Mar 31, 2012


Mar 30, 2012

Fireball Mail

Mar 29, 2012

The theology of the Hutaree

"Hutaree" is a made-up word. A neologism meaning, for the few people using the word of themselves and then, after a confrontation with police two years ago, for the media, "Christian Warrior."

What "Christian" means in that definition is less clear.

When the Hutaree is called a Christian militia, what does the "Christian" in that mean?

Not to say, even, that there's a normative definition of "Christian" and then question whether or not the Hutaree meet that standard. I'm not interesting in questions of whether or not the Hutaree were "real" Christians. The questions, rather, are these: given that they thought of themselves or think of themselves as Christian, what do they mean by the word? How did they understand that term and what that was and what it meant to be that? How did their faith, their theology, their understanding of God, the Bible and the gospel message, connect to being a militia in Southern Michigan in 2010?

Though there's been more than a little reporting on this Michigan group in the last two years, from the time they were in a standoff with authorities to this week, when they were acquitted of charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government, I'm still not sure of any of the details of the theology of the Hutaree.

Mar 28, 2012

'the national policy of the ... armed spreading of slavery'

"The cultivation of the southern export articles, cotton, tobacco, sugar , etc., carried on by slaves, is only remunerative as long as it is conducted with large gangs of slaves, on a mass scale and on wide expanses of a naturally fertile soil, which requires only simple labour. Intensive cultivation, which depends less on fertility of the soil than on investment of capital, intelligence and energy of labour, is contrary to the nature of slavery. Hence the rapid transformation of states like Maryland and Virginia, which formerly employed slaves on the production of export articles, into states which raise slaves to export them into the deep South.

Mar 27, 2012

How do corporations pray, when they pray to God?

The idea that "corporations are people" seems at first to be a joke. Or an arcane legal fact, a definition of "corporation" in a context where the definition of "people" isn't what you would naturally think it was.

No one would probably care whether corporations are (legal) people or not, anyway, except for the very real political consequences attached to that doctrine.

It's interesting, though, to see that the idea has taken hold not just in legal and political spheres, but elsewhere too. People who, I'm confident, know as little about corporate law as I do, have taken this idea that corporations are "people" quite seriously.

And drawn natural conclusions. Such as:

Starbucks hates God and follows Satan.

Mar 26, 2012

Altensteig sky

Mar 25, 2012

Laß mich hören Freude und Wonne,
daß die Gebeine fröhlich werden,
die du zerschlagen hast.

-- Psalm 51, Luther Bible, 1545

Mar 23, 2012

"and interesting, and modern"

Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.

The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.

It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.
Mayakovsky, by Frank O'Hara.

Mar 22, 2012

Why the sudden love for Coptic Christians?

Monophysite is not a word you know if you're not a theologian. Not a specialist in early church controversies or the history of heresies.

Unless you're a Copt.

Mar 21, 2012

Us, after 3 years of being us.


After 3 years of being "us."

Assumptions and exploitations in fact and fabrication

The working conditions at Chinese factories making Apple products are harsh.

Brutal even.

This, it seems, is generally agreed upon.

If one sorts through the inventions and exaggerations in the story Mike Daisey tells This American Life about Foxconn, this fact remains. A lot of the fabrications are actually incidental. The guards at the gates don't have guns, e.g. The exaggerations, too, don't really change this basic point.

Daisey lied, and lied about his lies, and undermined his own credibility, and the story has now been retracted by This American Life, in a fairly impressive act of journalistic integrity. But, in the well documented, very fact-based story about Foxconn offered as a corrective to Daisey's untrustworthy account, a less dramatized version of the same point is made.

These people in these factories about being exploited. They're working in conditions that are bad for people to work in.

There's another commonality between the true story and the false one that gives me pause, though.

Both stories, in the way they ask questions and the questions they ask, assume and presuppose one kind of answer. And only one kind of answer. An answer which, once presumed, precludes other answers from the discussion. And which, in being assumed, reiterates and reinforces an entire system, which may in fact be the system producing the problems the questions are purportedly about.

To let Ira Glass explain:

Mar 20, 2012

'... in this high noon of Christian civilization'

Eugene V. Debbs released from Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, Christmas Day, 1921. While in the penitentiary, Debbs ran for president on the Socialist ticket, receiving 3.4 percent of the vote.

Eugene V. Debbs, Statement to the Court Upon Conviction of Violation of the Sedition Act:
"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

"... I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and the factories; of the men in the mines and on the railroads. I am thinking of the women who for a paltry wage are compelled to work out their barren lives; of the little children who in this system are robbed of their childhood and in their tender years are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the monster machines while they themselves are being starved and stunted, body and soul. I see them dwarfed and diseased and their little lives broken and blasted because in this high noon of Christian civilization money is still so much more important than the flesh and blood of childhood. In very truth gold is god today and rules with pitiless sway in the affairs of men."

