Friday, August 31, 2007

Blogging Vacation

My family (including me!) is off on vacation next week. While I blogged during an earlier vacation, my wife has made a convincing case that I need a break from my blogging as well as from work. I agree. It is time to take a break. I should be back live on Sunday, September 9. In the meantime, be sure to check out The Lead for your Anglican news.

Oh--and by the way, out house will be occupied while we are gone.

Generals and Their Candidates

Okay, this is off topic for this blog, but it involves something I know a great deal about, and I thought that my thoughts would be interesting. William Arkin of the Washington Post has printed a list of former Generals and the candidates that they are supporting or advising. Here is the list:

Lt. Gen. Daniel William Christman, USA (Ret.); foreign policy adviser to Clinton campaign
• Maj. Gen. J. (Jonathan) Scott Gration, USAF (Ret.); national security adviser to Obama campaign
• Gen. John M. ("Jack") Keane, USA (Ret.); foreign policy adviser to Clinton campaign
• Lt. Gen. Claudia J. Kennedy, USA (Ret.); member, Veterans and Military Retirees For Hillary
• Lt. Gen. Donald L. Kerrick, USA (Ret.); foreign policy adviser to Clinton campaign
• Brig. Gen. Robert Michael Kimmitt (USAR); adviser to McCain campaign
• Adm. Charles Larson, USN (Ret.); adviser to McCain campaign
• Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, USA (Ret.); adviser to McCain campaign
• Gen. Merrill A. ("Tony") McPeak, USAF (Ret); defense adviser to Obama campaign
• Gen. Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.); adviser to McCain campaign
• Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, USAF (Ret.); adviser to McCain campaign
• U.S. Rep. (and retired Vice Adm.); Joseph Sestak; has endorsed Clinton

Read the full article here.

My reaction? Both Senator Clinton and Senator McCain have garnered the most impressive list of Generals. The Clinton list is largely General officers who I knew and worked with while I was at the Pentagon. It is a great and impressive list:

Claudia Kennedy was the highest ranking female officer in the Army when I was in the Pentagon. She the Army's top intelligence officer. Smart, capable and politically savvy.

Jack Keane was the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army when I was General Counsel of the Army. The day I was sworn in, I went with him on a trip to Kosovo (this was in the early days of the Kosovo peacekeeping operation). He is a talented, gruff, tough, wicked smart, and is soldiers' soldier. He came from special forces. He was offered the Chief of Staff for the Army post during the Bush years, but declined. He is also one of the architects of a "surge" strategy (but his strategy was much different than that implemented by Bush). The fact that he is advising Clinton will cause raised eye brows among many. I think that it gives Clinton instant credibility with the military.

Donald Kerrick was the highest ranking officer at the National Security Counsel during much of the Clinton Administration. When I was at the Drug Czar's office, I sometimes represented our office at the early morning Senior Staff meeting. Kerrick always gave the overnight briefing at that meeting. Very smart and very capable.

Daniel William Christman was the West Point Superintendent. A highly respected officer who touched the lives of many young officers.

The McCain list tend to be of an older generation of officers. Most are legends. I worked as Barry McCaffrey's lawyer. He is one of the smartest people I have ever met--and one of the most talented bureaucratic operators in Washington. He was a tough boss and client, but it was exciting to work for him because you knew that he would actually accomplish something.

To put it bluntly, McCain and Clinton have both assembled great teams of military advisors.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

More Mother Teresa

the Washington Post/Newsweek "On Faith" Blog is focused this week on the reports of Mother Teresa's crisis of faith. Not unexpectedly, the atheist and religious members of the panel have quite different perspectives.

Susan Brooks, President of the Chicago Theological Seminary, is critical of Mother Teresa--not for the crisis of faith, but for her decision to hide that crisis.:

What a tragedy it would have been for Mother Teresa’s letters to be destroyed. The publication of her piercing confessions of doubt and spiritual loneliness will be of immeasurable help to the millions of people of faith, like myself, for whom God’s silence is a constant companion and who live with piercing doubt every day.

What is truly tragic, however, is that Mother Teresa never expressed these doubts in public while she was alive. The contrast between the real spiritual life of Mother Teresa as documented in these letters and her public statements is astonishing. What is even worse is that she knew the contrast for what it is, hypocrisy of the worst sort.

. . .

In her letters she writes, "I am told God lives in me -- and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul." "I want God with all power of my soul -- and yet between us there is terrible separation. I don't pray any longer. " "In my soul, I can't tell you how dark it is, how painful, how terrible -- I feel like refusing God."

And finally she does wonder whether her smiling appearance of absolutely confident faith doesn’t, in fact, tempt others to hypocrisy. "People say they are drawn close to God --seeing my strong faith. Is this not deceiving people? Every time I have wanted to tell the truth -- that I have no faith the words just do not come -- my mouth remains closed. And yet I still keep on smiling at God and all."

The professional atheists are crowing, of course, for they see in this stark contrast between the inner and outer Mother Teresa a confirmation of their view that all faith is a lie.

That’s not exactly true. What is true is that the pretense of faith is not faith—it is truly hypocrisy. Religious leaders and indeed all of us need to quit pretending that faith is a cakewalk and all doubt is the enemy. Doubt isn’t the enemy of faith but its constant companion.

In addition, the lesson to take from Mother Teresa’s life and letters is the need to proclaim that self-denying faith is not faith but the route to spiritual suicide. Mother Teresa was looking for God in the poor of Calcutta and, at the same time, denying her own doubts and needs. When Jesus instructs us to “Love God with your whole heart and your neighbor as yourself,” many people, including Mother Teresa, leave out the last part. You need to love yourself or you can’t love God or the neighbor.

But I want to caution you that in my experience this insight is no cure for spiritual loneliness and doubt, though it does help. The struggle to love the self, to love the neighbor and to love God is, in my life at least, a daily struggle and there are no magic words or deeds that make it any easier.

Brian D. McLaren of the Emerging Church movement uses this as an opportunity to discuss the paradoxical importance of doubt to faith:

Doubt, in my experience, is like a spiritual drought that forces our roots to go deeper. Nearly all of us experience these dry, dark, difficult times when God doesn't seem real and it's hard to keep going, much less growing. Sometimes these low tides of faith are connected with events … the death of a loved one, a broken relationship, the loss of a job, a prolonged illness, questions raised by a book or professor. But sometimes they seem to come out of nowhere; it's sunny and bright outside, but inside you feel dark, cloudy, gray, empty.

As a pastor, I have had to deal with matters of faith and doubt on a daily basis. But it's not just other people's faith struggles I have had to face; I experience my own high and low tides of faith even in the midst of ministry. Through it all I have learned that doubt is far more common than most admit. That's why it helps so much when leaders like Mother Teresa are honest about their doubts.

When people come to me to talk about their doubts, one of the first things I say to them is this: doubt is not always bad. Sometimes doubt is absolutely essential. I think of doubt as analogous to pain.

Pain tells us that something nearby or within us is dangerous to our physical body. It is a call for attention and action. Similarly, I think doubt tells us that something in us … a concept, an idea, a framework of thinking … deserves further attention because it may be harmful, or false, or imbalanced.

. . .

In my book "A Search for What is Real: Finding Faith," I talk in some detail about the role of doubt in the life of faith. I describe how faith seems to grow in a kind of iterative, ascending spiral that has four stages. I call the first stage simplicity, where everything is simple and easy, black and white, known or knowable. Then there's complexity, where you focus on techniques of finding the truth – since the scenario has gotten more complex. Then there's perplexity, where you become a kind of disillusioned learner, where you doubt all authority figures and absolutes, where everything seems relative and hazy.

I used to call the fourth stage maturity, but a friend pointed out it would be better called humility, because in stage four you come to terms with your limitations, and you learn to live with mystery, not as a cop-out, but as an honest realization that only God understands everything. You carry out of stage four a shorter list of tested and cherished beliefs that you base your life on, and a lot of your previous dogmatisms are now held more lightly. In a sense a person keeps finding faith and then becoming frustrated with it and in a sense losing it, and then finding a better version of it, and so on, maybe like a software upgrade…

I sometimes think that our religious lives are like California, built on a San Andreas fault of suppressed doubt. Under a beautiful surface, the pressure of unexpressed, unresolved doubt is building for more and more people, and sooner or later, the whole landscape will crack and crumble. The situation is intensified by this precarious point in history in which we find ourselves, where unquestioned religion is too often used as ammunition.

Finally, humanist Danniel Dennett uses this as an opportunity to suggest that Mother Teresa would have been better off accepting that he doubts were the reflection of a rational mind and stopped beleiving:

Some people can juggle three tennis balls for minutes on end without dropping them. Most people can’t. Some people can whistle a happy tune beautifully, but most people can’t. It is obvious, is it not, that whether you can juggle or whistle has nothing at all to do with whether you are a good, honest, loving person. If only it were equally obvious that those who can manage the intellectual gymnastics required to keep alive a conviction that God exists in the face of all the grounds for doubting it have no moral superiority at all over those who find this proposition frankly incredible! In fact, there is good reason to believe that the varieties of self-admonition and self-blinding that people have to indulge in to gird their creedal loins may actually cost them something substantial in the moral agency department: a debilitating willingness to profess solemnly in the utter absence of conviction, a well-entrenched habit of deflecting their attention from evidence that is crying out for consideration, and plenty of experience biting their tongues and saying nothing when others around them make assumptions that they know in their hearts to be false.

