Showing posts from November, 2007

A Christian Sense of Humor

Have you checked out the Ship of Fools "12 Days of Kitschmas?" It offers some real gems of Christian kitsch such as the Virgin Mary Memory Stick, and has been making the rounds in the faith blogosphere. Perhaps the most interesting commentary about all this, however, has been by Andrew Brown, an who argues in the Guardian blog that the willigness of Christians to make fun of their faith is one reason why it has so much staying power:

Which is the more disgusting, a bear called Muhammad, or a bear with a zip up the back, which opens to reveal a cavity for storing your loved one's ashes? The huggable urn bear won third prize in the Ship of Fools Christmas kitsch contest this year, which means that there were two contestants judged even more disgusting. For the record, they were a St Sebastian pincushion, and a transparent plastic Virgin Mary with a red LED that blinks like a throbbing sacred heart when the memory stick inside is working. I would buy one of these, except tha…

Father Peter Carey Introduces Himself

Father Matthew Moritz lead the way to the use of YouTube as a tool of effective evangelism. Rev. Peter Carey, a transitional deacon serving as Chaplain of St. Catherine's School in Richmond, Virginia (and who will be ordained as a priest just a few weeks from now) has started producing his own videos. this is Peter's latest video--which you should definitely watch if you wonder what a "transitional deacon" or a "deacon" means.

You should also check out Peter's own website.

Faith and Money II: The Advent Conspiracy

In the past week, I have blogged about faith and money, and I have blogged about the inane obsession by some on the so-called "War on Christmas". Well, today I read an article that puts the two together. It seems that a group of clergy have formed a so-called Advent Conspiracy that aims to wage it own Christian war on Christmas--not the religious holiday of Christmas, but the secular comemrcialization of Christmas:

Americans will spend about $475 billion this year on gifts, decorations and parties that many won't even remember next year. They will run themselves ragged--shopping, wrapping and celebrating. And some won't pay off their Christmas debt until March, if they're lucky.

"We celebrate Jesus' birthday by giving ourselves presents," McKinley says. "We don't give him anything."

McKinley is pastor of the Imago Dei Community, a Christian church of about 1,500 members that meets in a high school auditorium here. It dawned on McKinley …

Father Matthew on the Sacraments: Part One--Baptism

Father Matthew has started an eight-part series on the Sacramants. His first installement is now online--and it focuses on Baptism. Father Matthew explains in an email to his fan base:

Greetings All,

Bring out the ticker tape! Bring out the fatted calf! Blow the trumpet in the new moon! A new “Father Matthew Presents” mini-series has begun.

The eight-part series, entitled “Father Matthew Presents the Sacraments,” will be a full-fledged educational series including one video featuring each the seven sacraments, with a closing piece.

. . .

The hope is for this series to engage the regular and wonderful “Father Matthew Presents” audience, but also to serve teachers in the Church, whether it be Sunday School, Youth Group, or EFM.

So please be sure to share the fact of this series’ existence with anyone you think may be interested: teachers, preachers, inquirers, etc. Your help to spread the word is greatly valued!

Another hope is for the entire series to be compiled on a single DVD …

The "Christmas Wars"

Well it has officially started. Its that festive time of year when some Christians decide that they must demand that businesses say "Merry Christmas" and not (the horror!) "Happy Holidays". As the Christian Post is reporting, Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal group, has released a “Naughty or Nice” list that advises Christians where to shop for Christmas. Businesses and retailers are placed on the “Nice” list if they recognize Christmas and on the “Naughty” list if they censor such references. The list is part of the fifth annual Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign, in which the legal group is pledging to be a "Friend" to those entities which do not censor Christmas and a "Foe" to those that do.

This is crazy, and downright un-Christian. Here is my take:

First, we live in a country that is dominated by Christians. We are, by far, the majority faith. Can you name one other religious holiday that is recognized as both a state and federal holiday in ev…

Money and Faith

There have been some interesting stories in the press over the last few days about issues of faith and money, including this Wall Street Journal story about the backlash against tithing. Since my wife is the Stewardship Chair at Trinity, and we have been tithing since we were married (Allison insisted), I thought that it was about time to post something about money. After all, this blog has written quite a lot about sex and faith and even science and faith--its time to talk about money.

