On a Book Review: The Mighty and The Almighty

One afternoon while in Alabama, we went to the public library. I knew the book I wanted wasn’t available, so I browsed. When I saw this one, I knew this was for me – The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs by Madeleine Albright.

This book by the former US Secretary of State focuses on the success and failures of US foreign policy in the Middle East after the horrific events of 9-11 – but with a definite eye on religion. We know presidents intertwine politics, religion, and policy, but what about if they proclaim a special relationship with God that is derived from God? What are the religious forces acting on the political?

The Middle East is the home to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Three faiths descending from the same genealogical tree – three faiths claiming the importance of obedience – three faiths with a religious fundamentalism driving the narrative while not representing the majority in that faith.

Published by Harper-Collins in 2006, The Mighty and the Almighty divides its 352 pages into three sections (plus endnotes, bibliography, acknowledgements, and an index):

  • Part I (seven chapters) examines “America’s position in the world and the role played by religion and morality in shaping US foreign policy.”
  • Part II (ten chapters) focuses “On relationships between Islamic communities and the West” with dedicated chapters on Iraq, Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, Jihads, Israel & Palestine, and more.
  • Part III (two chapters) are “Personal thoughts about how US foreign policy and religion can intersect.”

Two particular chapters caught my attention because they can stand alone as important reading for anyone. Chapter 4 focuses on Madeleine Albright’s personal belief system. It’s very personal, edgy, and sprinkled with quotes from leading authorities supporting her point. There were times I even laughed. One doesn’t have to agree with her on every aspect, but this chapter helps readers understand her.

The second, Chapter 8, should be required reading for every non-Muslim because it provides a condensed view of Islam – a religion that most people know very little about, therefore hold many misconceptions that reside at the core of decisiveness.

The 2006 publishing date was during the George W Bush presidency, The Mighty and the Almighty offers readers a chance to look back at the early years of the post 9-11 world through the lens of what we know today. Throughout the text, Albright offers personal insights from a diplomatic perspective, as well as supportive quotes by prominent people.

There are times when she is critical of the Bush administration – so I’m confident this bothers certain partisan readers who also won’t notice the times when she praises President Bush. Christian conservatives won’t like this book because it does not reinforce their worldview and Middle East perspective.

While well-written, absorbing, and easy to read, The Mighty and the Almighty is insightful about the complexities of foreign policy. After all, foreign policy diplomats have a toolbox of available tools to use such as diplomacy, economic incentives or sanctions, law enforcement, military action or support, and using intelligence to gain more information about the situation.

Anyone looking for excruciating detail will be disappointed because Albright wrote this book for the general public – not experienced, well-informed diplomats. How much detail can a 14-15 page chapter about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict deliver? However, for most of us, there is enough information woven together that explains the situation’s complexity.

Perhaps her dedication says it all: “Dedicated to those in every nation and faith who defend liberty, build peace, dispel ignorance, fight poverty, and seek justice.”

To Madeleine Albright and her book – Thumbs up to The Mighty and the Almighty.

On Election Night 2012

It’s Election Night in America. I wrote this post several days ago with this night in mind so, at the time I publish this, the elections results are young and without a declared winner in the race for president.

While one party likes to walk around with the pocket Constitutions, all members of Congress swear to uphold it. The U.S. Constitution is an interesting document, but to me, the following are the three most important words: We the people.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

We the People elect members to Congress to represent We the People in order to pass laws, control the budget, and exercise authorities granted by the Constitution.

We the People elect members to represent all people, which means not just the ones who voted for the elected; not an ideology; not a political party; not a religion, not a financial donor, not a special interest – but yes, to represent We the People.

We the People elect members to serve all people regardless of their faith, thus the elected are not to serve their religious preference. After all, the Constitution is quite clear regarding religion. Let the elected not forget that the Constitution lacks words as God, Creation, Christian, Jesus, and Lord (which only appears in the Signatory section).

Although Christian principles may have influenced the Founding Fathers, the Constitution does not declare the U.S. as a Christian nation. If the elected represent Christianity, what about the nonChristians? If the elected represents Christianity, which denomination will you represent? Then, what about the other Christians?

We the People are from all faiths and no faiths, therefore, our representatives should avoid submitting proposals on behalf of Christianity because what the church considers best for itself may not be in the best interest of We the People.

Representing We the People requires avoidance of firm ideology or a party each of these diverts attention from the needs of We the People. Adherence to a party or ideology silences We the People, and blocks the path to meaningful solutions.

Representing We the People requires conviction to represent the needs of the people who did not vote for the elected. After all, they too are We the People.

Representing We the People requires patience, the ability to listen, to desire to find the common good for all, to watch-out for and respond to human need that is beyond one’s self interests, party, or ideology.

