Jeremiah Wright and the Seven Ds

If you were out of communication with the world this week (maybe stationed on the other side of the Moon), then to “get up to speed” on the sordid affair between Senator Obama and his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, you should probably start with the original sources, most of which are available at CNN: 1) Wright’s speech at a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) convention on Sunday, 2) Bill Moyers’ interview with Wright, broadcast on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) on Sunday, 3) Wright’s National Press Club speech given on Monday, and 4) Obama’s press conference on Tuesday in which he denounced Wright.

In this post, my goal is to try to describe some of my reactions to Wright’s ideas. I’ll organize these reactions under the two subtitles (spanning a 7-dimensional “D-space”, since Wright seems to like using words that begin with the letter D): 1) Different AND Deficient; Divisive NOT Descriptive, and 2) Deceived, Dumb, and Dangerous. I’ll start with

Different AND Deficient; Divisive NOT Descriptive.

Near the beginning of his NAACP speech, Wright claimed that he wasn’t “one of the most divisive [speakers]… the word is descriptive.” Subsequent events show that he was wrong on both accounts. Thus, the thrust of his NAACP speech was that “different does not mean deficient”, which of course is correct, but if you’ll look at details of his speech, you’ll see that he wasn’t sufficiently descriptive and, therefore, he added to divisiveness.

To illustrate some of the details, I’ll quote his summary of his theme that “different does not mean deficient”, as given in his National Press Club speech:
The prophetic theology of the black church in our day is preached to set African-Americans and all other Americans free from the misconceived notion that different means deficient. Being different does not mean one is deficient. It simply means one is different, like snowflakes, like the diversity that God loves.

Black music is different from European and European-American music. It is not deficient; it is just different. Black worship is different from European and European-American worship. It is not deficient; it is just different. Black preaching is different from European and European-American preaching. It is not deficient; it is just different. It is not bombastic; it is not controversial; it’s different… Black learning styles are different from European and European-American learning styles. They are not deficient; they are just different.
Of course, it’s all well and good (and politically correct) to say “different does not mean deficient”, but simultaneously, it’s not descriptive, not only because it’s incomplete (Deficient in what? Sufficient in what? Inferior to what? Superior to what?) but also because it’s essentially meaningless until some objective is specified (Deficient or inferior FOR what? Sufficient or superior FOR what?).

Reviewing Wright’s illustrations in his speeches, most people would probably agree that differences in music, worship, preaching, and learning styles don’t represent deficiencies, but that’s a paltry sampling of cultural differences! Think about differences in personal traits (honesty, diligence, perseverance…) and philosophies (e.g., fatalistic, communistic, individualistic…), differences in commitments to education (e.g., applications of critical-thinking skills), the differences that are recognized between males and females, and so on, leading to adoption of different personal motivations, cultural incentives and commitments to human rights, science and technology, etc., different economic, judicial, and political systems, and so on.

But of more significance (as I already mentioned), Wright’s “different does not mean deficient” mantra is meaningless without specification of the purpose (or purposes). If, for example, a musician wants to join the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, then competence in rap “music” would be both different AND deficient, or if a student wants to become a scientist or a lawyer, then not stimulating her left-brain, analytical capabilities would be deficient, and so on. So, the obvious question is: What objective is Wright proposing for which he claims “different does not mean deficient”?

Well, as far as I can tell from his speeches, the purposes Wright proposes are those that he claims are “God’s purposes”, specifically, “transformation and reconciliation”. To show you the basis for that conclusion, below I’ll quote from his National Press Club speech, but it contains such a mish-mash of twisted concepts that it’s hard to get it untangled. In an attempt to untangle his ideas, I’ll add to them some notes in “square brackets”:
The prophetic theology of the black church is not only a theology of liberation; it is also a theology of transformation… a radical change in a social order that has gone sour. [Has the social order “gone sour” or do some members remain bitter, because to gain sweeter fruits, they’re required to produce something of value for others?]

