Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Guy in the Pew Reflects on the House of Bishops

I have had a few days to reflect on what occurred in New Orleans this week--and these reflections were greatly informed by what others have written--I especially commend the thoughts of Tobias Haller and the commentary at the Episcopal Cafe. So with no claim to originality, here are some thoughts:

1. Until General Convention 2003, the status quo on the inclusion of GLBT persons in the Episcopal church was this: in most (but not all) dioceses, Bishops ordained GLBT men and women as priests, and while there was no official blessing for same sex committed relationships, more informal same sex blessings occurred in many dioceses. And while the Episcopal church had adopted no theology of inclusion in any official way, this a fact on the ground in many dioceses. While many conservative Primates and Episcopalians were unhappy with this state of affairs, this unhappiness did not result in threats of schism, foreign intrusions, or the creation of alternative Anglican provinces.

2. At General Convention 2003, much of this status quo remained unchanged. Despite some efforts, there was no approval of a rite for same sex blessings. All that did change was the approval of an openly gay man in a committed relationship as a Bishop. It is fair to say that the Episcopal Church grossly underestimated the earthquake that this decision would cause in the Anglican Communion--perhaps because most viewed this as consistent with the de facto theology of inclusion that seemed to have been tolerated by the Anglican Communion in the past. After all, if the ordination of GLBT men priests was tolerated, how large a step is it to ordain a GLBT Bishop? Choose your metaphor or analogy--this was the bridge too far, the tipping point, or the last straw for many.

3. Through the leadership of the Presiding Bishops (both old and new), General Convention aimed to return the status quo to where it was before General Convention 20003. B0033 can only be understood as a moratorium on the approval of GLBT Bishops in the short term at least.

4. And I think that the statement of the House of Bishops this last week was also an effort to articulate a return to the status quo before General Convention 2003--a status quo that had not threatened the integrity of the Anglican Communion, but assuredly displayed a degree of inclusion of GLBT people seen in few other denominations. The moratorium on GLBT Bishops (at least those not closeted) remains, no official rites for same sex blessings will be approved (and they could not be approved before General Convention 2009), but the pre-2003 toleration of more informal blessings continues in many dioceses.

5. Clearly there is a history after General Convention 2003 that means even a return to the pre-2003 status quo will not be enough for some Anglicans and some Episcopalians, but it appears that it will be enough for most---including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the majority of the ACC and the Primates. If a schism occurs, it will not be the Episcopal Church that leaves the Anglican Communion. And if a schism indeed occurs, the Episcopal Church will have more room to continue its move toward full inclusion of GLBT men and women.

6. Clearly, there is understandable hurt and fear by our GLBT brothers and sisters. It may be a status quo step, but the status quo is not one of full inclusion. That needs to be recognized. Nonetheless, the Episcopal Church still remains in the vanguard in this area.

So--I welcome your comments.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Pew Research on Young White Evangelicals

It must be Pew Research day here at my blog. Today Pew Research released a very interesting study of the attitudes of young White Evangelicals, that shows a significant shift in the political attitudes of this group:

White evangelicals are typically analyzed as a group, but an examination of the younger generation (those ages 18-29) provides evidence that white evangelicals may be undergoing some significant political changes. An analysis of Pew Research Center surveys conducted between 2001 and 2007 suggests that younger white evangelicals have become increasingly dissatisfied with Bush and are moving away from the GOP. The question is whether these changes will result in a shift in white evangelical votes in 2008 and beyond.

Bush's approval rating has fallen fairly steadily among almost every segment of the American public, but the drop in support has been particularly significant among white evangelicals ages 18-29. This group was among Bush's strongest supporters in the beginning of his presidency; in 2002, for example, an overwhelming majority (87%) approved of Bush's job performance. By August 2007, however, Bush's approval rating among this group had plummeted by 42 percentage points, with most of the drop (25 points) coming since 2005.

By contrast, Bush's job approval among older generations of white evangelicals (those ages 30 and older) has undergone a much more gradual decline, falling 28 points since 2002 and just 11 points since 2005.

. . .

In 2001, 55% of younger white evangelicals identified as Republicans – nearly three-and-a-half times the number who identified as Democrats, and more than double the number of Americans overall in this age group who identified as Republicans. Throughout Bush's first term, party identification among younger white evangelicals remained relatively stable, but since 2005 the group's Republican affiliation has dropped significantly – by 15 percentage points. However, the shift away from the GOP has not resulted in substantial Democratic gains; instead it has produced a small increase in the number of Democrats (five-point increase) and a ten-point increase in the number of independents and politically unaffiliated Americans. Republicans now have only a two-to-one advantage over Democrats among younger white evangelicals, compared with a nearly four-to-one edge in 2005.

By comparison, the shift in party affiliation among older white evangelicals, and Americans overall in the 18-29 age group, has been less dramatic. Older white evangelicals' Republican Party identification has declined by just five percentage points since 2005, and among young people overall it has also declined by only five points. Yet, despite significant movement away from the GOP since 2005, younger white evangelicals still are twice as likely (40%) as young people as a whole (20%) to say they are Republican.

Pew Research emphasizes that this trend should not be oversold--young white Evangelicals remain more conservative than the general public, and only a minority will vote Democratic. They view this as more a reaction to Bush than a more fundamental ideological shift:

Young white evangelicals remain largely committed to politically conservative values and to conservative positions on a variety of issues, including the war in Iraq, capital punishment and abortion. Indeed, in 2007, more white evangelicals ages 18-29 describe their political views as conservative (44%) than moderate (34%) or liberal (15%), almost identical to their ideological leanings in 2001. So although younger white evangelicals are 14 percentage points less conservative on this measure than white evangelicals ages 30 and older, they are 17 points more conservative than young people as a whole.

Young white evangelicals exhibit this conservative tendency in their opinion on the war in Iraq. While support for the war has fallen precipitously among all Americans since 2003, the majority (60%) of younger white evangelicals still believe that using military force in Iraq was the right decision, an identical percentage to the number of older white evangelicals who express the same view. Among younger Americans overall, only 41% say that it was the right decision.

Younger white evangelicals express a similarly conservative opinion when it comes to capital punishment, with the vast majority (72%) favoring the death penalty for convicted murderers, compared with 75% of older white evangelicals but only 56% of all Americans ages 18-29.

And when it comes to abortion, younger white evangelicals are even more conservative than their older counterparts. For example, 70% of younger white evangelicals favor "making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion," compared with 55% of older white evangelicals and 39% of young Americans overall who share this view.

This strong allegiance to conservatism and conservative positions suggests that young white evangelicals' turn away from the president and his party may be the product of dissatisfaction with this particular administration rather than the result of an underlying shift in this group's political values and policy views.

Read it all here.

While I don't disagree with the Pew Research analysis, I think that at least some of the shift is ideological--focused on addition of issues like the environment rather a change in a position on abortion--and there is other evidence that on some issues like gay rights this younger demographic is more socially liberal. While a majority of young White Evangelicals will not vote Democrat any time soon, even a modest shift in voting could have profound effects on both parties.

Pew Research on American Views on Different Faiths

Pew Research released an analysis this week of how the American public views different religious faiths. As you can see from the graphic above, a majority have unfavorable views about atheists, and sizable minorities have unfavorable views about both Muslims and Mormons. One interesting fact is that Evangelicals are viewed far less favorably than Jews or Catholics--which is likely the result of political activity by prominant Evangelical leaders in the past. Here is the analysis:

The Muslim and Mormon religions have gained increasing national visibility in recent years. Yet most Americans say they know little or nothing about either religion's practices, and large majorities say that their own religion is very different from Islam and the Mormon religion.

A new national survey reveals some notable similarities, as well as major differences, in the ways that Americans view these faiths and their followers. Public impressions of both religions are hazy – 58% say they know little or nothing about Islam's practices, while 51% have little or no awareness of the precepts and practices of Mormonism. The number of people who say they know little or nothing about Islam has changed very little since 2001.

Most Americans believe that their own religion has little in common with either Islam or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Fully 70% say that their religion is very different from Islam, while 62% say this about the Mormon religion. The proportion who say that Islam has little or nothing in common with their own religion has increased substantially since 2005 (from 59% to 70%).

. . .

Public views of other religious groups have changed little over the past few years. About three-quarters of those polled have a favorable opinion of Jews and Catholics (76% each), while substantially fewer are favorable toward evangelical Christians (60%). Atheists are viewed far more negatively, with just 35% holding a positive view and 53% saying they have an unfavorable opinion.

Read it all here.

Paul Klugman on the Persistence of Race in Southern Politics

Paul Klugman wrote a column earlier this week about the persistence of race as a critical factor in explaining in Southern voting behavior. In a post today on his blog, however, Klugman notes an important nuance--poor Southern white voters vote like poor White voters everywhere (they vote Democratic)--it is among the elite that race matters in Southern voting behavior:

Since I’ve just published an op-ed about the enduring influence of race on Southern voting, I’m sure to be accused of being a typical Northeastern snob talking about poor white trash who don’t know what’s good for them. So I thought I’d mention an important point about Southern white voting that didn’t fit in 800 words: namely, the poor whites are not the issue.

