Jun 29, 2013

Jun 28, 2013

'America's greatest theologian' beyond America

The broader contexts of Edwards and Edwards work are important, and have been overlooked or underplayed for too long. The history of "America's greatest theologian" is not strictly an American history.

Jun 25, 2013

Marriage traditionalists shoot the messaging

There's a consensus growing among marriage traditionalists that they have lost the political and public battles over same-sex marriage. Now, it seems, the fight is over. It's just a matter of time. Whether it was electoral losses that made it seem this way, or polls that show that there've been dramatic shifts of public opinion, or something else, pessimism has won.

There's not a consensus about why, though. There are evolving discussions -- fights? -- trying to come to some conclusion about this. Why did the conservatives lose this? Why did they lose so suddenly, so dramatically, so apparently irrevocably, but most especially just, why did they lose? Even a few years ago, it didn't seem so inevitable.

Nathan Hitchen, of the John Jay Institute, thinks he has the answer. Marriage traditionalists lost because they were too rational. They got carried away by the clear logic of their arguments, and forgot that arguments alone can't sway the body politic.

It wasn't the message. It was the messaging.

Jun 24, 2013

'I cannot trust the Christian church'

James Baldwin, on the racism of America's white churches:

In The Fire Next Time, Baldwin writes that African Americans have generally been bewildered that white Americans think of themselves as they do, as obviously good, and good at heart, despite the evidence of their institutions and history. He writes:
The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed the collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace, that Americans have always dealt honorably with Mexicans and Indians and all other neighbors or inferiors, that American men are the world's most direct and virile, that American women are pure. Negros know far more about white Americans than that; it can almost be said, in fact, that they know about white Americans what parents -- or, anyway, mothers -- know about their children, and that they often regard white Americans that way. And perhaps this attitude, held in spite of what they know and thwat they have endured, helps to explain why Negroes, on the whole, and until lately, have allowed themselves to feel so little hatred. The tendency really has been, insofar as this was possible, to dismiss white people as the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing.

Jun 18, 2013

Work window, in summer

Work window, in summer

On a personal note, this is the first photo I have ever taken with an iPhone.

Jun 12, 2013

Huckabee's church tax plan

The practical reasons why this won't happen are pretty insurmountable. 1. Giving would likely decline. 2. Churches' paperwork would increase. Those practical problems likely far outweigh any ideological issues of church-state relationships for the vast majority of American pastors.

That said, those ministers who object to the conditions of tax exempt status, specifically the limitations on political speech as a violation of their freedom, are really being pretty silly. Anyone who knows how these things work -- and the pastors know -- knows that all they have to do is reject tax exempt status.

If politics from the pulpit is a God-given right, then don't trade it for porridge.

For most, though, seriously, not being bogged down with paperwork and offering wealthy donors tax deductions on their tithes does more for their ministry, as they see their ministry, than an annual who-to-vote-for sermon ever would.

The gospel and the coalition of silence

The silence from Evangelical 'leaders' regarding the issue of child sexual abuse within the Church was deafening and spoke volumes. Why no statements about the horrors of child sexual abuse and the apparent horrors of the abuse that occurred in these two churches? Why no statements from Evangelical leaders that express grave concern that there is even a possibility that these church leaders instructed victims and their families to embrace the horrors of silence? We are now told by some that the silence was because of pending litigation. Really? Since when have Christians allowed pending civil litigation to silence them over sin?     
[....] the Gospel is about a God who didn’t remain silent in the face of sin, but took self-sacrificial action in order to openly confront sin and redeem those He loves for His ultimate glory. A Gospel-centered response to child sexual abuse begins with our understanding that silence is not an option.
-- Boz Tchividjian, "Where are the voices?" 

Jun 10, 2013

'Faith changed people's lives'

This American Life's Ira Glass on his relationship with Christians who reach out to Chicago gang kids, and how they tried to convert him to Christianity:

"In the end ... believe or not believing in God wasn't something I felt like I had a choice about. I simply found I didn't believe. It seemed attractive to believe. It seems like you get a lot out of belief, if you have it. And I had witnessed with my own eyes the change that belief had made in the lives of people I had met .... I witnessed how faith totally changed people's lives. But when I looked at what I believed myself, I just found I didn't believe."

Jun 9, 2013

Jun 8, 2013

How New Atheists are like Victorian-era bishops

The secularization thesis -- the most traditional version, rather crude, which predicted religion would disappear from the modern world -- is dead. I don't know that there's a generally agreed upon moment when that theory died. Certainly by the late 90s it was clear to sociologists that while certain social relationships, such as that between the general population and religious authorities, were changing, and that many religious beliefs and practices were morphing and diversifying, religion itself wasn't going away.

About a decade later, there were the New Atheists. While of course this movement made arguments about the validity of theistic beliefs, a major emphasis was actually on the moral imperative of secularization. The argument was that religion was a destructive, negative force that should disappear from the modern world. The New Atheists didn't rely on secularization as an empirical claim, particularly, saying that religion was, observably, disappearing (though sometimes they said that too), but made, more, a normative moral claim that religion ought to disappear.

Is there a connection between the demise of the sociological theory of secularization and the emergence of New Atheists' arguments for secularization?

Philosopher Charles Taylor, author of A Secular Age, said that there might be during an international, interdisciplinary graduate seminar at the University of Tübingen this last week.