I think that the best starting starting point is this wonderful column by Terry Mattingly:

It was the kind of cryptic theological statement that is often found stuck on automobile bumpers.

This sticker said: "Don't let my car fool you. My treasure is in heaven." This echoed the Bible passage in which Jesus urged believers to, "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. ... For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

This sticker's creator probably intended it to…

Paul Davies on Faith and Science

Paul Davies, the director of Beyond, a research center at Arizona State University, and the author of Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe Is Just Right for Life, has a very provocative op-ed in today's New York Times that makes a very interesting claim--that science itself is the result of faith. He does so in a way very similar to my own thinking:

SCIENCE, we are repeatedly told, is the most reliable form of knowledge about the world because it is based on testable hypotheses. Religion, by contrast, is based on faith. The term “doubting Thomas” well illustrates the difference. In science, a healthy skepticism is a professional necessity, whereas in religion, having belief without evidence is regarded as a virtue.

The problem with this neat separation into “non-overlapping magisteria,” as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible…

More on Stem Cell Developments

As I reported yesterday, there is a significant new development in stem cell research--the fact that skin cells can be used to creat stem cells. Much of the interest in this story is that it suggests that we need no longer research embryonic stems cells, and thus the bioethical problems are over. It is also offered as vindication of President Bush's policies on stem cell research.

Well, the science bloggers have had time to reflect on the developments. While they agree that this is a significant scientific development worthy of front page coverage, they also caution that it does not solve the bioethical issues. Why? As PZ Myers explains, one reason is that while this new tehcnique is great for stem cell research, it has severe limitations in therapeutic uses:

Another essential point is that scientists are excited about this work because it opens up avenues for basic research into development and differentiation. These cells are NOT useable for therapies…the immediate, practical…

An End to the Stem Cell Impasse

For years th eissue of stem cell research has divided even the pro life community, and the bioethical concerns about the destruction of embryonic stem cells--and the attendant human cloning (even for therapeutic purposes) have slowed the pace of research on stem cells.

The New York Times is reporting this morning that a new technique using skin cells may be a breakthrough that avoids the bioethical concerns altogether:

Two teams of scientists are reporting today that they turned human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo — a feat that could quell the ethical debate troubling the field.

All they had to do, the scientists said, was add four genes. The genes reprogrammed the chromosomes of the skin cells, making the cells into blank slates that should be able to turn into any of the 220 cell types of the human body, be it heart, brain, blood or bone. Until now, the only way to get such human universal cells was to pluck them fro…

I am On Facebook

I have taken the advice of Helen Thompson and Nicholas Knisely and set up a Facebook page. It should be an interesting experiment. My sense is that I am an old geezer on this site, but that this is changing rapidly. If you are on Facebook, look me up and become a friend. Then join the Epeicopal Cafe group.

Galileo, Fact, Reason, and the Role of Scripture

My priest, Nicholas Knisley was a physicist and astronomer before becoming a priest. He is teaching a college level "Physics for Poets" at the Cathedral that aims to examine the philisophical and theological implications for what we are learning.

Yesterday's lesson was on Galileo (which I missed due to a family commitment--sorry Nicholas), and in preparin for the class Nicholas clearly did some deep thinking. He posted the result of his thinking on his blog:

One of the things that leads some to argue that Galileo was the founder of the modern scientific method was his insistence that reason must be always compared to observation. Reason, by itself was not the final arbiter of a dispute.

It was his insistence on this point that was the core of his break from the teleological thinking of Aristotle.

It was also the core of the objection that the Catholic Church had to his writing. (Or so some have argued...)

I wonder if we might gain by making a similar requirement for theolo…

IPCC Issues Final Report

The final report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was issued yesterday, and the UN Secretary General had pointed things to say to countries like China and the United States that seem unwilling to take necessary steps:

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, describing climate change as “the defining challenge of our age,” released the final report of a United Nations panel on climate change here on Saturday and called on the United States and China to play “a more constructive role.”

