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Friday, 30 October 2009

Remembering Marcellus of Tangiers

The need to demystify the nation state is on an ongoing task for Christians. William Cavanaugh makes this point forcefully:

The nation-state is neither community writ large nor the protector of smaller communal spaces, but rather originates and grows over against truly common forms of life. This is not necessarily to say that the nation-state cannot and does not promote and protect some goods, or that any nation- state is entirely devoid of civic virtue, or that some forms of ad hoc co- operation with the government cannot be useful. It is to suggest that the nation-state is simply not in the common good business. At its most benign, the nation-state is most realistically likened, as in MacIntyre’s apt metaphor, to the telephone company, a large bureaucratic provider of goods and ser- vices that never quite provides value for money.

The problem, as MacIntyre notes, is that the nation-state presents itself as so much more; namely, as the keeper of the common good and repository of sacred values that demands sacrifice on its behalf. The longing for genuine communion that Christians recognize at the heart of any truly common life is transferred onto the nation-state. Civic virtue and the goods of common life do not simply disappear; as Augustine saw, the earthly city flourishes by producing a distorted image of the heavenly city. The nation-state is a simulacrum of common life, where false order is parasitical on true order. In a bureaucratic order whose main function is to adjudicate struggles for power between various factions, a sense of unity is produced by the only means possible: sacrifice to false gods in war. The nation-state may be understood theologically as a kind of parody of the Church, meant to save us from division.


The urgent task of the Church, then, is to demystify the nation-state and to treat it like the telephone company
("Killing for the Telephone Company: Why the Nation-State is not the Keeper of the Common Good" Modern Theology 20:2, April 2004)


It was worth keeping in mind that this task is not new. Today is the saints day for Marcellus of Tangiers. In the task of reshaping our understanding of the respective claims of God and the state the story of Marcellus is worth remembering.


In the year A.D. 298, enemies threatened the Roman Empire on several fronts. For reasons of state security, the government increased pressure on soldiers and others to demonstrate allegiance to the “divine” emperor. Protocol required the centurion Marcellus to lead his troops in giving allegiance to Rome on the emperor’s birthday.


An ancient account states that “Marcellus rejected these pagan festivities.” He threw down his soldier’s belt (which carried his weapons) in front of the legionary standards (the Roman eagle and images of the emperor). Then he spoke in a loud voice in front of his troops: “I am a soldier of Jesus Christ, the eternal king. From now I cease to serve your emperors and I despise the worship of your gods of wood and stone, for they are deaf and dumb images.”

The record says the soldiers under the command of Marcellus were “amazed,” and promptly arrested him. An account of his trial in October 298 records the following exchange between the judge Agricolanus and Marcellus:

Agricolanus: “Did you say the things that are recorded in the prefect’s report?”
Marcellus: “Yes, I did.”
Agricolanus: “You held the military rank of centurion, first class?”
Marcellus: “Yes,”
Agricolanus: “What madness possessed you to throw down the symbols of your military oath and to say the things you did?”
Marcellus: “No madness possesses those who fear the Lord.”
Agricolanus: “Then you did say all those things that are set down in the prefect’s report?”
Marcellus: “Yes, I said them.”
Agricolanus: “You threw down your weapons?”
Marcellus: “Yes, I did. For it is not fitting that a Christian, who fights for Christ his Lord, should fight for the armies of this world.”
Agricolanus: “What Marcellus has done merits punishment according to military rules. And so, whereas Marcellus, who held the rank of centurion, first class, has confessed that he has disgraced himself by publicly renouncing his military oath, … I hereby sentence him to death by the sword.”
Marcellus (being led out to execution): “Agricolanus, may God reward you.”

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Questions about "public theology"

I have been thinking for some time about the emergence of "public theology" as yet another attempt by mainstream Christian theologians to avoid facing fully the implications of the disintegration of Christendom. Some unrelated googling to follow up on the work of Catholic theologian
 Michael Baxter turned up the following comments by him on this theme that provides some support for my suspicions in his analysis of responses by mainstream Catholic theologians to Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement.

Notice here the similarities between Weigel's and Curran's reading of the Worker. Both find it lacking in responsibility when it comes to institutional change. Both appeal to criteria of effectiveness. Both extol the Worker for its inspiring example, but its significance is restricted to the realm of individual witness. Both are indebted to the Weberian paradigm of politics. Differences in tone and emphasis notwithstanding, the readings of the Catholic Worker offered by Weigel and Curran are equally condescending and misleading.

