Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What Obama's Victory Means To My Son

I am the father of a three and a half year old African-American child (who already notices race). I am afraid that words do not even begin to express how important Barak Obama's victory will be to my child. The first President that my son will know will be an African American. That is huge. He will know that he can really aspire to anything.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Godless in North Carolina?

Cross-posted at Episcopal Cafe today:

The Campaign for Senate in North Carolina is close, and Senator Dole has decided to win the race by making false allegations about her opponent's alleged atheism. Here is the ad that Dole has been running:

The response by Kay Hagen, an elder at a local Presbyterian Church where she teaches Sunday school was quick, and effective:

At least one analyst, J.P. Green, thinks that Dole just lost the election by resorting to this tactic:

It appears that Sen. Liddy Dole (R-NC) has lost either her marbles or control of her campaign. Dole has unleashed a ridiculously bombastic ad that tries to slime her opponent, Kay Hagan as "Godless." Hagan has put in time as both a Sunday school teacher and church elder in a Greensboro Presbyterian church her family has attended for more than a century.

. . .

It's a huge blunder. No doubt Dole hopes to fire up her evangelical base for the home stretch. But Dole's absurd allegations are easily rebutted, given Hagan's clear record of commitment to her Christian faith. It's hard to see how Dole can get off scott-free from the consequences of such a silly accusation. And not all evangelicals are happy about what Hagan describes as Dole's 'false witness.' The latest NC Senate race poll average at has Hagan ahead by a margin of 46.6 to 43 percent. If the people of North Carolina are as decent as I think, Dole's ad could cost her the election.

I remember Dole once saying that her husband, Bob Dole's lagging campaign for the Presidency needed "adult supervision." It looks like her campaign has the same problem.

Read it all here.

If you live in North Carolina, vote for Hagen on Tuesday.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Freakonomics Takes on Gay Marriage

Noted economist Justin Wolfers (who does very interesting workonthe economics of happiness) has a moving essay on gay marriage at Freakonomics:

It wasn’t meant to be political.

In fact, Saturday night, while beautiful, was pretty conventional: two of my dear friends from graduate school were getting married. They are fellow economists who have spent 18 years together; they have supported each other through their careers, each has followed the other to different cities, and they provide each other with support in their personal lives.

The only difference is that Jed and Eric are both men.
In many respects, their wedding followed the script I’ve celebrated as my other graduate school buddies have married. Friends and family were assembled, and the lucky couple were excited and busy hosts, making sure that all the details were in place.

But there were differences. The timing of their wedding had little to do with the progress of their relationship. It is pretty unusual for a couple to wait 18 years to marry. But in this case, their choice reflects the fact that they were legally unable to move ahead until the California Supreme Court ruled that the state’s Constitution recognizes their right to marriage. And they were forced to rush their wedding ahead of next week’s election, as a ballot initiative (Prop 8) seeks to take away this right by amending the constitution.

And so circumstances dictated that their love and their wedding, while being intensely personal, was also somehow public and political.

. . .

The thing that struck me about their ceremony was how viscerally it changed my own feelings about gay marriage. I had always supported gay marriage, but it was an abstract, intellectual support; now it’s personal. And so a friend’s wedding became, for me, the most compelling political event of the year.
Here’s an interesting thought: How has the recent wave of same-sex weddings changed the political landscape? There have now been thousands of same-sex weddings, each enjoining scores of invited friends and family to re-examine their thoughts and feelings. There’s a pretty good chance that one of these folks might be the pivotal voter on Tuesday. And I suspect that this is a much more motivating political force than the tens of millions being spent on political advertising.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Obama Supported on Christian Radio

David Brody is reporting that an independent expenditure group, Matthew 25, will be running a series of pro-Obama ads on Christian radio:

If you listen to Christian radio, get ready to hear Barack Obama talking about his Christian journey. And it's coming to a red state near you.

The Matthew 25 Network political action committee is coming out with new pro-Obama radio ads that highlight his Christianity. One of them is called, “Source of Hope.” You can listen to it here.

There will be two other radio ads as well on Christian radio including one from the pro-life conservative legal scholar Douglas Kmiec who defends Obama’s position on abortion. Listen to that one here.

These radio ads will be on Christian music stations in the following states: Michigan, Colorado, Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina. Did you notice how many red states are in there?

Read it all here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jesus Attack Ad

What if Jesus ran for President? Here is the attack ad we would face.

