Showing posts from July, 2007

Gordon Brown at the UN

I must say that I am impressed with Gordon Brown, the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. His speech today at the United Nations was particularly impressive as it focused, without the typical equivocation, on the need for the industrialized countries to live up to the promises made about the Millennium Development Goals.

Here are some highlights from the speech:

When one month ago I took office as Prime Minister, one of my first acts was to ask Ministers of the United Kingdom Government - from International Development and Foreign Office to Business and Trade, Treasury and the Environment - to report to me on what we must do to meet the world's Millennium Development Goals and to eradicate the great evils of our time: illiteracy, disease, poverty, environmental degradation and under-development.

Earlier this month, the UN Secretary General launched the UN's 2007 progress
report on the goals. He said there was a clear need for urgent and concerted

Now one month later …

Religious Doctors Less Likely to Serve Poor

In the July/August issue of the Annals of Family Medicine, researchers from the University of Chicago and Yale New Haven Hospital report that religious physicians are less likely than non-religious physicians to serve the poor:

Although most religious traditions call on the faithful to serve the poor, a large cross-sectional survey of U.S. physicians found that physicians who are more religious are slightly less likely to practice medicine among the under-served than physicians with no religious affiliation.

In the July/August issue of the Annals of Family Medicine, researchers from the University of Chicago and Yale New Haven Hospital report that 31 percent of physicians who were more religious--as measured by "intrinsic religiosity" as well as frequency of attendance at religious services--practiced among the under-served, compared to 35 percent of physicians who described their religion as atheist, agnostic or none.

"This came as both a surprise and a disappointment,&qu…

Martin Marty on the New Atheism

The great scholar of all things religous, Martin Marty, has a column in the Christian Century about how Christians should respond to the so-called "New Atheism." While I do not agree with all that he says, I do think he offers some very good advice. Here are some highlights:

Having written "The Uses of Infidelity" (1956), >The Infidel: Freethought and American Religion (1961) and Varieties of Unbelief (1964) back when I was on the trail of atheists and their kin, I am often asked: When are you going to comment on the media's discovery of "the new atheism"? The term refers to writings by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel C. Dennett, Samuel Harris, Michel Onfray, Victor J. Stenger and other best-selling defenders of atheism and attackers of religion as something evil and needing to be banished.

Answer: Maybe someday. Meanwhile, here is advice to myself and anyone else who cares:

Keep cool. America has seen cycles like these before and has…

Children's Healthcare

One of the few positive public policy developments in recent years has been the expansion of coverage of children through the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (Schip). Simply put, Schip expands coverage of children (and pregnant women) in Medicaid systems. It is now time to reauthorize Scip, and there are two competing proposals--the bipartisan Senate version has a modest increase in coverage funded by an increase to tobacco taxes, and the Senate version has a much larger expansion, funded by a cut in insurance company subsidies under the Medicare program.

The Bush Administration is threatening to veto both versions. Why? Paul Krugman of the New York Times thinks that the Bush Administration opposes expansion because it works too well. George Bush, who opposed this program when he was Governor, is fearful that success will put more pressure to further expand government health programs:

When a child is enrolled in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (Schip), the positi…

Remembering William Wilberforce

This year, we all too quietly celebrate the 200 year anniversary of the end of slavery in the British Empire. On March 25, 1998, the British Parliament voted to outlaw slavery. So why do I post on this today? Because in the Anglican Communion, today is the feast day for William Wilberforce, the member of Parliament who pushed so hard and long for the end of slavery. It is not every day that an elected politician is recognized as a saint by a religious body, and this recognition is well deserved. To celebrate, there will several services in Westminster Abbey:

Monday night in London's Westminster Abbey, Atlanta's St. Philip's Episcopal Cathedral will help celebrate one of the landmark events in history: 200 years ago, or nearly six decades before the United States settled the Civil War and ended slavery, the British Parliament voted to outlaw human bondage.