God’s desire is for positive, meaningful and permanent change. [To say that an omnipotent, omniscient God has a “desire” contradicts the concepts of ‘omnipotent’ and ‘omniscience’: only relatively impotent and unknowledgable beings (such as humans) have unfilled desires. Is there any chance that your God’s “desires” just happen to be your own?] God does not want [you do not want?] one people seeing themselves as superior to other people. God does not want the powerless masses [never underestimate the power of the masses!], the poor, the widows, the marginalized, and those under-served by the powerful few [“the powerful few”? Who are they? The most powerful is alleged to be your God. Whom does He serve – besides clerics running their con games?] to stay locked into sick systems which treat some in the society as being more equal than others in that same society [But some are “more equal than others”! I could never play my trumpet as well as Satchmo; I could never play baseball as well as Jackie Robinson; I could never sing as well as Sam Cooke, I still can't tell a story as well as Bill Cosby, and I doubt if I'll ever know astrophysics as well as Neil Tyson.].

God’s desire [your desire] is for positive change, transformation; real change, not cosmetic change; transformation, radical change, or a change that makes a permanent difference, transformation. [Gotcha: you’re talking about change.] God’s desire [your desire] is for transformation, changed lives, changed minds, changed laws, changed social orders, and changed hearts in a changed world… [Well, a change to communism or Islamic totalitarianism would be a change, but if you don’t mind…]

The prophetic theology of the black church is a theology of liberation; it is a theology of transformation; and it is ultimately a theology of reconciliation… God does not desire [you do not desire] for us, as children of God [cough, cough] to be at war with each other [what about those cases in which others start wars?! Are you preaching pacifism?], to see each other as superior or inferior [which, again, is meaningless, without reference to goals], to hate each other [well, tough: if someone damages my daughter, I’ll show them hate], abuse each other [well, if God doesn’t want it, why doesn’t he stop it?], misuse each other [ditto], define each other [ah come off it, when I find someone making so many dumb statements, I’ll define him as dumb], or put each other down [ditto – and why? Because you’re polluting people’s minds with garbage.]

The black church’s role in the fight for equality and justice, from the 1700s up until 2008, has always had as its core the nonnegotiable doctrine of reconciliation [try to negotiate with someone who holds a “nonnegotiable doctrine”!!], children of God repenting for past sins against each other. Jim Wallis says America’s sin of racism has never even been confessed, much less repented for. [Well, then, Jim Wallis (whoever he is) is a nut: has he heard about the fight at the Constitutional Convention, the Civil War, or the XIII, XIV, XV, and the XXIV Amendments to the Constitution?] Repenting for past sins against each other and being reconciled to one other… because of the love of God, who made all of us in God’s image. [To hell with your God and with your “nonnegotiable doctrine… repenting for past sins”: in particular, with respect to your frequent reference to slavery, I’m not guilty. I have a perfect alibi: I wasn’t there; I wasn’t involved; it occurred before I was born! As for racism, never once have I shown or felt any racial prejudice, if for no other reason than that it’s a stupid concept: there’s only one human race! Stupidity, on the other hand, really gets to me.]

Reconciliation, the years have taught me, is where the hardest work is found for those of us in the Christian faith, however, because it means some critical thinking and some re-examination of faulty assumptions when using the paradigm of Dr. William Augustus Jones. [Well, Jones or no Jones, I can understand how it could be “the hardest work” for you, because if you’d apply “some critical thinking and some re-examination of faulty assumptions", you’d no longer be a Christian or “believe” in any God!]

Dr. Jones, in his book, God in the Ghetto, argues quite accurately that one’s theology (how I see God), determines one’s anthropology (how I see humans) [what nonsense! If you applied “some critical thinking and some re-examination of faulty assumptions”, then you’d conclude that belief in any god is asinine; yet, such a conclusion (viz., no god), does NOT determine how you’d see people: atheists views on fellow humans, for example, is all over the map, from the views of Stalin (to use others) to the views of secular humanists (to help others)], and one’s anthropology then determines one’s sociology (how I order my society). [More nonsense! Was Stalin’s desired social order the same as Churchill’s?]

