Showing posts from April, 2007

Interesting New Times Select Blog

If you subscribe to the New York Times or otherwise have access to TimesSelect, be sure to check out Mark Buchanan's new blog called"Our Lives as Atoms." Mark is a theoretical physicist, is an associate editor for ComPlexUs, a journal on biocomplexity, and the author of "Ubiquity: The Science of History," "Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks" and, most recently, "The Social Atom: Why the Rich Get Richer, Cheaters Get Caught, and Your Neighbor Usually Looks Like You."

I was quite taken with Mark's first post which focused on the false polarization of opinion seen on blog link networks:
We seem to be a rather polarized country. According to views often expressed in the media, especially online, Republicans revel in the idea of torture and detest our Constitution, while Democrats want to bring the troops home from Iraq only to accomplish the dastardly double-trick of surrendering our country to the terrorists and ki…

Larry Summers on Global Warming

I have written several times on the theological and ethical importance of global warming. Of course, the challenge to all of us who accept that global warming has such importance is this: what are the most efficient and practical means of stopping global warming?

Fortunately, Larry Summers has entered the fray--Summers is the former Secretary of the Treasury, former President of Harvard, and a highly regarded economist. He has started a series of article in the Financial Times. The first article was published yesterday.

This first article makes two important points. First, the Kyoto Treaty "cap and trade" approach is flawed:
There is a very real danger that the global cap and trade approach directed at achieving the rapid emissions reductions enshrined in the Kyoto protocol – now favoured by most European governments – could be ineffective or even counterpoductive by substituting for more realistic approaches to the problem. Kyoto is now the only game in town for those who do n…

A Candidate, His Minister, and His Search for Faith

One of the most interesting features of the 2008 Presidential race is that all three top three Democratic candidates have a genuine (that is, not "made for cameras") faith life that in each instance predates any political aspirations.

This morning's New York Times includes a very interesting article about Barak Obama's faith journey. He notes that he came from a secular family of many religious backgrounds, and then describes his conversion:

This polyglot background made Mr. Obama tolerant of others’ faiths yet reluctant to join one, said Mr. Wright, the pastor. In an interview in March in his office, filled with mementos from his 35 years at Trinity, Mr. Wright recalled his first encounters with Mr. Obama in the late 1980s, when the future senator was organizing Chicago neighborhoods. Though minister after minister told Mr. Obama he would be more credible if he joined a church, he was not a believer. “I remained a reluctant skeptic, doubtful of my own motives, wary of…

Luther Place Rededication

There is no church that was more important to my own spiritual development than Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, D.C. I worshipped there from 1985-1988 (when I was a young law clerk) and then in 1997-2001 (when I was in the Clinton Administration). It has a rich liturgical tradition combined with an outreach to the poorest of the poor.

I was therefore pleased to read that a long-planned restoration of this grand old church has finally come to completion:
Worshippers at the Luther Place Memorial Church in Northwest yesterday celebrated their role as a bridge between the District's black and white communities inside a historic monument to Reconstruction after the Civil War.
The occasion was a rededication service marking a two-year, $2 million restoration of the Northwest church, which was built in 1873 as a physical act of reconciliation between the North and the South.
The church, on 14th Street near Thomas Circle, even has pews in the front dedicated to Confederate Gen. …

Lost Opportunities: Nicholas Kristoff (and Reinhold Niebuhr) on Iranian Peace Offers

I am pretty moderate guy--especially when it comes to national security issues. Two years of working in the Pentagon gave me an eye-opening view of the real threats that we face--and that was before September 11th. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that the Presidency of George Bush will go down in history as a disaster from a national security point of view.

Where to begin? The Bush Administration largely accepted a variant of the Clinton Administration's "Agreed Framework" to secure a non-nuclear North Korea--but only creating a crisis that resulted in North Korea developing nuclear weapons. All because we refused to engage with North Korea, and because we reneged on our own pledges under that Agreement.

By any measure, the Iraq War has been a disaster--there were no weapons of mass destruction, our land forces (Army and Marines) are bogged down in Iraq (and are thus unavailable for other threats), and our intervention brought less stability, not more, to the region.