For the Britons, it was the culmination of a contentious debate, as much about human rights and justice as about the econ…

More on Climate Change: Tibet is Melting

Here is the latest on climate change: The New Scientist reports that Tibet is warming at twice the world average, which has important consequences for the region, including massive flooding in Bangladesh and India:

The Tibetan plateau is heating up by 0.3°C each decade, more than twice the worldwide average, according to a new study from the Tibet Meteorological Bureau.

The findings, reported by the official Chinese news agency Xinhua, underscore a growing understanding that high elevations in tropical regions are experiencing dramatic temperature increases similar to those seen at the poles.

"Whether you are in the Himalayas, the Andes, or Africa, the temperature is rising highest at the highest elevations," says Lonnie Thompson, a glaciologist at the Ohio State University (See Interview: The Ice Man cometh). "They are seeing an acceleration in temperature rise that is very consistent with the high-elevation glacial retreat we are seeing."

Over the last 50 years, tem…

Africa and the Bible

Father Greg Jones (of Anglican Centrist) has an essay at the Episcopal Cafe's Daily Episcopalian about Africa and the Bible. I think this essay is very important because disputes about how to engage with Scripture is one of the leading causes over the current friction between the Episcopal Church and African Anglicans.

Here are some highlights:

As a result of this inculturation of the Word of God, in fairly recent times, denominational differences in Africa don’t mean much. Importantly, outside of South Africa perhaps, there is not a distinctively Anglican approach to the Bible in Africa. African specialist and Episcopal priest the Rev. Dr. Grant Le Marquand tells me that “Western denominationalism doesn’t make a lot of sense in Africa. In East Africa, for example, all the various churches pretty much look the same – if you had a blindfold on you might not tell the difference.” But, he says there are some distinctives in African biblical engagement, in general.

First of all, Africa…

New Poll on Young Voters

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a predominant Democratic polling firm, has done a poll of younger voters for Democracy Corp. The poll involved a national survey of 1017 young people ages 18-29, and includes some interesting results on religion as well as politics.

Some interesting results include:

This cohort is more secular than the rest of the country – 25 percent describe their religious affiliation as “none” compared to 11 percent in the country as a whole – and 60 percent believe “religion and faith should not play a role in politics.”

Younger people are well ahead of the rest of the country in supporting gay marriage (52 percent favor, 45 percent oppose). Moreover, 67 percent of younger people believe
“same sex couples trying to get married are courageous in facing opposition and really committed to building happy lives together.”

Read the survey here.

The real issue for me is whether the lack of religion is unique to this age cohort or suggests a change from previous generations. Younger a…

Bishop Gene Robinson Interviewed

Andrew Collier, a freelance journalist based in Scotland, interviewed Bishop Gene Robinson in London, and Ruth Gledhill of the Times has the full transcript on her blog. It is worth reading.

Here are some highlights. First, on gays in the Church of England:

'I think the thing that is the most mystifying to me and the most troubling about the Church of England is its refusal to be honest about just how many gay clergy it has – many of them partnered and many of them living in rectories. I have met so many gay partnered clergy here and it is so troubling to hear them tell me that their bishop comes to their house for dinner, knows fully about their relationship, is wonderfully supportive but has also said if this ever becomes public then I’m your worst enemy. It’s a terrible way to live your life and I think it’s a terrible way to be a church. I think integrity is so important. What does it mean for a clergy person to be in a pulpit calling the parishioners to a life of integrity wh…

The End is Near (okay 12 million years away)

With a tongue firming in the cheek, but based on some peer-reviewed science, the Scientific American blog reports that we will suffer a life-ending extinction event in 12 million years:

I know there are disasters just over the horizon--terrorism, climate change, the rapture--but some ends to the human race are so profoundly unavoidable that they deserve further scrutiny, even if it's just to satisfy my need for some kind of secular eschatology.

Back in May, a pair of researchers at the University of Kansas proposed a unique solution to the puzzling periodicity of mass extinctions on Earth--which happen about once every 62 million years.