In fact, if you look at voting behavior, low-income whites in the South are not very different from low-income whites in the rest of the country. You can see this both in Larry Bartels’s “What’s the matter with What’s the Matter With Kansas?” (pdf), Figure 3, and in a comprehensive study of red state-blue state differences by Gelman et al (pdf). It’s relatively high-income Southern whites who are very, very Republican. Can I get away with saying that rich white trash are the problem? Probably not.

What this reflects, in turn, is the odd fact that income levels seem to matter much more for voting in the South. Contrary to what you may have read, the old-fashioned notion that rich people vote Republican, while poorer people vote Democratic, is as true as ever – in fact, more true than it was a generation ago. But in rich states like New Jersey or Connecticut, the relationship is weak; even the very well off tend to be only slightly more Republican than working-class voters. In the poorer South, however, the relationship is very strong indeed.

This is why it’s true both that rich voters tend to be Republican, and that rich states tend to be Democratic.

Read it all here.

It would be interesting to see if these voting patterns are similar when religious belief is taken into account.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Let Us Make Man in Our Own Image

I just stumbled onto the blog of Dr. James F. McGrath, assistant professor of religion at Butler University, who seems to be a kindred spirit--a Christian who embraces science, and rejects creationism and intelligent design. And like me, his is fascinated by the implications of evolution on our own conceptions of God.

He has two very interesting posts that note the use of plural in the creation account of Genesis 1: when God says that let us make man in our own image, who is he talking to. McGrath has an interesting answer:

The plural used at a decisive moment in the creation account in Genesis 1 has puzzled commentators for millenia. I learned today of a striking suggestion made in Thomas Friedman's Commentary on the Torah. Who were the most recently mentioned characters in the story immediately before the plural? The animals! It is thus possible to suggest that God addresses the animals and involves already-existing life in the creative process (just as the sea and land were involved in bringing forth life in the first place), so that humanity is "created from animals", and so that we are in the image both of the animal and of the divine. I consider it not just a very creative interpretation, but one that does justice to both the text and to our scientific knowledge to an extent that is truly remarkable.

Read it all here.

Martin Marty Responds to Christopher Hitchens

I must admit that I have grown very tired of all the articles, blog posts, etc. on the so-called New Atheism." So I was not very enthusiastic when I heard that the Washington Post/Newsweek "On Faith" blog was devoted to a response to the following claim by Christopher Hitchens:

"Religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children."

Not surprisingly, Chicago professor Marty Martin actually had something interesting to say:

Most societies and polities throughout history were shaped or influenced by some form or other of religion: Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Native American, etc. They were all mixed bags, since everything human is some sort of mixed bag.

We in the United States lucked out because we live in a republic that used religion (of the Enlightenment=Deism and some forms of Christianity variety) to give us a "less violent, more rational, more tolerant, eventually less racist, less tribal, less bigoted, less ignorance, less hostile to free inquiry, less contemptuous of women, less coercive toward children" society than most other and earlier ones -- which were also, in part, religious.

It's out of place to overplay this point: I always quote a page of Pogo on my study wall: "We have faults which we have hardly used yet." Still, in that mixed record there are many elements to affirm.

So far as the historians I have read can find, no society-wide polity founded on atheism appeared until the French Revolution and, then, the 20th century. In a choice between Revolutions, I'd take Madison-era religion-and-philosophy to Volltaire-era religion-and-philosophy as a base.

Most of the time, polities mix religion, philosophy, practical necessity, indifference, agnosticism, and somehow make it work.

The atheist regimes of the 20th century were different: They were efforts, at last, to expunge all religion and found the polity on atheism. Think of Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, for starters. (I know, we can be a bit definitionally cutesy and not entirely wrong to see Nazism, Fascism, Maoism, and Soviet Communism as bearing quasi-religoius features: ritual, myth, sacrifice, messianism, ultimate concern. But the fashioners of these did not think they were being religious and did all they could to say and show they were not.) And out of their experiments, scores and scores of millions were tortured or killed.

I think at heart the proposition about "religion is . . . " does not work because in some senses there is no such thing as "religion" because there are only "religions," and "sub-sections of religions," and they are highly diverse, made up of people who are highly diverse. Thus there are many atheists and cells of atheists who made positive human achievements, alongside agnostics and many kinds of religious folk.

I have yet to see anything positive in either the "religion is . . ." approach or my playful "atheism is . . . " approaches. Efforts by people in both camps to do in the other are wasteful of energies which could better be summoned for common good. I do not know whether or not organized atheism -- the only kind that dream of "abolishing religoin" -- will survive. It is clear that the robust growth of religious communities in Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc. is not going to be blunted or slowed because in the luxury of our book stores, salons, campuses, and parsonages we read and write books about how awful the other is.

Both atheisms and religions deserve criticism, and they are getting it. That should be all to the good.

Read it here.

Democrats and Evangelicals

Conservative columnist Rod Dreher has a very interesting post about the success that Democrats are having attracting Evangelicals voters:

Finally, the Democratic Party has a shot at winning a significant number of Evangelical votes, and Democratic leaders are seriously courting religious conservatives:

Such efforts, along with general disillusionment with Bush, may have already paid off. According to a Pew Research Center survey in February, support for Democratic candidates among white evangelicals under 30 jumped from 16 to 26 percent between the 2004 and 2006 elections. Some evangelical leaders now say they're tired of being viewed as an appendage of the GOP, or any other party. "We want to be viewed as we are—people of faith—not a political bloc," says Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

That's probably smart politics, for the same reason it would be smarter of, say, African-Americans to be more open to appeals from Republicans. At The Corner, Yuval Levin makes the sensible point that many religious conservatives have not been totally on board with the GOP's economic stances, but have considered social issues more important over the years. If the GOP nominates a social liberal like Rudy Giuliani, it might squander any advantage it would have with religious-conservative voters over a generic Democratic candidate.
I don't see the Democrats becoming the party of Evangelicals anytime soon. But they could easily split this cornerstone of the Republican coalition.

Read it here.

The separation of political party and faith is a good thing--if both the secular and religious vote is divided between the voters, the theocratic impulse is diffuse. I think that the reason for the success is not that the Democrats have softened their position on issues like abortion or gay rights (that has not happened), but because they appeal to some (certainly not all or even a majority) of Evangelical voters on other issues such as the War, healthcare and the environment.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bishop Kirk Smith on the House of Bishops Statement

My bishop, Kirk Smith, sent this message to the Diocese of Arizona today:

Special Epistle for September 26, 2007

A Special Message from Bishop Smith

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am writing from New Orleans where the Fall House of Bishops meeting has just

concluded. You may already have seen some of the headlines, many of which are misleading. The New York Times headline "Episcopal Bishops Reject Anglican Church's Orders" is a case in point. That makes it sound as if what we did was done in defiance of what the world-wide Communion had asked of us. That is not my understanding. We spent four days prayerfully considering a response to the Anglican Primates which sought to be both supportive of gay and lesbian persons while at the same time being sensitive to the cultural and theological beliefs of our partners of the Global South. If I were writing the headline it would have read: "Bishops Bend Over Backwards to Hold Communion Together."

I am well aware that for some, we went too far. As I have stated before, I am acutely aware of the pain the House's actions have caused our gay and lesbian members, who may view our response as again placing unity above justice. Yesterday's communiqué (the entire three page text is attached below) is a confirmation of the actions of the 2006 General Convention. Our polity is such that the House of Bishops could not have changed that position, even had we wanted to. Even many of the most liberal bishops among us supported today's response to the Primates .

For those on the more conservative side who feel that our language did not go far enough, I would remind them that the restraint shown by the House of Bishops in consecrating opening gay and lesbian bishops and the public blessings of same gender unions was already deemed acceptable by the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council last February in Dar Es Salaam. I expect, as I know our Presiding Bishop does, that our response will now likely receive the approval of the majority of the Primates as well. We will remain both Episcopalians and Anglicans.

That being said, the bottom line is that what we did this week is a compromise, and like all compromises runs the risk of pleasing no one. Each side had to give up something in getting to this point. But there is some good news in this. I feel that we are in a much better position to move ahead, both in our own American Church and with the larger Communion. There was a greater spirit of cooperation and consensus among liberal and conservative bishops in the House than I have ever seen. We have also strengthened the bonds of common mission between ourselves and most (not all) of our brothers and sisters in Africa. The clearer language about same gender blessings allows me to revisit this topic, which I plan to do with the clergy at our annual retreat in January.

To those for whom this has opened old wounds, I again counsel patience, even though I understand that might ring hollow. I do believe we are moving in the right direction, even though slower than many would like. Still, the goal of full inclusion is closer than it was before and we now have a better chance of being one people united in Christ when we get there.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Bishops Act

The Bishops act-without dissent from those remaining (including the Windsor Bishops)--and adopt a resolution. The full text can be found on The Lead. I still need to ponder this, but I am encouraged. The resolution seems to go further toward reconciliation with the Primates than many moderates and conservatives expected, but it does not go as far as what many of the GLBT community feared. I am starting to see sighs of relief across the globe. It appears that the drafters of the document worked closely with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Consultative Council.