Mother Teresa’s agonies of doubt are surely not all that unusual. What is unusual is that she put them in writing and now they are being revealed to the world, in spite of her explicit wish that they be destroyed. I get mail all the time from religious leaders who admit to me in private that they do not believe in God but think that the best way to continue their lives is to swallow hard and get on with their ministries, concentrating on bringing more good than evil into the lives of their parishioners and those for whom their churches provide care. I would never divulge their names without their consent, but I do wonder: How many millions of priests, pastors, rabbis, imams, nuns and monks around the world are living lives of similar duplicity? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the outing of Mother Teresa inspired a few thousand of them to come out of the closet and acknowledge their atheism! Then it might start being obvious not only that faith in God is not a requirement for morality, but that the loss of faith in God often goads people into living more strenuously helpful lives, as seems to be the case with Mother Teresa. Of course, such honesty carries a price: you have to change your mission in a way Mother Teresa never did. She could have devoted herself more single-mindedly to helping the poor instead of trying to convert them. Perhaps it was her guilt at being unable to convert herself that drove her to work so hard to convert others to take her place among the believers.

Read all of the panelists here.

The Last Stand of Rowan?

Jordan Hylden, a former junior fellow at First Things, and now a graduate student at Duke Divinity School, has a post about the near term furure of the Anglican Communion at the First Things blog. As would be expected from the source, Hylden has a fairly orthodox view of what might happen--and how a schism could be averted. Nonetheless, his essay is thoughtful and well worth reading:

As has been reported by the press, the Episcopal bishops last spring were given three requests and a deadline by the global Anglican primates. They were asked to stop consecrating actively gay bishops (meaning no more Gene Robinsons), to stop formal blessings of same-sex unions, and to provide space for those who dissent from the regnant liberal theology of the Episcopal Church. The deadline was September 30, so the upcoming meeting will in effect signal definitively whether or not the American church will decide to remain in step with the Anglican Communion or instead detach itself and go its own way.

Williams’ stance at the meeting will inevitably signal whose side he is on. The majority of the Episcopal Church’s bishops do not want to comply with the primates’ requests, as they signaled vociferously last spring. The question is: If they refuse, what if anything will happen to them? Will the American bishops get to come to Lambeth and participate in the other global conferences of Anglicanism no matter what they do, or will refusal mean that they’ll have to sit at home?

It’s an important question, because sitting at home would mean that the American church would no longer have any say in the decision-making bodies of Anglicanism. In effect, it would mean that the Episcopal Church would no longer be a fully constituent part of the Anglican Communion—which, especially when viewed in light of Anglicanism’s history, would be a striking change. Many American bishops who otherwise would support Gene Robinson would at the least be given pause by such a momentous choice.

Of course, it is just this choice that the Americans want to avoid, as, most likely, does Rowan Williams. In many ways Williams is close theological kin to the American church, and it will be extraordinarily difficult for him to prosecute this sort of separation.

But as wrenching as it may be for him, it is probably the only way to keep the majority of Anglicanism together.

Not doing it will likely set off a domino-like series of effects. In essence, the decision-making authority of Anglicanism’s central instruments will collapse—if the agreement hammered out by the global primates last spring in Tanzania is seen to have no bite, future meetings will become toothless and ineffectual.

This consequence will first spread to the Lambeth Conference next summer. The tepid response to Williams’ Lambeth invitations has already shown how and why this will work—hundreds of Anglican bishops will simply decide that Lambeth is not worth going to since no one is required to abide by its decisions. This is the argument put forward, for instance, by the primates of Nigeria (found on the Nigerian church’s website) and Uganda (in the August/September issue of First Things). Especially when placed in the context of Western colonialism—Africans do not much like being ordered around by Englishmen and Americans—this argument has a great deal of force.

Like any group lacking authority, Anglicanism thereafter will break apart into several factions. Many Anglican churches in the Global South will pull away, as some have already signaled they will do. This will not, however, be confined to the south, as Williams himself has publicly recognized—the dividing line will run down the middle of many Global North churches as well, such has already begun to happen in the United States and surely also would happen in England. And neither will the break be into two groups, one liberal and one conservative. Theological disputes over issues such as women’s ordination and the sacraments (not to mention old nationalistic and racial quarrels) will divide churches even further. Like the rest of Protestantism, Anglicanism will wind up as a confusing and quarrelsome alphabet soup.

Rowan Williams does not want this, and thankfully neither do most Anglicans, which is why this nightmarish (albeit plausible) scenario does not have to play itself out. Many Anglicans, desiring to avoid the demise of their church, are hoping for a better way forward; one characterized by mutual trust, promise-keeping, selflessness and community instead of pridefulness and autonomy. The solution to the current crisis in Anglicanism, as more and more have been coming to realize, is clear—walking together under the authority of the one Lord Christ Jesus as revealed to us in Scripture.

In July, an international gathering of Anglican leaders at Oxford showed the depth of this sentiment, as dozens of bishops, academics, and other church leaders came together to deepen their commitment to each other and to the covenantal process at the heart of the Windsor Report.

Also in July, the Church of England’s synod demonstrated their commitment to walking alongside rather than apart from the rest of Anglicanism by re-affirming the same Windsor-based covenant proposal. Encouraging signs have been coming from the central Anglican Communion Office as well, along with the many American bishops who have regularly met at Camp Allen, Texas, to signal their support of communion-based decision making.

In many ways, these bishops—the so-called “Camp Allen” and “Windsor” bishops of the Episcopal Church—are at the heart of what will happen next. At next month’s meeting in New Orleans, they will almost certainly lead an attempt to pass resolutions in unequivocal support of the requests made in Tanzania. Conservative divisions, which have become manifest in recent disputes over the direction of Bishop Duncan’s “Network,” will at that point not matter. Despite their many differences of opinion, the entire spectrum represented at the most recent Camp Allen meeting will almost certainly stand together.

Will it work? And if it doesn’t, will Anglicanism fall apart afterwards? It is precisely this that falls in large part to Rowan Williams to decide. He and he alone is in charge of issuing invitations to Lambeth, and so in the end he is the one who will determine whether or not Anglicanism coheres or dissolves. If he tells the Episcopal bishops that their response to decisions made in common by Anglicans indeed will result in concrete consequences for their place in Anglican common life, then much hope remains for a true renewal of Anglican communion.

If not, then the unraveling of the fabric of Anglicanism will continue. Many wonder whether Williams’ intentions thus far have been favorable to those who wish to see the authority of scripture upheld and the catholicity of Anglicanism maintained. At present, many such are unsure that they have his support, even while many liberals wonder likewise about his adherence to their own cause. Thus Williams has become a sort of Rorschach inkblot, in which very smart people on all sides have seen very different intentions displayed. This is why the Camp Allen bishops, in their most recent meeting, asked that Williams would clearly state that Lambeth invitations for the American bishops are at stake in their decision.

If he does so—which will take nothing more than a statement to the effect that, as he previously indicated in his initial letter, invitations to Lambeth will depend upon a demonstrated willingness to abide by the decisions previously made there, without which the trust and cooperation necessary for such a conference will not exist—then it will make a world of difference. Many North American conservatives, currently pondering whether or not to join up with CANA or AMiA, will hold back, reassured that they have not been forgotten. Many in the Global South will do the same, as indeed archbishops Akinola and Orombi have indicated in their recent published essays. Lambeth will go ahead as planned, with the vast majority (save for a small cohort of Gene Robinson supporters) of Anglican bishops present, and the continuing process of covenant and ever-greater coherence will be maintained.

Read it all here.

So what do you think? I think that ++Williams has more options available than the all-or-nothing approach offered here.

How Much Will You Pay To Live Near People Like You?

I have posted a few times about empirical evidence about diversity. Studies show that diversity is hard work--social distrust appears to rise in diverse communities. Studies also seem to show, however, that decisionmaking improves when a diverse group of decisionmakers are involved. Today, I found a very interesting study that uses census data to qaunitify the increased housing costs that people arw willing to pay for homogeneity:

Using restricted-access Census data, a new study examines a quarter-million households on a block-by-block basis to yield new results about the correlation between household attributes and school quality. The researchers find that, conditional on income, households prefer to self-segregate on the basis of both race and education.

Economists have long been interested in estimating household preferences for school and neighborhood attributes, given their relevance to many central issues in applied economics," write Patrick Bayer (Duke University and NBER), Fernando Ferreira (University of Pennsylvania), and Robert McMillan (University of Toronto and NBER) in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Political Economy.