According to Adrian Melott, professor of physics and astronomy at KU, the motion of the solar system exposes Earth to an onslaught of cosmic rays on a schedule that is synchronized to the mass extinctions.

That white dot is us, oscillating through the periphery of our parent galaxy along that helpfully-illustrated snaky green path. Of doom.

Like Baltimo…

On the Dangers of Staying and Fighting

Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News has a post on his blog today about a recenct article in Again by Father Gregory and Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green about their decision to leave the Episcopal Church to join the Antiochian Orthodox Church. I could not find access to the full article, but Dreher has some very interesting quotes from the article. In it, Frederica writes:

The straw that broke the camel's back, though, came during the 1991 General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I was present in the house of bishops when they voted on the Frey Resolution. It states: "Episcopal clergy should abstain from sex outside of marriage." ... After the votes were counted, we found that the resolution was defeated. I went out and found a pay phone and called my husband in tears. I said to him, "This is not a church anymore. It may be some kind of social workers' organization with excellent aesthetics, but it is not a church anymore, because it has no intention of obey…

More Lambeth 2008 Boycotts?

Ruth Gledhill reports in the Timesthat a large number of Church of England Bishops are threatening to boycott Lambeth if the Episcopal Church does not agree to the requirements of the Communique:

Six out of ten senior Church of England bishops could boycott next year’s Lambeth Conference of more than 800 Anglican bishops and archbishops from around the world because of the row over gays.

Such a boycott would be unprecedented in the history of the Anglican Church and would be an indication of how deep the divisions go, in England as well as in the rest of the communion.

The fifth most senior bishop in the mother church of the Anglican Communion warns today that a majority of English diocesan bishops could consider a boycott if the US does not row back on its pro-gay agenda.

A UK boycott would confirm the gravity of the splits within even the Church of England, traditionally the model for Anglicanism’s “via media”. It would effectively spell the end of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s drea…

Eternity for Atheists?

The New York Times Magazine for this coming Sunday has an interesting article about various theories of life persisting after death that do not depend on the existence of a God. Here are some highlights:

If God is dead, does that mean we cannot survive our own deaths? Recent best-selling books against religion agree that immortality is a myth we ought to outgrow. But there are a few thinkers with unimpeachable scientific credentials who have been waving their arms and shouting: not so fast. Even without God, they say, we have reason to hope for — or possibly fear — an afterlife.

. . .

Where does this leave those who, while secular in outlook, still pine after immortality? A little more than a century ago, the American philosopher William James proposed an interesting way of keeping open the door to an afterlife. We know that the mind depends on the physical brain, James said. But that doesn’t mean that our brain processes actually produce our mental life, as opposed to merely transmittin…

Father Stephen on Secularism, Part 2

Father Stephen has posted an elaboration on his original post (which I discussed here) on living in a secular world. In this second post, he asks the tough question: what does it mean in our every day life to live a life in Christ in our secular culture. It offers some very good advice:

It is one thing to describe the cultural mix in which we swim and quite another to swim in an opposite direction. One of my favorite icons is a Theophany icon (Christ’s Baptism). In it you can see fish swimming in the water. All of the fish are swimming downstream except one. A single fish, just beneath the hand of Christ, is swimming in the opposite direction. The first time I saw this icon a priest said to me, “With the blessing of Christ, we overcome the world.”

The same is true of us - fish as we are. With the blessing of Christ we do not have to be conformed to this world. Our minds can be transformed (Romans 12:2). A large measure of this is to be found in availing ourselves of the grace given to…

More on the 2007 Pew Study

Okay, this graphic is striking. It shows that the United States was the one nation listed most often as the closest ally and biggest threat in the 2007 Pew Global Survey. Here is the Pew analysis:

The polling also underscores the lack of international consensus about the world order reported in this year's first Global Attitudes report. Notably, the United States is named about as often as a close ally as it is named the biggest threat by respondents in the 47-nation survey. No other single country or international institution was as frequently cited as a top ally or threat, including Iran.

. . .