Now, the implications… are obvious. If I see God as male, if I see God as white male, if I see God as superior [do you mean that your God isn’t superior to you?!], as God over us… if I see God as mean, vengeful, authoritarian, sexist, or misogynist, then I see humans through that lens [which I hope would then stimulate you (and all Christians and Muslims) into “re-examination of faulty assumptions” about the existence of God!]. My theological lens shapes my anthropological lens [then try some eye-opening critical thinking!]. And as a result, white males are superior; all others are inferior… [So, doesn’t that suggest to you that there’s something seriously wrong with your assumptions?!]

Reconciliation does not mean that blacks become whites or whites become blacks and Hispanics become Asian or that Asians become Europeans. Reconciliation means we embrace our individual rich histories, all of them. [To hell with embracing history: certainly we’d be well advised to learn from history, but “embrace” the future!] We retain who we are as persons of different cultures, while acknowledging that those of other cultures are not superior or inferior to us. They are just different from us. [Again, it depends on objectives. For some objectives (e.g., promotion and protection of children’s and women’s rights, eliminating poverty, providing opportunities for young people, etc.) some cultures ARE superior to others.]
Sorry for all the comments, but maybe you’re beginning to see what I meant by his presentation being “a mish-mash of twisted concepts”, why I say that he’s deceptive and not descriptive, and why different can be deficient. To try to provide a clearer view and reveal the source of such stupidity, I want to move on to the second theme of this post, namely,

Deceived, Dumb, and Dangerous.

As suggested above, it’s critical to identify objectives. People pursue thousands of objectives, of course, but as I try to show elsewhere, if our objectives are grouped in appropriate categories, all of us seem to pursue an intertwined “trio of prime goals”, namely, the survival (or even “thrival”) of ourselves, our families, and our values. Of course, also, we have different ideas about how to best promote our own survival [some people get all the education they can, others try to develop some talent such as singing or playing ball, and still others buy guns], we all have different ideas about the extent of our families [some people recognize only their “immediate family” as family, others recognize as family some group (from fellow members of a street gang, congregation, nation, out to fellow members of international organizations, from Green Peace to al Qaeda), and still others recognize everyone as fellow members of “the human family”], and most significantly for present purposes, we have different sets of values.

Much if not most divisiveness in the world derives from differences in our choices of values. For secular and scientific humanists, for example, the bases of most of our values (excepting those associated with our aesthetic values) are derived from our dual prime-goals of the survival of ourselves and our families, recognizing all humans as members of the same family. As a result, we value honesty, perseverance, critical thinking, intelligence, education, cooperation, justice, peace, and so on, because such values promote our own and humanity’s “thrival”. Theists, in contrast, adopt as their set of values whatever their clerics dictate.

Actually, though, the values of essentially all theists are also derived from their dual survival goals (survival of themselves and their families), because essentially all clerics (as competent con-artists) claim that what they’re selling is good for the buyer, not the seller! In Christianity and Islam, in particular, people uncritically buy into the idea that they (and their families) have the opportunity for “eternal survival” in some paradise. No evidence supports such an idea; the people have been deceived (by their families, their clerics, and their cultures) into “thinking” that their religion is “true”. A case in point is Jeremiah Wright, who probably was subjected to substantial deception by his father and grandfather, both of whom were pastors.

Such deception needn’t be successful, however. For those who have a reasonable amount of intelligence, some experience in forming opinions based on their own experiences, some critical-thinking skills and, thereby, a normal and healthy degree of skepticism, then absurd clerical concoctions about God, eternal life, etc. are dismissed as so much fluff. Wright obviously didn’t possess such capabilities as a youngster – and evidence suggests that he still doesn’t possess them, which is why I suggest that he’s both deceived and dumb.

Anyone who is dumb enough to be so deceived into “thinking” that some god is in control of the universe, a god who will provide “the worthy” with eternal paradise, and worst, that this fictitious god has communicated his desires in some “holy book”, can be dangerous for the rest of us. More than 200 years ago, Voltaire summarized such dangers well:
As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities.

The man who says to me, “Believe as I do, or God will damn you,” will presently say, “Believe as I do, or I shall assassinate you.”

