?” Lincoln, with eight years in the Illinois House then two in the US House, compared to Obama’s six in Illinois Senate and four in the US Senate. George W. Bush served five years as governor – no experience on the national level. Woodrow Wilson served just two years as governor. And then there were presidents with military experience, but no experience in government. The question as it’s phrased is racist, and while certainly there were many whose votes for Obama were motivated by race, the ridiculous continued demand to see his birth certificate (a la Trump’s latest nonsense) and the incessant accusations of Muslim sympathies suggest that race continues to work against, not for him. I’ve been impressed with the grace and good humor he’s demonstrated in the face of the non-stop onslaught. I also find myself wondering what he’d accomplish if a little less constricted by the constant personal attacks and unprecedented attempts to thwart any positive motion.

While I agree with Ramchandra that the Church in America votes with rose colored glasses and that we as Christ following Americans put way to much emphasis on a political party than we do, in say being obedient to what the Word of God instructs us to do. I would have to say that this particular blog does not help, but only gives the same rhetoric from the opposite side of the spectrum. It is easy to condemn a people group when you do not live with them or have the responsibility to lead and pastor them. I would have expected a respected author and missional leader like Ramachandra to have used his time and voice to give direction and not be a political ad for the current administration.

David De Silva (Comment 7): Are you saying that your seminary colleagues would not have voted for Obama in 2008 if he were white? That they would have preferred the murderous policies of the Neocons to continue (for McCain was not offering anything different)? If this is what you mean, it only confirms Vinoth’s point about seminary teaching.

Romney’s foreign policy advisor is John Bolton, another of the Bush neocon ideologues.. Any American who doesn’t want a return to that politics of terror has no option but to vote for Obama.

As for the other David (Comment 10): What “people group” are you referring to and representing here? And isn’t a pastor’s job to confront the lies and wrong use of the Bible that holds people captive? Also, why don’t you condemn Franklin Graham and other American evangelical leaders who give political ads for the right-wing Republicans? If there is anything that is factually wrong in Vinoth’s statements, please say so openly and argue your case instead of making silly personal judgments about the writer.

Joan I will try to answer your questions and hopefully not sound silly.

The people group I speak of is the one that Ramachandra is writing. I agree with Ramachandra that his American friends deserve a better choice when it come to electing their president. It is the matter of choosing the lesser of two evils.

I see the job description of a pastor as one who equips the church with the tools to participate in the building of the Kingdom. This does mean that we need to make clear the Scriptures. However, if a pastor spent all of her or his time rebutting what other pastors say, there would be no time to accomplish the equipping. We leave that up to the professional criticizers and pundits that like to judge and condemn a man or women’s service.

I do not stand with or agree that any clergy should give or participate in making any political ads- but what is the difference between a well known pastor making a comment and a world renowned missiologist and author writing a political ad for his candidate of choice?

I know I may sound silly and even uneducated, but my hope and prayer is that we as a people group keep seeking the Kingdom of God and HIS righteousness…NOT a political agenda built on race or who is less evil.

Hi Vinoth. Could you please send the reference to Stent’s book?

I made a mistake re his name, which I have now corrected.

It is William Stuntz, and the book is “The Collapse of American Criminal Justice”.

David, every one of us is expected to correct error and challenge lies, especially when they are propagated by people claiming to be “Bible-believing” Christians . The apostle Paul publicly confronted the behaviour of his fellow apostle Peter (Gal. 2). That didn’t mean he was running a “political ad” for Peter’s enemies. That is what I find so silly about your comments.

Thank you Vinoth. From a Latin American point of view, both parties in the US are the same. We have been invaded, mistreated in international agreements, and violated by Democrat and Republican presidents. They just ignore Latin America most of the time except when some of their economic interests are in danger. The long history of attitudes and actions of the US against Latin America does not have party colors.

Ramachandra’s opinions are incredibly shallow and without a true understanding of the mindset of Bible believing Christians. Incredible, a fellow like like gets to speak publicly to promote his spew on this as if he has the pulse to truth.

@Tom, I am assuming you have read what Vinoth has written, thought about it seriously, and then decided to post a comment with nothing of substance. Come on, go ahead and write an “intelligent” robust response to what Vinoth has written. Put in writing what true understanding you supposedly have of the truth that Vinoth lacks. Please demonstrate your credibility, otherwise your comment merely demonstrates your lack of integrity in accusing someone else of being shallow.

I would say that there is a younger generation of Christian scholars in America who are going to demand to be heard. Thanks to people like Milbanks, Hauerwas, and James Smith, we can regain a true voice rather than the typical, modernist and hyper-modernist voices of those who “speak” for the Christian right or left.

Ah @Tom, welcome to the comment section of Vinoth’s blog where you get to meet pseudo intellectuals like Philip, Joan, and Carol. Who mask their vitriol with an air of arrogance and superiority. They can’t stand to see Vinoth criticized so they just post condescending and dismissive replies to everyone who disagrees with their “post-Christian” beliefs. I’ve never met a group so unChristian in their responses to others on this blog… oh wait a minute… Just look back at the blog author’s posts. That explains it.

@Anon, my comment was a response to what @Tom had written that “Ramachandra’s opinions are incredibly shallow”. I don’t believe they are but we can disagree on this. So please stop being an “anonymous” jerk and instead use your intellect to engage with the content of what Vinoth has written and make a good case for why what he has written must be criticized, even dismissed. I would really respect that. Thanks!

It´s usually not what we say … it´s how we say it. “Anonymous” jerk?? Oh yeah … now that´s a Christian (and intellectual) response.

I write this Blog as an encouragement to thoughtful reflection on contemporary global issues. If men like Tom and Anon (they are always men- no need to guess!) are incapable of thoughtful comment, let alone intelligent counter-arguments, they are most welcome to go elsewhere. I frankly don’t know why they bother to keep reading my Blog, unless they are masochists and derive great pleasure from it. There are plenty of places on the web where you can throw smoke bombs and trade insults, while evading personal thought. Please go there if you want to hang out with like-minded men.

Tom and Anon are never going to respond to Philip’s invitation. They perfectly exemplify the subculture within the American Church that I address in my post. I thought we had dealt with their characteristic labeling-as-critique approach (“left-wing”, “liberal”, now something called “postchristian”) in the comments surrounding my previous post. Is there nobody in that subculture who can engage us in honest dialogue by stating what they disagree with and why?

How I wish I had your gift for words and clearly stating things as they are1 Thank you for another hard-hitting, honest, post.

I actually had been researching for techniques for my blog site and came across your posting, “Pious Nonsense Vinoth Ramachandra”,
would you mind in case I really apply a few of ur suggestions?

Thanks a lot ,Zelma

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October 2012
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