Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christian Cultural Wars heat up again...

America’s Cultural War heats up as Christmas nears

“Have you ever wanted to be baptized in the Jordan River?” That is the question Reverend Tim Wildmon asks as he introduces his next tour of Christian sites in Israel. I have only heard this tourist promotion on American Family Radio.

The tour commercial reminded me of what a fellow student said to me regarding visiting the Holy Land. I came upon J.E. “Hoppy” Hopkins studying in the Howard Payne College (this was back before it became a “university”) in the Old Main library. I remember this encounter as it was one of the few times I was ever in that library. (I am not proud of avoiding the library. It shows on my college transcript; somewhat near our current governor’s level.)

I ask Hoppy if he ever thought of visiting the land where Jesus walked. He replied with evangelistic fervor: “I don’t want to go where Jesus was, I want to be where he is.”

I do have a distant relative through marriage that was baptized in the Jordan River once. Apparently Tim Widmon is not the only tour guide pushing Jordan River baptisms.

The Reverend Tim Wildmon is now running the organization his father Don Wildmon founded in 1977. Don Wildom was then pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Southave, Mississippi.

In the beginning the elder Reverend Wildom called the organization The National Federation for Decency. After a decade or so of promoting his idea of decency the name was changed to American Family Association.

Mississippi was recently in the news when voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have declared life to begin at fertilization. The Personhood Law was in reality a step to prompt a legal challenge to abortion rights nationwide. A person is a person at conception; not when a baby heartbeat is heard, not when the baby arrives and breathes its first breath, but when a sperm and egg have an encounter.

Leaving such a decision to voters is like voting on how many angels can kneel on a tiny sewing needle. The American Family Association went to the mat on this vote and were rejected by more than 55 percent of voters.

The AFA has been in the forefront to replace American secular democracy with Reverend Wildom’s version of fundamentalist Protestant Christianity “democracy.”

According to the AFA’s radio stations they are on what they like to call the frontlines of “America’s Cultural War.”

AFA believes that God has communicated absolute truth to mankind, and that all people be subject to the complete authority of the Bible at all times. A culture based on AFA’s biblical version of truth is a stretch at best.

Most of this war they have created is negative rather than positive. “Preservation of Marriage and the Family” is code for their homophobia. “Decency and Morality” is good for the soul, home and country. Once again, AFA, like Orwell’s Big Brother decides what is decent and moral.

“Sanctity of Human Life” is their phrase for killing the Roe V. Wade law that permits legal abortions.

One particular program on AFR signs off by reminding hearers to NOT shop at Home Depot. Seems Home Depot treats gay employees like anyone else on the payroll. This week on a program titled “Nothing but Truth” the host was upset with Walgreens pharmacies for not mentioning Christmas in their ads. The ads only said “Happy Holidays.” For these guys the war on Christmas is but another battleground of the “War on Christianity.”

Thanks Rev. Tim, but one baptism experience is enough for me.

WOULD the world be better off without religion?


Would the world be better off without religion?
In the opening decade of the 21st century, there is still debate on the question: “Would the world be better off without religion?” This archaic debate appears to be alive and flourishing, with a multitude of pros and cons, what-ifs and why-nots.

John Donvan of ABC News was the moderator for this most recent debate on Nov. 15. The Oxford-style debate was held in New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. An excellent place for such a debate: a play-acting, make believe venue.

The debate unfolded with Matthew Chapman and A.C. Grayling speaking for the motion that the world would be better off without religion. They contended that religious strife has been at the center of many wars; that a person can be good and moral without being religious; that blind religious faith denies the reality of the sciences.

Both men, renowned non-religious writers, none more famous than Matthew Chapman, the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin. With such a lineage he was a natural for denying the good of religion in world history. He is the author of “Trials Of The Monkey: An Accidental Memoir.”

Likewise A. C. Grayling, a British philosopher and professor, has written more than 20 books on philosophy, religion and reason. One book is aptly and humorously titled: “Against All Gods.”
On the side of religion were Rabbi David Wolpe and Dinesh D'Souza. They were against the motion that religion was not good for the world. They contended that religion not only was, but is a vital instrument in the stability of society; provides a moral compass; and provides many “why” answers – why things happen and what life is for.

David Wolpe, the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, was voted the best pulpit Rabbi by Newsweek. He is the author of seven books, including “Why Faith Matters.”

Dinesh D'Souza, author of “What's So Great About Christianity,” argued against the motion, believing that the world would not be better off without religion.

Following the debate the audience voted and 59 percent of them agreed the world would be better off without religion, while 31 percent disagreed. Ten percent of the audience remained undecided.
Nothing was resolved just as in the faux debates our politicians engage in these days. The age old questions remain: Does religion breed intolerance, violence, and the promotion of medieval ideas? Or should we concede that overall, it has been a source for good, giving followers purpose, while encouraging morality and ethical behavior?

