Mar 31, 2015

'loud enough to be heard in all parts'

From the atheist newspaper the Blue Grass Blade, July 1903.

Mar 28, 2015

'Jesus wrote a blank check'

If Jesus saw me dying
Would angels come a flying down?
I hope I got a little more time
I hope somebody lends me a dime
Now, Jesus wrote a blank check
Ah, one I haven't cashed yet

Mar 26, 2015

The Ku Klux Klan at church, circa 1922, probably in Portland, Oregon.

Mar 25, 2015

Mar 17, 2015

A classic B movie for Jesus

A Cuban Communist proves that Fidel Castro is better than Jesus in the 1971 film: If the Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do? He does it with this little empirical test:
Let's see if your Jesus will bring some candy now and produce a miracle. I don't see any candy. I don't taste any candy. There is no candy. Your Jesus didn't bring us any candy. The reason why? Your Jesus Christ can't do it. 
But I can tell you who can do it. We will pray to our glorious leader Fidel Castro and our glorious Fidel will bring us all of the candy we can eat.
It's a curious moment of reverse apologetics. This is actually an evangelical B-movie meant to bring people to belief in Jesus. Though Jesus doesn't show up with candy, the portrayal of the swarthy communist's case against Christ is intended by the film's creators to be a case for Christ.

This is one of the stranger examples of evangelical movie-making, even for the 1970s.

Mar 14, 2015

What if it's love? Prince does Contemporary Christian Music

Prince's version of Nicole Nordeman's worship song, What if?
But what if you're wrong?
What if there's more?
What if there's hope
you never dreamed of hoping for?
What if you jump?
Just close your eyes?
What if the arms that catch you
catch you by surprise?
What if He's more than enough?
What if it's love?
The musician Prince has released a new single, surprising even industry insiders by covering a Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) song about faith overcoming doubt.

The original is by Nicole Nordeman, a Gospel Music Association Dove-winning artist with a long career behind her. Nordeman has recently gained some fame among evangelicals for writing and performing a song on a Bible concept album accompanying Zondervan's Bible-reading program, The Story, which has been used in many evangelical churches. Nordeman also wrote and performed the theme song for VeggieTales' 2010 production Sweetpea Beauty.

Nordeman's music is not widely known outside of evangelicalism, though, and wasn't seen an obvious choice for Prince.

"Sure, Prince has sang about God and religion for years," Billboard reports, "but he usually doesn't release studio versions of cover songs -- much less covers of songs by a VeggieTales vet."

Prince is a Jehovah's Witness, so the song about choosing faith in Jesus may have resonated for religious reasons. He is also known, more than anything, for surprising the music industry experts.

Mar 13, 2015

Courts excluding Christians from jury duty

A potential juror was dismissed from the case of a Colorado man accused of killing 12 and wounding 70 in a mass shooting. Because of the man's "beliefs as a Christian," he couldn't sit on the jury.

The man, described in news reports as a middle-aged white man wearing a T-shirt, is Catholic. He is opposed to the death penalty, even for accused mass-shooter James Holmes, if Holmes is found guilty. The church is officially against capital punishment, except when necessary for public safety, which the catechism says is very rare, even practically non-existant. Some have worried this will mean Catholics are systematically excluded from the juries of death penalty cases, establishing a judicial bias against Catholics.

The judge was careful, in this Colorado case, to say that potential jurors cannot be dismissed because of their religious beliefs. Even if those beliefs conflict with the law, they can serve on a jury -- so long as they commit to enforcing the law they think is wrong.

That caveat wasn't good enough for the unnamed potential juror, though.

Mar 9, 2015

Cotton Mather in the vaccination debate

Cotton Mather is being put to use in American culture, today, his name invoked as an advocate for vaccinations.

Marvin Olasky, editor of the conservative evangelical newsmagazine World, has recently turned his attention to the subject of vaccinations, encouraging conservative Christian parents to trust science and get their children inoculated. This is fairly controversial, in some circles, where science is considered a very suspect source of authority. Olasky, however, invokes Cotton Mather:
Let's start with modern science, which Christians largely invented, as Nancy Pearcey showed in The Soul of Science. Our Bible-believing forebears from Isaac Newton on saw how God rules nature with regularity that we can discern, without fear that Neptune stirs up the waves whenever he's mad.

Christians were strongly pro-science: Cotton Mather 300 years ago pioneered in promoting inoculation. But when scientists overreach by proclaiming, like Carl Sagan, that material existence 'is all that is or was or ever will be,' the credibility of science diminishes. Honest laboratory research deserves great respect.
Mather, for his part, was insistent that inoculation was a divine mercy. As he wrote in 1721, during a smallpox outbreak in Boston and the subsequent debate, "But let us beseech those that have call’d this Method -- the Work of the devil, or a going to the devil, no more to allow the cursed thought, or utter the horrid word, les they be found Blasphemous of a most merciful and wonderful Work of GOD."

Some Bostonians found this less than persuasive.

Olasky isn't the only one who has brought up Mather in this context, recently.

Mar 5, 2015

The Christian fiction market has a problem

Is Christian fiction in crisis?

For the first time since the late 1980s, the evangelical fiction market seems to be in real trouble. Religious novels did not sell well in 2014. After many years of robust growth, a number of publishers are pulling back from the market.

According to BookScan, which tracks sales volume, religious fiction sales declined 15 percent in 2014. Adult fiction in general didn't do well, with sales volume down 8 percent for the year. Even in a bad market for fiction, though, religious fiction did particularly poorly.

Given evangelical fiction's recent history, this downturn is notable. It wasn't that long ago that novels put out by evangelical publishers seemed to dominate the marketplace.

American evangelicals discovered they had a big appetite for fiction in late 1980s. Frank Peretti's spiritual warfare fiction and Janette Oke's prairie romances were so wildly popular they changed the Christian book market. By 1987, Oke's latest was outselling the most popular male authors at the Christian bookstore, James Dobson and Charles Swindoll. People were staying up all night to read Peretti's thriller, This Present Darkness, and then buying five copies to give away the next day.

At the time, the average Christian bookstore was doing about $200,000 per year, according to an official history of the Christian Booksellers Association. Over the next decade, religious publishing saw a 6.3 percent increase in sales. A lot of attention has been paid to evangelical's political activities, during this period, but for every dollar evangelicals spend on political organization, they spent another $13 at Christian bookstores.

Then at the end of the 1990s, evangelical publishing went mainstream.

Mar 2, 2015

What science says you can't talk about

Francis Collins on the limits of science:
"'Why are we all here?' 'Why is there something instead of nothing'? 'Is there a God?' Isn't it clear that those aren't scientific questions and that science doesn't have much to say about them? But you either have to say, well those are inappropriate questions and we can discuss them, or we need something besides science to pursue some of the things humans are curious about. To me that makes perfect sense."
Collins says he thinks most people are comfortable with both science and religion, but the extremists have occupied the public debate. "That harmony perspective doesn't get as much attention," he says.