His challenge to the world’s two greatest greenhouse gas emitters came just two weeks before the world’s energy ministers meet in Bali, Indonesia, to begin talks on creating a global climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

The United States and China are signatories to Kyoto, but Washington has not ratified the treaty, and China, along with other developing countries, is not bound by its mandatory emissions caps.

“Today the world’s scientists have spoken, cle…

Theo Hobson on Prayer and Atheism

I don't agree with everything that Theo Hobson writes today in the Guardian's Comment is Free group blog--in particular, I think that we need to stop talking about "militant atheists", and listen with respect to what they have to say. Nonetheless, he captures well, my view of prayer--one that many atheist may not appreciate:

Prayer is a bit like masturbation. It is more widely practised than public discourse acknowledges. Apparently, 42% of us sometimes pray, according to a survey published last week. To the atheist, it's evidence that there's no room for complacency in the war on dangerous superstition. But is prayer either dangerous or superstitious?

To the atheist it's like this. A person acquires the delusion that God exists, and so starts talking to this imagined being, in the hope of influencing its will. He persists in this, despite having no firm evidence that prayer works. Probably the believer is so pathetically lonely that he can't bear to fa…

Watch Comet Holmes

A comet visable to the naked eye comes only onece every decade or so, and the view is even more impressive using binoculars. Be sure to check out Comet Holmes in the coming weeks. It can be found in the Northeastern sky in Perseus constellation. Here is more information from Astronomy:

For reasons astronomers don't entirely understand, the cosmic iceball flared in brightness by a million times in just 2.5 days. This outburst propelled the comet from a faint-fuzzy best viewed in a large amateur telescope to a star-like object observers throughout the Northern Hemisphere could easily see in a moonlit sky.

The comet subsequently expanded into a fuzzy patch and now rivals the Moon in size. Holmes has faded relatively little in terms of astronomers' brightness scale, where it now hovers near magnitude 3, but its light is spread out over a larger area.

Some observers dubbed 17P/Holmes the ultimate "urban comet." While it lacks a spectacular tail, the comet initially was e…

NOVA on Intelligent Design

Well, I hoped you all took my advice and watched (or at least TIVOed) NOVA's program last night on intelligent design. There are some very good posts up about the program. Atheist P.Z. Myers has some an interesting post about the reaction of the pro-ID Discovery Institute here. My fellow pro-evolution Christian blogger James McGrath has several posts. Start with this one.

I grew up in a Lutheran Church that, despite fairly orthodox teachings on most theological issues, never taught me to take the Bible literally. As such, I never faced or perceived a conflict between my faith and what I learned in school about evolution. This is certainly true of the Episcopal Church as well, but it equally true of the Roman Catholic Chuch, most mainline Protestant congregations, and most Orthodox Churches as well. In some sense, the bibical literalism that drives these crazy battles over evolution is an American creation--albeit one of large and growing influence.

But as noted earlier this…

Pray for Bangladesh

If we needed any reminder of how America-centric our news has become, the following report from Pharyngula (an outstanding science/atheism blog by Professor P.Z. Myers) is sobering:

Try checking the major American news sites: CNN, Fox, MSNBC, the New York Times, you can even try the BBC. There's a major news story missing.
You'll have to read Chris Mooney's blog to find it. There's a potential Category 5 cyclone, Cyclone Sidr, on its way to smash Bangladesh.

It's going to hit sometime tomorrow. While Sonny Perdue prays for a little rain, maybe we should be urging our news networks to pay attention to the important news, our government should be getting ready for emergency assistance, and we should all be preparing to loosen those checkbooks and possibly offer what aid we can.

Read it here.