And this is true, I would submit, of a host of social ethicists dedicated to developing a "public philosophy" or a "public theology," whose considerable differences give way to a common reading of the Catholic Worker's ecclesiology as "sectarian." This is a key word in the lexicon of Catholic social ethics done in the Troeltsch-Niebuhr-Gustafson lineage. It is invoked as a way to dismiss the claim that Christian discipleship entails a form of life that is embedded in the beliefs and practices of the Church and therefore cannot serve as the basis for universal, supra-ecclesial ethical principles that are then applied in making public policy. In this dismissal, it is possible to detect the lineaments of the kind of Weberian critique of the Catholic Worker offered by Weigel and Curran, namely, that Gospel ideals do not pertain to politics and must therefore be translated from ends into means, from absolute into relative terms, so as to have a more direct bearing in the world of pragmatic policy making. But such a translation reproduces the former neo-Scholastic separation of theology and social theory that Peter Maurin criticized in his easy essay. It also runs counter to the consistent claim of Maurin and Day that true society is rooted in the supernatural life of Christ and cannot be abstracted from the beliefs and practices of the Church. Most importantly, this "public theology" approach fails to take seriously a contention that has been central to the life of the Catholic Worker from the beginning, namely, that the modern nation-state is a fundamentally unjust and corrupt set of institutions whose primary function is to preserve the interests of the ruling class, by coercive and violent means if necessary-and there will always come a time when it is necessary.

Those working out of the Murray tradition of "public theology" find this assessment of the modern nation-state to be intolerably negative. And indeed it certainly is negative-but Day would add that this is for good reason. After all, she was formed politically by the Old Left during and after the Great War. This was the era of the Committee on Public Information, the suppression of journals such as The Masses, the Palmer Raids, the shut-down of the Wobblies, and the Red Scare of the twenties. The history of state-sponsored political repression was very much intertwined with Dorothy Day's personal history (as is especially clear from the first part of her autobiography), and it left her forever wary of the claims of the state, as she herself indicates with the title of the chapter in The Long Loneliness on anarchist politics: "War is the health of the state."


("Blowing the Dynamite of the Church": Catholic Radicalism from a Catholic Radicalist Perspective Houston Catholic Worker Newspaper)

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Religious violence - myths and legends

Religion and violence seem to be inextricably linked in current popular discourse and the new atheists such as Christopher Hitchens are right in their. If they are really opposed to religious violence then provided we can get clarity about what they mean by the term religious, then I really might be in their with them on that and on grounds that are based on being a follower of Jesus.

Now if that looks confusing at first glance then to unpack the issues we might turn with gratitude to the most recent book by William T Cavanaugh The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular  Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (Oxford University Press, 2009).

Cavanaugh's  first book Torture and Eucharist was a stunning case study of the Catholic church in
Chile and its engagement with the Pinochet regime that canvasses issues of church and state engagement, why ecclesiology matters and how the Eucharist can be understood as embodying a distinctive form of politics.

(For the a comprehensive list of his work see the  Unofficial William T Cavanaugh Internet Archive at Catholic Anarchy.Org.)


The Myth of Religious Violence is less directly theological than Torture and Eucharist. The argument in summary is as follows:

The idea that religion has a dangerous tendency to promote violence is part of the conventional wisdom of Western societies, and it underlies many of our institutions and policies, from limits on the public role of religion to efforts to promote liberal democracy in the Middle East.

Cavanaugh challenges this conventional wisdom by examining how the twin categories of religion and the secular are constructed. He shows how a growing body of scholarly work explores how the category 'religion' has been constructed in the modern West and in colonial contexts according to specific configurations of political power and examines how timeless and transcultural categories of 'religion and 'the secular' are used in arguments that religion causes violence.

There are three major strands to his case:
1) There is no transhistorical and transcultural essence of religion. What counts as religious or secular in any given context is a function of political configurations of power. Examination of a range of scholars who attempt to make this case makes it clear that it is exceedingly difficult to draw a clear and coherent distinction between religious and secular violence. Cavanaugh is clear that religion can be deeply implicated in violence but that the real issue is to explore when and how beliefs and practices of whatever character become implicated in violence. The practical issue is under what conditions are people willing to kill whether it be for the sake of the belief or practice.

