Oct 29, 2012

A political 'evolution' on social conservative issues

Has Mitt Romney evolved?

According to the conservative Christian group Family Research Council, Romney has changed positions on five key issues between the Republican primaries and the general election. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that says candidates tack to the center during general elections, and become more moderate to appeal to independents and swing voters, Romney has apparently strengthened his case with social conservatives since winning the Republican party nomination.

Where once he was squishy, apparently, on the issues the FRC cared about, now he's firm. Where once the FRC judged the Mass. governor to be only 50 percent in line with the positions of "values voters," he now has a perfect score.

Of course it's possible it's not Romney who has changed.

Oct 24, 2012

'We have to forgive him'

Lu Lobello, a former Marine who was involved in the killing of three civilians in the early days of the war in Iraq, approached the family, now American immigrants, asking for forgiveness.

The family is Jehovah's Witness.

As recalled by the journalist who reported the story, that made a difference:

The timeline of future history

The timeline of future history

Matthew Sutton:
Why the antichrist matters in politics.
Was FDR the Antichrist: The birth of fundamentalist antiliberalism in a global age.

Oct 23, 2012

Obamacare prevents abortions

A new study suggests that the Affordable Care Act, i.e., "Obamacare," may be "the single most effective piece of 'pro-life' legislation in the past forty years," reducing abortions by up to 78 percent (!). The study tested the effects of Obamacare by covering the costs of birth control -- particularly more expensive but more effective methods -- for poor and currently uninsured or under-insured women.

The results:
"Between 2008 and 2010, abortion rates in CHOICE [study] participants ranged from 4.4 to 7.5 per 1,000 after adjusting for age and race. These rates are considerably less than the rates in St. Louis City and County for the same years and far below the national rate of 19.6 per 1,000. Using these data, we then estimated the difference in abortion rates and number of abortions prevented each year if CHOICE were available to the entire population of the region. Based on the number needed to treat, one abortion could be prevented for every 79–137 women and teenagers provided the CHOICE intervention.

".... changes in contraceptive policy simulating the Contraceptive CHOICE Project would prevent as many as 62–78% of abortions performed annually in the United States."
In the first year of the study, providing birth control for more than 9,000 women prevented an estimated 3,000 pregnancies that would have likely resulted in abortions. In comparison to women from the surrounding area in the same socio-economic bracket, the number of abortions in subsequent years was reduced by nearly 2,000 per year.

The study -- done by Jeffrey F. Peipert, Tessa Madden, Jenifer E. Allsworth and Gina M. Secura at the Washington University School of Medicine --  concludes that this is a "a clinically and statistically significant reduction in abortion rates," supporting the idea that "Unintended pregnancies may be reduced by providing no-cost contraception and promoting the most effective contraceptive methods."

Providing "no-cost contraception" is exactly what Obamacare would do, if not gutted or repealed by Republicans.

Oct 22, 2012

The religion in the politics of George McGovern

September 1, 1970 saw a moment critical to the history of religion in American politics. A moment that doesn't fit the standard narrative of what religion-in-politics in American means, yet was, nevertheless, an example of one of the important ways faith has spoken in the public square, but is dismissed as being somehow not real, not counting as really religious.

On that day in the US Senate an amendment came up for a vote that would have ended the Vietnam war. It was drafted by two Christian men, two men whose liberal politics were informed by their Christianity: Mark Hatfield and George McGovern.

The Hatifled-McGovern amendment was known as the "amendment to end the war." It linked military funding to a deadline for troop withdraw from Vietnam. It was the strongest opposition to the Nixon administration and the never-ending military conflict at the time, and McGovern made it stronger by giving a speech that could rightly seen as in the tradition of Old Testament prophets. Right before voting started, McGovern said:
"Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land -- young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes ... if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us. So before we vote, let us ponder the admonition of Edmund Burke, the great parliamentarian of an earlier day: 'A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood.'"
Hatfield's religious commitments have been noted. The late Oregon Senator was called "Saint Mark," and is something of a symbol of the possibility of a religious left. A committed evangelical, Hatfield believed that the pressing moral issues of his day were war, racism, and the unjust distribution of wealth. He believed that evangelicals should rise up to oppose the "Biblical Nationalism" that was being propagated in their name.