See also: "How I Became a Socialist," and the seditious speech, called "the Canton, Ohio speech." The whole archive of Debbs speeches can be found at the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive.

Mar 19, 2012

‘Secularization’ means it’s complicated

The theory of secularization -- or, rather, the stupid version of the theory of secularization -- has been abandoned by those who study such things.

Those who still hold to some more nuanced form of the theory take great pains to clarify that of course they don't think religion is in an inexorable, inevitable decline and will, like an evaporating puddle, slowly disappear from the earth. To think that's secularization, secularization theorists say, is a misunderstanding, a misrepresentation of the idea.

In his book Secularization: In Defense of an Unfashionable Theory, for example, Steve Bruce very avidly argues secularization has happened and is happening, and yet he says this idea of religion's inevitable disappearance is critics' straw-man misconstrual of his position. He says no modern sociologist has taken secularization to be inevitable.

Rather, Bruce says, secularization will happen and has happened in the sense that religion is increasingly displaced from the center of human life. Or, more boldly, that "the social power of religion, the number of people who take it seriously, and how seriously they take it" are all decreasing.

Secularization doesn’t mean that religion will disappear, but that it will change. And more, that there will be increasing variety in what it means to be religious, and how people are religious, and what people take “religious” to mean. It's just not the case that religion will decline indefinitely: that’s not what secularization theorist are saying, and not what the numbers actually show. There's no data and no good interpretation of the data that supports that.

Which is not to say there are not plenty of bad interpretations out there. Take the United Kingdom's Office for National Statistics in the report "Religion in Great Britain" (pdf), which was widely, uncritically reported.

E.g., "Atheists likely to outnumber Christians in England in 20 Years,” the Religion News Service's report on the study, which was picked up and run as-is by Christian Century, Crosswalk, the Washington Post and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason.

The big news: "If these populations continue to shrink and grow by the same number of people each year," the study said, "the number of people with no religion will overtake the number of Christians in Great Britain in 20 years."

Except, no.

Mar 18, 2012

Denn der Vogel hat ein Haus gefunden 
und die Schwalbe ihr Nest, da sie Junge hecken: 
deine Altäre, 
HERR Zebaoth.

-- Pslam 84, Luther Bible, 1545

Mar 17, 2012

John Searle's stupid face

John Searle is disproportionately annoying. I'm reading his The Construction of Social Reality, to compare it to Peter Berger's work on the social construction of reality. The book will perhaps be helpful precisely in how wrong-headed it can be. I find Searle more frustrating than any other philosopher, I think, and frustrating even in excess of the amount he's wrong. It's not because he's wrong, but because his most basic argument, the ground beneath what he has to say, is "isn't it obvious?"

No it isn't John R. Searle. That's why there's philosophy.

If it were obvious, or clear, or "of course," there wouldn't be any point to your writing anything about it, would there? So for chrissake cut it out.

Mar 16, 2012

Hey You!
On interpellation of suspended disbelief

Every Jack Chick tract ends with a choice: accept Jesus or don't; take this goofy cartoon proselytization seriously or as a joke; believe or disbelieve.

This is obvious.

This is the whole point of evangelism, to get one to the moment of decision. Where one must make a decision. Where one has to choose, and there are just these two choices, all the world bifurcated into two exclusive options, and all of one's actions, possible and potential, are at this moment now choices, one way or another. Accept. Or reject.

Say a prayer.

Or throw the little cartoon tract away.

What's interesting to me, though, is how one becomes the "one" caught in this dichotomous choice.

The text at some point turns on the reader, and changes the rules.

The text, at some point, reaches out to the reader to include the reader, turning directly to face the reader and say, "You." And announces the reader's reading, and on the basis of the reader's reading announces there is a game being played, with a limited number of possible moves and no way not to play, as not playing is a certain sort of move in this game that has already begun, by virtue of you the reader's reading.

What interests me here is how suspended disbelief -- with which the reader believes conditionally in order to read, the condition being always the opportunity to step out of that pretending to believe, the freedom to look up from the book -- is turned into an ultimatum to believe or disbelieve.

Mar 14, 2012

Defining "Christian fiction"

Those who would defend the genre(s) of Christian fiction sometimes seem peculiarly committed to muddying the water around any definition what Christian fiction is.

It's almost as if the only way they think they can defend it is by causing some confusion, and by obscuring any understanding of what it is.

The only clear way I know to talk about it, and talk about what we mean to be talking about "Christian fiction," is to talk about Christian fiction as a genre or a series of genres, and as a market. So: Christian fiction is what is sold on the Christian fiction market, which is determined by the things that determine the shapes of markets, and Christian fiction is marked by conventions of genre that make it distinguishable from other, similar fiction.