What can we say to a man who tells you that he would rather obey God than men, and that therefore he is sure to go to heaven for butchering you? Even the law is impotent against these attacks of rage; it is like reading a court decree to a raving maniac. These fellows are certain that the holy spirit with which they are filled is above the law, that their enthusiasm is the only law that they must obey.
Appreciating what Voltaire saw, then perhaps it’s clear why I say that Wright is not only deceived and dumb but also dangerous.

But to fully explain my meaning would take far more space than is reasonable to use here. For those who have the time and the interest, I’d invite them to read the 20 chapters of my on-line book that deal with the atrocious personal and public policies promoted in the Bible (and if they’re gluttons for punishment, I’d invite them to continue on for the next 10 chapters, which deal with the atrocious policies promoted in the Book of Mormon and the Quran). Here, as a less onerous summary of some of the Bible’s asinine policies, I’ll provide a few of the many limericks that came to me while I read the garbage concocted by the conniving but otherwise clueless clerics who wrote the New Testament.

With Jesus the clerics could reap:
They urged that with faith we should leap;
They didn’t inform us
The cost is enormous
When we become nothing but sheep!

I say Jesus was clearly a blight
(Though he claimed that his load would be light),
Cause it’s no kind of joke
With your head in some yoke:
Treating humans as beasts just ain’t right!

Although Christ claimed that he was all heart
Filled with love, which he’d love to impart,
I say it’s untrue:
The worst thing to do
Is to work to break families apart!

Though Jesus was quite definite:
“Be kind” to be God’s favorite;
But rather than kind,
With hate in his mind,
The hypocrite yelled “hypocrite”!

Though Jesus would frequently tell:
“Treat all of your enemies well”;
Yet what did he do
To those that he knew?
He killed them – then burnt them in Hell!

Although Jesus condemned all of them,
He reserved for himself a pure gem:
By calling them vipers
And evil and gripers,
Do you see whom his words did condemn?!

Though Christ of the clerics meant well:
“Forgive and on failings don’t dwell.”
His model for man:
The hideous plan
To torture us humans in Hell!

Although Jesus judged others a lot,
Yet he told us, quite clearly, “judge not”;
But behind his cajole
I think was his goal
That we’d not judge his judgments as rot!


If he really could break all the rules,
Why not leave us some practical tools?
Like a virus that spread
Only wellness not dread –
And can smarten up born-again fools!

And instead of promoting his way,
There was certainly something to say:
Not repeat some old rules
Known to all (even fools) –
Show us how to decode DNA!


Though Jesus kept blessing the losers
(The needy, the weepers, and users),
I know bloody well
That it’s evil as hell
To then say “alas” for producers!

Although Jesus said that those, all alone,
Without sin were to cast the first stone;
His reasoning’s sad:
To not punish bad
Is the way still more evil is sown!

Although Jesus preached pacifist lore
(That to those who would take you give more),
He was no “Prince of Peace”,
Since it never would cease:
Because yielding to tyrants breeds war!


Although Jesus is rarely faulted,
How I wish that his sayings were halted:
A kid older than three
Should be able to see
HUMILITY can't strive for EXALTED!

Although Christ threatened sinners with Hell,
There is something he never did tell:
Since we’re to be humble –
So low we can’t stumble –
How can losers help others do well?!

Though Jesus told people: “Be meek;
Let villains slap cheek after cheek.”
I find that I stumble:
Should they be called humble
When heaven’s the goal that they seek?

Yes, Jesus said give to the needy,
To all who just whimper “please feed me”;
Those who don’t – go to hell
Those who do – fare quite well –
Cause heaven is home for the greedy!

Although Jesus said what we’re to do:
You must “give” to get Heaven for you;
But to give, so you’ll get,
Means you gave nothing yet –
It’s a hideous Catch Twenty Two!


Although Christ said he spoke for some czar,
I’m afraid that he went way too far;
Though he claimed he was judge
Still the truth will not budge:
You’re not judge just by saying you are!

Although Jesus did brazenly state
That a heaven or hell we would rate,
What he said was just rot,
For true justice is not
To have tyrants decide on our fate!