The religious/secular divide is not a transhistorical reality. It is part of the historical mythology underpinning the liberal state. FewAmerican Christians will kill over a matter of belief but many as a matter of practice will kill on behalf of the  United States to uphold the honor of the United States flag. Is that secular or religious violence?

2) A transhistorical and transcultural concept of religion as non-rational and prone to violence is one of the foundational legitimating myths of Western society.  Cavanaugh provides a chapter examining the historical scholarship that calls into question the myth that te liberal state was the solution to the problem of the wars of religion in Europe.

3) This myth can be and is used to legitimate neo-colonial violence against non-Western others, particularly the Muslim world.

Here the issue emerges with which I started this review. Hitchens uses the myth of religious violence as the basis for a secularist justification for violence against religious actors. There is not a consistent commitment to critique the use of violence on his behalf. Terrible irrational religious actors need to be subject to the violence of the secular state seems to be the position which Hitchens ends up justifying. The world must be made safe for secularism and if violence is required then it is OK as long as it is in the cause of rationality and enlightenment.

The way forward for Christians is to go back and revisit the fundamental theological commitments that arise from being followers of Jesus who was announced as the Prince of Peace. Cavanaugh has indicated that if we are going to be committed to the way of peace then the conditions that underpin the justification for violence need to be critiqued regardless of whether they are advanced on "religious" or "secular" grounds.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Getting over Christendom - Douglas John Hall

Doing some preparation for teaching a course on Christianity in Australian Society, I have been going back over some reading on ecclesiology, paying attention to one of the few mainstream theologians who has made this a major concern in framing his work.

The Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall has paid continuing attention throughout his career to the cultural disestablishment of Christianity in North America as opposed to the legal disestablishment of the churches in Europe. He combines this with attention to Luther's "theology of the cross" as opposed to a theology of glory. All this makes for an astringent theology that takes a clear stand against both liberalism and fundamentalism.

For a couple of articles online see: An Awkward Church


For an introduction to Hall's theological stance see The Cross in our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World (Fortress Press). What is curious is that he betrays no real awareness of the anabaptist tradition and history or its relevance for his argument.



Still like Stuart Murray in PostChristendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World he regards the movement beyond Christendom as an opportunity to be rejoiced in rather than an occasion for lament.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Church in the crossfire, not the "opium of the people"

The following news release on paramilitary assassination of church leaders in Colombia caught my eye. Here we have the church literally caught in the crossfire from real drug dealers. Christian discipleship and leadership in Colombia is not for those looking for comfort in the way that Karl Marx may have been suggesting with his comments about "religion being the opiate of the people".

Justapaz, a ministry of the Mennonite Church of Colombia, reports an ongoing state of crisis in the northern Colombian province of Córdoba. So far in 2009, six Protestant church leaders from southern Córdoba have been murdered by paramilitary armed groups. Several attempted murders and dozens of death threats have forced the displacement of hundreds of people. Some churches have been literally caught in the crossfire. In one town, the lives of six pastors were threatened if they failed to make extortion payments. Many victims were targeted for their community leadership in land-rights struggles and for opposing the violence affecting their communities.

Justapaz is profoundly concerned about what it sees as the ongoing collusion between rearmed paramilitary groups and Colombian public security forces, as well as the lack of response from other state agencies to this violence.

According to local leaders and local and regional analysts, the current surge is driven by a territorial dispute between paramilitary groups and their economic interest in drug trafficking routes. Justapaz leaders say the groups target local pastors and leaders as a strategy of coercion to gain more land to control the routes. The number of violent deaths documented by Justapaz, as well as the analysis of local leaders, suggests that these groups are seeking to consolidate their control.

For the full story: Call to Prayer and Action for Colombia




Getting beyond the panic

The headlines over the past couple of days had me caught between groaning with frustration, breaking into tears or giving way to a feeling that I was caught in Groundhog day, 2001 revisited.

It isn't quite that bad. On the actual issues there is a good coverage in Bernard Keane's article in Crikey,
Refugees that sets out the real scope of the issue. The Canberra Times provided a front page story from an Afghani asylum seeker now undertaking tertiary study in Canberra.