McGovern's religious commitments are not particularly a part of the public character, "McGovern."

He, after all, was famously tarred as the candidate for draft-dodger's amnesty, abortions, and acid.

His name, after all, has become a synonym for loony liberalism, and everyone knows that that's the Godless wing of American politics.

A closer look, though, shows that the life and politics of George McGovern, who died yesterday at the age of 90, was deeply informed and rooted in his Christianity.

Oct 16, 2012

Sitting for spirits

Man with a spirit face appearing

More spirit photography at the National Media Museum, which has made many of these photos available online.

Oct 15, 2012

John Bunyan's accident of fiction

"When at the first I took my pen in hand
Thus for to write, I did not understand
That I at all should make a little book
In such a mode; nay, I had undertook
To make another; which, when almost done,
Before I was aware, I this begun.

"And thus it was: I, writing on the way
And race of saints, in this our gospel day,
Fell suddenly into an allegory"
-- John Bunyan, "The Author's Apology for his Book," Pilgrim's Progress

Oct 12, 2012

Biden v. Ryan on Catholicism & abortion

The vice presidential candidates -- both Catholic -- answer the question of "what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion."

Did Billy Graham just try to convert Mitt Romney?

Billy Graham has been challenged, many times, on his relationship to power. The famed evangelist has "met with every sitting American president from Harry Truman to President Obama," as the Washington Post puts it, and has, at least on some occasions, been used politically by powerful figures, made into a  religious fig leaf for presidents without much faith of their own.

His relationship to Nixon, especially, has been criticized. It was said his presence as Nixon's spiritual adviser served to lend tacit if not explicit approval of the administration. His presence implied his blessing.

Graham has, in recent years, admitted he made some mistakes in this regard. He's said if he could do it again, he'd do it differently. Yet, his argument has always been and continues to be that he would go anywhere, talk to anyone, accept any audience, as long as he could preach the gospel.

He told Christianity Today in 1974:
"I have said for many years that I will go anywhere to preach the Gospel, whether to the Vatican, the Kremlin, or the White House, if there are no strings attached on what I am to say. I have never had to submit the manuscript to the White House or get anybody's approval. I have never informed any President of what I was going to say ahead of time. They all know that when I come to preach, I intend to preach the Gospel."
A year ago, he reiterated this, telling the magazine that he was "grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to."

This context of "no strings attached" might inform how one views yesterday's closed-door meeting between the now 93-year-old Graham and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  Of course there are many reasons Graham might have wanted the 30-minute meeting to be private, allowing only for a few pictures at the end, but one also has to wonder: Did Graham preach the gospel to the Mormon Mitt Romney?

Did Graham ask Romney if he'd been born again, or tell Romeny he needed Jesus in his life, to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior?

And what did Romney say?

L-R: Romney, Billy Graham, Franklin Graham.

Oct 11, 2012

Partial & elusive truths:
The aestheic values of Ron Hansen's 'Christian fiction'

Ron Hansen is a Christian fiction writer. Except, with him, the sense of "Christian fiction writer" is that he's a Christian who writes fiction and a writer who writes fiction that's informed by and shaped by his faith, not that he belongs to the genres or markets generally referred to by the term.

He has, perhaps to make that exactly that distinction, criticized the genres of Christian fiction with criticisms that are fairly broad, fairly sweeping. Hansen has said he dislikes Christian fiction because it "is often in fact pallid allegory, a form of sermonizing."

In another context, Hansen has expanded that critique, and challenged, even, the Christianness of Christian fiction. In A Stay Against Confusion, he writes: 
"So-called Christian fiction is often in fact pallid allegory, or a form of sermonizing, or is a reduction into formula, providing first-century, Pauline solutions to oversimplified problems, sometimes yielding to a Manichean dualism wherein good and evil are plainly at war, or offering as Christianity conservative politics. We cannot call a fiction Christian just because there is no irreligion in it, no skepticism, nothing to cause offense."
Whether or not that's a fair critique of Christian fiction, it does get at the sense of the aesthetic expression of Christianity that Hansen values.