Specifically, while all households prefer to live in higher-income neighborhoods, college-educated households are willing to pay $58 more per month than those without a college degree to live in a neighborhood that has 10 percent more college-educated households. In fact, the researchers find that households without a college degree would actually need compensating to live in a neighborhood with 10 percent more college-educated neighbors.

Similarly, blacks are willing to pay $98 more per month to live in a neighborhood that has 10 percent more black households, compared to a negative willingness to pay on the part of white households to live in a similar neighborhood.

Read it all here.

It would be interesting to compare these numbers to previous years. This seems to confirm the Robert Putnam analysis that there is social distrust that results from diversity--we appear to be willing to pay at least something to avoid it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

More on Evangelicals and Climate Change

A groupd of scientists and Evengelical leaders are travelling to Alasko in an effort to keep focus on the climate change as both a scientific and ethical issue:

The historic collaboration between leading scientists and Evangelicals to protect the environment, spearheaded by the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) continues this week with a trip to Alaska.

group of five scientists and five evangelical leaders began traveling together on August 25th to observe first- hand the dramatic effects of climate change on local people and on the land, ocean, plants, and wildlife of the nation's northernmost state.

"The goal of our trip is to witness together what human-caused climate change is doing to our world," said co-leader of the trip Eric Chivian, who shared the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize and is Director of the HMS Center. "While this collaboration may come as a surprise to some, it makes perfect sense. Both scientists and Evangelicals see life on earth as sacred and share the same deep sense of responsibility about protecting it."

"The idea is for all of us to experience what human activity is doing to God's Creation so that we can understand the urgent importance of caring for it," added expedition co- leader Rev. Richard Cizik, Vice President for Governmental Affairs of the NAE. "We dare to imagine a world in which science and religion cooperate, minimizing our differences about how Creation got started, to work together to reverse its degradation."

Read it all here.

The trip participants are:

Leith Anderson D.Min, M.Div., President, National Association of Evangelicals; Senior Pastor, Wooddale Church

Eric Chivian M.D., Director, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School; Shared 1985 Nobel Peace Prize

Richard Cizik M.Div, M.A., Vice President for Governmental Affairs, National Association of Evangelicals

Deborah Fikes M.A., Advisor, Ministerial Alliance of Midland, Texas; Special Advisor to Governor Kim Moon-soo, Republic of Korea; Advisory Committee, Senator Sam Brownback; President; D.H. Fikes International Inc.

Peter Heltzel Ph.D., M.Div., Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology, New York Theological Seminary

Harry Jackson D.Div, M.B.A., Bishop and Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church

James McCarthy Ph.D., Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography, Harvard University

Camille Parmesan Ph.D., Associate Professor, Section of Integrative Biology, University of Texas

Peter Raven Ph.D., President, Missouri Botanical Garden; George Engelmann Professor of Botany, Washington University

Carl Safina Ph.D., President, Blue Ocean Institute; Adjunct Professor, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University

Rod Dreher on Mother Teresa

Rod Dreher has two comments on Mother Teresa's crisis of faith. Fortunately, bot can be found in one easy to find location. First, in his capacity as an editorial writer for the Dallas Morning News, he writes the following:

When we think of the saints, it's common to imagine them as serene figures, going about the world doing good works, floating above the temptations and doubts of ordinary people. The truth is more complicated. Holiness is not the same thing as goodness. In fact, it's spiritual heroism.

Now come stunning revelations that Mother Teresa of Calcutta was tormented by doubt that God existed. In private letters to her confessors now being published on the 10th anniversary of her death, she referred to Jesus as "the Absent One."

In 1946, Mother Teresa had a mystical vision in which she believed she heard Jesus calling to her to "come be my light" to the poor. She did. And then he withdrew, leaving the Catholic to dwell in the abyss of doubt for half a century. In the letters, she described her smile as "a cloak that covers everything" and agonized over whether she was a hypocrite.

You could call her that. Or you could see in the famed humanitarian's life a spectacular triumph of the human spirit. She persevered. She endured. She did not abandon the wretched of the earth, nor falter in what she believed was her divinely appointed mission – even though she received no consolation that God was even there.

How? Hope.

Hope is not mere optimism. Hope is the conviction that despite all available evidence, our lives, our work and our sufferings have ultimate meaning. Most people, religious and secular, at some point experience doubt about their purpose in life; many doubt whether life has purpose at all. But the moment passes. It did not for Mother Teresa, who felt forsaken by God for the last half-century of her life.

And yet, because Mother Teresa did not let her inner darkness overcome the light, in poverty-stricken South Dallas and in more than 130 countries worldwide, poor people find help and compassion through the Missionaries of Charity. Though Mother Teresa was desperately poor in spirit, what faith she had was enough to move mountains.

To learn of her radical doubt is not to lose respect for Mother Teresa. It is rather to be awestruck by what she accomplished despite her all-too-human fears. In her weakness, the rest of us may find strength. Ten years after the great and good woman of Calcutta's passing, we now know that she was no plaster saint. She was one of us.

Second, he has the following more person comment on his own blog:

Speaking only for myself, I would add that I have been tremendously moved -- literally to tears -- by what Mother Teresa suffered (read the Time story here, if you haven't yet), and how she pressed on in spite of her tormenting doubts. The inner strength and the courage that it took to sacrifice her life for the wretched of the earth, despite the utter lack of spiritual consolation, and even though she radically doubted whether there was any divine recompense for her good works -- well, what greater love is there? I am in awe of it. She strikes me as a Kierkegaardian knight of faith -- she did not believe (or at least severely doubted) that God was there, yet because she believed it possible that He was there, she carried on with her mission, and lived out her promise to Jesus made in 1946.

Verily, verily I say unto you, Mother Teresa of Calcutta is the patron saint for a world that has lost its ability to believe, but hungers desperately for belief. We knew when she was alive that a spiritual hero lived among us. But really, we had no idea at all what this little nun was capable of. Blessed Mother Teresa, pray for we who believe but struggle all the same with unbelief.

Read both here.

Later, in the comments section, he adds the following:

According to what I've read, including excerpts from her letters, she doubted whether Jesus existed, and despaired of his apparent absence from her soul. Yet she never denied Him, and lived as if He existed, hoping that He really was there. It was an almost superhuman act of faith. She felt her soul utterly abandoned, and yet, by force of will held tight to her convictions, including the conviction that Jesus really had spoken to her in 1946 and asked her to be his light for the poor.

What she illustrates is that faith is not just a feeling. That you can have no feeling at all, and suffer terribly from that lack, yet still have faith. She had, I'd say, an infinitesimally small bit of faith, as most of us measure it. But she built a whole life on that speck. And what a life it was!

In reading the comments on many on the blogosphere, it strikes me that many do not understand the nature of faith--they view it merely as some cognitive and empirical belief in a statement of fact. I think Rod does a good job of focusing on what faith is really about. Mother Teresa has a crisis of faith in that she had doubts about the existence of God--and felt unconnected to God for decades--but nonetheless acted in the world as if there was a God who called to help the least of these. During the crisis of faith, she did not become selfish, but continued to make extraordinary sacrifices. That is a strong faith, not a weak one.

Chicago Candidates and The Numbers

The Diocese of Chicago has announced its five candidates for Bishop, and the Anglican world is all excited that one of the candidates, the Very Rev. (Dean) Tracey Lind of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, is a partnered lesbian priest. Among the more interesting comments is by Father Greg Jones of Anglican Centrist, who points out Rev. Lind's quite impressive work at Trinity:

Most of the successful priests I know have seen both spiritual and numerical growth happen in their ministries. It is by no means the only measure of success in ministry -- but it matters. Of course it does.

Looking at things the way I do, and not knowing everybody in the world personally, I often will look at episcopal elections in terms of what kind of numerical patterns can be associated with the candidates. In the case of the Diocese of Chicago episcopal election, of the five nominees, only two had particularly impressive charts in their current ministries. One of the nominees works at 815, so she doesn't readily fit into this analysis. Of course there are so many factors involved in church growth, stability and decline. However, it is very telling, I think, when somebody posts some impressive statistics. And I will just leave it at that.

The two priests with very impressive growth numbers are the Rev. Timothy Stafford and the Very Rev. (Dean) Tracey Lind.

And, contrary to what many on the far right will suppose, the partnered gay priest's numbers are the most impressive. Again, numbers aren't everything, but many on the far right often point to the poor numbers in many 'Liberal' parishes as a sign of their poor proclamation. Furthermore, if a servant of the Lord may be evaluated in some sense by the harvest reaped, Dean Lind is doing very good work indeed.

In five years, it appears she has doubled the size of the worshipping congregation at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio, and both membership and pledging are also way up.

Read it all here.