The United States is singled out as a close ally by people in many African nations and in Israel and Kuwait, where the United States remains popular. The publics of two of America's closest allies, Great Britain and Canada, also regard the United States as their closest ally, despite their criticism of U.S. foreign policies.

By contrast, the publics in many predominately Muslim count…

Support for Suicide Bombing Dropping in the Muslim World

Suggesting that our enemies may, in fact, be their own worst enemy, the 2007 Pew Global Survey, released today, is showing a significant decline in support for suicide bombing and other attacks on innocent lives. the sole exception appears to be among Palestinians:

Among the most striking trends in predominantly Muslim nations is the continuing decline in the number saying that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians are justifiable in the defense of Islam. In Lebanon, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Indonesia, the proportion of Muslims who view suicide bombing and other attacks against civilians as being often or sometimes justified has declined by half or more over the past five years.

Wide majorities say such attacks are, at most, rarely acceptable. However, this is decidedly not the case in the Palestinian territories. Fully 70% of Palestinians believe that suicide bombings against civilians can be often or sometimes justified, a position starkly at odds with Muslims…

Father Stephen on Secularism

Father Stephen, a former Episcopal priest, now serving as an Orthodox priest in Tennessee, is always worth reading. Today he has a very thoughtful post on how our culture distances us from God.

First, he observes the default view of God in our culture. I think he nails it--this is how we see God:

The default position of America is secular protestantism.

I say this is the default position and mean by it - that without effort and care - we all find ourselves thinking and acting out of a secular protestant mindset. Of course, I need to offer a definition for my terms. By secular protestantism (and I mean no insult to Protestants by the term) I mean a generalized belief in God - but a God who is removed from the world (hence the term secular). Secularism is not the belief that there is no God - but the belief that God belongs to a religious sphere and the rest of the world is neutral in some independent sense. I add the term “protestantism” to it, because, generally, our culture gives lip-s…

Nicholas Knisley Versus James Dobson on Harry Potter

The Christian Post is reporting that Dr. James Dobson (who does not appear to have read any of the books in question) is advising Christian families to avoid the Harry Potter series:

"‘In a story about Christians' views on the Harry Potter books and films, reporter Jacqueline Salmon wrote that ‘Christian parenting guru James Dobson has praised the Potter books,’’ the statement read. ‘This is the exact opposite of Dr. Dobson's opinion – in fact, he said a few years ago on his daily radio broadcast that ‘We have spoken out strongly against all of the Harry Potter products.’’
The reason the ministry leader is against the material is obvious given the presence of magical characters (witches, wizards, ghosts, goblins, werewolves, poltergeists and so on) in the Harry Potter stories.

‘[A]nd given the trend toward witchcraft and New Age ideology in the larger culture,’ FOTF added, ‘it's difficult to ignore the effects such stories (albeit imaginary) might have on young, impress…

Melissa Rogers on Power versus Authority

I have been doing quite a bit of pontificating about what what Christians should do in the world if we are to be true to our faith. I think that Melissa Rogers post today should give a healthly pause to all of us who urge others to take actions based on faith. To put it most bluntly, she is argung that we need to walk the talk:
Bruce Prescott makes me think: How often could it be said that we religious communities need to get our own houses in order before we go out and tell the rest of the world how to live?

Greg Boyd and Tony Campolo have been influential in my thinking on this point as well. Whether it is sexual morality, sacrificial giving and service to the poor, resisting the temptation to lust after power, or a turning away from commercialism and greed, what stands can we take that will a) force us to do the hard work of bringing our own conduct in line with our principles; and b) send a message to the world that is more powerful than all of our public statements and pronou…

Albert Mohler Responds to Mary Zeiss Stange on Gays and Luther

I earlier posted the comments of Mary Zeiss Strange on Luther and homosexuality. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, responds in the Christian Post. I think that he does a good job of laying out the theological arguments that need to be addressed. I will lay out his argument and offer a brief response.