In today&…

Ben Myers on What's Wrong with Biblical Inerrancy

As you may recall, Ben Myers's Faith and Theology blog is having a poll on the wost theological invention. I voted for biblical inerrancy and that invention seems to have a big lead in the poll. Ben posted a very interesting commentary on why biblical inerrancy is wrong:

In earlier times, theologians often said that the Bible is authoritative because it is “inspired,” or because it has been authored (directly or indirectly) by the Holy Spirit. Thus the Bible qua text was believed to be qualitatively different from all other texts. According to this theory, the authority of the Bible is purely formal. What the Bible actually says is authoritative only because it is written in this particular book—and this book would still be authoritative no matter what it actually said.This theory of biblical authority is fundamentally flawed. On the one hand, it is historically flawed: historical criticism has demonstrated that the Bible qua text is no different from other historical texts—it is j…

Father Jones Speculates on the Five Dioceses Reported To Be Leaving The Epsicopal Church

Father Greg Jones (aka the anglicancentrists) offers some informed speculations as a follow-up to Father Dan Martins' explosive post yesterday about five dioceses leaving the Episcopal Church. As always, you should read all of Father Jones' comments, but here are some highlights:
Dan Martins has said his diocese, San Joaquin, is one of the five. In addition, I am led to believe that perhaps the other two Forward in Faith bishops are also. Forward in Faith began in 1977 as a group of evangelical and Anglo-Catholic Episcopalians opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood. In 1990, the group became the Episcopal Synod of America. It changed its name again in 1998 when affiliated with the Forward in Faith group in the Church of England which originated in 1992, in the immediate aftermath of the Church of England’s November 1992 decision to ordain women to the priesthood. In addition to San Joaquin, the dioceses of Fort Worth and Quincy are members. . . .So who are the oth…

News Alert: Trees Don't Cause Global Warming

One of the memes in conservative circles (e.g., Rush Limbaugh) is that global warming is not caused by humans, but rather by trees. The basis of this strange assertion? A study by scientists at the Max Planck Institute and published in Nature last year that asserted that they had found evidence that plants release huge amounts of the gas--perhaps accounting for ten to thirty percent of all the methane found in the atmosphere. Apparently, that assertions was, well, in error, according to Carl Zimmer:

You may perhaps recall a lot of attention paid to methane from plants back in January 2006. A team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute reported in Nature that they had found evidence that plants release huge amounts of the gas--perhaps accounting for ten to thirty percent of all the methane found in the atmosphere.
The result was big news for several reasons. It was a surprise just in terms of basic biology--scientists have been studying the gases released by plants for a long time, …

Faith and Politics: Lessons from Reinhold Niebuhr

When I was in public life, both as an elected official and as a political appointee, I gave a great deal of thought to the faith implications of a political career. There is the danger that a political job can become an Idol. I don't mean that politics can cause a narcissistic focus on one's career (although that certainly is a danger). Instead, I mean that there is the danger that a politician can believe that politics (not faith) is the path to salvation.

Yet, I also believed that God calls us to take action in this life and this world, and that a political life seemed an obvious way to meet the call.

The question is this: how to reconcile the recognition that salvation comes solely through God with the call to action in this world?

I was thrilled when someone gave me a biography of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr that described Niebuhr's own struggle with this question. Niebuhr’s ultimate description of a Christian's appropriate role in the world was The Irony of American …

More on Einstein and Faith

I previously posted on Walter Isaacson's new biography of Albert Einstein. The Washington Post's "On Faith" webpage has a very interesting excerpt from the Isaacson book, which suggests that Einstein had very complicated views on God. Here are some highlights:
Shortly after his fiftieth birthday, Einstein also gave a remarkable interview in which he was more revealing than he had ever been about his religious sensibility. It was with a pompous but ingratiating poet and propagandist named George Sylvester Viereck, who had been born in Germany, moved to America as a child, and then spent his life writing gaudily erotic poetry, interviewing great men, and expressing his complex love for his fatherland. For reasons not quite clear, Einstein assumed Viereck was Jewish. In fact, Viereck proudly traced his lineage to the family of the Kaiser, and he would later become a Nazi sympathizer who was jailed in America during World War II for being a German propagandist.