Without doubt, Rev. Lind faces an uphill battle in both being selected as a Bishop--and in receiving the necessary approvals--in light of the passage of B033 at the last General Convention, and the demands by the Anglican Primates to the House of Bishops. Nonetheless, the impressive work of Rev. Lind has certainly gotten her this far, and it is impressive indeed.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Jaron Lanier on Faith and Reason

Jaron Lanier, a founding father of virtual reality research (with a guy named Chuck Blanchard, but not the author of this blog), has an interesting essay on the conflict and compatibility of faith and reason. Here are some highlights:

Why not approach the idea of God in the expansive way that democratic capitalism harnesses clannishness? Einstein did something like that when he spoke about God not playing dice with the universe and when he pledged allegiance to the God of Spinoza. It isn’t disrespectful to embrace God in a confusing way; to do otherwise could be seen as showing a lack of humility. A complex God is less likely to rally violent mobs. That’s why I felt comfortable mentioning God in these pages, pissing off more than a few atheist readers (see Jaron’s World: Raft to the Future), and why I think the advent of binary worship is potentially a healthy thing. When scientists absolutely reject God, we leave behind only a simpler and more dangerous God.

This optimistic assessment makes sense only so long as God is a truly big idea, not an idea small enough to be threatened by the results of experiments; not a “God of the gaps” but a God that is bigger than the cosmos.

Scientific experimentation needn’t be a source of constraints that reduce God over time. There are well-established streams of religious thought that treat science as elevating God so as to be concerned only with things too big to be framed by science. But why should a scientist show any degree of acknowledgment, much less friendliness, toward topics that are so big or mysterious that they can almost certainly never be addressed experimentally?

Some answers are: Because to pretend to be certain that such big questions don’t exist is to be dishonest. Because noticing what I’ll call “permanent mysteries” evokes wonder. And most important, because people are afraid to die, and they sometimes find hope in the unresolved status of the biggest questions. Take away that hope and you hand victory to whatever creep can give it back.

It’s mean-spirited to fight against that kind of hope. It also reinforces fears that scientists are claiming to be an immaculate, elite population. After all, scientists are also afraid to die, and we haven’t necessarily achieved some hypothetical level of perfect rationality inside our own heads. Instead of telling other people what not to hope, a more constructive approach is to learn how to be more articulate about the limits of experimentation.

My favorite example of a potential permanent mystery is consciousness. Another is the source of mathematical truth. Yet another example is the question of what happened before the Big Bang, when time had not yet come into existence. (That last one might not belong on the list, since it’s about a phenomenon that can be measured: the universe. Indeed, in Raft to the Future I described a possible new kind of explanation for the origin of time that my friend Lee Smolin and I have been considering.)

Reasonable people can disagree about whether a particular question belongs in the ranks of the permanent mysteries, but I’ve found it is hard to empty the list completely. Often, when you try to remove a particular question, it will pop up again in a different form, as if you were playing a cosmic whack-a-mole game. I’ve examined how this happens when you try to get rid of a sense of permanent mystery regarding the existence of consciousness (Jaron’s World: The Soul of the Machine). If you think of the brain as a computer, all of a sudden computation takes on a mysterious quality. Maybe the binary cult appreciates this line of thinking. After all, they could just as easily have chosen to worship an operating system like Linux, which would have put them in a lower league.

Science can declare the approximate limits of its territorial ambitions and be stronger for it. My dearly missed old friend Stephen Jay Gould framed this possibility beautifully with his proposal for “nonoverlapping magisteria.” I’ll go further and suggest that scientists should not only refrain from ridiculing people who find hope on the other side of the border but should also actively delight in a cacophonous, multicultural colonization of that far frontier so that it can’t be monopolized by fundamentalists. A workable definition of spirituality is “one’s emotional relationship with unanswerable questions.” It’s possible to find joy in them.

Of course, it’s not always easy to do this in practice. Where I live, in the Bay Area, you’re as likely to run into New Age superstition as Christian fundamentalism. In either case, the believer will often take the uncertainty of a big, genuinely mysterious question like consciousness as license to believe in something smaller like astrology, which can be disproved by experiment. Then I end up on the spot, once again telling someone else what not to believe.

Read it all here.

I think this comes close to how address my own faith. I don't believe in a God that would play tricks with the universe to mislead us. I therefore think that we need to take science and the scientific method seriously--which means we explore natural phenomena without using any pre-conceived notions about our worldview of the universe, and accept the results of this search for truth.

But like Lanier, I think there are larger issues to which science cannot and will not offer answers.

The Science of Free Will

Ben Libet, a scientist who focused on consciousness, has died at the age of 91. Sue Blackmore offers some thoughts of Libet's work on free will:

[I]t is for his experiment on free will that he will mostly be remembered. In this experiment he wanted to find the cause of our spontaneous, deliberate actions. Certainly we feel as though we consciously decide to act and then do so. Yet philosophers and scientists for hundreds of years have argued that the brain does not need a magical conscious self to start actions off, and free will must be an illusion. Unlike all the thousands of people who have argued around this point, Libet actually found a way to test it.

He asked subjects in the laboratory to hold out their arm and, whenever they felt like it and of their own free will, to flex their wrist. He then measured three things - the time at which the movement began, the time at which the "readiness potential" in the brain began (signalling the brain starting to organise the coming movement) and then, most tricky of all, the time at which the subject made the decision to move.

This really is tricky because there is, by definition, no physical activity in the brain or anywhere else that corresponds to this. He was trying to measure something purely mental - the free decision, or thought, of wanting to act. Finding a way to do this is probably why the experiment became so famous. What he did was this. He had a spot revolving on a screen, like a clock face, and he asked the subjects to call out where the spot was at the exact moment that they decided to act. In other words, they were, after the fact, making a judgement about where the spot was at the time, and that could be used to accurately time the decision to act.

And his results? They were quite consistent and have since been repeated many times. The brain activity comes first, then the decision to act, and then finally the action itself. Not only does the decision to act happen after the brain is already getting ready to set off the action, but it comes nearly half a second later. It looks as though our conscious decision to act cannot, however strongly it feels that way, be the cause of our actions.

Oh dear! Free will seems to be disproved. But it's not that simple. Libet himself did further experiments that seemed to show that we may not be able to start actions consciously, but we can veto them once they have begun - saving at least some role for free will. But even that does not end the issue. Literally hundreds of academic articles, and several whole books, have been written about this experiment and how to interpret it. This is why I say it is the most famous experiment on consciousness ever done.

In a way the whole furore is bizarre. Most scientists claim to be materialists. That is, they don't believe that mind is separate from body, and firmly reject Cartesian dualism. This means they should not be in the least surprised by the results. Of course the brain must start the action off, of course the conscious feeling of having made it happen must be illusory. Yet the results created uproar. I can only think that their materialism is only skin deep, and that even avowed materialists still can't quite accept the consequences of being a biological machine.

Libet, unlike so many others, was wonderfully open about this. He really did believe that mind can affect body, that consciousness is some kind of power of the "non-physical subjective mind" or "conscious mental field", and even that we might consciously survive death. Indeed, this was what inspired his experiments in the first place.

Read it all here.

I will give the last word to Dr. Lisbet, who explains that this "free don't"--the fact that we stop actions that our brian commenses, as opposed to initiating them in the first place--is really an aspect of free will:

That veto power may not seem like much, he wrote in a 1999 essay, but it is enough to satisfy ethical standards. "Most of the Ten Commandments are 'do not' orders," he wrote.

(From the Los Angeles Times obituary.)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Faith and Politics

My atheist friend, The Exterminator, is taking me to task here about not listening to his concerns about the increasing discussion of faith by Democratic candidates. His comments have caused me to think about the core issue--what is the appropriate discussion of faith in the public square?.

As an initial matter, I think all of us should take seriously the concerns of the secularists (I use this term because I suspect that the concerns expressed by the Exterminator are shared by those who would not call themselves atheists) as they watch the Democratic candidates talk about faith. For them, the Republican party has become a hostile force, and secularists' only home among the two major parties has been the Democratic Party. When Obama, Edwards and Clinton start talking repeatedly about their faith, a secularist has to wonder: "Am I about to be thrown off the bus." (Much like our GLBT friends in the Episcopal Church wonder whether the House of Bishops will throw them under the bus to keep peace in the Anglican Communion).

So I think we need to take these concerns very seriously. As an initial matter, however, I think my friend is being a bit unfair to Barak Obama. I had cited Obama's speech to the United Church of Christ assembly as evidence that at least he recognized the secularists concerns. The Exterminator had this response to the speech:

I'm going to use the same Obama quote you did, but I'm going to gloss it -- the way I hear it.

So let's rededicate ourselves to a new kind of politics - a politics of conscience. [Sounds great. Having a conscience is not dependent on a god-belief.]

Let's come together - Protestant and Catholic, Muslim and Hindu and Jew, believer and non-believer alike. [A nod to nonbelievers. Yay.]

We're not going to agree on everything, but we can disagree without being disagreeable. [Yup.]

