Nov 25, 2013

Disestablishment means no clerical privledges

"Some might view a rule against preferential treatment as exhibiting hostility toward religion, but equality should never be mistaken for hostility. It is important to remember that the establishment clause protects the religious and nonreligious alike."

-- U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb, ruling ruled last week that tax-exempt housing for clergy violates the U.S. Constitution. The IRS exemption dates back to 1921. Crabb's ruling will most likely be appealed and reversed by the appeals court.

Nov 23, 2013

Rich people are stingy

Increased wealth does not correlate to increased giving, despite what one might think. Generally, actually, the more people earn, the less they give. Not in total dollars, of course, but in proportion to what they earn. 

While many, as Jesus said, "have of their abundance cast into the offerings," rich Americans are much less generous in casting abundance than are the those who have less to cast.

Crouch notes that this is why people are never able to "afford" giving more than they already do.

Nov 19, 2013

The vanishing middle ground in the 'inerrancy' wars

Molly Worthen argues in Apostles of Reason that there were diverse approaches to scripture among conservative Protestants and a variety of acceptable theoretical accounts of the Bible. Then the modernist-fundamentalist controversies happened. Then there was only one way to read the Bible.

Hermeneutics became a heavily patrolled border.

Worthen writes:
Later fundamentalists ... became polemicists rather than apologists. The difference is subtle but crucial. Winning the war against modernism became more important than illuminating orthodoxy. Inerrancy came to represent not only a set of beliefs about creation or the reality of Jesus' miracles, but the pledge that human reason must always bow to the Bible. As fear of modernist theology and new science began to infect a wide range of Protestant churches, this new variety of fundamentalist deployed inerrancy as a simple shibboleth to separate the sheep from the goats. It was no longer a doctrine with historical roots or an ongoing debate among theologians ... Inerrantists intellectuals considered themselves something like Protestant Marines, a warrior corps whose confidence in the authority of scripture -- and commitment to taking the principle of God's sovereignty to its logical extreme -- anointed them as the Bible's shock troops, favorite sons, and truest defenders. (24)
Partly, at least, this seems right. The struggle against the evils (as American fundamentalists saw them) of the Tübingen school and Schleiermacher made many stretches of middle ground impossible.

Nov 17, 2013

Homeschool advocacy group calls for prayer in asylum case

The Home School Legal Defense Association has asked for prayer and fasting for a German family seeking asylum in America. The Romeike family's case has been appealed to the Supreme Court, and the HSLDA, Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their family and supporters are awaiting the court's decision on whether or not it will hear the case.

"We are asking the Supreme Court to uphold America as a place of refuge for those who are persecuted for their faith," wrote Michael Farris, president of HSLDA. "I feel good about our argument, but we must all recognize that the Supreme Court takes a very limited number of cases -- so please pray that the Court will agree to hear our appeal."

The Supreme Court hears about 75 or 80 out of every 10,000 petitions. The HSLDA could also take its argument to the US Congress, attempting to get the asylum law changed. They decided to pursue a test case, though.

"Our thought," wrote Michael Donnelly, an HSLDA lawyer, "was that this test case, if successful, could pave the way for an American asylum claim as well as start the process for creating public awareness [for homeschooling rights] in Germany."

Nov 16, 2013

Nov 13, 2013

Ex-evangelicals don't think your evangelical jokes are funny

There's a difference between critical outsiders and critical-outsiders-who-used-to-be-insiders-and-still-value-some-of-the-insidery-stuff. A subtle difference, maybe, but a difference still.

From Newsweek, the story of a support group for ex-evangelicals. "Beyond Faith" is an organization for "happy godless heathens," but specifically "heathens" who are ex-evangelicals who are tired and frustrated by their secular friends' misunderstandings of evangelicalism. 

It's like they're not even trying to understand:
Roth, a 24-year-old queer artist and activist who was raised in a Maryland megachurch and once proudly wore a purity ring to symbolize sexual abstinence, says it's difficult to relate to New Yorkers who see evangelicals as nothing more than a punchline. 'Being an ex-Christian can be so isolating, even in a liberal open-minded progressive city,' Roth explains. 'It's true that I was raised in a bubble -- my church was my entire life, and I've let it go -- but it was fulfilling and meaningful, and everyone here thinks I was, like, in a cult.' 
Socially, there is a bit of space in America for those who were raised extremely religiously, but who aren't religious anymore, to trash the faith of their youth. It's much more difficult, though, for them to find ways to talk about what they valued and what it meant to them while maintaining, still, the distance of their current disbelief.

Nov 11, 2013

How Kurt Vonnegut lost his faith

Kurt Vonnegut would have been 91 today. He died in 2007. 

Nov 7, 2013

'A lonely arena in the depths of your heart'

Billy Graham turns 95 today. 

From one of his many, many sermons, at a crusade in Tallahassee, Fla., in 1986: 
Oh yes. There's pleasure in sin for a short time. But it's soon over. The hangover comes. And there's nothing you can do about it. It's going to be there. 
Choose Christ, and there'll never be a hangover except joy and peace.
And it's an urgent decision, because to delay makes the right decision harder. Indecision in itself is a choice. 
Not to decide is to decide not to.  
If you have a ticket for a flight to Atlanta tonight and can't decide whether to go or not, if you wait past the departure time, the choice will have been made. The plane will take off without you. Decisions are made whether we make them or not.  
Time decides if you will not. 
And Time always decides against you.  
There's a lonely arena in the depths of your heart where the greatest battle of life must be fought alone. That's your decision about Christ. Your parents can't make it for you. The church can't make it for you. Your friends can't make it for you. Your girlfriend, your boyfriend can't make it for you. You have to make it yourself. 
And you must decide tonight.