Representing We the People requires discussing among yourselves to share ideas and concerns in order to work toward a solution for the common good – an idea that may be found in one side, the other, a compromise, or outside the grounds established by ideology, party, religion, self-interest, or special interest.

We the People need effective government to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, to provide a common defense, to promote general welfare, and to secure liberty for all of We the People. Especially during this time, we need our elected officials to make difficult decisions – the ones that test their gut against their party, their ideology, their religion, their self-interest, their donors, and special interests.

Along with a president, on this day we elect all 435 members of the House of Representatives, and 33 members (approximately one-third) of the Senate. Their task seems simple, but I also know they will represent religion, a party, an ideology, self-interests, special interests, and donors over We the People – therefore, let me be the first to say the following about the newly elected, ‘Starting in 2014, throw the bums out. All of them! Clean house!” After all, We the People deserve better.

On Free Will

Acts of God are acts of God. From time to time there are going to be things that can’t be prevented. (Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) regarding the gulf oil spill)

There are those who believe that the recent earthquake and hurricane along the US’s east coast is God’s sign that he disapproves Democrats in Washington. Then again, do the same people believe that the fires in Texas are God’s way of warning Americans about Texas Governor Rick Perry? At least he is out of the 2012 picture.

Last year I wrote this post about the burning of a large Jesus statue near Cincinnati. A friend of mine told me that it was God’s way of showing his disapproval of the statue; so, I respond of saying that is God’s way of wanting a newer and bigger statue. Of course, I could add numerous Rev. Pat Robertson examples to the above, but I will spare my readers. Interestingly, all this leads to the concept of free will.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Adam and Eve would be one of the first examples of free will in the Bible and Torah by demonstrating their free will by rejecting God’s will. To me, Adam represents all of humanity because of the free will we possess.

Life involving making choice – and no matter our choice – that choice leads to other choices. Regardless if the relationship is with a spouse, friend, neighbor, family member, co-worker, managers, or stranger, our individual choices affect our relationships. No matter the relationship, every choice one makes leads one makes leads them toward or closer to that personal entity.

For those of us believing in God, each choice we make leads us toward or away from God. Sure God has a preference, but we have a choice. However, no matter our choices, we still sin, we remain selfish, people die, and some do horrible acts on humanity.

As God gives us a gift of choice our own path, free will has consequences because the greatest freedom also leads us to unacceptable behaviors as abuse, murder, greed, deceit, evil, hate, and others lead to suffering. Free will is a gift, an opportunity, and a curse – thus how each of use it is a matter of individual choice.

God’s free will gift also extends to nature and the universe for they operate within the parameters natural laws. As with human behavior, this free also leads to abuse and suffering – such as, natural disasters, diseases, genetic disorders, and handicaps to name a few. Although the natural laws are not the same as human behavior, the natural world’s free will allows it to operate with ever-changing forces that work to maintain a steady state with benefits and consequences. Yet, Pat Robertson wants to use natural disasters as a way of God punishing people.

Human creations are subject to disasters as Exxon’s Valdez, Union Carbide’s Bhopal, coal mine explosions, and post-tsunami meltdowns of a nuclear reactor. Yet, Gov. Perry refers to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as an act of God that can’t be prevented.

Each of our lives are not pre-programmed with dates of birth and death, family information, interests, occupations, locations, and events; nor is God playing out the natural world as a video game. Just something to think about the next time someone makes a statement about God’s involvement in a natural disaster, a horrible highway accident, or a personal illness.

Other posts done here about free will:

On the Wall

Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state? There is no such thing … I mean it just doesn’t exist in America for a purpose, because we are a Christian nation.” – Christine O’Donnell

Although Christine O’Donnell said these words, she is not the lone voice regarding this matter. Her quote represents an example of the Tea Party’s affinity for revisionist history made to accommodate both political and religious ideologies.

First, these ideological zealots are correct – “separation of church and state” is not directly in the Constitution; however US Supreme Court, through its Constitutional powers, first applied the phrase in Reynolds vs. United States (98 US 154, 1878) and mentioned the phrase over 20 times ever since.

Secondly, since we hear Tea Party candidates frequently proclaiming the intent of our Founding Fathers, I thought it was time to research this group. Some were public about their religion while others were private. The vast majority were Protestant and Episcopalians, with the remaining being Roman Catholic, Unitarians, Dutch Reformed, Congregationalists, and even a variety of skeptics. Since many regard James Madison as the Father of the US Constitution, I set out to discover his view of the First Amendment, thus include some of his quotes below.

“Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, “that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.”

“The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

“This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator.”

“Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body.”

“Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us.”

“Are the Quakers and Mennonites the only sects who think a compulsive support of their Religions unnecessary and unwarrantable? can their piety alone be entrusted with the care of public worship? Ought their Religions to be endowed above all others with extraordinary privileges by which proselytes may be enticed from all others? We think too favorably of the justice and good sense of these denominations to believe that they either covet pre-eminences over their fellow citizens or that they will be seduced by them from the common opposition to the measure.”