Here is more coverage:

Tropical Cyclone Sidr's winds strengthened to 241 kilometers (150 miles) per hour as it moved across the Bay of Bengal toward Kolkata in India and the west c…

Martin Marty on the Economist Religion Report

Martin Marty has a very interesting commentary on the Economist cover story on religion:

The Economist, our favorite weekly (still-)news magazine, published a keeper on November 3rd in the form of a sixteen-page "special report on religion and public life." As many of you know, our Center's early "public religion" efforts presumed that we would have to squint when searching for tiny, fine-print media references to religion. This week again, however, we are nearly blinded by the coverage. The editors drew on substantial figures, from old-pro sociologist Peter Berger, who provided the liveliest lines, to younger-pro Philip Jenkins, currently the most notable interpreter of what global Christianity means for the U.S.

A key Berger line: "We made a category mistake. We thought that the relationship was between modernisation and secularisation. In fact it was between modernisation and pluralism." Because pluralism implies "choice," it becomes a maj…

Another Episcopal Priest (Actually Soon-To-Be Priest) on YouTube

Peter Carey, a recent graduate of VTS now serving as the chaplain at St. Catherine's Episcopal school in Virginia, will soon be ordained as a priest. He has joined Father Matthew on You Tube with a first viedeo that gives us a tour of the school chapel.

I was especially impressed with the school motto.

More on the Ethics of Climate Change

I have repeatedly said that the most serious moral issue involved in climate change is that the real burdens of the effects of climate change fall on the poorest of the poor--who did not benefit from the wealth created by the emissions of greenhouse gases in the past. There is a new study that reinforces my point:

The public health costs of global climate change are likely to be the greatest in those parts of the world that have contributed least to the problem, posing a significant ethical dilemma for the developed world, according to a new study.

In a paper to be published the week of Nov. 12, 2007, in the journal EcoHealth, a team of researchers led by environmental public health authority Jonathan Patz of the University of Wisconsin-Madison reports that the health burden of climate change will rest disproportionately on the world's poor.

"Our high consumption of energy is putting a huge disease burden on places that are quite remote from us," explains Patz, a profess…

NOVA on Intelligent Design

On PBS's NOVA program on Tuesday, November 13, the focus will be on the federal court challenge to the decision of the Dover Scool Board to require the teaching of intelligent design in science classes. Here is the executive producer's explanation of why they decided to take this issue onL

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial is in many ways a hornet's nest. And we had to think long and hard before we decided to take it on. I think the real reason that we made that decision is because evolution is the foundation of the biological sciences. As Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the great biologists of the 20th century, once said, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

In 2004, the Dover, Pennsylvania school board established a policy that science teachers would have to read a statement to biology students suggesting that there is an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution called intelligent design. Intelligent design, or ID, cla…

Faith and Torture

The Washington Post/Newsweek "On Faith" blog was devoted to the issue of whether torture is justified. The responses are a mixed bag.

On the sad side, Chuck Colson apparantly asks "What would Jesus do" and comes to the theologically bizarre conclusion that Jesus would waterboard--or worse. I am kidding of course. Actaully, his analysis makes even less sense--apparantly there is a prudence exception to the teachings of the Gospel:

Centuries of Christian ethical reflection would lead to the answer "no." Inflicting bodily or psychological harm on a helpless captive would be inconsistent with the Christian understanding of human dignity. But as with all moral obligations, there may be circumstances for exception.

It is well understood in Christian tradition that while we are supposed to obey the law, there may be times when there is a higher obligation (see Aquinas, Augustine, and Martin Luther King). To rescue a drowning person, a Christian would be justifie…

DNA and New Fears of Prejudice

The New York Times has a very interesting article about how new DNA tools may be reinforcing prejudice--particulalry since many geneology DNA programs seem to reinforce cultural concepts of race into DNA family groups:

When scientists first decoded the human genome in 2000, they were quick to portray it as proof of humankind’s remarkable similarity. The DNA of any two people, they emphasized, is at least 99 percent identical.

But new research is exploring the remaining fraction to explain differences between people of different continental origins.

Scientists, for instance, have recently identified small changes in DNA that account for the pale skin of Europeans, the tendency of Asians to sweat less and West Africans’ resistance to certain diseases.