Nov 6, 2013

White evangelical's opinions on the civil rights of gays and lesbians

Polling shows a significant number of self-identified white evangelicals dissent from what the most prominent leaders have said is the biblical Christian position on marriage. Among white evangelicals, there's a minority that supports legal recognition of same-sex relationships:
  • 26 percent support same-sex marriage
  • 23 percent think Americans should be able to sponsor same-sex spouses for citizenship
  • 30 percent think the federal government should recognize same-sex marriages
This is not a minority opinion if one looks at white evangelicals under 35. Among that younger cohort, 51 percent support same-sex marriage.

Nov 5, 2013

In the besen

Bill Blatty would just as soon you leave him alone

William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, at 85:
Every Halloween I’m dragged out of my burrow like some demonic Punxsutawney Phil ... And if I don’t see my shadow, the horror box office is gonna be great. Either that or I'm dead. Nobody has had the guts -- or the kindness -- to tell me which it is.

Nov 4, 2013

Good news for the poor

There's no type of Christianity quite as despised in America as that of the prosperity gospel. That message of health and wealth and divine promises evokes a loathing that few other really popular religious messages do.

Many see it as a placebo, tricking the masses into not demanding real solutions to their problems, either political solutions or personal ones. The prosperity gospel message that faith activates victory is seen as a substitute for real work and responsibility. For actual change.

Some don't like the prosperity gospel because of what it does to the orthodox Christian message. Jesus, in this telling, doesn't save you from your sins like your Baptist grandmother might have said, but rather died so you could have a Rolex and a Rolls. The eternal streets of gold have been substituted with more temporal versions of the same thing.

Some don't like it, too, just because it seems gauche. It's embarrassing, above all. Improper. Impolite.

All that may well be true. And yet many many Americans are turning and have turned to one or another form of the prosperity gospel, and it's worth noting the very basic religious reason for that: hope. Good news. The message these believers wake up with every day is that something could be different, something will be better soon. The world -- their world -- is being transformed. Despite what they see, despite what they have seen, they know hope.

Critiques of this message do not often offer alternative ways to hope.

Looking at social inequality and the stubborn reality of poverty in America, CNN's John D. Sutter wrote of this good news in the life of the poor last week. Profiling one woman in Lake Providence, La., where income inequality is greatest in America, he accompanied Delores Gilmore to church.

This is what he saw:
Gilmore's Ford Taurus, filled with seven people, pulled up to the church about 30 minutes after the two-hour service started. There are a few dozen churches in the parish. That's no coincidence, especially south of the lake. Folks turn to God when the world around them becomes too much to bear. For Gilmore, it's a place of solace.
The family piled into pews in the back and watched as the Rev. Michael Owens, the storeowner who rarely sees customers, delivered a sermon about the economy.

It was far more than a sermon, really. Owens pressed his mouth up against a microphone and ran all over the front of the sanctuary as he half-yelled, half-sang a series of parables and proverbs about getting by in the modern world.

'I wonder if I have a WITNESS in here!?'

'Yes pastor!' said Gilmore. 
They went back and forth like that seven times.

'We got people that are desperate for jobs,' Owens shouted, eventually becoming so worked up that he wiped his head with a towel. Sweat seeped through his pink tuxedo vest.

'The Lord said, "I will supply all of your needs according to my riches and gold." He did NOT SAY he would supply your wants for ya.'

'All right pastor!' Gilmore said.

Nov 3, 2013

Faith for astronauts

Astronaut Chris Hadfield, recently back from a mission commanding the International Space Station, says the experience strengthened his religious faith.

Religion is a big topic of discussion on the space station, he told Terry Gross in an interview last week. It's something the astronauts think about and talk about as they orbit earth.

Picture yourself separated from the other six and a half, seven billion people where you can see them all from a distance. You know, every 90 minutes you go around and the world turns underneath you like a big jewel. And you have left all of them and you're looking at -- it's almost like a god-like view of the world, right? At least our limited human understanding of what that god-like view might be, looking down almost paternally on everybody. 
And so it really makes you think. 
And the world, you look at it, it just can't be random, looking at it. I mean, it's so different than the vast emptiness that is everything else

Nov 2, 2013

Correlation, causation, families and poverty

It's not really possible to support nuclear families and support public policies that support nuclear family stability without, it seems, being really stupid about the difference between correlation and causation. It should be possible. It really seems like it should be possible. It is not necessary that pro-family public policies be based on illiterate, illogical claims.

And yet.

A recent example: At the Atlantic, W. Bradford Wilcox reports on his research on connections between family structures and children's future success. He shows a connection, but then claims that connection means more than he shows.

He writes,
My own research using individual-level data from the Add Health dataset for the Home Economics Project, a new joint initiative between the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, indicates that adolescents raised in intact, married homes are significantly more likely to succeed educationally and financially.
Wilcox calls this the "marriage bump," and cites some interesting numbers that seem to show this connection. In no case, though, does he show that that connection is causal. Instead, he shows that people whose parents were married are 44 percent more likely to go to college. People whose parents are married generally (though not always) earn more money. Yet are those outcomes produced by the parents' marriages, or is there another factor at work, which results in both the family stability and the child's success? Wilcox assumes correlation implies causation and doesn't seem to know why one would ask that question. But the question is still there: where's the proof that one thing causes the other?

It's entirely plausible that family stability has the effects that Wilcox and those like Wilcox say it does. The "bump" may well bump. It has to be shown, though. Wilcox is just wiggling his eyebrows and calling it proof.

That shouldn't be good enough.