“Because finally, “the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience” is held by the same tenure with all our other rights.”

Let us not forget these Thomas Jefferson words in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Let us not forget that James Madison wrote these words in 1785, four years before our new nation submitted the Constitution to the states for ratification.

Let us also not forget that at the time of the Constitution’s ratification, several states had state-established churches.

Let us not forget that the US Supreme Court (in Reynolds) quoted Jefferson’s letter for the Danbury Baptist, who the state jailed for illegal preaching that was against the state-sponsored religion.

Let us not forget that In God We Trust first appeared on coins in 1864 as the country faced rebuilding from the Civil War; and the phrase didn’t appear on paper currency until 1957.

Let us not forget that Congress adopted In God We Trust as our country’s official motto in 1956.

Let us not forget that One nation under God was first used in our Pledge of Allegiance in 1948 and officially added in 1954.

Let us not forget that the 1950s marked a time when the world faced growing concerns about Communism.

Let us not forget that in this election season and beyond, that history can help us protect us from revisionists who seek to force their values on everyone.

On God and Government: The Interview

As we often hear about the separation of church and state, but we don’t always hear about religion’s impact in government through lobbying and campaign contributions. Yet, with the 2012 presidential campaign season approaching, we hear about the importance the evangelicals have in early states as Iowa and South Carolina.

Let’s not kid ourselves, religion has always played a role in our government. James Madison had a reason for including freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights, and the same be said for Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. The US Supreme Court first used “building a wall of separation between church and State” in Reynolds v United States (1878).

William Jennings Bryan’s rooted his presidential campaigns in his faith. Rev. Billy Graham influencing the White House goes back to President Eisenhower. Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority served as a force for the conservative right in the 1980s. Today, Rev James Dobson’s Focus on the Family is strong. By the way, the PBS series God in America is a wonderful learning opportunity. (Video, transcripts, and other resources are here.)

On Easter Sunday, ABC’s This Week (with Christiane Amanpour) used the entire hour to feature God and Government. Below are some points that I found interesting.

The show opened with separate interviews with two prominent pastors: Rev. Franklin Graham and Rev. Tim Keller. Listen to them helps demonstrate differences within Christianity. The interviews are on this link.

Equally information was the roundtable discussion between Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Eboo Patel, founder of a the Interfaith Youth Core and a former member of President Obama’s Faith Advisory Council, Reverend Al Sharpton, and ABC’s Cokie Roberts and her husband Steve Roberts, an interfaith couple (Catholic and Jewish). Again, the theological differences are both profound and interesting. Here are a couple of quotes that struck me.

(C Roberts) Well, one would hope that religion stands in the place of trying to make people come together on high ground. But the – the fact is is that – that there’s lots of arguing and yelling and screaming and it takes place among religious people; in some cases inside churches. But I don’t want to go too far on this because keep in mind this – in this country, we’re not fighting with each other over religion. And that’s happening in most parts of the world.

(Sharpton) If – with – with all of us sitting around this table from different faiths, if those that we learned and emulate those faiths that Mohammed and Jesus and Moses set out, they wouldn’t have a problem. It’s those that come in their names that have so polarized American and world society. And I think if we sought to rise to the level, the thinking, the spirituality of those that we claim to follow, we would be able to break those barriers down.

(Patel) Faith can either be a bomb of destruction. It can be a barrier of division. Or it can be a bridge of cooperation. Our job is to make it a bridge of cooperation.

(Patel) We have a remarkable opportunity in this country. This is the first nation that brings people from the four corners of the Earth from every conceivable ethnic, racial, religious, national background to build together a country. We have an opportunity to be a city on a hill where the Mosque, the Synagogue, the Church, the Tsonga, the secular humanist society, works together in a world in which those communities are too often at each other’s throats.

(S Roberts) I think an even more pressing spiritual issue is tolerance. Our whole history has been replete with spasms of intolerance. And eventually we overcome them, and we have to do it again. … But history tells us that that will change. For 250 years that each new group America says we’re now perfect, we’re going to pull up the drawbridge, because the next group – the Germans, the French, the Italians, the Irish, the Jews, the Chinese, the Japanese, they’re going to degrade our culture. All of the rhetoric, all of the hate, all of the nativism that is being focused on Muslims and to some extent on Latinos today, we’ve heard periodically throughout our entire history.

(Land) (about the birthers and those thinking President Obama is a Muslim) I think they’re irrational, and a little imbalanced. I – I have no doubt whatsoever that Barrack Obama is a very typical 21st century main line Protestant. …  I say the idea that he wasn’t born in Hawaii, and the idea that he’s a Muslim is just flat nuts.

What are your thoughts?

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