Although Christ claimed his judicial thing
(And his claim has historical ring),
Yet we’re long past the day
When some clown can just say
That he’s judge – if he’s sent by some king!

Although Jesus did solemnly teach
His authority was way past our reach,
Yet the people have learned
What our heroes have earned:
There’s no judge that we all can’t impeach!

Although Jesus claimed judicial air,
Yet it’s clear that he wasn’t aware:
Though he claimed to be kind,
All the workers weren’t blind –
If you want to be judge then be fair!

Although Jesus said we should abstain,
Yet I think we should firmly explain:
No matter how long,
To torture is wrong,
To judge humans you must be humane!

Although Christ with God’s justice was awed,
There is something that all can applaud:
A new time has come,
Without Christendom,
When the people own justice – not God!

Although Jesus caught lawyers' attentions,
About justice he never once mentions:
True justice is not
Some god’s juggernaut
But attunement of opposite tensions!

Although Christ didn’t see his own premiss
It’s imperative to see what it is:
If people are served
Beyond what’s deserved,
It corrupts the essence of ‘justice’!

If Jesus came back here today,
I’d tell him to take it away:
His heaven and hell,
His justice as well,
They all went their Darwinian way!

So a question continues to lurk,
That is basic and not just a quirk:
From the text that I’ve read,
Summing all that he said,
Was Jesus just simply a jerk?

Now, though, I’m even more pressed (both for space and time) to show links between the immoralities and stupidities in the Bible (as outlined in the above limericks) and the associated immoralities, stupidities, and dangers of Wright’s fallacious teachings. As a result, I’ll just list a few topics that you might want to think about.
  • Wright’s comparing terrorism and American domestic policy is absurd, as is his holier-than-thou attitude of his religion. For example, not only did Christianity and Islam not prevent slavery, they promoted it, complete with indoctrinating people with the idea that they should be happy in their slavery, just as Wright (and Farrakhan, of the Nation of Islam) is now doing. In contrast, it was humanism that broke the chains of slavery. This, then, is another case demonstrating that compared with secular humanism, Christianity and Islam are different AND deficient.
  • Wright’s assessments of European-American treatment of Native Americans is also absurd, since they realized (long before ecologists did!) that people don’t own land; people only use land; in a sense, land owns people. Further, when land adopts additional people, it’s not uncommon for them to modify the rules for using the land, especially if the land adopts so many people that it forces them to abandon hunter-gather ways for husbandry. Associated with such changes, starting with Ancient Egyptians and Sumerians, the people usually decide that rule-based property rights are desirable. For example, as John Locke wrote (and Thomas Jefferson modified): “[people] unite [to form governments] for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties, and… property.” Thus, experience demonstrates that with population increase, some of the old ways (such as those used by hunter-gatherers) were different AND deficient.
  • Wright’s comparisons between terrorism and American foreign policy is similarly absurd. In case he didn’t know it, Japan attacked America, and with respect to America's use of the atomic bombs, Truman’s decision was simple: given that the Japanese demonstrated that they’d fight to their death, then his choice was between a policy of killing the enemy one-by-one in continued, bloody combat (leading to the simultaneous deaths of perhaps a million Americans soldiers) or killing a comparable number of the enemy essentially instantaneously, quickly ending the war. What sane human in a similar situation would have made a different choice? Similarly, although I can complain about how American leaders have executed the war against Muslim supremacists, I have no doubt that such maniacs are solely responsible for all the resulting terror, including the terror that American families feel upon learning that their loved ones have been wounded and killed by the Islamists. Furthermore, when I and most Americans compare the slavery, tribalism, and totalitarianism of Islam with the freedom, individualism, and democracy of the West, we conclude that Islam is different AND deficient.
  • Wright’s attempts to emulate Martin Luther King is not only offensive it's pointless: King successfully overcame discrimination because he calmly but persistently showed the majority of Americans that he was right; Wright, in contrast, will not be successful yelling at Americans that we are wrong, not only because the majority of us aren’t racist but also because we have evidence to support the idea that attempts are being made to blackmail us. In particular and in case he didn’t know it, a lot of white people in America are having a hard time making it and they’re tired of hearing blacks complain that the reason that blacks can’t make it is because of racism, not because they can’t read, won’t work, do drugs, and so on. Stated differently, compared with King’s goals and methods, Wright’s are different AND deficient.
I would agree, however, with one point that Wright made: Farrakhan didn't make him black; he did that to himself.