So is schism averted. Probably not. The conservatives like Archbishop Akinola and Bishop Duncan will still leave, I suspect. But they Ware not the audience for the document--and the support of the Windsor Bishops speaks volumes about the success with those who were really the audience for the document. So, there may still be a schism, but the Episcopal Church will remain largely intact, and in communion with the large majority of the Anglican Communion.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Effect of CLimate Change on Coastal Communities

Several scientists at the University of Arizona have produced maps of the effect of a one meter increase in sea level--a level on which there appears to be consensus will occur. Here is a fuller report:

Ultimately, rising seas will likely swamp the first American settlement in Jamestown, Va., as well as the Florida launch pad that sent the first American into orbit, many climate scientists are predicting.

In about a century, some of the places that make America what it is may be slowly erased.

Global warming - through a combination of melting glaciers, disappearing ice sheets and warmer waters expanding - is expected to cause oceans to rise by one meter, or about 39 inches. It will happen regardless of any future actions to curb greenhouse gases, several leading scientists say. And it will reshape the nation.

Rising waters will lap at the foundations of old money Wall Street and the new money towers of Silicon Valley. They will swamp the locations of big city airports and major interstate highways.

Storm surges worsened by sea level rise will flood the waterfront getaways of rich politicians - the Bushes' Kennebunkport and John Edwards' place on the Outer Banks. And gone will be many of the beaches in Texas and Florida favored by budget-conscious students on Spring Break.

That's the troubling outlook projected by coastal maps reviewed by The Associated Press. The maps, created by scientists at the University of Arizona, are based on data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Few of the more than two dozen climate experts interviewed disagree with the one-meter projection. Some believe it could happen in 50 years, others say 100, and still others say 150.

Sea level rise is "the thing that I'm most concerned about as a scientist," says Benjamin Santer, a climate physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

"We're going to get a meter and there's nothing we can do about it," said University of Victoria climatologist Andrew Weaver, a lead author of the February report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Paris. "It's going to happen no matter what - the question is when."

Sea level rise "has consequences about where people live and what they care about," said Donald Boesch, a University of Maryland scientist who has studied the issue. "We're going to be into this big national debate about what we protect and at what cost."

. . .

All told, one meter of sea level rise in just the lower 48 states would put about 25,000 square miles under water, according to Jonathan Overpeck, director of the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona. That's an area the size of West Virginia.

The amount of lost land is even greater when Hawaii and Alaska are included, Overpeck said.

The Environmental Protection Agency's calculation projects a land loss of about 22,000 square miles. The EPA, which studied only the Eastern and Gulf coasts, found that Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and South Carolina would lose the most land. But even inland areas like Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia also have slivers of at-risk land, according to the EPA.

Read it all here.

New Research on Children Raised By Lesbians

The Dallas Morning News Religion blog (well worth reading, by the way) reports on new research from the Netherlands that refutes evidence that children raied by same sex couples are at some disadvantage:

A new paper in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry reports on a study on parents in the Netherlands. Here's an only slightly jargony nugget:

With respect to child adjustment, the results of our large sample study confirm the findings of previous small sample studies. In general, our findings support the “no difference” consensus in empirical research on planned lesbian-parent families (Clarke, 2002; Stacey & Biblarz, 2001). That is, children in planned lesbian-parent families do not differ in well-being or child adjustment compared with their counterparts in heterosexual-parent families based on parental reports of the CBCL. These findings contradict what is maintained by opponents of lesbian-parent families, namely that children of lesbian parents run the risk of developing a variety of behavior problems because they were raised fatherless, lack a biological tie with one of the mothers, and are stigmatized by their peers (Blankenhorn, 1995; Cameron & Cameron, 1996a, 1996b; Wardle, 1997; Knight, 1997).

The authors do caution that the tolerant nature of Dutch culture might mean these results don't apply to other places. The authors are Henny Bos, Frank van Balen, and Dymphna van den Boom of the University of Amsterdam.

Read it here.

The House of Bishops Meeting

Today is a critical meeting of the House of Bishops. The Bishops are working on a resolution drafted by a groupof both conservative and liberal Bishops, and we may well have a consensus document this afternoon. Be sure to check out coverage at The Lead.

"Over Extended on all Fronts"

Allison and I enjoyed a wonderful concert of the Phoenix Symphony on Saturday. One of the pieces was by Leonard Bernstein, and the program notes noted that Bernstein was gleeful about being "over extended on all fronts"--he was a full time conductor of a major symphony while composing both popular and "serious" music. It struck me that this aptly describes my life right now--I am gleefully over extended on all fronts, and my bog posting has suffered as a result. My law practice is quite busy, I have undertaken significant new administrative responsibilities at my law firm, I am teaching at the ASU Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, and continue to serve on many non-profit boards. To top it off, we are in the middle of a kitchen remodel at home, and I am the father of a quite active Toddler.

Please bear with me--I'll do my best to post something every day, but that may not always be possible.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Bishop Smith on the House of Bishops Meeting

Bishop Kirk Smith of my own Diocese of Arizona has just released a report to us about what is happening in New Orleans. Here is the full report:

I am writing this afternoon from New Orleans where I am attending the House of Bishops’ Fall meeting. What hangs over us a bit like a cloud—and in fact we are expecting to be hit with a severe tropical storm tomorrow—are the decisions we must make after having met with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who departed this afternoon after spending about 8 hours in conversation with us.

I must confess disappointment at most of that dialogue. The Archbishop spent most of his time listening, and only about a half hour speaking to the concerns that were raised. He was asked some rather pointed questions including why he had not invited Bishop Gene Robinson to the 2008 Lambeth conference, and what was he going to do about those Primates who had invaded dioceses in this country. Archbishop Williams chose instead to talk mostly about the nature of the office of bishop, which he understands to be “a servant of common discernment, keeping the most people at the table as long as possible because truth can only be found in conversation with the greatest number of the faithful”. That may be true enough, but what about a bishop’s obligation to protect the forgotten and stand with the oppressed?

In broad terms he asked us to postpone our own church’s agenda in favor of peace in the larger Communion. That desire was more strongly expressed by four members of the Anglican Advisory Council who spoke to us this morning. They again urged us to consider affirming in some way what was asked of us by the Primates at their February meeting in Dar Es Salaam, namely to refrain from consecrating openly gay bishops and approving same sex blessings; offer alternative primatial oversight to dioceses who wish it; and allow our church to be monitored by a council made up of other Provinces. Most of us feel again the frustration of being caught in the conundrum of wanting to walk with our world-wide partners without turning our backs on our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Many of us also believe we have already done all we can to appease those who differ with us in these matters. It seems we are being given a “Sophie’s choice,” being ask to pick who we love more. Whatever choice is made, people will be hurt. Even the option of refusing to choose can be interpreted by both parties as rejection.

Up to now we have had the chance to revisit the same old hurts and frustrations. On Monday we will see what we can do to create some kind of a response.

In the meantime, we are going to (literally) put on our work gloves and spend tomorrow in the 9th Ward of the City. On Sunday we will worship at various parishes. Perhaps having a time-out to work and pray together will allow us, as the Archbishop asked, “to find a way to surprise the world.”

Thanks to Father Nicholas Knisely for posting this.

Paul Klugman on Inequality

Paul Klugman of the New York Times has just started a blog, and one of his first posts--indeed, the post introduces his blog--is on the issue of inequlaity in the United States. It is well worth reading. He argues in that post that inequality in the U.S. is the result of political decisions--not inpersonal market forces. Here are some highlights:

In fact, let me start this blog off with a chart that’s central to how I think about the big picture, the underlying story of what’s really going on in this country. The chart shows the share of the richest 10 percent of the American population in total income – an indicator that closely tracks many other measures of economic inequality – over the past 90 years, as estimated by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. I’ve added labels indicating four key periods. These are:

The Long Gilded Age: Historians generally say that the Gilded Age gave way to the Progressive Era around 1900. In many important ways, though, the Gilded Age continued right through to the New Deal. As far as we can tell, income remained about as unequally distributed as it had been the late 19th century – or as it is today. Public policy did little to limit extremes of wealth and poverty, mainly because the political dominance of the elite remained intact; the politics of the era, in which working Americans were divided by racial, religious, and cultural issues, have recognizable parallels with modern politics.

The Great Compression: The middle-class society I grew up in didn’t evolve gradually or automatically. It was created, in a remarkably short period of time, by FDR and the New Deal. As the chart shows, income inequality declined drastically from the late 1930s to the mid 1940s, with the rich losing ground while working Americans saw unprecedented gains. Economic historians call what happened the Great Compression, and it’s a seminal episode in American history.

Middle class America: That’s the country I grew up in. It was a society without extremes of wealth or poverty, a society of broadly shared prosperity, partly because strong unions, a high minimum wage, and a progressive tax system helped limit inequality. It was also a society in which political bipartisanship meant something: in spite of all the turmoil of Vietnam and the civil rights movement, in spite of the sinister machinations of Nixon and his henchmen, it was an era in which Democrats and Republicans agreed on basic values and could cooperate across party lines.

