Tikkun Daily button
Ira Chernus
Ira Chernus
Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder.



Church and State in America: A Brief Primer

May5

by: on May 5th, 2014 | Comments Off

The Supreme Court has ruled, 5-4, that Greece, New York, can open its town meetings with a prayer, even though nearly all the prayers have contained distinctively Christian language. No doubt advocates and critics of the opinion are scouring American history, looking for proof that their view is correct.

If they look with an unjaundiced eye, they’ll quickly discover one basic principle: Whatever position you hold on this issue, you can find some support in our nation’s history. So history alone cannot resolve the ongoing debate. But it can help inform the debate.

To understand that history we have to begin in the European Middle Ages, when the Roman Catholic Church held sway over the religious life of almost all western Europeans.

Read more...

Ukraine + Flight 370 = Bad News for Neocons

Mar17

by: on March 17th, 2014 | Comments Off

In America the news is big business. That’s not news. Everyone realizes that the corporate mass media make their money by delivering readers, viewers, and listeners to advertisers. The bigger the audience delivered, the bigger the profit. So corporate news editors have to know what good entertainers know: what the audience wants and how to give it to them.

In late winter, 2014, it seemed that American news audiences wanted one thing above all else: a U.S. – Russia showdown over Ukraine. Why? Plenty of theories might be offered.

But reading the headlines themselves, one explanation seemed most obvious: Americans understood that their nation’s global prestige was on the line. Russian president Vladimir Putin was using Ukraine to test the will and resolve of the Obama administration. So Americans turned to the news each day to see whether their government would demonstrate enough strength to go on leading the international community.

At least that was the story.

Read more...

Moral March Poses Urgent Questions to Progressives

Feb12

by: on February 12th, 2014 | Comments Off

Credit: Creative Commons/James Willamor

Nearly 100,000 people took to the streets in Raleigh, North Carolina on February 8 in a Moral March to say “NO” to the state’s sharp right-wing political turn and “YES” to a new, truly progressive America.

They weren’t just marching for one issue or another. They were marching for every issue progressives care about: economic justice; a living wage for every worker; support for organized labor; justice in banking and lending; high quality, well-funded, diverse public schools; affordable health care and health insurance for all, especially women; environmental justice and green jobs; affordable housing for every person; abolishing the death penalty and mandatory sentencing; expanded services for released prisoners; comprehensive immigration reform to provide immigrants with health care, education, and workers rights; insuring everyone the right to vote; enhancing LGBT rights; keeping America’s young men and women out of wars on foreign soil; and more.

Read more...

When Did “the 60s” Begin? Here’s Why It Matters.

Feb4

by: on February 4th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

When, exactly, did the era of radical ferment we remember as “the ’60s” begin? Exactly one half-century ago, PBS tells us in its recent documentary titled “1964,” kicking off a year when we’ll celebrate the 50 anniversary of a host of memorable events:

  • Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty, pushed the Civil Rights Act through Congress, and got a blank check from Congress (the Tonkin Gulf resolution) to send troops to Vietnam.
  • The Mississippi Freedom Summer saw civil rights workers murdered and hundreds of white students going back to their campuses in the fall radicalized.
  • Some of those students, at Berkeley, created the Free Speech Movement.
  • African Americans “rioted” in Harlem.
  • America began to hear of Malcolm X, and Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali.
  • After Republicans took a sharp turn to the right and saw their presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, get 40% of the vote — buoyed by the rhetoric of political newcomer Ronald Reagan — right-wing politicos began planning a “New Right” movement.
  • The Beatles came to America, and Motown’s biggest hit was “Dancing in the Streets.”
  • TV viewers were spellbound by an immensely strong, totally independent woman on the season’s biggest new hit, “Bewitched.”

Connect the dots, the PBS show’s talking head historians all say, and you’ll see a year that changed America forever. “The 60s” had begun!

There’s just one problem with this story:

Read more...

Is Israel a “Jewish Nation”? Is the U.S. an “American Nation”?

Jan23

by: on January 23rd, 2014 | 5 Comments »

As the media spotlight shines on U.S. negotiators talking with Iranians and Syrians, the Israeli-Palestinian talks have faded into the background. They’re still grinding on, slowly, with several contentious issues unresolved.

One of those issues doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves in U.S. media. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has catapulted to the fore an issue that may be even more intractable than old ones like security and settlements,” the New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren recently reported: “a demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as … ‘the nation-state of the Jewish people.’”

The Palestinians are resisting the demand, fearing “that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would disenfranchise its 1.6 million Arab citizens [and] undercut the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees,” Rudoren reports. Israeli leaders respond “that the refugee question can be resolved separately and that the status of Israel’s Arab minority can be protected.”

Read more...

Iran a U.S. Ally? Who Would Have Thunk It?

