You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

God's Politics

I don't usually read a book with "God" in the title unless it is along the lines of God is not Great or The God Delusion. But I had heard of Jim Wallis before so I thought that he might have something different to say about religion and politics. While reading God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It I was struck by what he says and how different his message is from the usual political discourse in America.

Wallis's central theme is that religious voters should vote with the core message of Jesus, namely peace, love, and charity. He is not pleased with the Christian fundamentalists who have taken over religious discussions in the country in the name of Jesus yet seem to have forgotten Jesus's teachings. His critique of the Christian Right is spot on, accusing them of only caring about abortion and gay marriage, and in fact supporting policies that make poverty worse. Wallis urges liberals to open up about their religious views and how they inform their politics. He is against what he calls "secular fundamentalism", the push from the left to keep religion out of politics. I think he has a decent point here, but he forgets President Obama's recent words on this subject: that any call for change in law or policy must have a legitimate secular purpose, regardless of the religious inspiration. What fears liberals and libertarians is the calls for laws based solely on flimsy religious grounds.

Wallis pushes for justice for the poor and underprivileged in the United States and around the world. He labels budgets "moral documents". Where a family or government spends its money is the clearest indication of its moral values. He rightly calls it shameful that our national policies promote wealth accumulation for the wealthy and give little help to the poor. He has been involved with promoting debt forgiveness for developing nations.

A good portion of the book, which was published in 2005, concerns the Iraq war. Wallis slams the politics of fear that followed 9/11. He contrasts the rhetoric for the war with the concepts of just war, which he believes the Iraq war was not. The leaders in England were still discussing alternatives to war while the American administration had already made the decision to invade. He promotes the idea that those who are against war must be able to suggest viable alternatives--which were certainly available for the Iraq war. He also shows that for peace to be a viable option there must be widespread justice and rule of law.

Wallis does make some claims that I find dubious or even misleading. He makes the claim that religious faith has been a driving force for progressive causes (he refers to Martin Luther King often). There may be some truth to this, but the honest assessment is that religion has been more of a hindrance to issues such as abolition of slavery, women's rights, and marriage equality for gays. He does criticize the religious right's support for the death penalty. But he criticizes both sides of the abortion debate, a move that I believe goes too easy on the right. He mentions President Clinton's move to make abortion "safe, legal, and rare", but then dismisses any progress made on the Democrat's watch. The abortion rate going down is a success that should be lauded by both sides. And he completely misses the biggest reasons for the high abortion rate, namely sex education and access to contraception, which religious people are often against. In spite of these critiques, the book is a refreshing look at the real moral issues concerning our country. A-

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