The great divergence: Since the late 1970s the America I knew has unraveled. We’re no longer a middle-class society, in which the benefits of economic growth are widely shared: between 1979 and 2005 the real income of the median household rose only 13 percent, but the income of the richest 0.1% of Americans rose 296 percent.

Most people assume that this rise in inequality was the result of impersonal forces, like technological change and globalization. But the great reduction of inequality that created middle-class America between 1935 and 1945 was driven by political change; I believe that politics has also played an important role in rising inequality since the 1970s. It’s important to know that no other advanced economy has seen a comparable surge in inequality – even the rising inequality of Thatcherite Britain was a faint echo of trends here.

. . .

Why did this happen? Well, that’s a long story – in fact, I’ve written a whole book about it, and also about why I believe America is ready for a big change in direction.
For now, though, the important thing is to realize that the story of modern America is, in large part, the story of the fall and rise of inequality.

Read it all here.

I think that market forces such as technology and globalization play a much greater role here than Klugman suggests. Nonetheless, I do agree that political choice played a critical role, and his history of inequality is fascinating.

Clearly this is a blog well worth reading.

Save Souls or Feed the Poor

One hundred years ago social gospel founder Walter Rauschenbusch published hte now famous book Christianity and the Social Crisis. in hoonor of that anniversary, his great-grandson Paul Raushenbush published Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st century, which includes the text of the original book with a contemporary response to each chapter. This week on Beliefnet, Raushenbush is having a very interesting dialogue on the relevancy of the Social Gospel with Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church.

I am sure that the editors of Beleifnet were expecting a debate, but the dialogue is actually far more interesting than any debate could be. Here is a sample post by Pastor Hybels:

Pastor Raushenbush was right in predicting that he and I would feel essentially the same way on the Sandwich/Jesus issue. Stretching the metaphor a bit, I would add that the acid test for whether a person has indeed eaten the "Jesus" sandwich is whether or not he or she is then motivated to spend every day until the dying day offering both sandwiches—salvation and sustenance—to as many hungry people as possible.

One of the great joys of my life has been to pastor a church that is unusually intentional about reaching people far from God. For 32 years now, I have had a front-row seat to observe how lost people get found and how found people get grown up. In my experience, the sandwich question is irrefutably answered as the Holy Spirit does his sanctifying work in the heart and mind of a freshly-redeemed person. What I mean by that is in virtually every case, when I see a life get transformed by the atoning work of Christ, it is not long before that new believer sees the plight of the poor.

Usually within months of a person's salvation experience, there is both a sincere desire to pass on the message of Christ to any and all, and an equally intense desire to do whatever is necessary in the name of Christ to eradicate injustice, relieve oppression, and alleviate suffering of any kind. Selfless service of this sort isn’t normal according to human nature; purely and simply, the desires are born out of the work of the Holy Spirit.

My point is that if new Christ-followers were not misguided by those who force an either-or mindset to the sandwich question, I am quite sure that the Holy Spirit himself would lead them eventually to adopt a both-and approach.

In my teaching and leadership over the past several years, I have relied on two words to help keep our congregation at Willow Creek balanced on these issues: redeem and restore. I love how those two words fall phonetically, but more important, I love how they fall theologically. There’s nothing better than to see new believers around our church begin to weave those words into their everyday vocabulary; better still is when they begin to live them out in their everyday lives.

And here is a post by Raushenbush:

I have to say that I am surprised by our convergence and by this claim. I hope that Pastor Hybels is willing to say more about what form this effort takes in his own church and in evangelical churches across the country, because his description of his church is so different from my perception of evangelicalism in America today. Evangelicals seem to be more concerned with proselytizing and campaigning on social issues such as homosexuality than organizing themselves to meet social needs of the poor. Or is that just my ignorance or prejudice? I continue to associate many of the large evangelical churches more with prosperity preaching (which I consider a modern heresy) than with sustained efforts to relieve oppression and alleviate suffering. Maybe in some minds, prosperity preaching is a version of relieving oppression.

However, there are bright spots that, along with Pastor Hybels’ testimony, continue to make me re-evaluate my understanding of the “evangelical agenda.” For instance, the Christian group World Vision has gone into tough places around the world and become almost re-evangelized by their experience of the Gospel as refracted through the lens of the dispossessed. It has made them tenacious and convincing advocates for those whom they are serving. This is similar to what happened to my great-grandfather 100 years ago and why he wrote Christianity and the Social Crisis. I think it may be instructive to those like Rick Warren who dismiss Walter Rauschenbusch as merely a socialist.

The product of seven generations of pastors, Rauschenbusch started his career with a fairly orthodox Christian mission of saving souls. His first church consisted of a small community of immigrants in New York City in the area that was then aptly called Hell’s Kitchen. Through his congregation, he was introduced to overcrowded tenements with high rent, horrendous working conditions, intolerably low wages, lack of heat in the winter, and lack of recreational facilities in the summer, all accompanied by constant hunger and substandard health facilities. Rauschenbusch realized that in order to serve the spiritual needs of his congregation he had to address the whole of their lives.

As a Christian, Walter naturally turned to the Bible to see what it had to say about harsh reality which confronted him. With his new vision, granted by the poor of his congregation, he saw the “kingdom of God” as the centerpiece of Jesus’ teaching and the hope of his earthly ministry. Pastor Rauschenbusch was struck by how the kingdom of God contrasted with the lives of his congregation: “Instead of a society resting on coercion, exploitation, and inequality,” he wrote, “Jesus desired to found a society resting on love, service, and equality.” Rauschenbusch was convinced that the kingdom of God was not an apocalyptic vision that could be passively postponed, but a prophetic call for society’s transformation in the here and now.

Read it all here.

The North Pole is Melting

Bad news for Santa Claus and all who care about lcimate change: The Artic ice cap is smaller than it has ever been before. The Scientific American has the details:

'Tis the season in the Arctic when the sun disappears below the horizon and twilight replaces daylight. Temperatures drop and ice that melted throughout the Arctic summer begins to cover the world's northernmost ocean again. Scientists have used satellite pictures since 1979 to map the extent of such ice at its minimum, and the picture this year isn't pretty. Covering 1.59 million square miles (4.12 million square kilometers), this summer's sea ice shattered the previous record for the smallest ice cap of 2.05 million square miles (5.31 million square kilometers) in 2005—a further loss of sea ice area equivalent to the states of California and Texas combined.

"The sea ice cover this year has reached a new record low," says Mark Serreze, senior research scientist at the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. "It's not just that we beat the old record, we annihilated it."

As a result of atmospheric patterns that both warmed the air and reduced cloud cover as well as increased residual heat in newly exposed ocean waters, such melting helped open the fabled Northwest Passage for the first time [see photo] this summer and presaged tough times for polar bears and other Arctic animals that rely on sea ice to survive, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Such precipitous loss of ice cover far outpaces anything climate models or scientists have predicted.

. . .

Whereas the South Pole remains protected by differing geographic, atmospheric and oceanic conditions, the North Pole is undergoing rapid change not seen in at least 6,000 years and perhaps as much as 125,000 years, and which may spread to lower latitudes. "It is reasonable to think that if you lose the sea ice cover that is going to have an impact elsewhere, in the midlatitudes," Serreze says. Some modeling studies of such effects have suggested drought in the western U.S. or changes in precipitation patterns across Europe.

Serreze expects the ice will bounce back somewhat next year, if only because he cannot imagine it shrinking any more so swiftly. But ice-free summers in the Arctic may become the norm in the near future. "At this point, I'd say the year 2030 is not unreasonable" for a summer without sea ice in the Arctic, Serreze says. "Within our lifetimes and certainly within our children's lifetimes."

Read it all here.

Note about the picture above: This year's summer ice cover, represented in white, is slightly more than 1 million square miles smaller than the long-term average, represented by the pink line.

The House of Bishops Meeting

The House of Bishops is meeting in New Orleans this week to discuss, among other matters, how it will respond to the Primates Communique. While this is indeed a momentous event for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, there are far better sources of comment and news than me on this issue.

As a starting point, I suggest that you check out the reporting of my colleagues at The Lead. We are working hard to keep up with the reporters and fellow blog commentators, and the group has a good perspective about what is rumour and what is news. Heck, even the Elves at Titus One Nine praised the reporting on the Lead. Here is an example of a post from last night that gives some quite interesting news:

But back to the story from Australia. It is based on an interview with Archbishop Aspinall, given just before he left for New Orleans:

The Primate of the Anglican Church in Australia, Archbishop Philip Aspinall of Brisbane, said the mood within the Anglican Communion was one of reconciliation where the vast majority of them were seeking a middle-way to deal with the homosexuality issue that is threatening to break the Communion apart.
In an interview with the Religion Report, broadcast on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Archbishop Aspinall talked about the need to find a ‘constructive step’ to resolve the debate on the subject of gay bishops and the blessing of same-sex partnership, noting this problem could not be fixed instantly with one solution.