First, he rejects the argument that we can discount Paul's statements on homosexuality on the basis of a modern understanding of human sexuality:

The Apostle Paul's statements in the Bible are either divinely inspired or not. This is and will remain the crucial issue in the issue of Christianity and controversies over homosexuality. The Bible's statements are clear and they are uniformly condemnatory of all same-sex sexual acts – period. Those who want to push for the normalization of homosexuality and the recognition of same-sex relationships within the church have to find some way around those passages and th…

Archbishop of York to Global South: Come to Lambeth

Dr John Sentamu, an African Anglican now serving in the Church of England as the Archbishop of York warned conservative Anglicans that they are endangering their ties to the Anglican Communion if they boycott Lambeth 2008.

Here is the report from the Daily Telegraph :

The Archbishop of York has warned conservative Anglican leaders that they will effectively expel themselves from the worldwide Church if they boycott next year's Lambeth Conference.

In an exclusive interview with The Daily Telegraph, Dr John Sentamu pleaded with them to attend the conference despite their war with liberals over homosexuality.

But he told them that if they "voted with their feet" they risked severing their links with the Archbishop of Canterbury and with historic Anglicanism, a breach that could take centuries to heal.

"Anglicanism has its roots through Canterbury," he said. "If you sever that link you are severing yourself from the Communion. There is no doubt about it."

The a…

Back from Vacation

Actually, my family got back from vacation three weeks ago, but work commitments have kept me from downloading our photographs until today. We spent a week in Oregon (mostly at the Oregon Coast). I had a 30 year (ugh!) high school reunion in Salem, Oregon (where I grew up), and used the opportunity to get out of the summer heat.

My son loved the beach, and the animals at both the Oregon Zoo and the Newport Aquarium.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor on Faith and Reason in the U.S. and Europe

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor has a wonderful essay in the Times that describes the different views of faith and reason in the united States and Europe--and the different challenges that face both the United States and Europe as a result. He thinks that the united States tend to be more comfortable with faith and reason as compatible, but notes that we too often believe our own rhetoric of being a chosen people:

Today Americans still readily embrace both religious faith and patriotism, a striking paradox in a land where Church and State are deliberately separated. We have much to learn from the people of the United States. Their search for a better life and their optimism are linked with their religious faith. From their first day at school, American children learn to salute the flag and declare their Americanness. They say: “God bless America,” and then happily add: “I’m a Baptist, or a Jew, a Catholic or a Muslim.” To them, it seems, being a good Catholic, a good Jew, a good Baptis…

De Facto Religious Tests

The United States Constitution has always barred religious tests for political office. But this is merely a formal, legal rule that bars only formal tests to get on the ballot. It does not bar individual voters from taking religion into account and,in fact, American voters have always done so. As reported in the New York times, however, this religious test is becoming less sectarian over time. Catholics used to concern voters. They do no longer. Mormons and Muslims, however, still face political hurtles. And, some belief in God still seems to be a requirement for higher office:

Although the Constitution bars any religious test for office, if polls are to be believed, Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, faces a serious obstacle to winning the presidency because of his faith. Surveys show a substantial percentage of Americans would be less likely to vote for a Mormon, or for that matter a Muslim or an atheist. But how rigid is that sentiment?

The answer, of course, is complica…

Bishop Geoffrey Rowell on Faith and Science

Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, the Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, has a very thoughtful essay on faith in the Times, that argues that faith is essential to any human activity (including science and politics)--and the only real issue is where we put our faith. In doing so, of course, he uses a different view of faith than the straw man ("Faith is belief without evidence") that is often used by atheists in denouncing faith as unreasonable. Here are some highlights:

It was Michael Polanyi, the philosopher of science, who recognised that for a scientist to test a new hypothesis they had to have faith in that hypothesis. Faith seeking understanding was as true of science as of religion, though a faith that was indeed a reasonable faith shaped by compelling evidence. Belief, he argued, was the source of all knowledge. “Tacit assent and intellectual passions, the sharing of an idiom and of a cultural heritage, affiliation to a like-minded community: such are the impulses which s…