Putting the pieces together, I get a picture of Wright that contains the following features, which in total isn’t pretty:
  • He’s divisive NOT descriptive,
  • He’s an old performer who desperately needs an audience,
  • He’s an old warrior in his 60s still fighting the battle of the 60s,
  • He’s someone who means well but doesn’t know enough to do well,
  • He’s a typical, fundamentalist-Christian cleric: well versed in the Bible but otherwise ignorant,
  • He’s a zealot promoting his “truth”, perhaps mostly because he doesn’t want to admit (or can’t admit) that his “truth” is false, and
  • He’s a pain in the ass for someone, such as Obama, who has moved on past Wright’s victim mentality and dilapidated philosophy.
As for the consequences to Obama’s campaign to be the next American president, I’ll offer the following thoughts for your consideration.
  • Yes, this week’s polls show that support for Obama has fallen, but it’s still early in the race, and some voters might again change their minds, perhaps thinking: “Okay, the Wright episode tested him, but notice that he handled himself well.”
  • Yes, there are voters with white-supremacist views who will react negatively to perceived links between Obama and the black-supremacist views of Wright (and Farrakhan); yet as I already mentioned, many whites are resentful of blacks grousing for entitlements – and such whites might conclude that the best way to kick people off entitlement roles is to work to elect a black president such as Obama (or a black vice-president by the name of Condi Rice!), as a way of saying: “Hey, people, stop bitchin’: with a lot of effort on their part, people like Barack (or Condi) made it; so, guess what!”
Which then leads me to consider an eighth “D-word” to describe Wright, namely, ‘duplicitous’. As much was suggested by the competent op-ed columnist of the New York Times, Bob Herbert [who, by the way, happens to be lucky enough to have a special pigment in his skin (as do Obama and Wright) that protects against DNA damage by UV-B, so he’ll probably never need to experience the operation that I have scheduled next week]. Specifically, Herbert suggests that the purpose of Wright's “media blitz” was not as Wright claimed but to both massage his ego and get even with Obama for his dumping him.

But I’m not sure. Perhaps Wright’s goal is to protect his Church, as he said in his National Press Club speech:
…this [the “media’s attack” on “sound bites” from his sermons] is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright… this is an attack on the Black Church. It is not about Obama, McCain, Hillary, Bill, Chelsea. This is about the Black Church.
If Wright is being honest, then probably it would be better to say that he's not being duplicitous but devious.

His possible deviousness is this. Wright and others promoting “Black Liberation Theology” have a lot riding on continued viability of the conspiracy theory (also promoted by Farrakhan) that Whitey is out to get Black Americans (Blackey, I guess). So, if the black community started to question the premiss of “Liberation Theology”, if the idea gained momentum that success of blacks depends mostly on their own efforts, in particular, if blacks were confronted with the fact a black person was president of the country, then you can bet that the economic future of a whole lot of black pastors would deteriorate. So, their obvious conundrum: how could black pastors maintain their conspiracy concoction if Obama were elected president?! And then the obvious solution: undermine Obama’s candidacy!

But that speculation aside and as a final note, youngsters might want to take notice: politics plus religion is a poisonous mix. In particular, some other, twenty-something youngster, both searching for the community spirit available in a congregation and entertaining the possibility of someday getting into politics, would be well advised to be careful when choosing a congregation. Without concerns for future votes, any humanist organization would be a good choice; with concerns for future votes from theists, Unitarian Universalism (UU) would probably be better; in any case, avoid all fundamentalist religious sects like the plague, especially if they’re led by the likes of Wright (whether Christian, Muslim, or Mormon and whether led by blacks or whites).

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