We can affirm our faith without endangering the separation of church and state, as long as we understand that when we're in the public square, we have to speak in universal terms that everyone can understand. [Oops. Notice that he didn't say "universal terms that don't presume one worldview takes precedence over others." No, he wants everyone to understand. Well, I don't understand, at the deepest level, a belief in any supernatural beings. I understand that many people have that belief, and I would defend their right to that belief. But ... ummmm ... I don't understand it.]
And if we can do that - if we can embrace a common destiny - then I believe we'll not just help bring about a more hopeful day in America, we'll not just be caring for our own souls, [what about those of us who don't believe humans have souls?] we'll be doing God's work here on Earth. [In other words, "I'll give lip-service to nonbelievers, but I'm still going to claim to do the work of an entity in whom they don't believe. And I'm going to claim that even they, if they elect me, will be doing such work.]

If the audience for this speech had been anything other than a church gathering, The Exterminator's comments would be dead on. The speech indisputably assumes that the audience shares a particular religious view, and that would be deeply alienating to an atheist or other secularist. But note the context of the speech--it was to a religious audience from Barak Obama's own denomination. It seems to me, therefore, that in this context at least, it is appropriate to use language that assumes a particular set of religious views about human souls, God and the like. Obama is talking to a group of active Christians (like him), and that is the context of this speech.

It also seems to me that it is important that even in front of this religious audience, Obama chose to emphasize the following: that non-believers can be a part of this politics of conscience, that the actions of the faithful in the public square need to be consistent with the Separation of Church and State, and that when in the public square "we have to speak in universal terms that everyone can understand." While Obama perhaps could have used clearer language at times, I think his point--made to a religious audience--is clear: nonbelievers can be part of our politics of conscience and that when we bring our faith into the public square we need to be respectful of diversity.

I think that this raises a larger point. If you look at Barak Obama's speeches here, you will find one, and only one of his recent speeches that uses language of faith--and that was the speech to the United Church of Christ. I suspect that the same is true of Clinton and Edwards as well. The change this year is that all three major Democratic candidates are people of faith who are comfortable speaking in terms of faith to religious audiences. And it is this that has received a great deal of attention. When they speak to larger audiences, however, they largely speak in terms that connect to the values of all Americans--including our many secular friends that share our values.

So I agree with The Exterminator that we need to be very careful when we use faith language in the public square. Language that presumes that all share a belief in a God does not belong in a speech when the audience is not a group of the faithful. Period. No exceptions. And when we speak to the faithful, we still have an obligation to remind ourselves that there indeed many secular friends that share our values, and we need to caution ourselves that when we take our faith to the public square, we need to use language of universal values, not of our particular faith. If nothing else, using an argument that depends on a religious doctrine will not be persausive to those who do not share a belief in this doctrine. As Obama tried to say, our language in the public square has to be universal--not sectarian.

Have the Democrats in their zeal to win a few more religious voters always recognized the danger of alienating the secular voters? Probably not. I am sure that we can do better. We therefore need to keep listening to friends like The Exterminator when they think we cross the line (Heck, I stopped using "Militant Atheist" thanks to The Exterminator!). And for the very reason that our secular friends are an important part of the very base of the support of the Democratic Party, we need to be doubly sure we do nothing to lose their support and friendship.

Still, it seems to me that this is the appropriate line--we can use language of faith with the faithful as long as our own faith is genuine, and we remind our audience that the value we aim to implement in the public square are ones that are shared by many beleivers and non-believers alike outside the circle of our faith.

Theo Hobson on Mother Teresa

Theo Hobson has a very interesting comment on Mother Teresa's doubts and the reality of faith. Here are some highlights:

The publication of Mother Teresa's letters reveals that she was not quite the model of total faith that she seemed. The late nun of Calcutta, whose canonisation is thought likely to begin this year, had an ongoing crisis of faith in which she struggled to believe in God. This is not a case of occasional moments of doubt - her periods of doubt lasted for decades, and they tormented her.

Shortly before receiving the Nobel peace prize, in 1979, she told her spiritual confidant of the painful barrenness of her religious life: "The spiritual emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, that I listen and do not hear. The tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak," she said. She also speaks of wrestling with a deep sense of "darkness", and of doubting the existence of God and heaven.

In a particularly interesting passage, she almost accuses herself of hypocrisy: "The smile is a mask or a cloak that covers everything. I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God, a tender personal love. If you were there, you would have said, 'What hypocrisy!'"

. . .

Though sainthood has fuelled popular Catholicism for centuries, it has also brought problems. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that Protestantism was provoked by the cult of saints. The new theology strongly rejected the concept of sainthood. It insisted that there is no special class of human being who is closer to God than the rest of us: we are all sinful, and we are all capable of being saved. Luther saw sainthood as a way of the church cementing its power: it keeps us so in awe of these perfect servants of the church that we never dare to criticise it. For to criticise the church would be to insult the saints who serve it.

And Luther also insisted that these caricatures of piety obscured the true nature of faith. In real life, faith is not a matter of achieving a pure heart, and total and constant communion with God: it is an endless struggle. We are constantly besieged by doubts and by selfish impulses. The idea that "good Christians" are pure and holy is a lie that devalues the ordinary experience of the Christian.

Unless further letters emerge in which Mother Teresa attacks the papacy and rubbishes the doctrine of transubstantiation, her imminent canonisation looks certain. And these letters suggest that she will be more interesting than most saints. On one level she will be a classic Catholic paragon of selfless charity and total loyalty to the institutional church. But on another level, she will be seen as a more nuanced paragon who has waged an existential struggle with doubt and depression.

From a Protestant perspective, it is the latter that makes her an exemplary Christian. Few of us are called to work in the slums of Calcutta; all are called to struggle with the darkness within, with the slums of our hearts.

Read it all here.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Tobias Haller on Hooker's Triad

Tobias Haller has a wonderfully interesting post today about what Richard Hook really said about the Anglican triad of scripture, reason and tradition:

The stool or tripod of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, alleged to be Hooker’s, doesn’t stand upright. When one examines Hooker’s actual argument — which extends over many pages — with care, it is plain that his attitude towards these three elements is uneven. First comes Reason, both historically (in time) and naturally (for without Reason we could not understand anything, including the Scripture).

Unto the word of God… we do not add reason as a supplement of any maim or defect therein, but as a necessary instrument, without which we could not reap by the Scripture’s perfection that fruit and benefit which it yieldeth… If knowledge were possible without discourse of natural reason, why should none be found capable thereof but only men; nor men till such time as they come unto ripe and full ability to work by reasonable understanding? — III.viii.10

But Reason can guide people only up to a certain point. “Natural” religion has its limits (at a kind of theism), and it cannot supply the details which only Revelation can provide — the eternal Gospel of salvation in and through Christ. This is where the Church (preceded by God’s chosen people Israel) comes in, with the Revelation and eventual recording of God’s Truth in Scripture. The saving message transmitted by Scripture to us in these latter days could not be discovered by Reason alone, although Reason is essential to understanding the saving message. The two work together in harmony.

Ultimately, when it comes to authority, Tradition doesn’t figure at all in Hooker’s scheme. That’s the surprising thing one discovers in reading Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.

. . .

Tradition, or custom (as he usually calls it), is to be looked to or retained only when no good reason for change can be brought forth. If good reason can be shown, then, Hooker says, away with Tradition! He eloquently states,

Neither councils nor customs, be they never so ancient and so general, can let [i.e., prevent] the Church from taking away that thing which is hurtful to be retained. Where things have been instituted, which being convenient and good at the first, do afterwards in process of time wax otherwise; we make no doubt but that they may be altered, yea, though councils or customs general have received them. —IV.14.5

. . .

So, as an alternative to the stool or the tripod, I offer the following analogy. Hooker’s so-called stool is really a ladder: the twin legs of which are Scripture and Reason; the rungs are Tradition. When a rung is worn or broken, it may be replaced, but it must always be supported at both ends. And let us not forget that ladders are for climbing; they are not an end in themselves. For at the top of this ladder (upon which sometimes we appear to climb, but more often are being carried in rescue) there awaits us a Wisdom which puts all our human argument to utter shame.

Read it all here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pedophile Tourists

There are some issues that have great moral clarity--black and white, good and evil--and yet get ignored by nearly everyone. Worldwide child prostitution is such an issue. It is wrong--no ifs or qualifications, and yet every year tourists from the United States travel abroad for the very purpose of having sex with a child.

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has done a great job of trying to focus attention on this issue. today, Michael Gerson has a great column about how progress is finally being made in combating this sex tourism:

One sexual predator, when interviewed by the FBI, described his experience with foreign child prostitutes this way: "It's like being a star. They want to try my food. They want to see what clothes I wear. They want to watch my television." Such "stars" are the global consumers of innocence, exercising a particularly brutal form of power over the poorest, most vulnerable children on Earth.

About 25 percent of sex tourists targeting children are from the United States, traveling to Latin America, Asia and Africa in search of abomination on the modified American plan.