Mar 12, 2012

The Possibility of Secularity and the Material History of Fiction

Short abstract:
This paper attempts to ground unbelief and secularity in material history, showing how their possibility arose out of concrete social changes. Further, it attempts to elucidate the structure of secularity, as it relates to unbelief and belief, and how that structure in tied to those changes.

It does this by cross-reading two academic discourses. The first is the emergence of a bourgeois public sphere, which is a secular space in society, and how that made belief a fragile matter of private choice. The second is the development of printing, the subsequent book market, and their effects on human consciousness.

Finding the intersection of the print revolution and the emergence of secular space in the advent of the novel, this paper suggests secularity owes its structure to fiction, and it's existence to the concrete social changes that produced novels.

Long abstract:
Alain de Botton has recently received some attention for his call for atheists and secularists to reclaim and recover ritual. According to de Botton, secularists would do well to appropriate aspects of religious practice, as “religions know we are not just brains, we are also bodies, and when they teach us a lesson, they do it via the body.” Implicit in this is the idea that unbelief, like belief, is not an immaterial abstraction, simply disembodied thought, but is, in fact, constituted and communicated in social practices. Picking up this idea, this paper attempts to ground unbelief and secularity in material history, showing how their possibility arose out of concrete social changes. Further, it attempts to elucidate the structure of secularity, as it relates to unbelief and belief, and how that structure in tied to those changes.

Mar 11, 2012

A surprisingly excellent presentation of Sturcturalism, from Houston Baptist University.

Via: Partially Examined Life.

Mar 10, 2012

The depth of bas

Mar 8, 2012

Socialists & pentecostals: radicals together in 1910s Missouri

"Dynamic crosscurrents -- social, cultural, ideological, and political -- linked the rural socialist movement to the thriving Pentecostal tent revivals that were then attracting rural poor people throughout the area. Here were socialists praising, joining with, and using the same scripture as Pentecostals; there were Pentecostals preaching at revival meetings to groups of socialists and other workers, and then joining with them to threaten and beat up a despised plantation owner. Finally, there were socialists and Pentecostals in court together, and later in jail, as local elites worked to eliminate them as threats. Both sets of radicals -- religious and political -- were considered equally dangerous by the dominant classes. These findings confounded my understanding at the time on two counts, namely that socialists were uninterested in religion and that southern Christians, especially Pentecostals, were resolutely apolitical, if not outright antagonistic to worldly affairs."

Jarod Roll, "Reading Religious Belief as Working-Class Religious History," in the Journal of Southern Religion.

The latest edition of the journal has a really interesting roundtable on the question: "How might the study of religion in the early twentieth-century South appear differently if scholars emphasized class as a category of analysis?"

I need to read Roll's book: I might have to re-consider my disbelief in the possibility of pentecostal social justice.
Hands and throats and other bodily metaphors for capitalism

Edinburgh's statue of Adam Smith, and someone being fed a balloon by an invisible hand.

Incidentally, I also saw where Karl Marx lived in London. There's no marker on the house, but the ground floor is a cafe/bar called Price Fixe.

Mar 7, 2012

Are Dutch Calvinists clergy disengaging from politics?

A fact that makes no sense to me: between 1989 and 2001, support for political activism declined among the clergy of the Christian Reformed Church and Reformed Church in America.

This from Divided by a Common Heritage, by Corwin Smidt, Donald Luidens, James Penning and Roberg Nemeth, a quantitative, sociological study of the two major Dutch Calvinist denominations in America at the beginning of the 21st century.

They say, specifically, that among the CRC clergy, support for national organizations promoting political beliefs dropped from 75 percent to 55 percent. Among the RCA, from 62 to 45.

Belief it's a good thing to "commit civil disobedience to protest some evil" dropped from 52 percent for the CRC in 1989 to 26 percent in 2001. That's by half. Among the RCA clergy, 54 percent supported the idea of civil disobedience in '89, but only 22 percent supported it in '01. That's more than half.

The numbers continue like this.

Religion and science at peace in their natural habitat

As America's most famous scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson must feel a pretty strong pull to pronounce on the conflict between science and religion. He's shared a stage with and collaborated with Richard Dawkins*, recommended projects to Sam Harris, and is a professional spokesperson for "science." He sees intelligent design** as an attempt to end inquiry with the invocation of a deity. He's not, himself, from what I can tell, a person of faith. He has said, anyway, he doesn't find divine benevolence plausible, given all the ways the universe "is trying to kill us" and there's "no sign of any benevolent anything anywhere."

And yet.