Viereck beg…

Why Healthcare Improvements Help Reduce World Poverty

The Millennium Development Goals focus on a variety of largely infrastructure improvements that allow economic activity to increase, and thereby reduce extreme poverty. Several of the goals focus on healthcare. What does healthcare have to do with economic development? Raj Nallari and Breda Griffith from the World Bank explain in today's Friday Academy:
The unacceptably high mortality rates in the least developed countries can be improved by the control of communicable diseases and enhancing maternal and child health. HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis (TB), childhood infectious diseases, maternal and prenatal conditions, micronutrient deficiencies and tobacco-related illnesses represent the main causes of (avoidable) deaths in low-income countries (CMH, 2001). Widespread disease also stunts the exploitation of arable land, migration and trade. Bad health stymies job productivity and an individual’s ability to learn and to grow intellectually, physically and emotionally. Through all t…

More on Ethical Implications of Global Warming

David Miliband, the U.K. Minister of Environment recently gave an interesting talk about the ethical and moral implications of climate change in Rome this week at a seminar on climate change organised by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. I am impressed--especially since the Minister focuses on the implications of climate change on the world's poor as well as God's call to stewardship. Here are some highlights:

Climate change is not just an environmental or economic issue, it is a moral and ethical one. It is not just an issue for politicians or businesses, it is also an issue for the world's faith communities. The common thread that underpins my speech today is a belief that it is our moral duty to protect future generations, particularly those in the poorest countries who will experience the most acute suffering, from the effects of environmental degradation.
Across the world, we are now beginning to see a shift in attitudes to climate change. But well before c…

Father Dan Reports "Chatter" About Episcopal Church: 5 Dioceses About to Leave

Father Dan Martins of San Joaquin Diocese reports some intelligence about an important development in the Episcopal Church by some dissenting Dioceses:

I enjoy movies and TV shows about espionage and high-level political brinksmanship. Recently this has ranged from TV fare such as The West Wing and 24 to films like The Good Shepherd and Breach. One of the standard quantum leaps that the writers for such efforts rely on is "intelligence chatter." They never explain what the source of such "chatter" (aka "traffic") is, and rarely what the specific content is, but it certainly moves the plot along. (I guess if they told us they'd have to kill us.)Over the past week or so there's been a spike in "intelligence chatter" in the Anglican-Episcopal universe. From the sources I have been able to tap, along with those that have just fallen in my lap, I am reasonably well assured that a sub-group of some five dioceses within the Anglican Communion Ne…

New Trinity Cathedral Project: Beyond The Last Word

Trinity Cathedral is starting an innovative online ministry, and you are invited to participate. Here is the description of the new Beyond the Last Word website:

Welcome to Beyond the Last Word, an invitation to open-minded listening and dialogue initiated by members of Phoenix, Arizona’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Our conversations take their topical cue from Speaking of Faith, public radio’s weekly conversation about religion, meaning, ethics and ideas. Using each week’s Speaking of Faith broadcast to set our topic, we will pose a set of reflections and questions linking that week’s theme to our more specific interests, needs, and concerns. Our blog hopes to extend our activities as thinking seekers to a broader population within our church community and to extend our outreach and intellectual hospitality to persons beyond metropolitan Phoenix. We hope visitors to our site will be prompted to offer further questions and observations and share those with us.. . .While new episodes o…

Vote for the Worst Theological Invention

The Faith and Theology Blog is conducting a poll on the "worst theological invention." The candidates on poll were the result of a nomination process, and include the following seven candidates:

Biblical inerrancy
Double predestination
The rapture
Papal infallibility
Christendom (not to be confused with Chrisendom, which is also one of the worst theological inventions...)
Just war theory

Be sure to go to the blog and vote.

By the way, once you are at this blog, stay awhile. It offers a wealth of great stuff by a guy with solid credentials--he has a PhD on seventeenth-century theology and literature, and is now doing postdoctoral research at the University of Queensland.