Back in my Hong Kong days a neighbor friend was a television personality. He had a television talk and variety show on HK-TVB. On a whim he came up with a segment he called: “Is there a God?” The program aired live (this was before video tape) at five-thirty in the afternoon. It was only on the English language channel. If anyone was watching the program it was accidental.

It was really just a time filler and a lark for the Aussie moderator. I wish I could remember his name for he was a most likeable chap. Actually, I never met an Australian I didn’t like. My first cousin Joe Frank Johnson after flying for Air America during the Vietnam War liked Australia so much he and his wife and daughter settled there. Now he even talks like them. Australians are just good people who happened to grow up clinging to the bottom rim of the world.

The viewer’s vote came in 4 to 4 on there being a God. I suggested to the show’s producer that a more interesting debate might be along different lines, such as comparing the warrior-God of the Old Testament with the loving-God of the New Testament; or how does evil evolve from a religious conviction?

The debate will always be with us as long as religious and their non-religious neighbors continue to know so little about the subject.


A MODERN BLESSING --Fewer TV Commercials

Will TV commercials forever hound us?

Can the curse of TV commercials ever be broken?


All you couch potatoes will soon be able to enjoy television dramas and soap operas without commercial interruption. This is something kin to having a little bit of heaven in our TV-watching. The new regulations go into effect Jan.1, 2012.

There is just one hitch in this great television “happening.” It is in the People’s Republic of China, not the United States of America.

According to a story by Wang Yan in last week’s CHINA DAILY, the new television regulations were passed “in accordance with the people’s interests and demands.”

No longer will TV ads interrupt the viewers dramas. No longer will films made for television be chopped up in ten minute segments by tomato soup or exercise bikes. Or, the worst: car dealership promotions.

American TV dramas and skits are written in eight minute segments. The last moment of the segment must have something that will cause you to endure the commercials and return to the story.

This is why watching a Hollywood movie on television is so appalling. These films were not written to be chopped into little pieces by the networks.

Over the course of ten hours, American viewers will see approximately three hours of advertisements. This is twice the number of commercials that we had to endure during the 1960s. Not a good omen for the future of TV viewing.

When the remote control device came on the market it was as if the Lone Ranger had come riding into our living rooms to deliver us from the barrage of commercials. Just like he saved the rancher’s daughter’s homestead, so the remote saved our sanity.

The remote control inventor should be awarded the Nobel Prize and receive a handsome check for every clicker sold. No one has invented a more stress-relieving gadget than the ingenious TV remote thingamajig.

While American television continues its advertising bombardment with no end in sight, we can find solace with our remote by our side.

The first television advertisement was broadcast in the United States on July 1, 1941. The watchmaker Bulova paid $9 for a placement on New York station WNBT before a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. The 20-second spot displayed a picture of a clock superimposed on a map of the United States, accompanied by the voice-over "America runs on Bulova time.”

In the UK, the British Broadcasting Corporation is funded by a license fee and does not screen adverts apart from the promotion of its own future programming. On the commercial channels, the amount of airtime allowed for advertising is an overall average of 7 minutes per hour.

Television networks and local stations thrive on political campaigns. They are considered indispensable but are seldom held to “truth in message” creed of potato chips or salsa.

Political advertising in France is heavily restricted, and some, like Norway, completely ban it. Hooray for the Norwegians.

The Chinese government said the move to cut commercials from the middle of dramas would "improve the level of public cultural services, protect people's basic cultural rights and leave the people satisfied."

This is probably as happy a government edict as the Chinese have ever had. There were cheers from Hainan Island in the south to the banks of the Ice Festivals in Harbin.

Hold on to that remote and have an extra as backup in case of breakdown, for I do not see our government passing any regulations “in accordance with the people’s interests and demands.”

Remember, life is more fun when the commercials are muted. If the government and industry learn how much we love our clickers, they may ban them!


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thanksgiving More Than Just A Day

Thanksgiving is a godly time

One of the most profound thinkers and nicest ‘down to earth’ guy I ever met was the Right Revd. Browning Ware (A title he never used. Nothing reverential about Browning.) He had a way of getting to the heart of a matter in a most common sense way. He could make the most noble and lofty ideas come alive for us commoners in the pews. And you knew it came from a heart that understood suffering and knew inner pain, yet without being judgmental.

Browning Ware died almost a decade ago. Former Governor Ann Richards said of Browning, “Texas has lost a tall timber of wit and wisdom with the death of my friend, Browning Ware.”

Darrell Royal, former University of Texas football coach, said, “Browning was a remarkable articulate, dry-humored, an deeply spiritual man. I am grateful our paths crossed in friendship.”

He lived his life as an example to others. He saw every human being as a person of value to him. He often wrote his newspaper columns in an out-of-the-way café or filling station. He began one piece with “Down where I drink coffee there is a man who talks to himself. I have known several people who talk to themselves. But this fellow is different. He seemed to enjoy it.”