Kerry Murphy in Eureka Street highlights the significance of the situation in Sri Lanka as part of the push behind the current increase in asylum seekers.
What is truly depressing is  that the Government is making no attempt to put the issues in a realistic context nor attempting to provide a moral framework within which we can debate the issues. Instead we have "tough talking" that feeds off, while trying to capture the moral panic being whipped up by some sections of the media.

The Christian church, along with all other advocates of the voiceless victims of violence, will once again have to direct their attention and energy to providing a voice, affirming the humanity and working to bind up the wounds of trauma by those who make it to Australia and making it clear that if the media doesn't like "do-gooders" and "bleeding hearts" and the Government is uncomfortable with being addressed in language that presses the moral claims of flesh and blood human beings against the claims of abstractions such as borders then that is how it has to be.

For the churches such action, such a stance is part of its core identity - in following Jesus who directed us to provide hospitality to the stranger, to show love to the enemy, the other, the one who is different.

Life on the Road

An Aussie classic on Christian discipleship has recently been reprinted. Athol Gill’s Life on the Road: The Gospel Basis for a Messianic Lifestyle (UNOH Publishing) has recently been reissued with a new Foreword by Dave Batstone and a new Introduction by Kim Thoday.

This book should come with some such warning as: Some readers may find certain ideas in this book disturbing to the way they live.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Defence spending

Ben Eltham in an article in New Matilda When defence becomes its own worst enemy draws attention to some issues about defence spending and the problem of cost overruns.

This is an issue where the application of a little economic rationalism might be useful by those who are critical as I am of the extent and character of military expenditure on capital items.

Cost overruns are inevitable in this area. Why?

Problems of a limited number of suppliers, offering unproven technology, assymetry of information between the -purchasers and suppliers, and the temptation by the purchasers to not draw clear boundaries around the capabilities that they want for a given system. There is also the problem of unwillingness of the purchasers to enforce contract conditions and to work away from a purchase if there are delays and overruns. Add to that the revolving door between the purchasers and suppliers. All this is conducted against a background in which the religious appeal to national security makes criticism and questioning of the justification for the expenditure difficult if not subversive.

Getting arguments out of frustrating grooves

There are a range of issue, particularly those surrounding the beginning and end of life that seem to be stuck in predictable grooves. When the issue hits the media you can generally tell how the argument will be advanced. There is little evidence of fresh thinking and little respect for those whose views differ.

Savi Hensman has some interesting observations on this particularly with respect to end of life issues. In Care and Control at Life's End she observes about the recent debate about assisted suicide that ...
I find it disappointing that so many people who are passionate about this matter (whether for or against legalisation) do not seem nearly as concerned to tackle the violations of dignity which can be prevented at present. 


There are exceptions, including disability groups and those who have championed better palliative care. Yet many of those who argue forcefully on this matter seem either fatalistic about, or simply unaware of, the failures in care and respect which can make dying even harder than it needs to be.
Many people who are very sick and frail can nevertheless exercise considerable control over their environment if adequate assistance is available.


The issue she points out is one of resources.


Though most patients have generally positive experiences of inpatient care, a number get inadequate medical attention including pain relief, or are left hungry, thirsty or in soiled clothing for far too long and if they do not have visitors they may have few chances for conversation or companionship.

In care homes and people’s own homes, care organised by social services or the NHS may be less than adequate, if it is available at all. Relatives and friends may be pressured into doing more than they are easily able and willing to do and it can be disempowering to those nearing the ends of their lives, as well as sometimes putting a strain on relationships. 

Though the media has focused on bad attitudes on the part of some staff, many of the shortcomings are rooted in the system and linked to lack of resources or how these are used.

After all she points out, Experiencing unnecessary pain, discomfort, squalor or loneliness, or watching one’s relatives and friends struggling to cope and feeling responsible, are less than ideal way to spend one’s final days and time which loved ones might spend in saying goodbye and coming to terms with the situation may be swallowed up in exhaustion and anxiety. And judgement may be impaired, for instance by sleep deprivation affecting feelings and choices. 