Presiding Bishop's Remarks on Mission, a Prophetic Voice and Mission

The Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop gave some very interesting remarks to a group of parish, diocesan and national church communicators from around the country. She reminded the group of the importance of mission in a broken world. Here is part of the report from the Episcopal News Service:

Presiding Bishop Katharine JeffertsSchori challenged a gathering of Episcopal Communicators April 25 to engage gifts such as proclamation, witness, storytelling, moviemaking, language, images to help usher in the biblical vision of shalom, of equality and justice for everyone.

"There is something gravely and sinfully wrong with a world where the division between the rich and poor continues to expand, where some still live in palaces and recline on ivory couches while others starve outside their gates," she told about 120 parish, diocesan and national church communicators from around the country.

"In our day, the prophets still speak for a world where the hungry are fed, the ill …

Southern Baptists and Childen's Health Care

As I have argued in several other posts, Democrats make a mistake in believing that the Evangelical vote can be ignored. The Evangelical community is a diverse one, and for many issues like the war in Iraq, economic justice and health care are issues of moral imperative that will lead a faith-based vote for a Democrat--if we make the overture.

Christianity Todayoffers support for my thesis from a surprising source. (James Dobson, call your office immediately):

Departing from typical conservative advocacy, the Southern Baptists' top lobbyist has joined an interfaith group calling on Congress to extend health-care coverage to every American child.Richard Land, president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, gathered with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders at a March 6 press conference to address the "moral imperative" of health care for children. "Some say [health care coverage] is all well and good, but we should focus on the main thing, pro-life…

A Plan to Cut Domestic Poverty

As I have emphasized in a large number of posts, I firmly believe Christ meant what he said about taking care "of the least of these." How we treat the poor among us is a moral and theological issues, and far too often we fail the test. I think that sometimes the reason we fail to act is because of hopelessness and cynical despair. We don't think anything we can do will work, so we despair.

On the issue of global poverty, as I have noted before, the facts are that we are making progress, and the Millennium Development goals offer a road map to nearly eliminating global extreme poverty.

On the domestic front, we saw great progress in reducing poverty in the 1990's--only to see much of that progress go away this decade. I was therefore very encouraged to see that the Center for American Progress has released a plan to reduced domestic poverty in half. An op-ed that will appear in tomorrow's Washington Post (available now on the web) offers a great summary:
This week, …

Linda Hirshman and Stay at Home Moms

Linda Hirshman really struck a nerve both in the blogoshere and here at home with her op-ed in the New York Times. She argues that affluent, educated women are doing a disservice to themselves and society by staying home to take care of children. Here is what she had to say:

Why are married mothers leaving their jobs? The labor bureau’s report includes some commonsense suggestions, but none that fully explains the situation. New mothers with husbands in the top 20 percent of earnings work least, the report notes. As Ernest Hemingway said, the rich do have more money. So they also have more freedom to leave their jobs. But why do they take the option? It’s easier in the short term, sure, but it’s easier to forgo lots of things, like going to college or having children at all. People don’t — nor should they — always do the easier thing.The pressure to increase mothering is enormous. For years, women have been on the receiving end of negative messages about parenting and working. One cons…

Faith and Reason: Thoughts on Responses to Militant Atheism

As you can tell, I have been doing some thinking and reading on the recent flood of books by scientists that either denounce the rationality of faith (e.g., Dawkins) or that offer a reasoned basis for faith (e.g. Collins).

It seems to me that one reason why the debate is so unsatisfactory is that both sides in this debate come from such different world views. I am a good example. My faith does not come from a rational, fact-driven exercise in which I examined the evidence for and against the existence of God and came to a fact-based conclusion. My faith arose first and foremost from my own personal sense of contact with the Divine. I often feel God's presence, and that is why I am led to faith. I found it interesting that Dr. Francis Collins describes a very personal experience with a dying patient as the beginnings of his faith.

This is not to say that I then ignore my rationality--I am constantly testing the factual, historical claims of my faith. And so far, my faith has …