Dec 31, 2014

My most popular posts from 2014

1. Sam Hose's Christian America

It's one thing to say that America should be Christian. It's another thing to say it should be Christian like is was, like it used to be.

When it actually was like it used to be, there were no stores open to sell the kerosene to burn Sam Hose because businesses were closed on Sundays. But a shop keeper was found to give kerosene to the crowd at no cost.

When it actually was like it used to be, there was a Sunday in Georgia where Christians went to church in the morning and in the evening went to the public square to sell bits of Sam Hose's burned liver for 25 cents each.

2. When Bill Nye's wedding was performed by Rick Warren

The brief association between the two men, captured in this picture, isn't really significant in that narrative in any way that's obvious.

It's just a very odd, very peculiar moment in the recent history of American science and religion.

3. The 'Left Behind' audience

Among cultural critics, there's a tradition going back to the Frankfurt school of treating mass culture as manipulative, and seeing mass audiences as passive and stupid, easily molded by what they consume. It's a condescending view. It's also a view that also seems to only really be supported by its own snobbery. Even the briefest of investigations into actual cultural consumption shows the theory of manipulated masses is not a good one.

Nevertheless, whenever the audience is mainly women, you see this theory.

When the audience is young women, this is how they're treated. When it's people without a college education, or racial minorities, or cultural conservatives, or other groups critics apparently find it difficult to treat as three-dimensional humans, audiences are again taken to be milling, drooling sheep. Cultural condescension passes for critical analysis not infrequently.

It's not just Left Behind's audience that gets treated this way, but Left Behind has been a good example of this over the years.

4.  The Hobby Lobby ruling is actually pretty reasonable

The actual decision was pretty circumspect. It was only this:
  • The government does have an interest in providing health insurance plans that cover birth control to women who want it. 
  • Some individuals who own corporations have the right to their religious objections to some (or all) forms of birth control. 
  • Therefore, the easiest way to provide birth control is not through employer-provided health insurance. 
Politically, there is plenty of fuel there for a number of fires. From another perspective, the Hobby Lobby ruling is pretty reasonable.

5. How the atheist movement lost America's most famous scientist

Remaining unconvinced is not the same thing as being an atheist.

Atheism is a label, according to Tyson, and as that label is used in America today, it refers to a movement. That movement, notably, is marked by certain sorts of public advocacy that Tyson isn't interested in. And it's marked by its opposition to common cultural practice, such as reading from the book of Genesis when a storm knocks out all the lights in Manhattan or wishing "God speed" to an astronaut about to leave earth. Tyson cited criticism of his use of "God speed" as pivotal to his decision to distance himself from the label "atheist."

6. Measuring religious identities / interpreting religious identities

There is, when one studies these things, always the fact of the matter. The problem is, there are too many facts of the matter, and they all always require interpretation. The facts require some careful thought, as Hackett shows.

You can't just measure religious identities. You have to interpret religious identities.

7. 'If I did not believe God loved the blackest Negro girl'

Born in 1887 in Pall Mall, Tennessee, Delk was not the "Northern meddler" that die-hard segregationist were always chiding for snobbery and cultural misunderstand. He was a Southerner. He just didn't believe the races were unequal or should be separate. As a minister, Delk went so far as to tell white Christians who supported segregation that they weren't really Christians, and needed Christ's transformative work in their lives.

"When we get Jesus in our hearts," Delk preached, "segregation and Jim Crow vanish away like the smoke of the hour."

He was twice beaten up by the Ku Klux Klan.

8. The evangelical masculinity of ... Allen Ginsberg?

Whether intentional or no, there's something quite subversive about this image of masculinity.

In fact, that's one of the persistent problems of images and ideas of manhood. They're not as sturdy or stable as one might imagine. Fetishes for fathers and for men's men can quickly get quite ... queer.

9. Junk bonds raise questions about Answers in Genesis' finances

It does appear that Answers in Genesis' finances have tended, in recent years, to be detached from reality. The last year the group didn't run a deficit was the fiscal year ending in 2009. During that 12-month period, Answers in Genesis took in $22 million and spent $21.1 million.

Even then, however, the group's biggest project, the Creation museum, lost money.

With more than 305,000 guests, the museum cost $8.4 million to operate, according to tax reports. It brought in revenue of only $5.4 million, for a loss of $3 million. It was a good year for Answers in Genesis, but the Creation museum lost nearly $10 per visitor.

10. White evangelicals' changing perspective on the reality of racism

When Christianity Today was started in 1956, the magazine was not concerned with racism. It was created to be the voice of white evangelicalism on pressing social issues, but segregation and the treatment of African Americans were not among those issues.

Carl F.H. Henry wrote in the first issue that the magazine's mission was to "apply the biblical revelation to the contemporary social crisis by presenting the implications of the total Gospel message to every area of life." Judging from the focus of the articles in the first few years, the "social crisis" mainly meant the Cold War. Christianity Today was more interested in American foreign policy than any domestic matter. When writers did turn to social problems in America, the concern was centered on whether the country's moral fiber was strong enough to fight Communism. The "present soul fatigue," as Henry phrased it at the time, didn't have anything to do with evangelical complicity with racism.