That this is the experience of significant numbers of people is an indication that the less glamorous aspects of care do not attract the same attention as high tech research driven breakthroughs in "curative" medicine. Technology offers the appeal that there are "solutions" to all our "problems".  Caring for those who are close to death is demanding because it can remind us of our own mortality. It requires dealing gently and carefully with the body, offering the low tech but time intensive care of touch and presence. I remember with gratitude the patient care of my father during his last days of life by the nursing staff.

As Hensman observes ...the relatively low priority given to funding the less glamorous aspects of care is a problem.

Political leaders fear that the general public will not accept higher taxation for the wealthy, or a shift in spending priorities, even if this means they are reasonably certain that they will not go short of bare necessities and basic comforts towards the ends of their own lives. If this is true, perhaps it is because people are more reluctant to consider what it will be like to be in declining health and, in the end, to die. 

Perhaps some prefer to dream of becoming rich (however unlikely this is) and protect the assets of the class they aspire to join, or take pride in their country’s military might, even if this does not benefit them and in the longer term creates a less safe world for them as well as others. 

They may find it difficult to hear the first-hand accounts of the frustrations of those lacking basic care and control as they approach life’s end, and of those who love them and look on in dismay. Health and social care personnel may be ashamed that they cannot provide the service they would wish to offer.

Faith communities, humanists and others concerned with societies’ values might find it useful to explore why so many people have an unrealistic view of what it is like to be reaching the end of one’s life, or caring for someone in this position, and try to change this. And if more of the champions and opponents of assisted dying could put some of the energy they direct towards this into improving the lot of people nearing the ends of their lives who are not receiving adequate support, the situation might be transformed.

An approach along these lines, focusing on issues of resources for caring where technical interventions are not relevant would not do away with the debate about assisted death. It might however focus our attention on some action that reflects areas of overlapping concern about the human rights and dignity of those who are among the more vulnerable and practically underpin the community fof family and friends who surround them.



Australia - Whose Land?

Peter Adams, the principal of the Ridley College, an evangelical Anglican theological college in Melbourne, in Australia - whose land? A call for recompense (John Saunders Lecture 2009) takes us beyond saying sorry to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people pushes the consequences of this recognition one step further:
If I have hurt someone, it is not enough to be sorry, not even enough to repent. I must also recompense the person, or else my repentance is shown to be a sham. The idea of recompense is not popular today, but it is essential. (p.10)

What might recompense, Peter Adams asks, require of us who arrived since1788?
i. We would recognize that recompense is a duty and responsibility, that we owe it to the indigenous peoples of this land, out of respect for them as our brothers and sisters made in God’s image, and out of awareness of the vileness of the crimes which have been committed against them and their ancestors.
ii. We would recognize that recompense is based on our duty, not the needs of indigenous people. I am not saying that we should not care, but that we must act with integrity and justice.
iii. We would recognize that no recompense could ever be satisfactory, because what
was done was so vile, so immense, so universal, so pervasive, so destructive, so devastating, and so irreparable.
iv. We would ask the indigenous people if they wanted those of us who have arrived since 1788 to leave [Baxter’s ‘Restitution’], or to provide an equivalent recompense [Baxter’s ‘Satisfaction’]. Leaving would be a drastic  and complicated action, but, as I have pointed out, it has happened in India, Africa, and Indonesia in the last sixty years.
v. If we do not leave, then we would need to ask each of the indigenous peoples of this land what kind of recompense would be appropriate for them. This would be an extremely complicated and extensive task, but must be done.
vi. We would need to be prepared to give costly recompense, lest it trivialize what has happened.
vii. We would then need to adopt a national recompense policy, in the form of a Treaty. It would need to be implemented locally, according to the wishes of each indigenous tribe.
viii. By negotiation, it could be a one-off act of recompense, or it could be a constant and long-term series of acts of recompense.
ix. We could also implement voluntary recompense by churches in a coordinated way, and should include support of indigenous Christian ministry and training, as negotiated by the leaders of Christ’s indigenous people. Christian churches should lead the way in this, not least in supporting indigenous Christians and their ministries. For churches too have benefited from the land they use, and from
income from those who have usurped the land. 


It would be difficult to agree to do this, complicated to negotiate, and costly and demanding to deliver. The alternative is to fail in our moral duty, to admit that, for Australia, in Martin Luther King’s words, ‘the bank of justice is bankrupt.’ We owe the indigenous people of Australia not only their full rights as citizens of our nation, but also recompense for the damage we have done. Recognizing citizenship and recognition of Native Title are just the first steps in a long process of appropriate restitution and recompense.