Hat tip to Zack at Revolution in Jesus.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Obama 08/Micah 6:8

This is from Zach at JesusLand, who thinks it is the best campaign bumper sticker he has ever seen.

Micah 6:8 (NIV):
"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Read it all here.


I have given this some thought and have decided that theis bumper sticker, while funny, is also dangerous. I am pleased to see that Obama is getting support from the faithful--and for the right reasons--but such a direct linkage of faith with a particular politician should be as disturbing when done by the left as it is when done by the right. We should be praying that we are doing God's will--not proudly announcing to the world that a particular political position is what God wants. Theocracy by the left is as dangerous as theocracy by the right.

Obama Friendlier to Religion?

David Brody of the Christian Broadcast network notes the recent Faith in Public Life poll showing that voters view Obama as friendlier to faith than McCain, and then offers his own observations about why this may actually be true:

Imagine if I told you four years ago that voters felt John Kerry was friendlier to religion than George Bush? You would say that is crazy and you’d be right. But in 2008, a new poll published by Faith in Public Life shows that voters actually think Barack Obama , a Democrat, is slightly more friendlier to religion than John McCain. Read some of the findings below:

Forty-nine percent of Americans say Obama is friendly to religion, while 45% say McCain is friendly to religion. More than seven-in-ten (71%) say it is important for public officials to be comfortable talking about religious values.

The greatest shift in candidate preference between 2004 and 2008 has occurred among voters who attend religious services once or twice a month, moving from 49% support for Kerry in 2004 to 60% support for Obama in 2008. McCain maintains a significant advantage among voters who attend more frequently, while Obama has a nearly identical advantage over McCain among those who attend less than a few times a month or never.

. . .

As for Brody File analysis, do we really think these numbers are so surprising? In one sense they are startling because who would have “thunk” a Democrat running for President would lead a Republican on being “friendlier to religion”? Wasn’t all that religious talk supposed to be Republican domain? But these numbers make sense because Obama has engaged the faith community in public and McCain has pretty much stayed away for the most part.

Remember, this is not about social issues like abortion and marriage. These polls are not suggesting that Obama’s views on public policy are necessarily more “religious” than McCain’s positions. That is not what we are talking about here. Don’t mistake these polling numbers as a referendum on who’s the more religious man.

Let me also address a larger point. Americans overall are fairly religious. Worshipping God and going to Church matter in this country. (And not JUST with conservative Evangelicals) The point here is that Obama has done something very smart. By discussing his faith publicly and engaging in God talk, he’s been able to relate to millions of voters in a very real and emotional sort of way. In other words, people in America like to hear you talk about your relationship with God. They want to feel like you have a moral compass somewhere inside of you and what better way to express that than through faith?

The McCain campaign wants to show the World that Obama is a true blue liberal and indeed his voting record reflects liberal positions. But Obama’s zest to discuss morality, God and faith has positioned him differently than a John Kerry four years ago. Kerry came across as a secular northeast liberal and couldn’t shake that label. Obama hasn’t been defined that way and the faith aspect is a central reason why.

Read it all here. The study itself is here.

I think that Brody's analysis is right on. I also understand that this has also caused many of my atheist friends like the Exerrminator to have real doubts about Obama. I think, however, that Obama offers the best of both worlds--he is respectful (and yes, "friendly" to faith) and he can certainly takl the faith talk in ways that church-going folks like me can relate to. Yet, on critical First Amendment issues that should really concern the secularists among us, Obama has a very good and thoughtful record that recognizes the importance of a separationof church and state.

By the way, be sure to check out Ruth Gledhill's own poll on "Who is the better Christian" here. Last time I checked yesterday afternoon, Obama was winning with Sarah Palin in a close second, and Biden a close third. McCain came in dead last well behind Biden.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Stephen Waldman on Abortion Reduction

I have argued several times on this blog that it is time for politicians on both sides of the abortion debate to get serious about abortion reduction. (You can find all of these posts collected here. Steve Waldman of Beliefnet has a very interesting essay that argues that a serious effort to reduce abortion would likely do more than efforts to overrule Roe v. Wade:

Some Democrats are now making an unusual argument about abortion: that a Democratic administration might actually reduce abortions more than a Republican administration.On the surface, this seems preposterous. Republicans oppose abortion rights, Democrats support them. How could it possibly be that a Democratic approach would reduce abortion more?

. . .