After his death his daughter compiled many of his brief commentaries from daily life. She published many of his words in “Diary of a Modern Pilgrim.” The following are Browning’s random thoughts of one Thanksgiving Day.

“Symbols tend to assume greater importance than the realities they represent. The result is the creation of minor idolatries by which we value appearance more than substance. By this willing self-deception, we wrench life from its roots and pull it toward the surface. Our lives become a garden of values in shallow soil. ‘What you see is what you get.’

“Reflections on holiday celebrations provoked this modest philosophical outburst. I am thinking of the contrast between Thanksgiving as a day and as a continuing attitude of life. The day, a symbol, was created as an expression of reality -- a grateful relationship to God and the world. Thanksgiving Day is excellent as a means but inadequate as the end of gratitude.

“Deep gratitude is not the by-product of material comfort and possessions. If this were true, Americans would be the most grateful people in the world and also the happiest. We are neither; certainly, not both. Gratitude has little to do with the presence or absence of things. Rather, it reflects confidence in God and trusts his good intentions toward us. Gratitude serves God happily with full or empty hands.

“So Thanksgiving is a day and more. To be both symbol and substance, it must be a way of life.”

Browning was not always that serious and often drove home vital truths with his dry wit. One would never take him to be the long-time pastor of the First Baptist Church of Austin, Texas. I understand the “Diary of a Modern Pilgrim, Life Notes From One Man’s Journey” is out of print, but if you ever come across a copy, it is a real treasure, and I recommend it as a most encouraging and fruitful read.

May next Thursday be more than just another holiday. May it be more than traditional football games. May it be a time when the greater human family is remembered and enriched. For those who celebrate the thanksgiving season alone, out of necessity or desire, may it be a time that will enrich what time is left on this good earth that God has so graciously shared with us.


Britt Towery’s columns appear every Friday in the West Texas newspapers: The Brownwood Bulletin and the San Antonio Standard-Times. His e-mail is:

My One Per-center View

I must admit to being a part of the ninety-nine percent of the population who would love to see a little sunlight in these fogged-in darkening days. The one percenters are not entirely at fault for the foreboding clouds of displeasure. There is plenty of blame to go around for our winter of our discontent.
First, we are to blame for not electing better representatives. Second, for not demanding more integrity from them. Third, Demand our two major political parties develop and present us voters with competent and responsible leadership choices. Fourth, learn from these mistakes and pray forgiveness for not being better informed on the candidates.

Jack Abramoff, former king of the lobbyist and great colleague of Tom DeLay, appeared on last Sunday’s 60 Minutes program. Abramoff said nothing has changed in Washington since he was convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy in 2006. The lobbyists keep handing out the goodies and the politicians keep taking them. (Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his country, it is a sign that he expects to be paid for it. – H. L. Mencken.)

We never seem to learn just how crooked the human heart can be. Stand up and speak out against the huge banks and corporations. They deserve a profit for their work, but not such outlandish ever-increasing profits. No longer is a simple profit enough.

Mantras of the establishment are many: Don’t rock the boat. Don’t upset the apple cart. Do not disrupt the status quo (Latin for “the things that were before”). Leave well enough alone. Innovation we don’t need.

The right to speak out in the public square is seldom appreciated by the authorities. In the 1830s to speak out against slavery was right and proper, but not at the best parties. Women took to the streets to gain the right to vote even when it was not ladylike. While they had the right to voice their opinion there were those who sat on the curb shaking their heads in disbelief of this audacity of freedom of speech.

The spontaneous rise of citizens, who formed "tea parties," or joined the "occupy" movement, have the right to speak, to give voice to their beliefs. Like it or not, it is the law.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has struck a cord with those who see the USA becoming the USC (the United States of Corporations). The Supreme Court has said corporations are persons, giving them rights to vote and pay for political candidates who will keep them in power.

As the Occupy movement has spread so has the resistance. A second Iraq war veteran has suffered serious injuries at the hands of the police in Oakland, California. Kayvan Sabehgi is in intensive care with a lacerated spleen. What a way to spend Veteran’s Day!

Sabehgi was walking away from the main area of trouble when he was clubbed and arrested. He spent 18 hours in jail before finally being sent to a hospital.

The Occupy movement is on the side of the police, as well as firefighters, teachers, nurses and countless other professions that continue to feel being short-changed.

These Occupiers don’t fit any mold except the freedom to sound off. It is an effort to save America’s middle class from becoming only a footnote in world history books.

It took Martin Luther King Jr. and hundreds of disenfranchised blacks years of demonstrations to wake up the Kennedy and Johnson administrations of the blatant injustices to fellow citizens.

How long will it take to wake us up to the corruption in high places and the increasing greed all around?