Another predator told the FBI that he shouldn't be prosecuted because the girls he used were professionals. In his case, they ranged from 13 to 15 years old. Other transactions involve boys younger than 10. These "professionals" are often recruited by kidnapping or deception. With two or three "customers" a night, they suffer lasting physical damage and become particularly susceptible to venereal disease. They often end their lives as social outcasts, addicted to drugs and alcohol.
The language of commerce -- "professionals" serving "customers" -- is misapplied to violent child abuse.

Until recently, according to Joe Mettimano of World Vision, child sex tourism resulted in "less than a handful of arrests, and fewer convictions." Nations such as Thailand, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Brazil were reluctant to admit and confront an embarrassing problem -- a kind of national venereal disease. And these crimes are inherently difficult to prosecute here at home, depending on the testimony of frightened children and evidence gathered in foreign countries.
But since 2003, Mettimano says, there has been "real progress" in ending this impunity -- more than 50 indictments in America for child sex tourism, resulting in over 35 convictions. He praises the Justice Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for their aggressiveness. And he credits Thailand, Cambodia and Costa Rica with "at least making an effort" to oppose child prostitution.

Gerson notes--quite correctly--that religous activism on this issue (largely by conservative Evangelicals in an odd coaltion with feminists) made a big diference here, and notes that this is not the first time that religious activism has successfully challenged child prostitution:

For several years conservative Christians have been at the forefront of the campaign against modern slavery, working closely with traditionally liberal human rights groups. Support for human trafficking legislation in 2000 included the unlikely pair of Chuck Colson and Gloria Steinem. This kind of alliance is potent because it communicates a broad national commitment.

These efforts are not unprecedented, and neither is the issue of child prostitution. A House of Lords report in Victorian England found that "juvenile prostitution from an almost incredibly early age is increasing to an appalling extent." In 1885, a crusading editor of the Pall Mall Gazette set out to demonstrate that children could be readily bought and sold in London. He managed to purchase a 13-year-old girl named Elizabeth Armstrong from her mother for 3 pounds sterling on delivery and 2 pounds more when her virginity was confirmed.

The story about Armstrong -- headlined "The maiden tribute of modern Babylon" -- sold a million newspapers in a week and ignited a national scandal. The Salvation Army opened houses of refuge for prostitutes and sent out Midnight Rescue Brigades to counsel young streetwalkers. And the British Parliament quickly increased the age of consent from 13 to 16.

Sam Harris on Francis Collins

Dr. Francis Collins is a renowned scientists--he headed the human genome project. He is also an Evangelical Christian. He recently written a book The Language of God that describes his own faith journey from atheism to faith in Christ. He also uses the book to defend evolution--and attack creationism and intelligent design--largely to an evangelical audience. I have written several posts about both Dr. Collins and his book. You can find all of my posts here. While I am critical of some aspects of the book, I otherwise found much to admire.

A Christian scientist that supports evolution in a book targeted to fellow Christians--what's not to like? Well, Sam Harris, one of the so-called "New Atheist" (and author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation) thinks that Collins is a danger to mankind--and lumps him with Islamic fundamentalists in a remarkable letter to Nature:

An Editorial announcing the publication of Francis Collins' book, The Language of God ('Building bridges' Nature 442, 110; doi:10.1038/442110a 2006) represents another instance of high-minded squeamishness in addressing the incompatibility of faith and reason. Nature praises Collins, a devout Christian, for engaging "with people of faith to explore how science — both in its mode of thought and its results — is consistent with their religious beliefs".

But here is Collins on how he, as a scientist, finally became convinced of the divinity of Jesus Christ: "On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains... the majesty and beauty of God's creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ."

What does the "mode of thought" displayed by Collins have in common with science? The Language of God should have sparked gasping outrage from the editors at Nature. Instead, they deemed Collins's efforts "moving" and "laudable", commending him for building a "bridge across the social and intellectual divide that exists between most of US academia and the so-called heartlands."

At a time when Muslim doctors and engineers stand accused of attempting atrocities in the expectation of supernatural reward, when the Catholic Church still preaches the sinfulness of condom use in villages devastated by AIDS, when the president of the United States repeatedly vetoes the most promising medical research for religious reasons, much depends on the scientific community presenting a united front against the forces of unreason.

There are bridges and there are gangplanks, and it is the business of journals such as Nature to know the difference.

Read it all here. Now certainly Collins' Christian views (like my own) are not immune from criticism, but it seems to me that Sam Harris' attack is a bit over the top. Collins did not purport to be doing science in his book--his aim was exactly that praised by Nature--to explain his scientific views to his fellow Christians, and to explain his faith to those who don't believe. It did not purport to be a work only of science.

Harris is certainly free to criticize the views that Collins has on any topic--including his faith, but Harris did not do so. Instead, rather than challenge Collins directly, he lumps Collins (and me, and perhaps you) with Islamic fundamentalists and the Catholic Church as part of a giant "force of unreason" based on views and positions that Collins (and I) adamantly oppose. Sounds rather weak to me. Is that the best that Harris could do?

The Doubts of Mother Teresa

Time Magazine has a fascinating report about the spiritual life of Mother Teresa. Based on a series of letters from Mother Teresa to her confessor and superiors that is about to be published by a supporter of her sainthood, Time reports that Mother Teresa had a long crisis of faith that began almost as soon as she began her ministry to the poor of Calcutta:

On Dec. 11, 1979, Mother Teresa, the "Saint of the Gutters," went to Oslo. Dressed in her signature blue-bordered sari and shod in sandals despite below-zero temperatures, the former Agnes Bojaxhiu received that ultimate worldly accolade, the Nobel Peace Prize. In her acceptance lecture, Teresa, whose Missionaries of Charity had grown from a one-woman folly in Calcutta in 1948 into a global beacon of self-abnegating care, delivered the kind of message the world had come to expect from her. "It is not enough for us to say, 'I love God, but I do not love my neighbor,'" she said, since in dying on the Cross, God had "[made] himself the hungry one — the naked one — the homeless one." Jesus' hunger, she said, is what "you and I must find" and alleviate. She condemned abortion and bemoaned youthful drug addiction in the West. Finally, she suggested that the upcoming Christmas holiday should remind the world "that radiating joy is real" because Christ is everywhere — "Christ in our hearts, Christ in the poor we meet, Christ in the smile we give and in the smile that we receive."

Yet less than three months earlier, in a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, that is only now being made public, she wrote with weary familiarity of a different Christ, an absent one. "Jesus has a very special love for you," she assured Van der Peet. "[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand."

The two statements, 11 weeks apart, are extravagantly dissonant. The first is typical of the woman the world thought it knew. The second sounds as though it had wandered in from some 1950s existentialist drama. Together they suggest a startling portrait in self-contradiction — that one of the great human icons of the past 100 years, whose remarkable deeds seemed inextricably connected to her closeness to God and who was routinely observed in silent and seemingly peaceful prayer by her associates as well as the television camera, was living out a very different spiritual reality privately, an arid landscape from which the deity had disappeared.

And in fact, that appears to be the case. A new, innocuously titled book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), consisting primarily of correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years, provides the spiritual counterpoint to a life known mostly through its works. The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever — or, as the book's compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, "neither in her heart or in the eucharist."

That absence seems to have started at almost precisely the time she began tending the poor and dying in Calcutta, and — except for a five-week break in 1959 — never abated. Although perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain. In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the "dryness," "darkness," "loneliness" and "torture" she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. "The smile," she writes, is "a mask" or "a cloak that covers everything." Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. "I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love," she remarks to an adviser. "If you were [there], you would have said, 'What hypocrisy.'" Says the Rev. James Martin, an editor at the Jesuit magazine America and the author of My Life with the Saints, a book that dealt with far briefer reports in 2003 of Teresa's doubts: "I've never read a saint's life where the saint has such an intense spiritual darkness. No one knew she was that tormented." Recalls Kolodiejchuk, Come Be My Light's editor: "I read one letter to the Sisters [of Teresa's Missionaries of Charity], and their mouths just dropped open. It will give a whole new dimension to the way people understand her."

The book is hardly the work of some antireligious investigative reporter who Dumpster-dived for Teresa's correspondence. Kolodiejchuk, a senior Missionaries of Charity member, is her postulator, responsible for petitioning for her sainthood and collecting the supporting materials. (Thus far she has been beatified; the next step is canonization.) The letters in the book were gathered as part of that process.

So what are we to take from this crisis of faith. The atheists can hardly contain their glee:

Not all atheists and doubters will agree. Both Kolodiejchuk and Martin assume that Teresa's inability to perceive Christ in her life did not mean he wasn't there. In fact, they see his absence as part of the divine gift that enabled her to do great work. But to the U.S.'s increasingly assertive cadre of atheists, that argument will seem absurd. They will see the book's Teresa more like the woman in the archetypal country-and-western song who holds a torch for her husband 30 years after he left to buy a pack of cigarettes and never returned. Says Christopher Hitchens, author of The Missionary Position, a scathing polemic on Teresa, and more recently of the atheist manifesto God Is Not Great: "She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person, and that her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself." Meanwhile, some familiar with the smiling mother's extraordinary drive may diagnose her condition less as a gift of God than as a subconscious attempt at the most radical kind of humility: she punished herself with a crippling failure to counterbalance her great successes.