“…No-one is expecting a quick fix and once-and-for-all solution for all time from the meeting this week in the United States. Rather we hope that in conversation and prayer and mutual discernment, we might be able to see constructive next steps,” he said

Aspinall was in the thick of the negotiations in Dar es Salaam. He will be in the thick of things in New Orleans as well. Contrast his tone with that of Archbishop Akinola. They don't seem to be summarizing the same situation. So who has the better grip?

Read it all here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Purple Households

Razib of Gene Expressions makes an interesting observation:

Over the past few years we've all heard about "Red" and "Blue" America. Pundits like David Brooks have written about how the two Americas are drifting apart through residential segregation in the real world or reading their own ideological media in the cyberworld. But over the past six months I've been involved in some political volunteer work relating to a local issue and I've seen voter lists with party registration, and I was struck by the number of Democrats and Republicans who lived in the same household! Husbands and wives, parents and children, and so on. There has always been a large literature on interfaith and interracial families, but have there been studies on the number of interpolitical families? We know that whether you have a gay family member or friend is a strong predictor of a more tolerant outlook toward homosexuals, how much does daily interaction with the political Other mitigate partisanship?

Read it all here.

I think that this is an interesting observation, and it would be interesting to get some epirical data on the issue of whether partisanship decreases in mixed households.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Chris Tilling on Learning from Atheists

Chris Tilling is a young English theologian now doing postgraduate work in Germany. On his blog today, he makes some observations after reading New Atheists Dawkins and Harris. He loves the Harris book, but is disappointed in the Dawkins book. Nonetheless, he thinks that the arguments in these books are important for theologians:

Nevertheless, I think it is very important for Christian theologians to grapple with the arguments of antitheists. And Dawkins in particular is doing much that is worthwhile. To be honest, I think I kind of like the guy - and I certainly sympathised with much of what he said in his clash with Ted Haggard. In actual fact, though it would need to be judged case by case, a good volume of Dawkins or Harris could be the tonic a Christian Fundamentalist needs to progress in faith. These antitheist arguments must be digested and understood, and I am convinced that an honest grappling with antitheism will help to strip away illusions and bring the Christian back to the heart of faith and to a robust, deeply traditional and healthy faith. OK, some atheists are as bad as some religious folk, as your average fruit-loop pseudo-intellectual religious Fundamentalist, and there is no fun in attempting to dialogue with them. But it is still worth sitting through a monologue or two to really understand what they are saying. Let me explain:

Over the last year or so I have grappled very personally with atheism and I feel I really do understand (and appreciate) many aspects of the various atheist cases. The arguments got inside me and became conversation partners. At the end of the day I do not feel compelled by their arguments, but the issues and arguments that have internally bounced around in my head and in conversations with friends have pointed me deeper, I think, into the truth of God in Christ, the nature of faith and what this should practically mean for me and the world. It has been a healing experience.

Read it all here.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bibical Scholarship and a Rational Faith

One of the challenges in attempting to have a rational faith in the 21st Century is that many of the most beloved parts of the Bible are unprovable myths--or at least are claimed to be so by modern scholars. The challenge is to shift through the scholarship and determine what is good scholarship and what is bad. I was therefore fascinated to read in the New York Times Book Review today a review of a new book by a believer st rugging with these same issues.

The book is How to Read the Bible James Kugel, an emeritus professor of Hebrew literature at Harvard and an Orthodox Jew. Although a believer, Kugel takes a brutally honest view of the Old Testament:

Some of the territory Kugel covers will be familiar to lay Bible doubters already. He reviews the “documentary hypothesis,” which demonstrates pretty conclusively that the first five books of the Bible were not written by a single person (Moses, according to tradition), but actually cobbled together from four, or maybe five, different writers. Kugel points out the Bible’s plagiarism from earlier, non-Israelite sources: laws nicked from Hammurabi; chunks of the Noah flood story lifted from the Epic of Gilgamesh; prophecies of Ezekiel inspired by Middle Eastern temples. He even implicates the Ten Commandments, which were apparently derived in part from ancient Hittite treaties.

Modern scholars have also unmoored many of the most beloved stories in Genesis and Exodus. These tales are now viewed as etiological — that is, they were invented to explain how the world got to be the way it is. In this reading, the conflict between Jacob and Esau isn’t a true story of sibling rivalry but an account of why, at the time the story was written down, the Israelites had such hot and cold relations with the Edomites, a nearby tribe identified with Esau. Similarly, the “mark of Cain” that God places on Cain after he murders Abel, promising sevenfold vengeance for anyone who harms him, was probably a tale designed to highlight the brutality of the Kenites, Israel’s notoriously fierce neighbors.

Most unsettling to religious Jews and Christians may be Kugel’s chapters about the origins of God and his chosen people. Kugel says that there is essentially no evidence — archaeological, historical, cultural — for the events in the Torah. No sign of an exodus from Egypt; no proof that Israelites ever invaded, much less conquered, Canaan; no indication that Jericho was ever sacked. In fact, quite the contrary: current evidence suggests that the Israelites were probably Canaanites themselves, semi-nomadic highlanders or fleeing city dwellers who gradually separated from their mother culture, established a distinct identity and invented a mythical past.

Yet despite all this Kugel, in the end, justifies his Orthodox Faith:

One purpose of “How to Read the Bible” is to recapture the Bible from literalists, and Kugel certainly succeeds. His tour through the scholarship demonstrates why it makes no sense to believe that every word of the Bible is true history. Piling on, he also contends that modern Bible literalism, that brand of six-day-creationism favored by fundamentalists, is wildly out of step with traditional Christian interpretation. Such monomaniacal focus on the Bible’s literal truth is a relatively new phenomenon. It’s not so much that readers of yore didn’t believe the Bible’s truth; they just didn’t waste a lot of time trying to prove impossible events like the Flood.

But vanquishing the literalists is only half of Kugel’s project. He also seeks a safe haven for rationalist believers. In other words, having broken all the windows, trashed the bedroom, stripped the wires for copper, sold the plumbing for scrap, and jackhammered into the foundation, Kugel proposes to move back into his Bible house.

Kugel spends the final chapter trying to salvage the Bible for rational believers like himself. And give him credit: he refuses to take an easy way out. He won’t say — as many Reform Jews and Christians do — that the Bible is just a series of excellent moral lessons. (After all, Kugel asks, what then are we supposed to make of all the ugly, morally repellent laws and stories?) He also won’t say that Jewish observance is enough, that following God’s laws — independent of accepting their truth — is satisfactory. Instead, Kugel tries to separate scholarship and belief. At bottom, Kugel seems to conclude that, scholarship be damned, there is some seed of divine inspiration in the Bible, even if he can’t say exactly where it is. The fact that we can’t prove any particular passage isn’t important, and the fact that it’s a pastiche of myths and plagiarized law codes doesn’t extinguish the holiness that’s in it, and doesn’t diminish how it still inspires us to love and serve God. That’s a humane and humble conclusion, but it won’t reduce the delight of Bible skeptics, cackling with glee about Chapters 1 through 35.

Read it all here.

A few observations are in order. First, most of the books in the New Testament were written decades after the events they describe--not the centuries (or more) of the Old Testament. This is not to say that the New Testament accounts should be taken literally. Modern scholarship has made a good case that much of what is reported in the New Testament accounts may very well be a latter addition. Indeed, there are entire letters of Paul that were likely written by someone else.

Second, it is important to read modern scholarship with some scepticism. Some of the techniques used may be persuasive, but they are not infallible. For example, some noted scholarship about the book of John gave it a very late date--only to be discredited when much earlier manuscripts were found.

So what is a believer to do? I agree with Kugel that we need to both be open to the truth of scholarship, but also avoid the cop out of discounting the importance of historical truth. Our faith makes claims of historical truth and if we are to be true to our faith we can't avoid tough questions by arguing that our faith is unmoored by fact.

I remain persuaded in the rationality of a belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ for a variety of reasons that I can only summarize here: the reaction of the early Christians, the quite early account of the resurrection by Paul, and the philisophical discomfort that the claim of resurrection would give both a Jew and a Greek.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Googling God

Busted Halo is one of the more interesting religious websites--it is geared toward religious seekers in their 20s and 30s. Mike Hayes, the managing editor of Busted Halo has just published a new book, Googling God, that focuses on the issue of the religious life of those in their 20s and 30s.

Here are some highlights frtom Hayes' description of what the book is all about:

When Paulist Father Brett Hoover and I founded in 2000, our mission was to minister to the “spiritual but not religious crowd” in their 20s and 30s. Much of our early research led us to think differently about young adults and how technology was influencing their lives. Of the more than 600 young adults we interviewed from across the country 89% stated that the number one thing they wanted in a spiritual website was information that they could find quickly and then get out.