Jan8

by: on January 8th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

One great thing about watching history unfold is that it’s so full of surprises.

The United States and Iran suddenly “find themselves on the same side of a range of regional issues” in the Mideast, the New York Times reports. “‘The Americans are confessing Iran stands for peace and stability in this region,’ said Hamid Reza Tarraghi, a hard-line political analyst, with views close to those of Iran’s leaders.”And a slim majority of Americans favor a negotiated settlement with Iran about its nuclear program.

Who would have thunk it?

Read more...

The Mideast is America’s New Wild West

Dec5

by: on December 5th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Why the enduring “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel? Cultural historians, who look at symbols and stories more than politics and policies, say a big part of it goes back to the late 1950s, when Leon Uris’ novel Exodus reached the top of the bestseller list and was then turned into a blockbuster film, with an all-star cast headed by Paul Newman.

Scholar Rachel Weissbrod called it a “Zionist melodrama.” M.M. Silver devoted a whole book to the phenomenon: Our Exodus, with the subtitle, The Americanization of Israel’s Founding Story.

A preeminent historian of American Judaism, Jonathan Sarna, came closest to the truth in his blurb for Silver’s book: Exodus “consciously linked brawny Zionist pioneers with the heroes of traditional American westerns.” The protagonist, Ari ben Canaan (“lion, son of Canaan”), is the Jewish Shane, the cowboy of impeccable virtue who kills only because he must to save decent people — especially the gentile woman he loves — and civilize a savage land.

Read more...

Uncovering the Tea Party’s Radical Roots

Oct21

by: on October 21st, 2013 | 2 Comments »


(Committee of Five/ Credit: Creative Commons)

For decades, Democrats across the country have been holding Jefferson Day dinners, filling their coffers by honoring their party’s founder. Suddenly, along comes the extreme right wing of the Republican Party, snatches up poor old TJ, and says, “Sorry, he’s actually ours. After all, didn’t he say, ‘That government is best which governs least’?”

Well, no, in fact he didn’t. But perhaps he should have. He often expressed skepticism, and sometimes outright criticism, of the growing powers of the federal government. So which side in today’s political divide is most entitled to carry the name of Jefferson on its banner? Exploring those questions led me to a surprising discovery: If we put the Tea Party’s claim to TJ’s mantle in the proper historical perspective, we come out not on the far right but on the far left.

Read more...

The Question Americans Can’t Ask About Egypt And Syria

Aug26

by: on August 26th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

What does the Obama administration really want in Egypt and Syria? “To reduce the risk to U.S. interests,” writes Washington Post blogger Max Fisher. The administration wants “to play the middle and to avoid any strong positions” because it values “above all, an aversion to risk.” So “the White House tried [in Egypt], as in Syria, to manage it from the behind the scenes.”

The result has been bad for the U.S. and horrendous for the Egyptians and Syrians: “Bloody stalemate has become the status quo.” But that status quo is “unsustainable.”

It’s hard to argue with Fisher’s observations. It’s equally hard not to argue with his conclusion, a call for the U.S. to take charge: “Better to force a solution, however uncertain, than wait for things to combust on their own. Staving off catastrophe only works for so long.”

Really? I wish we could assemble all the cold war presidents, from Truman to Reagan, read them that last line, and listen to them chuckle. Staving off catastrophe was the heart and soul of their foreign policy. They called it “containment.” (I call it the mythology of homeland insecurity.)

Read more...

Political Dreaming in the Twenty-First Century

Jul29

by: on July 29th, 2013 | Comments Off

All right, I confess: I have a dream. I bet you do, too. I bet yours, like mine, is of a far, far better world not only for yourself and your loved ones, but for everyone on this beleaguered planet of ours.

And I bet you, like me, rarely talk to anyone about your dreams, even if you spend nearly all your time among politically active people working to improve the planet. Perhaps these days it feels somehow just too naïve, too unrealistic, too embarrassing. So instead, you focus your energy on the nuts and bolts of what’s wrong with the world, what has to be fixed immediately.

I’m thinking that it’s time to try a different approach — to keep feeling and voicing what Martin Luther King, Jr., called “the fierce urgency of now,” but balance it with a dose of another political lesson he taught us: the irresistible power of dreaming.

I started reflecting on this when I returned from a long trip and found my email inbox crammed with hundreds of urgent messages from progressive groups and news sources, all sounding the alarm about the latest outrages, horrors, and disgraces, punctuated by an occasional call for a new policy to right at least one of the horrendous wrongs described and denounced.

Suddenly, I found myself thinking: Same old same old. The particular words keep changing, but the basic message and the music of our song of frustrated lament remain the same. We give the people the shocking facts and call them to action. And we wonder: Why don’t they listen?

Read more...