The Last Temptation of Keith
Towards the close of the September 8, 2008 edition of Countdown Olberrmann, began discussing Governor Palin's Pentecostal Church. He was justified in explaining the congregation's practice of "praying away" homosexuality - an issue ripe for review. However, the cable news host just couldn't leave well enough alone:
Oh, no, I'm not going to say it. For the record, the governor has not made any public statement about the pray away the gay movement, nor yet about the report tonight from the former pastor there and a fellow parishioner that worshipers not only believe in the rapture and that Governor Palin has spoken of Alaska as being a refuge for that supposed lifting up of those true believers, but also that they speak in tongues, in other words, in word or sounds neither they or anybody else understand, kind of like Fox News. (italics added)
To her credit, Maddow, whose new show was premeiring in the very next time slot, did not follow her MSNBC colleague into the religious bigotry zone. Beyond that, for the last six years Palin has attended the Wasilla Bible Church, a non-denominational, evangelical Christian church that is neither affiliated with the Pentecostals nor engages in the speaking of tongues.
Religious bigotry, you say? How so? Very simply it gratuitously mocks a religious practice that has nothing whatsoever to do with politics. While one does not have to be humorless to function in public life, cheap shots at the specifics of people's religious practices and belief are beneath contempt and have no place in civil society. It's not art. Its not a joke. It's really just condescension that has strayed off into religious bigotry. We expect and demand better.
It is also worth noting - and this apparently came as a surprise to Olbermann - as evidenced by quote from a post I came across on Daily Kos, there are liberal and progressive Pentecostals. Yet another diary over at Street Prophets bore this out:
There is much to legitimately criticize about Ms. Palin, but there are times when the criticism crosses a line that shouldn't be crossed. On Monday's edition of "Countdown," as part of a lead-in to Rachel Maddow's new show, Olbermann ridiculed Palin's involvement in a church that practices speaking in tongues and believes in the rapture. There were other things mentioned as well, such as believing that one can "pray away gay," and the fact that Sarah prayed about an oil pipeline, but consistently during the program as he promo'd the final segment, he basically got down to mocking the practice of speaking in tongues and belief in the rapture. This is a huge no-no, about which Olbermann probably will, deservedly, receive some backlash.
The diary author speaks with authority on this point. He described himself as having "attended an independent charismatic church for nearly 15 years, and had been involved in the charismatic movement for an even longer period of time."
And indeed there has been something of a backlash. Our opponents on the religious right are quick to seize on such antics and spin them into misleading equation that liberalism equals hostility towards faith in general. It then becomes an effective weapon of divisiveness, and divisiveness is what the right, religious or otherwise, does best.
All behavior like Olbermann's accomplishes is to turn off potential liberals to our philosophy. True, Olbermann does not speak for all of us, but because not all of us have such a prominent platform, it can seem that way. Beyond that, it underscores that some of us have lost the idea of common dreams - emphasizing the ideals that we all share instead of those that divide us.
Thankfully, there are liberals who do get it. Take, for example The Daily Howler's Bob Somerby.
In a November 18, 2004 post Somerby took New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani to task over her insular and scathing review of Bill Clinton's autobiography, My Life. One of Kakutani's complaints concerned "pointless digressions about matters like zombies in Haiti."
As Somerby noted:
Yes, it's true: In this tedious passage, Clinton's readers are forced to learn about the lives of actual Americans-those famous, sometimes low-income people who "work hard and play by the rules" and vote people in and out of office. On a certain east coast island, of course, this is considered unusual punishment, and Kakutani hurried to the front page to tell Times readers what they were in for. "Tedious," the Times savant said. Watch out for the "pointless digressions."
As Somerby illustrates in his post, Clinton saw similarities in different religious faiths, quotes the former president at page 237, "I describe my brief foray into the world of voodoo because I've always been fascinated by the way different cultures try to make sense of life, nature, and the virtually universal belief that there is a nonphysical spirit force at work in the world that existed before humanity and will be here when we all are gone."
Somerby proceeds to discuss Clinton's race for Arkansas attorney general and how in that it race he had to deal with voter questions whose source was often from a hostile Falwell-run Moral majority. Clinton then recounted how, taking Dale Bumpers's advice, he immersed himself in attending religious events throughout the state. Somerby then cites Clinton at page 249 where he describes how some of the reactions congregants in a Southern Baptist Church reminded him of what he experienced in Haiti.
This brings us back to Pentecostals. Clinton, although disagreeing with them on abortion and LGBT rights was still able to take away something positive from visiting a Pentecostal revival. As Somerby explains (all bold highlights are Somerby's):
But Clinton wasn't done with his review of religion-and-politics in Arkansas. "Not long afterward, I saw white Christians have similar experiences," he writes, "when my finance officer...invited me to the annual summer camp meeting of the Pentecostals in Redfield, about thirty miles south of Little Rock." Clinton describes a life-long interest that grew from that first experience. "I made that summer camp meeting every summer but one between 1977 and 1992," he writes. "Every year I witnessed some amazing new manifestations of the Pentecostals' faith." But for Clinton, it wasn't the ecstatic experiences of these people that mattered the most. In the following passage, Clinton reveals the breadth of spirit and curiosity that help explain how he got to the White House:
I'm not a Pentecostal and their ways are alien to my Catholicism, but as long as they're not trying to impose their religious views on me then their beliefs do me no harm. FDR, RFK or even Edward R. Murrow (Olbermann's hero) would never have mocked what Pentecostals believe and neither should we.
Since I begun contributing here at Talk to Action I've always understood that we do not write to knock religion. Far from it. In fact as several of the writers here are religious in their own right. Some are clergy. Instead we are here to reveal and rebuke the religious right and their often mendacious messages. We write not to dispute any particular faith but instead to expose those who see faith as an expedient means to foster reactionary politics.
By giving into the temptation to mock, Olbermann ceased to provide an effective rebuke to the religious right. In fact, he makes our job more difficult. There is certainly much to question about Governor Palin's beliefs - especially to the extent that they inform her politics to the point of factious behavior, and dubious if not dangerous public policies. But ridiculing a subjective religious practice only distracts from our ability to expose which of those beliefs would adversely affect this potential vice-president from governing in a constitutional manner.
The Last Temptation of Keith | 19 comments (19 topical, 0 hidden)
The Last Temptation of Keith | 19 comments (19 topical, 0 hidden)