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Behind the Curtain

I'd like to address a Frequently Asked Question I get from regular column critics.

Why do you almost exclusively focus your critique on conservatives, especially Christian conservatives?

Because that's who's in power. I take Joseph Pulitzer's exhortation seriously. ''Always fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice and corruption, always fight demagogues of all parties, never belong to any party, always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news; always be drastically independent; never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty.''

I may never win the prize named in his honor -- the highest honor one can achieve in this profession -- but Joe wasn't speaking only to the best. He was speaking to each and every person in the news business. When President Clinton was in office, I wrote critically of his administration, particularly with regards to U.S. policy in Iraq and welfare reform.

In this unimaginative era of political thought, which operates on a false liberal-conservative dichotomy, you are considered beyond the pale if you utter anything perceived to be ''left'' of liberal. The problem with that is the center has moved rightward, circa the Reagan administration, drifting further through Clinton and accelerating under President Bush.

That's why I think it's important to keep an eye on who society holds up as the poster-child ''liberal,'' whether it's Clinton, Kennedy or Kerry. Whoever offers an analysis ''left'' of those ''liberals'' are considered ''extreme.''

But that's not only anti-intellectual, it's dangerous. Take the WMD debate, for example. Pro-war conservatives discount Scott Ritter and other UNSCOM inspectors' expert analyses, essentially arguing that it's mere coincidence the chief weapons inspector in Iraq for seven years was right on the money, even though he wrote detailed books and gave detailed interviews before the war laying out just how little of a threat Saddam posed after 90 to 95 percent of his WMD had been destroyed by UNSCOM. The ''liberals,'' as conservatives love to point out, thought Saddam had WMD, too.

But Ritter's pre-war intelligence ''coincidentally'' turned out to better than ''everyone'' else in the world who was ''mistaken.''

Why critique fundamentalist Christian politics? Because I come out of that tradition. And like my brothers and sisters in Christ, I believe that Jesus embodied the Word, the Truth and the Suffering Servant spoken of in scripture.

I also believe that a preacher I once heard was right. If Jesus is the Word, the Truth and The Suffering Servant, then it is a condition of truth to allow suffering to speak. In other words, you have to go through suffering to discover the truth.

So when the privileged classes that Pulitzer described theorizes and makes decisions that disproportionately affect the weak and vulnerable, we're not talking about truth. We're talking power politics.

There are countless verses in the Bible that speak of God's eternal concern for ''the least of these,'' which, by comparison, far outnumbers the relatively few references to sexual immorality that seems to be the primary focus of politically engaged conservative Christians.

It's a distortion of both what Jesus taught and what traditional Christianity has been all about to focus on individual sex-related sins while ignoring or downplaying institutional and social sins.

The Rev. Martin Luther King sums it up best for me. ''A religion true to its nature must also be concerned about man's social conditions… Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion… Such a religion is the kind the Marxists like to see -- an opiate of the people.''

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