The validity of that early research has been borne out in my experience ministering to young adults over the last seven years. Over that time I have run into countless 20- and 30-somethings who assume that they can “google” God. They believe religion should work the way the ubiquitous search engine Google works—instantaneously. When this approach fails them, they need spiritual mentors to help guide them through the ambiguities of life. Most often, however, those mentors don’t exist. Couple this mentality with the tragic events of recent years such as Columbine, 9-11, Katrina, and now Virginia Tech, and it is no surprise that young adults are also longing for something secure that transcends the madness of the current age. Simply put, they want something to believe in and someone to help them understand that belief more holistically.

But my experience has also taught me that trying to speak in general terms about the spiritual lives of the 20-30’s crowd as a whole is nearly impossible. There are distinct differences in how those on either end of that age group approach belief. Millions of GenXers (those in their 30s) still long for a communal spirituality as well as, a prophetic and altruistic tendency that places the poor at the forefront of their religiosity. They are still hoping to find God within themselves and those around them, while those in their 20s, known as Millennials, long for greater security and a sense of permanence.

In Googling God I’ve done my best to reflect the varied experiences of the young adults I’ve met over the past 7 years. To that end I interviewed 12 individuals from both groups—GenXers and Millennials—who allowed me to explore their journey of faith.

Read it all here. Hayes' article is worth a read by any church leader--he describes the thoughts of both GenXers and Millennials about their faith.

Ramadan and September 11th

It seems obvious that Americans need to learn a great deal more about Islam. Ramadan--a month long Islamic religious holiday started this week, and there is a wonderful blog by an American Muslim that does a good job of explaining what Islam is all about. Shahed Amanullah is a frequent contributor to beliefnet, and his Ramadan blog is a real gem.

Here is one example of his writing, which focuses on Amanullah's efforts to deal with Ramadan at the same time as the anniversary of 9/11::

It is a difficult and challenging situation this year in that my attempts at building an internal serenity for the start of Ramadan are coinciding with the anniversary of 9/11. I spend much of the whole year (every year since 9/11) dealing with the aftermath of those terrible events through my community work and writings, and in Ramadans past I've been able to take a break from that, however short, in order to get myself in the proper frame of mind. But not this year.

In the past, I've used the month of Ramadan to introduce those who are not Muslim to something I feel is truly beautiful about my religion. Most people are familiar with the external (i.e. political, cultural) aspects of Islam, but few understand the internal, more spiritual ones. Being visibly Muslim, in that you are foregoing food and drink in plain view, provided a perfect opportunity for that dialogue--assuming, of course, that the news didn't provide a distraction.

But this Ramadan has been heralded by images of Osama bin Laden taunting us from his cave and exhorting non-Muslims to accept Islam, obviously unaware that the actions of him and his kind have done more to bring curses down upon our beloved Prophet Muhammad and turn people away from Islam more than anything in Islam's history. It's imagery and words like this, and the strong feelings they evoke in me, that I have to push aside in order to focus on starting this month right.

The terrorism that I read about in the news represents the polar opposite of what Ramadan stands for. Ramadan is about opening yourself up to God's mercy, enduring patience in the face of discomfort and adversity, and providing assistance to those less fortunate. Extremism and terrorism is just the opposite--the ultimate exercise of self-indulgence and inflicting merciless hardship on the innocent.

You can find the blog here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Good News About Child Mortality

I learned in my years as both an elected official and as an appointed official that one of the biggest mistakes that advocates make is to ignore the good news and focus on the problems that remain unsolved. I understand the concern that sometimes good news can remove the urgency for action, but I also think that harping solely about bad news has its own set of problems. Most importantly, the audience quickly comes to the conclusion that the problems are hopeless so why bother?

For that reason, I would like to highlight some great news just announced by UNICEF--child mortality has dropped in absolute terms. The New York Times has the details:

For the first time since record keeping began in 1960, the number of deaths of young children around the world has fallen below 10 million a year, according to figures from the United Nations Children’s Fund being released today.

This public health triumph has arisen, Unicef officials said, partly from campaigns against measles, malaria and bottle-feeding, and partly from improvements in the economies of most of the world outside Africa.

The estimated drop, to 9.7 million deaths of children under 5, “is a historic moment,” said Ann M. Veneman, Unicef’s executive director, noting that it shows progress toward the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of cutting the rate of infant mortality in 1990 by two-thirds by 2015. “But there is no room for complacency. Most of these deaths are preventable, and the solutions are tried and tested.”

Interestingly, Unicef officials said, the new estimate comes from household surveys done in 2005 or earlier, so they barely reflect the huge influx of money that has poured into third world health in the last few years from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the Gates Foundation; and the Bush administration’s twin programs to fight AIDS and malaria. For that reason, the next five-year survey should show even greater improvement, they said.

“We feel we’re at a tipping point now,” said Dr. Peter Salama, Unicef’s chief medical officer. “In a few years’ time, it will all translate into a very exciting drop.”

The most important advances, Unicef said, included these:

¶Measles deaths have dropped 60 percent since 1999, thanks to vaccination drives.
¶More women are breast-feeding rather than mixing formula or cereal with dirty water.
¶More babies are sleeping under mosquito nets.
¶More are getting Vitamin A drops.
In 1960, about 20 million children died annually, but the drop since then has been steeper than 50 percent because the world population has grown. If babies were still dying at 1960 rates, 25 million would die this year.

Okay, lest you get complacent, more remains to be done:

There are still wide disparities. The highest rates of child mortality are found in West and Central Africa, where more than 150 of every 1,000 children born will die before age 5. In the wealthy countries of North America, Western Europe and Japan, the average is about six.

The most rapid progress has been made in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Central and Eastern Europe, and in East Asia and the Pacific.

Despite the improvement, two sets of countries have worsened, Unicef said: those in southern Africa that have been hit hardest by AIDS, and those that have been at war recently, like Congo and Sierra Leone.

Read it all here.

Freakonomics on Climate Change

A New York Times blog called Freakonomics, lead by economist Stephen Leavitt, who write a polular book with the same name, has an interesting post today about what some economists think should be done about Cliamte change.

Here is the explanation for the post:

We have blogged occasionally about different pieces of the global-warming puzzle see here, here, and here), and we touched on the subject briefly in a New York Times Magazine column. It is an extraordinarily interesting issue, to say nothing of its importance and complexity, in part because there are so many foundational economic principles at play: not just supply and demand, but the presence of externalities, unintended consequences, etc. We will address a couple of those issues in our next Magazine column, which comes out this weekend.

Ben Ho, an assistant professor of economics at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management and former energy and transportation economist for the White House Council of Economic Advisers, offers these thoughts:

It should be obvious that for any problem, some solutions are more effective than others. Despite what some fearmongers may have you believe, it is not the case that anything we do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is worth the cost. We could, for example, ban all oil and coal use worldwide. That would halt emissions, but few would believe the resulting economic fallout in terms of poverty and starvation to be justified. Economists have estimated that any policy intervention that costs more than about one penny per pound of carbon dioxide saved is probably not cost effective. (As a point of comparison, burning a gallon of gasoline emits about 20 lbs. of carbon dioxide.) If saving a gallon of gasoline will cost you more than 20 cents in time or effort, there are better uses of your time that would do more to combat global warming. Policy makers should heed the same guideline.
Another crucial point on which most experts will agree is that the U.S. will account for only a tiny fraction of emissions in 2050. Chinese greenhouse gas emissions have already surpassed those of the U.S. Recent E.P.A. estimates suggest that in order for global carbon dioxide emissions to stabilize, three quarters of future reductions would have to come from developing countries like China and India. Many advocates argue that a carbon tax or carbon cap in the U.S. would lend the U.S. the moral authority to persuade the rest of the world to follow. However, history has shown that moral authority alone is insufficient to cause countries like China to act against their own interests.

Colin Camerer, professor of business economics at Caltech, has a different take:

Climate warming is certainly the mother of all externalities, both global and intergenerational. It is also a perfect storm of behavioral economics phenomena: the culprit has no face. . . .

One argument which I have found surprisingly absent is the apocalyptic version of Pascal’s wager: if there is a genuine strong change, we should move swiftly to combat it, and if there isn’t, swift movement to cut carbons would not be so bad (it could spur innovation, etc.). If you think the evidence is unclear, that’s not an argument to do nothing unless the evidence will become clearer soon — which it won’t. As such, your view is still an argument for doing something nowm because the cost of a false alarm is small and the cost of a missed threat is large. Big reforms are like an insurance policy: you pay insurance for peace of mind, but you also hope your money is wasted, and there is a small irreversibility from having sacrificed up front.
Voluntary demand-side reduction at a large international scale won’t work. Besides the problem of free-riding, people (and countries) who are helpfully cutting back get annoyed when others aren’t. You see this clearly in lab experiments on contribution to public goods in “commons dilemmas” — people help out at first, then get mad that others aren’t helping, and express their anger by not helping. One useful tool is a serious carbon tax (choose your favorite number, double it, hope for something in between, and find a politically popular way to earmark some of the revenue to R&D that won’t be supplied privately).
Even better is an international permit trading system (and yes, it should be international, since local systems won’t equalize the cost across countries). Get past the moral indignation of issuing licenses to pollute. Firms and governments that will pollute will do so whether you like it or not, but at least a trading system rewards the good guys. Trade-able permits also put a sharp price on the value of reducing carbon, which is a good way to monetize the valuation of carbon-reducing technology, and hence to make the value of innovation clear and encourage it.