Or rather, doesn't value: Pallid allegory, sermonizing, formula and over-simplification are the negative terms. On the other side, the positive terms of his specifically Catholic aesthetic measures are more ambiguous. Not that he doesn't or hasn't articulated them, but that they're still pretty vague, even articulated, and it's just not really clear what these values would mean in the context of a novel -- or how they work out in the context of his novels.

'We must disagree with those prophets of gloom'

"In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life. They behave as though at the time of former Councils everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea and life and for proper religious liberty.

"We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand."
-- Pope John XXIII, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia (Mother Church Rejoices), the opening speech of the Second Vatican Council, which began 50 years ago today.  

Oct 5, 2012

Cut off my head / and put the black mules there

Accounting for the dominance of contemporary worship music

[Repost from Sept. 2011]
From the mid '80s to the mid '90s, roughly, there was a struggle in many American evangelical churches over worship music. In some places, it was the most controversial issue. The "worship wars."

It seems like for the most part contemporary music won out. Where there was a struggle, new music won. Choruses and worship bands pretty much predominate evangelical churches, and quite a few mainline churches too. It's not like you can't find traditional Christian church music in an evangelical church, can't find a piano and a hymn book somewhere (or even, on very rare occasions, an organ), but, for the most part, that's not what happens in evangelical churches on Sunday mornings.

The new classics of Christian worship -- the songs that everyone knows -- are "Mighty to Save", "Lord I Lift Your Name on High", and "Shout to the Lord".

What I haven't seen, though, is a good account of why contemporary music won. The sense, at least for those who still sometimes pine for older songs and so still talk about those days of hymns of yore, seems to be that the change was inevitable and inexorable. That it had to happen.

I don't find the Hegelian idea of telologically-determined history satisfying, though, so I'd like to know why contemporary music, which was so controversial for so many, has come to be so broadly accepted.

Oct 4, 2012

Fighting w/ St. Francis

[Reposted from Oct. 4, 2012]

St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast day is today, is one of those once-powerful religious figures who've been totally domesticated. His radicalness, his weirdness, his challenge -- it's all smothered in quaint-saint gooeyness.*

The power's still there, of course, in potential, but Francis is made safe for the world (Catholic and Protestant, religious or not). We ensure he, the saint of the garden figurine, only ever works to affirm, always so supportive.

I am not saying, here, that it's other people who do this. I'm saying you do this, unless your first response to Francis is to want to punch him.

I'm saying I definitely do this.

I'm saying there's a covered-up part of St. Francis that we cover up that would make you and me go, what the hell...?

Oct 3, 2012

A teaching career

The professor, as imagined in children's lit: a tumblr.

Oct 2, 2012

Strategic misremembering

There was a lot of celebration following the Supreme Court's decision in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC. For those who see themselves as defenders of religious liberty, the decision was a victory. A triumph. Religious liberty won, the "current Administration’s audacity" and "an unprecedented aggression" was "repudiated by a unanimous Supreme Court," and the "secularists" were taken to the woodshed.

So why are those who celebrate this victory systematically misrepresenting it?

Oct 1, 2012

The color of the image of God

"Then Sister Rosmarie told us to go back to our work. Which was a perfectly silly thing to say because when Sister Rosmarie was in your class you paid attention to Sister Rosmarie. Even the kindergartners knew that.

"So, our eyes stayed on Sister Rosmarie as she grabbed the chair, dragged it across the floor to the front of the room, then she stood on the top of the chair with her back to the class. In our classroom, just like in every class room, there was a crucifix. The crucifix had a blond wooden cross with a figure of Christ suspended on it. Then, with her back to the class, Sister Rosmarie teetered on her tippy-toes, firmly grabbed the bottom of the crucifix, and took it off the wall.

"By this point, no one was reading or even pretending to pay attention to anything else. She placed the cross aside, reached up, again on her tip-toes, and replaced the old crucifix with a new one.
"And on this cross was a black Jesus." 
A story by Sonari Glinton about his church in Chicago in the 1970s.

Anyone interested in this subject would do well to check out the new book by two scholars of American religion, Paul Harvey and Edward J. Blum, The Color of Christ.