Kind of brilliantly, he rejects the so-called conflict. He denies it exists. And, more brilliantly, he does this by refusing to reify "science" and "religion." That is, refusing to take these as things that exist in their own right, rather than as activities that humans do.

So, e.g., he says there's no inherent conflict between science and religion, and says it's simply empirical that there's no conflict, because there are many people for whom that conflict does not exist. I.e., science and religion, as things done by humans, are not always experienced as a conflict.

Mar 4, 2012

Mar 3, 2012

The aesthetics of ontological arguments

Gödel's ontological proof of God's existence, using modal logic.

I don't understand modal logic, but think that's amazing & beautiful on its own, w/o even an explanation. Just aesthetically. In one of the libraries at the University of Tübingen, there's a bridge over a creek from one part of the library to another (it's a big library), & the walls are all glass with classic texts written on them. I could see this written there.

Or in stain glass. Maybe in a chapel with Rothko paintings.

From the explanations I read, the crux of Gödel's proof is:

IF it is possible for a rational omniscient being to exist THEN necessarily a rational omniscient being exists.

Mar 2, 2012

Altizer & Zizek talk Death of God theology

From "Whither the 'Death of God': A Continuing Currency?" at the American Academy of Religion.

Nathan Schneider, of Killing the Buddha, wrote about this meeting in Theologians ♥ Zizek. Schneider (who, full disclosure, I've worked with and liked a lot) also recapitulated the more-or-less standard take on Death of God in The Life and Death of the Death of God.

J. Ridenour picked up on Atlizer's mention of Melville in Moby Dick and the Dark God.

'Death of God' theology by any other name

There's a very standard critique of "Death of God" theology that says it was a fad, a single magazine cover, essentially a flashy package with nothing inside. It's taken to be either theological liberalism all jazzed up or atheism with a catchy name. It was just bad ideas mashed up again and sold with a new label.

The only new thing, the only part that worked, the critique goes, was that name: Death of God theology.

This is exactly backwards.

The main thing wrong with Death of God theology is the name. The theology that has gone under that name, though, is significant, interesting, and worth thinking through.

The reason that thinking isn't considered isn't because the thinking is facile, failed and re-packaged, but because of that package. It's not that the name made people consider the thinking and they then found it worthless, but, rather, that the name made is possible to completely ignore the thinking in the first place, to just take that shiny package with the headline-friendly name and set it aside.

Mar 1, 2012

Notes on impressions of religion in the UK on a short trip

  • The British press does not like Richard Dawkins.

  • There's a sense in America that everyone is basically like Dawkins in Europe and in the UK specifically. There's the idea Dawkins represents the standard, acceptable, assumed reality. I.e., that Great Britain is secular, and that this is what secular means. But, in the press the last week of March, Dawkins was dismissed, actually, as too American, as having been "Americanised."

    Which seems to mean a) mean, b) egotistical, and c) aggressively insistent about his own certainty and everyone elses' wrongheadedness (i.e., fundamentalist).

    In an interview with Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams, Williams was given points for being polite, engaged, reasonable and personable. When Dawkins said Williams' idea of evolution doesn't line up with Pope Benedict XVI's -- a silly statement, on the face of it, but probably meant to imply the Archbishop might not be a real Christian -- Williams said he'd ask the Pope about his views "next time I see him." This was praised, as was Williams' joke about his beard.

    The fact that the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science has his name in it was considered to be a prime example of what's wrong with Dawkins.

    In a BBC radio interview with the Rev. Giles Fraser, Fraser was not polite, and was given points for giving Dawkins a taste of his own medicine, essentially. There was considerable delight in the idea of Dawkins being embarrassed. He's seen as a bully being shamed, apparently.

  • There's more observable religious diversity in Edinburgh than in Birmingham, London, or Newcastle.

  • I have no idea if there is more religious diversity, but I saw more in Scotland than England. There was a synagogue near our hotel near the university, with a prominent stone inscription attributed to Hillel, a mosque on a main street, a small spritualist church near the beach, and also a larger variety of Christian churches, including Catholic, Reformed, Baptist and non-denominational.

    The only Christian bookstore I saw was in Edinburgh.

    In Birmingham, London and Newcastle I saw Anglican churches, mostly, with only couple of Catholic churches and a few apparently non-denominational ones. A Christian campus ministry in Newcastle appeared pretty active, if small, with a drum circle near where students walk everyday and a free lunch at a church. A cab driver in Birmingham had Hindu icons in his cab. (Incidentally, it turns out I do not know how to start a conversation about Hinduism in a 7 a.m. cab ride to the airport).

    I don't know what to conclude from this, if anything.

  • I saw three people reading Bibles in public.

  • All of them were minorities on public transportation. One of the Bibles was a huge black floppy Bible -- the size of a laptop computer, though considerably thicker.