There are comments by many other economists and business leaders--a a fairly wide ranging set of ideas--here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Faith and Fred Thompson

Melissa Rogers, founder and director of Wake Forest’s Center for Religion and Public Affairs, has a very interesting post on her blog about Fred Thompson's response to questions about his faith. Unlike virtually every other candidate asked that question, Thompson honestly responded that he isn't a regular churchgoer and doesn't plan to speak about his religion on the stump. (Although he did state that he gained his values from ``sitting around the kitchen table'' with his parents and ``the good Church of Christ.'')

Here is Melissa's take:

Good for Thompson for being so honest and forthright about these things. I hope we will work toward a day when we expect political candidates to discuss their values and vision (among other things) on the campaign trail, but we do not penalize candidates simply because they don't want to talk about their personal faith or lack thereof.

May the people who support Thompson and say that it is fine for him not to talk about his faith on the stump say the exact same thing publicly the next time a Democrat takes that position. And may the eventual Democratic nominee refuse to make the eventual Republican nominee's religiosity or lack thereof an issue in the general presidential campaign (and vice versa). Let's have the debate about ethics and public policy, but let's not make people toe a religious line when doing so.

Read it here.

I agree.

Rod Dreher on his First Normal 9/11

Conservative blogger Rod Dreher may have the best reflection on September 11th:

I was thinking last night how this is the first 9/11 since the horrible day itself in which I haven't felt fixated on the date. In which I haven't wanted to watch HBO's magnificent documentary that came out a year after 9/11/2001. In which I didn't walk around on the verge of tears, wanting to say a prayer or punch a wall or ... something. Last week I was driving through Dallas and passed an elementary school that had on its sign a message inviting parents to come to a meeting about Cub Scouting "on September 11." I cringed at the juxtaposition: Cub Scouts and That Date. But then I thought, well, maybe it's good to be getting back to normal.

So: today was the first normal 9/11 for me. And maybe I feel a little bit guilty for that, as if to leave all those emotions behind is in some way to break faith with the dead. Objectively I know this is untrue, but still. As I've said in this forum many times, I regret the way my overwhelming anger over the events of 9/11 caused my judgment about what the US should do in response to be informed chiefly by wrath. Don't get me wrong: al-Qaeda deserved our wrath. But decisions of war and peace should be made coolly and rationally. The trauma of that event made that sort of deliberation extremely difficult. God, it's hard to remember how scared we all were then. And that's nothing to apologize for. Nothing like that had ever happened to our country, at least not the mainland. None of us had any idea what was coming next. My office in NYC was hit with anthrax, and because I had been leaning unawares over the pile of letters to the editor in which the anthrax-spiked letter had been sitting, when I caught a cold my doctor put me on Cipro just to be on the safe side.

It was a magnificent feeling we all shared, that national unity in the days and weeks after America was attacked. We all knew it couldn't last, I guess, but didn't you think, or at least hope, that something had changed forever, and for the better? As long as America was a victim, we were united domestically, and the world was on our side. When we decided to fight back, that ended that. We fought back foolishly, to be sure, and as Jonah notes, President Bush handled the politics of this thing badly. Big mistakes have been made. We all know that. We all live with that.

I'm glad the emotional impact of 9/11 is fading, because we cannot hang on to those emotions forever, nor should we want to, lest we become one of those sad prisoners of personal trauma who orient their lives around What Was Done To Them. But I worry that in our general fatigue (see previous post), we will forget what kind of damage was done to us on that day, and what the enemy can do if we're complacent. I think we all know that one of these days, America is going to be hit again, just as hard as, if not harder than, we were on 9/11. When that day comes, God forbid, I wonder how we'll respond as a nation? Will we get serious about things we ignored or put off this time around? Will we have wiser leaders in the White House and in Congress?

Will we ourselves have learned a thing? If so, what? Now is the time to be thinking about these things.

Read it all here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Newly Discovered Arizona Faith Blog

One of the most thoughtful Christian blogs I have found on the web is Prophetic Progress, which are the thoughts of an active member of a local Arizona Disciples of Christ mission congregation. I discovered the site because it includes this blog in its link list (thank you Technorati!). Check it out!

September 11: A Memorial

On Memorial Day, I posted my own memorial for four men and women I called friends and colleagues who died serving this country. Three were solders. One was a civilian. All died serving this country. As I said in that post, "Sadly, most Americans have lost touch with the military. Joining the Army, Marines, Navy or Air Force is something that others do. As a result, a day like Memorial Day is too abstract--we vaguely (and briefly) recall the brave men and women who died while serving this country, but don't remember anyone in particular."

As my memorial for September 11th, I would like to remember two friends who died in the September 11th attack on the Pentagon.

Lieutenant General Timothy J. Maude was the highest ranking officer to die in the September 11th attack of the Pentagon. I knew him as a friend and client. We had lunch together virtually everyday in the Pentagon's General Officer's mess. He was serving as the the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel at the time of his death. He entered the United States Army as an enlisted soldier on March 21, 1966. Upon completion of Officer Candidate School in February 1967, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Adjutant General's Corps. He served in Vietnam. Lieutenant General Maude was a soldier for more than 35 years, during which time he served in a variety of important command and staff positions, culminating in his assignment as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, United States Army. The Maude Foundation website describes Tim well: "Lieutenant General Maude understood the human spirit. He understood that the well being of the Army-soldiers, civilians, retirees, veterans and their families-is inextricably linked to our readiness as a force. The success of the "Army of One" campaign demonstrates his broad understanding of human nature and his creative instincts in delivering on that understanding. He understood that young men and women today are looking for something greater than self and are able to accept the notion of duty to country as the noblest of endeavors. . . . His love of soldiers and his devotion to the Army was deep and genuine. Simply put, Lieutenant General Maude loved soldiers; he loved the Army; he loved this wonderful country. His every action cheerfully reflected this commitment to duty." He indeed cared deeply about the welfare of soldiers.

Ernie Willcher was one of the career Army lawyers who worked with me when I was General Counsel of the Army. He was the go-to guy in our office on most personnel issues. Of the four, Ernie is the person I knew best. He dedicated a lifetime to serving the Army as a civilian lawyer. At the time of his death, he was a consultant and was meeting with Tim Maude on a project about improving the lives of the families of soldiers--ironically, a new website tool for the survivors of soldiers killed in action. Ernie was a very hard worker, a gentle soul, and the most dedicated father I have ever met. He also had many of the most challenging legal issue on his plate while I served as General Counsel, and Ernie never failed me.

September 11, 2001 is only six years ago. Do me a favor tomorrow, please take a moment to think about Tim, Ernie, and their families, as well as the thousands of other victims of the September 11th attacks.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Federal Bureau of Prisons Bans Most Religious Books

In an effort that can only be called Orwellian, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is limited the religious books available to federal prisoners to a set of 150 government approved titles for each faith. All other books are banned. As a result, by the way, the works of theologians Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth and Cardinal Avery Dulles and the works of most of the early church fathers are banned in federal prisons.

The stated reason for this strange decision is that there is concern that some very problematic Islamic books were being read in prisons. Fair enough, but why not simply ban those books that could cause harm in the prisons rather than create a short, and incomplete list?

The New York Times has the story:

Behind the walls of federal prisons nationwide, chaplains have been quietly carrying out a systematic purge of religious books and materials that were once available to prisoners in chapel libraries.

The chaplains were directed by the Bureau of Prisons to clear the shelves of any books, tapes, CDs and videos that are not on a list of approved resources. In some prisons, the chaplains have recently dismantled libraries that had thousands of texts collected over decades, bought by the prisons, or donated by churches and religious groups.

. . .

Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, said the agency was acting in response to a 2004 report by the Office of the Inspector General in the Justice Department. The report recommended steps that prisons should take, in light of the Sept. 11 attacks, to avoid becoming recruiting grounds for militant Islamic and other religious groups. The bureau, an agency of the Justice Department, defended its effort, which it calls the Standardized Chapel Library Project, as a way of barring access to materials that could, in its words, “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.”

Ms. Billingsley said, “We really wanted consistently available information for all religious groups to assure reliable teachings as determined by reliable subject experts.”

But prison chaplains, and groups that minister to prisoners, say that an administration that put stock in religion-based approaches to social problems has effectively blocked prisoners’ access to religious and spiritual materials — all in the name of preventing terrorism.

“It’s swatting a fly with a sledgehammer,” said Mark Earley, president of Prison Fellowship, a Christian group. “There’s no need to get rid of literally hundreds of thousands of books that are fine simply because you have a problem with an isolated book or piece of literature that presents extremism.”

The Bureau of Prisons said it relied on experts to produce lists of up to 150 book titles and 150 multimedia resources for each of 20 religions or religious categories — everything from Bahaism to Yoruba. The lists will be expanded in October, and there will be occasional updates, Ms. Billingsley said. Prayer books and other worship materials are not affected by this process.