Another example of an atheist reponse can be found here.

The faithful have a different view--that the spiritual crisis was a gift because it gave Mother Teresa the energy and commitment needed to do her work:

The church anticipates spiritually fallow periods. Indeed, the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross in the 16th century coined the term the "dark night" of the soul to describe a characteristic stage in the growth of some spiritual masters. Teresa's may be the most extensive such case on record. (The "dark night" of the 18th century mystic St. Paul of the Cross lasted 45 years; he ultimately recovered.) Yet Kolodiejchuk sees it in St. John's context, as darkness within faith. Teresa found ways, starting in the early 1960s, to live with it and abandoned neither her belief nor her work. Kolodiejchuk produced the book as proof of the faith-filled perseverance that he sees as her most spiritually heroic act.

Two very different Catholics predict that the book will be a landmark. The Rev. Matthew Lamb, chairman of the theology department at the conservative Ave Maria University in Florida, thinks Come Be My Light will eventually rank with St. Augustine's Confessions and Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain as an autobiography of spiritual ascent. Martin of America, a much more liberal institution, calls the book "a new ministry for Mother Teresa, a written ministry of her interior life," and says, "It may be remembered as just as important as her ministry to the poor. It would be a ministry to people who had experienced some doubt, some absence of God in their lives. And you know who that is? Everybody. Atheists, doubters, seekers, believers, everyone."

. . .

Why did Teresa's communication with Jesus, so vivid and nourishing in the months before the founding of the Missionaries, evaporate so suddenly? Interestingly, secular and religious explanations travel for a while on parallel tracks. Both understand (although only one celebrates) that identification with Christ's extended suffering on the Cross, undertaken to redeem humanity, is a key aspect of Catholic spirituality. Teresa told her nuns that physical poverty ensured empathy in "giving themselves" to the suffering poor and established a stronger bond with Christ's redemptive agony. She wrote in 1951 that the Passion was the only aspect of Jesus' life that she was interested in sharing: "I want to ... drink ONLY [her emphasis] from His chalice of pain." And so she did, although by all indications not in a way she had expected.

Kolodiejchuk finds divine purpose in the fact that Teresa's spiritual spigot went dry just as she prevailed over her church's perceived hesitations and saw a successful way to realize Jesus' call for her. "She was a very strong personality," he suggests. "And a strong personality needs stronger purification" as an antidote to pride. As proof that it worked, he cites her written comment after receiving an important prize in the Philippines in the 1960s: "This means nothing to me, because I don't have Him."

And yet "the question is, Who determined the abandonment she experienced?" says Dr. Richard Gottlieb, a teacher at the New York Psychoanalytic Society & Institute who has written about the church and who was provided a copy of the book by TIME. "Could she have imposed it on herself?" Psychologists have long recognized that people of a certain personality type are conflicted about their high achievement and find ways to punish themselves. Gottlieb notes that Teresa's ambitions for her ministry were tremendous. Both he and Kolodiejchuk are fascinated by her statement, "I want to love Jesus as he has never been loved before." Remarks the priest: "That's a kind of daring thing to say." Yet her letters are full of inner conflict about her accomplishments. Rather than simply giving all credit to God, Gottlieb observes, she agonizes incessantly that "any taking credit for her accomplishments — if only internally — is sinful" and hence, perhaps, requires a price to be paid. A mild secular analog, he says, might be an executive who commits a horrific social gaffe at the instant of a crucial promotion. For Teresa, "an occasion for a modicum of joy initiated a significant quantity of misery," and her subsequent successes led her to perpetuate it.

Gottlieb also suggests that starting her ministry "may have marked a turning point in her relationship with Jesus," whose urgent claims she was finally in a position to fulfill. Being the active party, he speculates, might have scared her, and in the end, the only way to accomplish great things might have been in the permanent and less risky role of the spurned yet faithful lover.

Read it all here.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Religion and the Presidential Vote

The Pew Research Center has released a very interesting analysis of voting patterns in the last Presidential election. In addition to the well known differences between religious groups, the analysis notes that even among adherents to the same faith, support for the Republican candidate grew with the frequency of worship attendance:

An analysis of national exit polls from 2004 shows there is not one but two religion gaps -- one based on religious affiliation and the other based on frequency of attendance at worship services. Recent surveys by the Pew Research Center provide evidence that both of these religion gaps are at work as the public evaluates the candidates for the 2008 presidential race. The surveys also indicate that the Democrats may be doing better than they did in 2004 among some religious groups.

. . .

Voters who report attending religious services at least once a week -- regardless of religious affiliation -- tend to vote more Republican. Those who say they attend religious services less often (termed "less observant" for the purpose of this analysis) tend to vote more Democratic.

In the 2004 presidential election, exit polling by the National Election Pool found that religious affiliation and frequency of attendance at worship services had a larger impact than many other, better-known factors, including the "gender gap" between men and women and the "class gap" between the most and least affluent voters.

The difference in the votes of evangelical Protestants and black Protestants is an example of the affiliation gap; 79% of evangelical Protestants voted for President Bush, compared with 14% of black Protestants -- a difference of 65 percentage points. . . . Members of some religious groups, including mainline Protestants, divided their votes more equally between Bush and his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry. But large differences separated mainline Protestants from evangelical Protestants in their support for Bush (a 25-percentage-point gap) and mainline Protestants from black Protestants in their support for Kerry (a 40-point gap).

The religion gap based on attendance, although not as stark as the affiliation gap, is also significant. Within all the major religious traditions surveyed, people who attended religious services at least once a week voted more Republican than did their less-observant counterparts within the same religious affiliation.

Among evangelical Protestants, for example, Bush received support from 82% of those who attended services at least weekly, compared with support from 72% of those who attended services less frequently (a gap of 10 percentage points). Comparing evangelical Protestants' support for Bush with that for Kerry, Bush held a 44-point advantage over Kerry among evangelical Protestants who attended services less than weekly. However, the advantage for Bush increased to 64 points among evangelical Protestants who attended services at least weekly.

The pattern also held true within religious traditions that generally supported Kerry. Among black Protestants, Kerry received greater support from those who attended services less than once a week than from those who attended services weekly or more often (92% vs. 83%, a nine-percentage-point gap). Comparing black Protestants' support for Kerry with that for Bush, Kerry held an 84-point advantage among those who attended services less than weekly. However, the advantage decreased to 66 points among black Protestants who attended services at least once a week.

The gap based on frequency of attendance at worship services also is apparent even within religious traditions that split their votes somewhat more equally between the two candidates. For example, among non-Latino Catholics, Bush received much greater support than did Kerry from those who attended services at least weekly (a 24-point gap), while Bush's support among those who attended services less than once a week was not as overwhelming (a six-point gap).

Interestingly, the analysis also notes that the 2008 Democratic candidates appear to be already attracting more religious support than John Kerry:

There is some preliminary evidence that the affiliation gap again is at work in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election.

A January 2007 Pew survey, for example, asked people if they would most like to vote for a conservative Republican candidate, a moderate Republican candidate, a moderate Democratic candidate or a liberal Democratic candidate for president in 2008. As in 2004, religious affiliation appears to be an important factor in the responses: Evangelical Protestants were the most likely to back a Republican presidential candidate. Conversely, the lowest level of support for a Republican came from unaffiliated voters and a composite of religious groups -- including black Protestants -- that were too small to break out individually in the Pew survey. Falling in between were mainline Protestants and non-Latino Catholics; their support for a Republican was lower than that of evangelical Protestants but higher than that of the unaffiliated.

The gap based on frequency of attendance at worship services also may be at work. Regardless of affiliation, weekly attenders were more likely to back a Republican candidate than were the less observant. The survey also showed, however, that many of the constituencies that backed Bush in 2004, including less-observant evangelical Protestants, are more likely to support a Democratic candidate in 2008. In addition, the Democrats are attracting even stronger support from religious constituencies that backed Kerry in 2004. For example, 38% of weekly attending non-Latino Catholics voted for Kerry in 2004, but 52% say they would "like to vote" for a Democrat in 2008.

Read it all here. It is interesting that frequency of worship was positively correlated with voting Republican even in denominations that supported Democrats. This may reflect a perceived hostility to faith by the Democrats--a perception that the current crop of Democratic candidates are fighting quite hard to change. this may explain the better numbers for the Democrats in 2008.

Are Civil Unions a 600 Year Old Tradition?

Allan A. Tulchin of Shippensburg University has a very interesting study in the Journal of Modern History that reviews historical evidence, including documents and gravesites, suggesting that homosexual civil unions may have existed six centuries ago in France. The article is the latest from the ongoing “Contemporary Issues in Historical Perspective” series, which explores the intersection between historical knowledge and current affairs. The Journal press release gives some details:

Opponents of gay marriage in the United States today have tended to assume that nuclear families have always been the standard household form. However, as Tulchin writes, “Western family structures have been much more varied than many people today seem to realize, and Western legal systems have in the past made provisions for a variety of household structures.”