Asked about the New Atheists during a question-and-answer period, Taylor said:
They are people who are really in a position where they’re, where they have a feeling ... of being besieged. I think I understand why they’re so upset. They had this sense that history was on their side and then this didn’t happen. It’s rather like bishops in the Victorian church and then there was Darwin.... That’s a very interesting phenomena. It used to be the picture, where dogmatic views were dying and freethinkers felt they owned the future. I don’t really understand this development. I’m just reporting on it. But it’s very interesting that there’s been this reversal, so that they now feel besieged.
Taylor's suggestion was that the much commented-upon style of the New Atheists -- the "militancy" and aggression -- comes from a sense that history is arcing in the wrong direction. In that way, if not in any other, these public atheists might be compared to American fundamentalists.

For their part, at least some of the New Atheists remain committed to the sociological thesis of secularization that sociologists have now either completely abandoned or dramatically modified (into various neo-secularization theories, including Taylor's own). In an interview to promote their recent documentary, both Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss said they thought theistic beliefs would, eventually, come to an end.

Krauss said, "When I was a kid in the ’60s, I was sure that by now there would be no religion. In a way it’s very surprising that there are these momentary resurgences. I think it’s going to be a long road."

Dawkins was more adamant that religion is vanishing, even if not as evenly and as quickly as was once commonly predicted. He said, "If you look at the broad sweep of history, then clearly we’re on the winning side. I think things are moving in the right direction, probably not as fast as I would like to see."

Only time will tell "who owns the future." There's an interesting question, though, that could be further explored, about how the sense of whether or not historical trends are tending towards or against one's position shape the way that position is articulated and the tenor of the general arguments.

Jun 3, 2013

Metropolitan Jonah's future plans

More details of the negotiations between the Orthodox Church in America and the now-retired Metropolitan Jonah have emerged, via Ryan Hunter on his blog, Orthodox in the District. Jonah, it seems, was pushing the church that forced him to resign for a stipend, retention of his title, and freedom to minister. Now that these things are settled, he may found a monastery in Maryland.

Hunter writes:
Metropolitan Jonah has been awarded a monthly stipend along with insurance coverage, and he will not be expected to absent himself from both Dallas and Washington, D.C. as earlier demanded, but will free to live where he likes. He [will] be listed as the OCA’s most recently retired former Primate and Metropolitan, and he will keep the style of Metropolitan, since he was consecrated to this honor at his enthronement in November 2008.

Joyfully, Metropolitan Jonah is also free to serve wherever he likes and will be free to start a monastery, as he has wished to do for some time. Plans are currently underway to look into acquiring a rural Maryland site near Washington, D.C. which has a host of beautiful buildings. Evidently, Metropolitan Jonah will also be at liberty to request transfer to another jurisdiction if he so wishes, but he is also welcome to stay on as a retired Metropolitan in the OCA.
A convert and a supporter of Jonah, Hunter judges this a positive resolution.

Jonah has been active at a Russian Orthodox parish, in recent days, fueling speculation he may transfer out of the OCA. He's been at a church in D.C., among other things offering a lecture series titled Orthodoxy 101. The first lecture:

Jun 2, 2013

Wanted: a history of America's irreligious

Lincoln Mullen, who's writing a doctoral dissertation at Brandeis on "The Varieties of Religious Conversion," has an excellent post on Religion in American History on the possibility of a history of the not-religious, the irreligious. As Mullen notes, this is ground I'm exploring with the class I'm teaching on the history of American Atheism. This is a case, though, where the harvest is plentiful, the workers a pitiful few.

Mullen suggests attention should especially be paid to the non-eliete irreligious, if possible. He writes:
Irreligion was far more widespread than just among elites. If we trust work on the historical demography of American religion ... then there is reason to think that American religious history has neglected a lot of people. Simply put, if religion and specifically groups like Methodists, Baptists, and Catholics were growing constantly, and not just from immigration, then they had to grow from somewhere. Who were these secularists or 'nones'? The nineteenth century has bequeathed us competing explanations. The secularist explanation was that the more education one possessed, the further back one had pushed the superstitions of religion. Perhaps -- but only post-Darwin, and then only for elites. Much more persuasive is the shared assumption of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews that ignorance produced irreligion. Many of the vast nineteenth-century evangelistic enterprises, such as the Sunday school (Jewish as well as Christian), the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, the evangelical tract and textbook, and for that matter the public schools, were fundamentally educational. To hear Peter Cartwright tell it, he was constantly encountering (and wrasslin’ with) “rowdies” and skeptics. When colporteurs of the American Tract Society sold Bibles in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey in the 1840s, they found many people who, they claimed, “had never heard of Jesus Christ.” What would a religious history of those people look like?
The post also offers and excellent overview of the historical works currently available on American atheist, agnostic, freethinking, humanist, and ethical culture movements, and highlights a few things that are in the works.

Jun 1, 2013

Atheists get granite monument in Fla.

A $6,000 monument to atheism -- the first public monument of its kind in the US -- will be unveiled at a courthouse in Starke, Florida, this month. The monument will stand opposite a 10 Commandments monument.

The largest quote on the monument is from Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the founder of the American Atheists. In the quote, she defines atheism and offers a sort of secularist creed:
An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life instead of escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty banished, war eliminated.
Woman with a mop in the afternoon