The idea of recompense is not alien to our society. As one well-known example, James Hardie has had to provide recompense to workers harmed by working with asbestos. There is wide-spread feeling that this is right. If this recompense is right, then it is also right to offer recompense to the indigenous people of Australia.


Ernest Gribble, a son of John Gribble, and also a worker among indigenous people said:
"We have a three-fold debt to pay to the Aborigines. We owe them a debt for the country we have taken from them. We owe the race reparation for the neglect and cruelty... We owe them... the gospel of our Lord."
             
It is time to pay our debts: for, Paul, writes, " Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law."


Love involves duty, as well as charity. We have wronged our neighbours. It is now time to pay our debts, to confess our sins, to give the recompense that we owe. We who know God’s great love in Christ should be the most active in loving others. May God strengthen us to love the Lord our God, and so to love our neighbours. (pp.11-13)

Peter Adams has reached these conclusions with reference to such radical sources as the New Testament, John Calvin and the puritan theologian Richard Baxter.  For the full text contact CACE.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Two sides or two stories? Talking about the Israel and the occupation of Palestine

I have spoken about Israel/Palestine to numerous groups in the U.S. during the past five years.  People frequently ask me at these presentations, "Well, aren't there two sides to the Palestinian story?
Let me ask a question before trying to answer that question.  Would you have told Gandhi that we have not yet heard the British side of the story before deciding whether we think colonialism is a good or bad idea?  If not, then why do people continue to tell me that there are two sides to our Palestinian story, when it comes to the Occupation?  (PALESTINE REFLECTION: Not two sides, but two separate stories by Tarek Abuat) http://www.cpt.org/node/7900

Thursday, 1 October 2009

The ABC's treatment of "religion"

Paul Collins in an article in Eureka Street "ABC's Mainstream Religion, tested found wanting"
http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=16731 scored a good few hits on the severe limitations of ABC treatment of "religion" in their mainstream news services.

The promise by Mark Scott, the ABC General Manager that the demise of the Religion Report would be covered by substantial treatment of religion in ABC's mainstream news services has proved to be a snare and a delusion.

Collins points to Scott's defense of his approach as reported in the Australian recently. According to Collins:

The Australian reported that Scott told a prayer breakfast in Adelaide that the media has trouble covering issues of faith, often framing religion in a political context rather than as personal belief.

He said: 'We train our journalists to be skeptical, to seek out answers, look for documentation and to not accept things on face value ... And part of the challenge about faith is that some of the things we hold to be true ... are not visible, cannot be proven.'

This suggests that Scott defines faith in terms of personal conversion and belief, rather than engagement with the broader community context where faith encounters culture, society, ethics and political reality.

This is a troubling view for the ABC GM to take. Of course belief can't be 'proven', but it certainly can and should be examined. That is what theology is about, faith seeking understanding as Saint Anselm said in the 11th century. But it seems Scott is not conversant with mainstream theology, and this provides a clue as to why he axed The Religion Report.

Journalists might well interpret "religion" in a political context but contra Scott that in itself is not a problem - religion and politics cannot be easily disentangled - never have been, never could. The problem is that the reporters rarely have enough background to tease out the deeper connections and find the people who can comment on their significance.

As Collins points out by way of example:

Then there was Benedict XVI's encyclical letter Charity in Truth, which was covered by Sunday Nights with John Cleary but was missed in the mainstream. And when will we get an analysis by the mainstream ABC of Barak Obama, Gordon Brown and Kevin Rudd's very public church going?

Can we expect the 7:30 Report to explain the influence of Reinhold Niebuhr on Obama ('one of my favorite philosophers') and Rudd and Brown's strong Christian socialist backgrounds? Back in April in London both Rudd and Brown spoke in St Paul's Cathedral decrying the 'false god' of 'unfettered free markets'. ABC Board member Janet Albrechtsen was apoplectic in The Australian, but there was no explanation anywhere else on the ABC.

There is more to be said about the character of "religion" - a term much more problematic than it looks - but that will have to wait for another time and a consideration of William Cavanaugh's latest book The Myth of Religious Violence that I just picked up today.