For example, in late medieval France, the term affrèrement – roughly translated as brotherment – was used to refer to a certain type of legal contract, which also existed elsewhere in Mediterranean Europe. These documents provided the foundation for non-nuclear households of many types and shared many characteristics with marriage contracts, as legal writers at the time were well aware, according to Tulchin.

The new “brothers” pledged to live together sharing ‘un pain, un vin, et une bourse’ – one bread, one wine, and one purse. As Tulchin notes, “The model for these household arrangements is that of two or more brothers who have inherited the family home on an equal basis from their parents and who will continue to live together, just as they did when they were children.” But at the same time, “the affrèrement was not only for brothers,” since many other people, including relatives and non-relatives, used it.

The effects of entering into an affrèrement were profound. As Tulchin explains: “All of their goods usually became the joint property of both parties, and each commonly became the other’s legal heir. They also frequently testified that they entered into the contract because of their affection for one another. As with all contracts, affrèrements had to be sworn before a notary and required witnesses, commonlythe friends of the affrèrés.”

Tulchin argues that in cases where the affrèrés were single unrelated men, these contracts provide “considerable evidence that the affrèrés were using affrèrements to formalize same-sex loving relationships. . . . I suspect that some of these relationships were sexual, while others may not have been. It is impossible to prove either way and probably also somewhat irrelevant to understanding their way of thinking. They loved each other, and the community accepted that. What followed did not produce any documents.”

He concludes: “The very existence of affrèrements shows that there was a radical shift in attitudes between the sixteenth century and the rise of modern antihomosexual legislation in the twentieth.”

Read the entire press release here.

Rod Dreher on the Death of A Child

Rod Dreher and I would seem not to have a lot in common. He is a conservative Republican. I am a moderately liberal Democrat. He belongs to an Orthodox Church and is a social conservative. I am an Episcopalian and am a social liberal. Nonetheless, Rod Dreher is one of my favorite writers in the religious blogosphere. I highly recommend him, and am not surprised that my friend Keven Ann Willey (formally at the Arizona Republic, now in charge of the editorial pages of the Dallas Morning News) recruited Rod to move to Dallas.

Regardless of where you are on religious and political issues, read him every day.

Today's post on a death of a child is a gem. Read the whole thing, but here are some highlights:

This afternoon, the children of the Lakewood Presbyterian School, a great little neighborhood school where my son Matthew used to attend, will meet to mark the passing last week of their classmate Jack Foley. Jack was 11 years old. He died last weekend of complications from an epileptic seizure. Two years ago, just as the fall school term was to start, Jack's mother died of breast cancer. So much pain inflicted on such decent people.

. . .

The only other time I dealt with death as a child was when my Little League baseball teammate Roy Dale Craven was killed by a car. I don't remember that much either, except a feeling of complete bafflement that a friend could be there one day, and gone the next. It was like putting my face against a stone wall that shouldn't be there, but was; as I remember, I was more puzzled by Roy Dale's death than anything else. I had no context for it. I remember the funeral home -- Rabenhorst, a name that made me think of a dark castle -- and the graveside burial, but that's it. When I visited Roy Dale's grave for the first time in nearly three decades a while back, a lot of it came back to me. I wrote a piece about that, and one of the coaches I interviewed said:

The star pitcher for the John Fudge Auto Parts Angels was buried with his glove in his hand and his uniform on his back. This may have been the nicest set of clothes the child owned. That funeral was the first time most of us kids had seen death so close. At some point, someone on the team stepped into the aisle and went forward to pay respects to our fallen pitcher, lying in his open casket. Then we all followed, a dozen or so six-to-nine-year-old boys, telling Roy Dale goodbye. "When that happened, there wasn't a dry eye in the place," Mr. Pat says.

That night, I remember hearing my dad and Mr. Pat out on the back porch, talking. I stood by the screen door to listen, and realized these grown men were weeping in the dark. Startled and embarrassed, I went away. Yesterday was the first time in the 28 years since Roy Dale's death that my father has been able to talk to me about the events of that summer without breaking into tears.

Remember Jack Foley in your prayers today, will you? And also his three siblings, and his dad, whose heavy burden just got a lot heavier.

Read it all here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

More on Lutherans and GLBT Clergy

The Washington Post/Newsweek "On Faith" panel is devoted this week to a discussion of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's decisions on GLBT clergy. As you may recall, the ELCA declined to change its policy requiring gay and lesbian clergy to be celibate, but it also urged Bishops not to enforce the policy. In my view, this was an effort to postpone consideration of the issue until the next General Assembly, but to put an effective moratorium in place in the meantime.

In other words, this was a fairly modest step by the ELCA.

Some of the comments by the panel were quite predictable. Cal Thomas opined:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church bishops have embraced trendiness and abandoned the very Scriptures which are their basis for "evangelizing." If these bishops choose to violate God's instruction book, church members have two choices, should they wish to continue to honor the authority of scripture and its Author: they can remove the bishops from office, or they can leave the denomination. To remain in the denomination and do nothing makes members co-conspirators in the bishops' apostasy.

Chuck Colson had this to say:

The decision by the ELCA to ignore biblical standards of moral behavior is, given the history of modern mainline Christianity, not surprising, but it is deeply distressing.

Who wants to belong to a church that doesn't treat biblical teachings as truth? Would I sacrifice my life for something I didn't believe to be true? Of course not. But martyrs from the first century on have.

This kind of decision dishonors our Lord, dishonors the Church, and dishonors those who have kept the faith for two millennia.

This is why John Gresham Machen said, almost a century ago, that liberal Christianity is not a brand of Christianity: it is simply another religion altogether -- liberalism.

The other panelist were more supportive. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, President of the Chicago Theological Seminary seems to understand that this was only a modest step, but is supportive nonetheless. Interestly, she offers a personal witness from her own experiences as someone "converted" to the view that gay and lesbian clergy should be ordained:

The ELCA has taken a good step toward full equality for their gay male and lesbian clergy by instructing Bishops not to discipline those in same-gender relationships. This step falls short of full affirmation for these pastors, but it is genuine progress.

. . .

There are those who say that what has changed and is therefore the cause for discipline is that being in a homosexual relationship is immoral whether it is committed or not and this immorality equals incompetence for ministry.

I used to agree with that. When I was in my mid-twenties and myself already an ordained minister, I did not believe that homosexuals should be ordained.

I was also a new mother struggling to finish her doctoral dissertation with a young husband who was a resident in surgery working 24/7. I felt very overwhelmed. I had the good fortune to be using the library at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., for my dissertation research when I met an Episcopal priest who worked there. He was very kind to me and listened with great sensitivity to my woes. He gave me excellent advice on putting my marriage and family first in my life and working at the pace that fit my responsibilities.

One day I found out this grace-filled priest was also a gay man. It hit me then that I had received genuine ministry from this priest and his sexual orientation did not matter one bit. I realized then that good ministry is good ministry is good ministry.

I now believe that the gifts for ministry come from God. I also believe that straight or gay we are all created by God and equally loved by God. I look forward to the day when the gifts for ministry are recognized without discrimination throughout the Church—we will then be stronger and more honest communions.

Finally, Bob Edgar, the secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, observes that the news media seemed to ignore the real important news from the ELCA assesmbly, and that we should not be alarmed or surprised that there are a diversity of views among Christians on issues of sexuality:

The 35 member communions of the National Council of Churches USA are all dealing with issues of human sexuality. But we are a group of different and differing churches. On some matters we agree to disagree.

I would commend the ELCA on how they openly and prayerfully processed this difficult issue.

But why did the media miss the story that the ELCA raised its commitment next year to give $20 million to stem hunger in the world? Hunger and starvation are the foundational elements to the poverty that kills. Ending the poverty that kills is essential to living into the Gospel message. I pray that the Holy Spirit will burn within us a passion to follow God's strategic plan as laid out in the urgent message of Christ.

The ELCA's process is open. It is open for the world to see and, most importantly, it is open to the Holy Spirit. I say that because of what the ELCA voted and, just as important, the way they went about it: they came together in the name of Jesus Christ and discussed and prayed and discussed some more, and prayed, and voted.

I applaud the ELCA for following its discernment process and moving forward with strength and courage. But what I have observed in the years this question has been debated is, regardless of the vote in denominational meetings, it is the local congregation that will determine how to draw the circle wide enough to incorporate all God's children, whoever they may be. Churches everywhere are asking the age old question, what would Jesus do?

Because we are human and not divine, we won't all agree on the answers.

The early followers of Jesus did not agree on everything. But let us pray that we can act with grace as the Body of Christ, seeking unity, if not unanimity, as we work to eliminate the poverty that kills, take care of God’s planet as the responsible stewards God has asked us to be, and love one another as Jesus loved us.

Read it all here (including many, many comments).