At the same time, genetic information is slipping out of the laboratory and into everyday life, carrying with it the inescapable message that people of different races have different DNA. Ancestry tests tell customers what percentage of their…


With all of the attention on the so-called "New Atheism", some very interesting books abiout secularism, religion and politics, are getting much less attention than they deserve. Mark Lilla's work, The Stillborn God, appears to be a fascinating study of the surprising strength od religious belief in our post-enlightment world. A new book by Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, is also getting rave reviews.

Perhaps even more exciting, there is a great new group blog The Immanent Frame that is focused on the same issues, and includes reviews of these books. It has a great list of quite well known contributors, including Robert Bellah, and is established in conjunction with projects on Religion and the Public Sphere at the Social Science Research Council.

Hat Tip to the Faith and Theology blog for leading me here.

This May Explain A Lot about Anti-Americanism

The Episcopal Cafe has a very disturbing essay by Joel Merchant about his experience with how foreigners are sometimes treated in the US under the guise of national security. The essay is causing a great of dicussion on the web (and it caused the Episcopal Cafe traffic to increase eightfold). I thought you would benefit from reading highlights from the post:

Countries, like people, make friends with others one at a time. This is a story of one failure. In fairness to an unknown visitor to our country, imagine yourself in his place. The scene is on a recent Amtrak trip between New York City and Boston. The conductor collects tickets, requests identification, folds destination stubs into seatbacks, moves on to other cars. An older man across the aisle, traveling alone, shows his passport. It is clear from their conversation he doesn’t know English.

After decades as a frequent traveler, I have thousands of pictures -- scenery, buildings, people, architecture, from around the world. Toda…

Decline in World Poverty Not Reaching the Extreme Poor

The good news is that world poverty is declining. the bad news is that the decline is concentrated in a few countries and is not benefiting the poorest of the poor:

The world’s poorest people are not seeing the benefits of a global decline in the poverty rate driven by Asia’s economic growth in the past 20 years, a report said today.

The report by the International Food Policy Research Institute, based in Washington, said that the world is on track to reach a U.N. target of halving poverty and hunger by 2015. Yet, those living on less than 50 cents a day have benefited the least from poverty-reduction efforts, it said.

It estimated that 162 million people fall into the poorest category in 2004 while some 838 million lived on between 50 cents and $1. Three-quarters of the world’s poorest live in sub-Saharan Africa, the report said

Read it here. A great deal of information about the report itself, including fact sheets, the full report, and even a podcast can be found here.

Taking Things on Faith

Dr. James McGrath has an excellent post today about the dangers of "taking things on faith:"

In student papers, I regularly read that things are supposed to be 'taken on faith'. In terms of what they mean by this, there is simply no such teaching in the Bible. Neither is what they are proposing a good idea.

The closest one might get to it is the story of Thomas in the Gospel of John. There, however, he gets to see, and his skepticism is not particularly surprising given what he was being asked to believe.

Those who believe without seeing are said to be blessed, but they are not expected to simply believe a story someone tells them. They are expected to experience Christ's life-changing power and perhaps also miraculous healings and exorcisms. There is no expectation that people will simply believe things in the absence of evidence.

The failure of Jesus' contemporaries to believe he was the Messiah is not about belief in the absence of evidence. It is about what t…

Faith and Reason: Can the Resurrection Be Proved?

One of my favorite theological bloggers, Ben Myers, has a very provocative post that is generating a great deal of comments. The gist of Myers' argument is this: it is a mistake to try to "prove" that the Resurrection occurred. Why? Because the Resurrection is a theological event, not an historical one.

I am not at all sure that I agree, but it may be that I am missing Ben's point. I certainly agree that it is highly unlikely that we can ever "prove" that the resurrection occurred, I do think that the resurrection is an historical event--the act of God in the world. I don't think it meaningful to claim a distinction between history and theology. In any event, read what Ben has to say, and let him (and me) know what you think:

Can we ever “prove” the resurrection of Jesus, either historically (e.g. Pannenberg, N. T. Wright) or probabilistically (e.g. Richard Swinburne) or scientifically (e.g. various nutty apologists)? In my view, such “proof” is neither …