Tag Archives: United States

Watching the Debate

Last night was the first of the US Presidential debates, which after initial suggestions by John McCain that it should be postponed, went ahead with the participation of both major candidates.

Since of course it took place in the middle of the night UK time, various of the UK channels have been rerunning either the whole debate, or highlights. You can watch the full debate on the BBC News site. Of course in the UK we don’t have a say, but thanks to the close relationship our governments have recently had with each other, it does have an effect on those of us in the UK.

I’ll leave any discussion of the finer points of policy, but what was interesting was comparing it to what happens over here. Certainly we’ve never had face to face debates like this, what we most commonly have is a series of programmes where each of the individual leaders of the political parties face an audience of voters. Perhaps the main example of a programme where we have opposing parties together is something like Question Time. The interesting difference between both formats and this presidential debate is the silence from the audience. In the UK there is usually an instant response from the audience to statements by the politicians, and on a number of occasions politicians have been heckled by members of the audience. The other difference was, I guess in part due to the rigid time-boxing applied to the debate, there wasn’t that much confrontation. There were a number of points where it was pretty obvious that Obama thought he was being misrepresented, tried to cut in, McCain kept ploughing on with his point, and Obama just capitulated and indicated to the chairman that he didn’t wish to respond.

Commentators seem split over who came out best. Both campaigns are not surprisingly claiming victory for their candidate, but it wasn’t really clear to me who won. In terms of policies I’m always going to be much more towards Obama, but then in a world driven by soundbites, things like McCains KGB line over Russia, however corny it may seem, probably go over a lot better than trying to explain the massive complexity of the political situation in the former Soviet Union. You can make your own mind up by watching the full debate.

20080926_Oxford_MS_FirstDebate0377 originally uploaded by Barack Obama.

God’s Next Army

What would the world be like if the most powerful country in the world, was run by a regime with just as extreme religious views as fundamentalist republics such as Iran, or the former regime in Afghanistan. In the same way as in those countries, everything in this powerful country is driven or decided based purely on the scriptures of their religion without question.

This is the vision of the future that was shown by God’s Next Army, a programme looking at the phenomenon of Patrick Henry College in the USA. Despite the historic basis of the United States, in which the separation of Church and state is enshrined in the constitution, the college is aiming to ‘re-Christianise’ America, to ‘preserver the world from the sinfulness of man’. Essentially the people behind the college are looking to turn the United States into a Christian Republic. 80% of it’s students have been home schooled, kept separate from mainstream schools, and indoctrinated with their fundamentalist beliefs from an early age, with little contact with differing world views from their own – or as one participant in the programme said, protected from the ‘moral decay of the world’. They go from home schooling into a college that continues with these hardline beliefs. Worringly, students from the college are already making inroads. The college is conveniently located close enough to Washington DC that it’s students can become interns in the machinery of government – indeed the college has already provided the current White House administration with more interns than any other college. It’s students also volunteer to help with lobby groups, indeed the programme showed the students lobbying in opposition to a payment of compensation to people affected by asbestos.

Everyone at the college, both academics and students have to sign a statement of faith. Perhaps the only part you need to read is the following:

The Bible in its entirety … is the inspired word of God, inerrant in its original manuscripts, and the only infallible and sufficient authority for faith and Christian living.

However the full statement is available online. Essentially everything is claimed to be founded on biblical principles, but essentially biblical principles as viewed through the lens of fundamentalist Christianity.

For example the statement of faith has the following example with regards to property:

Private Property: As God’s image-bearers with dominion, and stewardship responsibilities, over the remainder of creation, men and women have the inalienable right to own and manage their own property, subject to government regulation only in the unusual situation where the rights of others are endangered. Government systems such as communism and socialism, which give the government primary control over property, are a violation of God’s creation order.

I’m sure most people would read that, and question how that fits in with a number of biblical passages, but perhaps the clearest example is Luke 14:33:

“In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.�

The programme included a number of these theological and philosophical conflicts, which seem bemusing to those outside, but so clear cut to the students. For example when interviewed on his beliefs, one student stated his opposition to abortion, his opposition to gay marriage, both for biblical principles, and then with no hint of irony started quoting Thomas Jefferson on the right to bear arms. Bear in mind that Jefferson was also one of the chief architects of the separation of Church and State – take for example this quote from a letter Jefferson wrote in 1813 which seems somewhat apt:

“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government�

Essentially, I find the prospect of a United States administration, so loaded with the single minded world view and unbending fundamentalist Christian beliefs put forward by the college just as worrying as any regime based on fundamentalist Islam, not least because in relative terms the United States has significantly more power. Whilst supporters will quite probably point to the statement on the PHC site that ‘no leader or group of leaders may ever acquire unchecked power’ as what would separate them from regimes such as Iran and Afghanistan, I’d counter that the fact that since they are specifically looking to move towards a Christian Republic fundamentally means that those members of society who are not Christian, or are not Christians from their particular wing of the Church, are improperly represented – one of the fundamental reasons for the separation for church and state put forward by Jefferson. How can a group of people who have been brought up and schooled at home, separate from the broad range of belief in society, and educated at a college that again teaches the same beliefs, separate from the broad range of belief in society, possibly be able to represent or even understand the breadth of society that a country represents.

I have no objection to Christian voices being heard in government, but it should be exactly that, voices, and should be part of a representative array of voices from all communities and groups within the country. Whilst there is much argument over the close ties between the Church of England, and the state in the UK, I would suggest that situation here is somewhat different from what Patrick Henry College is trying to establish. The Church of England is so broad that in many debates, there are a multitude of voices, with Bishops and other senior churchmen often holding opposing opinions on a multitude of issues. This broad range of belief extends to Christian politics in the UK too. I know many staunch Conservative supporters who are Christian, but equally I know Christians who regard Christianity and Socialism as being closely tied together. Indeed I know of one clergyman who around election time was renowned for preaching from the pulpit that he believed all right minded Christians should be voting Labour! The same is true of Christian education in this country. Here aside from some notable exceptions, most schools are run based on a Christian ethos, rather than being Christian schools. Hence when I was growing up, the nearby Catholic school was also popular with Muslim and Hindu families wanting a a strong ethical basis for their child’s education. This is what makes me so uneasy about Patrick Henry College, here most Christian schools will quite happily contain a breadth of Christian belief, and in many cases those with non-Christian beliefs, or no religion at all. PHC has a comprehensive set of beliefs that all staff and students must sign, and apparently no room for any breadth of opinion – and more than that, their students, indoctrinated with these beliefs are increasingly being found all across the government of the most powerful country on the planet. Worrying indeed…