The lists are broad, but reveal eccentricities and omissions. There are nine titles by C. S. Lewis, for example, and none from the theologians Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth and Cardinal Avery Dulles, and the influential pastor Robert H. Schuller.

. . .

The lists have not been made public by the bureau, but were made available to The Times by a critic of the bureau’s project. In some cases, the lists belie their authors’ preferences. For example, more than 80 of the 120 titles on the list for Judaism are from the same Orthodox publishing house. A Catholic scholar and an evangelical Christian scholar who looked over some of the lists were baffled at the selections.

Timothy Larsen, who holds the Carolyn and Fred McManis Chair of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, an evangelical school, looked over lists for “Other Christian” and “General Spirituality.”

“There are some well-chosen things in here,” Professor Larsen said. “I’m particularly glad that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is there. If I was in prison I would want to read Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” But he continued, “There’s a lot about it that’s weird.” The lists “show a bias toward evangelical popularism and Calvinism,” he said, and lacked materials from early church fathers, liberal theologians and major Protestant denominations.

The Rev. Richard P. McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame (who edited “The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism,” which did make the list), said the Catholic list had some glaring omissions, few spiritual classics and many authors he had never heard of.

Read it all here.

Reinhold Niebuhr and Campaign 2008

PBS's Religion & Ethics website has an interesting article that notes the importance of Reinhold Niebuhr's thinking on the 2008 Presidential race:

Midway through Rinde Eckert's play "Horizon," the main character, an ethics professor loosely based on Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, flashes back to a childhood scene. "What is original sin?" his father asks. "The understanding that we are by nature selfish creatures. That all action is rooted in desire. That we are not innocent and can never be innocent," the boy responds, in a fair summation of Niebuhr's view on the matter.

Thirty-six years after his death, Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) is making a comeback. Perhaps not since President Jimmy Carter acknowledged Niebuhr's influence--his 1976 campaign book WHY NOT THE BEST? cited the theologian's observation that to establish justice in a sinful world is "the whole sad duty of the political order"--has the name Reinhold Niebuhr been on so many people's lips.

. . .

Actor and playwright Eckert's homage to Niebuhr ran for a month this summer off-Broadway, not long after presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was quoted by conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks as saying Niebuhr is "one of my favorite philosophers." Brooks himself quotes Niebuhr consistently and has described him as "one of America's most profound writers on war and international conflict," a thinker we could use today "to police our excesses" in foreign policy.

In August, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer drew heavily on Niebuhr in a speech at the Chautauqua Institution about passion and humility in politics. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne's forthcoming book on religion and politics takes note of the current longing for a new Reinhold Niebuhr to inspire the next generation of religious liberals. As political theorist William Galston put it recently in an essay about doubt in American politics in the journal "Democracy," "after a period of neglect, Reinhold Niebuhr is the man of the hour."

Peter Beinart, editor-at-large at THE NEW REPUBLIC and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, advocated a Niebuhr-inflected American humility cum muscle in his recent book THE GOOD FIGHT: WHY LIBERALS--AND ONLY LIBERALS--CAN WIN THE WAR ON TERROR AND MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.

"He became more the focus of the book than I expected," said Beinart. "I began to realize Niebuhr more than [historian and liberal partisan Arthur] Schlesinger was the key to it, at least intellectually. If there was a Kevin Bacon figure in Cold War liberalism, it was him," Beinart said, referring to the party game whereby the actor can be connected to nearly any other star in six steps or less.

Niebuhr's focus on morality in international affairs could not be more relevant today, four years into a war that has become fraught, for many, with doubt and uncertainty. His unrelenting gaze inward, at a United States he refused to herald as the world's unquestioned savior, diverges from the renewed sense of American exceptionalism that followed in some quarters after September 11, and it highlights the distinction between the acknowledgment of evil's existence and America's own involvement in that evil. "As Niebuhr famously said, we always use evil to prevent greater evil," said Beinart. "The recognition that America is capable of evil has been brought home to a new generation, in things like Abu Ghraib, in the most topical way since Vietnam."

While it may be impossible to know where Niebuhr would stand on Iraq, his reasoning can serve as a resource in addressing current moral and ethical issues, and his perspective may help shape public debate ahead of next year's presidential election. "He's perennially relevant at the general level," said Richard Wightman Fox, author of REINHOLD NIEBUHR: A BIOGRAPHY and a professor of history at the University of Southern California. "The more specific you get, the more you can take a position on either side."

Arizona senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain, in his new book HARD CALL: GREAT DECISIONS AND EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE WHO MADE THEM, wonders openly what the prominent theologian and critic of pacifism during World War II would say today about Iraq: "Would [Niebuhr] have perceived in the Iraq war a realistic response to injustice and a threat to our own security, or just pretentious idealism? And if the latter, would he argue we should withdraw from the country, after our many mistakes in the prosecution of the war, if doing so would lead to a humanitarian catastrophe and even greater threat to our own security interests? One could ask the same questions about the appeals to our moral superiority that summoned Americans to battle after the attacks of September 11. Would he deplore them as a milder form of the arrogance and absolutism claimed by the terrorists who hate us? I doubt it. As Niebuhr argued in his criticism of pacifism, there are moral distinctions in history, and we have a responsibility to defend the right against the wrong…Both sides claims Niebuhr for their own. Which is right?...The best we can hope for in this life, he would tell us, is a proximate justice."

Niebuhr's last teaching assistant, Ronald Stone, now professor emeritus of Christian social ethics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, credits Niebuhr's resurgence in part to a reaction against attempts to create a democratic Middle East. "To many of us, neoconservatism has run its course," said Stone, "and the foreign policy of the neoconservatives hasn't worked, so realist prudence and reluctance to involve the U.S. in a war seems to be the wisdom of the day."

. . .

University of Virginia religious studies professor Charles Mathewes sounds a similar note. Niebuhr, he suggests, "is the best theologian to think about things if you want to think about sin without being cynical." Mathewes says he sees in Obama "the complexity of the Niebuhrian outlook," but he also believes Hillary Clinton possesses "theological depth I think people don't pick up on." Both Clinton and Obama, he says, "are prepared to become Niebuhrians."

Stone, too, sees Clinton as a Niebuhrian candidate because of her pragmatism and willingness to reach across ideological divides, exemplified by her bipartisan work in the Senate. As a teenager in Park Ridge, Illinois, she read Niebuhr and other theologians such as Paul Tillich and Dietrich Bonhoeffer with her Methodist youth minister, Don Jones. Jones's "University of Life" program took suburban high schoolers into Chicago to meet black and Hispanic gang members and to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak, giving Clinton, as she once said, "a sense of social mission." In a 1993 profile of the then-First Lady, Jones told the Washington Post, "She is both idealistic and pragmatic. Really, she embodies that dialectic."

This is a rich essay and is well worth reading. Read it all here.

It strikes me, by the way, that Niebuhr's thinking can be influential even to those who do not believe in a God. Niebuhr defined man's sinful nature in a way that could be accepted a a truthful statement of human behavior by an atheist, and Niebuhr's focus on action in the real world--as well as a pragmatic scepticism and humility about what can be accomplished--could also be embraced by a non-believer. Indeed, to someone concerned that personal faith is playing too much of a focus in American politics would find much comfort in Niebuhr's own warnings about the dangers of religious crusades:

"Where there is freedom, there is sin," Niebuhr wrote in his 1943 book THE NATURE AND DESTINY OF MAN. It is a sentiment that stands in sharp contrast to George W. Bush's second inaugural address, which spoke of the ideal of human freedom and declared that U.S. policy would actively "seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture." Niebuhr's Christian realism--his recognition of the persistence of sin, self-interest, and self-righteousness in social conflicts--rejected absolutism and argued that overarching moral principles must adapt to changing times and circumstances. Rejecting idealism, he argued that the unbridled social optimism of early 20th-century liberal Protestants was misguided, because the kingdom of God could never come to pass on Earth. History, he believed, was about struggle more than progress.

"In his desire to improve liberalism, he said let's not try and make this a utopian process," according to Eckert. "Utopianism is blasphemous because it imagines perfection through history, and we have to recognize that's not in the cards. We are grounded in our condition, our original sin, if you will."

. . .

According to Fox, Niebuhr wrote and thought quite a lot in his final years about Abraham Lincoln, someone Obama has repeatedly quoted in speeches and in his book THE AUDACITY OF HOPE.

"Obama's discussion of Lincoln is exactly what Niebuhr would think," Fox said. "He sees how Lincoln's God is a transcendent God. He's no one you can mosey up to and say he's mine…. What you get is not a blueprint of what to do to be on God's side but a challenge to take responsibility for human problems and social justice."

Hence one of Niebuhr's great paradoxes: Even if God's judgment lies beyond history, we cannot ignore that challenge within history. Beware, though, the conviction that rising to the challenge always derives from personal faith--a warning voters may find useful as they weigh their options in the run-up to November 2008.