When Democrats refer to an "abortion reduction strategy" they mostly mean efforts that keep abortion legal but help prevent pregnancy through family planning and/or making it easier for women who do get pregnant to carry the baby to term. (A few examples: Matthew 25 Network and Democrats for Life's 95-10 strategy)

A new study indicates that a variety of non-coercive measures could have a real impact on abortion rates. Two social scientists recently looked at abortion rates in different states during the period in the 1990s when abortion rates were declining. They concluded that economics did affect women's decisions (what has long been suspected) and that therefore social welfare policies can have demonstrable effect. For instance, if you increase payments for Women, Infants and Children, more women come to think they'll have the means to birth and raise a child. They also found that when male employment improved, that reduced the abortion rate as well. Conversely, if you have Medicaid funding for abortions - something Obama supports -- that increases the rate of abortion.

The authors concluded that the right package of financial incentives could therefore reduce the number of abortions by several hundred thousand.

. . .

I'm not one who believes that all unintended pregnancies occur because of a scarcity of birth control. But there is solid evidence that greater sex education - including abstinence education -- and birth control does lead to fewer unintended pregnancies and therefore abortions. According to an Alan Guttmacher Institute study, 46% who had abortions had not used contraception during the month they got pregnant, largely for reasons of ignorance. 33% had perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy. 32% had had concerns about contraceptive methods. 8% had never used contraceptions. All in all, "about half of unintended pregnancies occur among the 11% of women who are at risk for unintended pregnancy but are not using contraceptives."

. . .

So what? you might be thinking. The pro life forces have ignored abortion reduction in favor of abortion elimination -- a much more desirable result if you're a fetus.

But the traditional pro-life strategy has not resulted in any difference in abortion rates during Republican administrations. Why?

In general, pro life activists have followed a two-pronged strategy that emphasizes a) high-impact but politically unpopular steps and b) low-impact but politically popular steps. An example of their high-impact-low-likelihood efforts: having the Republican platform endorse a Constitutional amendment banning all abortion in all states at all levels of gestation. It certainly would cut the number of abortions but it's not going to happen.

Efforts to require parental consent have borne more fruit. They provide tactical wins for the pro life movement and there is evidence that they help reduce the abortion rates among some teens. But teens account for a minority of abortions.

Meanwhile, pro-life forces push hard on issues like late term abortion which are morally egregious. They hope that these examples help turn public opinion against abortion in general, and they may have: public opinion has become more concerned about abortion since the 1980s. What these efforts don't do is directly reduce the number of abortions very much, since far less than 1% of abortions are late-term.

On balance, the evidence is strong, therefore, that as long as Roe v. Wade is on the books, a comprehensive abortion reduction strategy of the sort advocated by progressive pro-life activists could reduce abortions more than that approach traditional taken by the pro-life community.

But what if Roe v. Wade is overturned? We may be just one Supreme Court justice away from such an outcome. Surely that would lead to a massive drop in abortions, no?

Not necessarily -- because the states where public opinion is pro-life are already the states with lower abortion rates. So when those states ban abortion, the impact on abortion rates won't be dramatic. Joseph Wright, a visiting professor at Notre Dame, estimated that if abortion bans were enacted in states where a majority of the population is now pro life, that would lead to a 10% reduction in abortions nationally.
This is a possibility acknowledged by neither pro-life forces (which have placed all their eggs in the Roe basket) nor pro-choice forces (which like to cast such an event as doomsday).
So we're left with this stunning possibility: a comprehensive abortion reduction agenda of the sort advocated by pro-life progressives could reduce abortions by twice as much as overturning Roe v Wade.

Read it all here (it is well worth reducing the whole essay--most notably for its discusion of the fact that Obama has not yet really endorced the abortion reduction agenda).

As I have said repeatedly before, for most candidates for office, the abortion debate (on both sides) has been more about constituencies and fundraising than a real issue about real lives. The result has been that political leaders are forced into two sharply divided camps with few politicians (Joe Biden being one exception, by the way) willing to be in the middle. What attracks me about the abortion reduction movement is that it offers true progress. Apparantly, Waldman agrees.

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Twelve Tribes of Politics

Steve Waldman of and University of Akron's John Green offer their latest "12 Tribes" analysis of politics, which focuses on the political beliefs of twelve different categories of religious belief and practice:

Moral issues are dramatically less important this year than in previous years – even among the most religiously observant voters, according to the 2008
edition of the Twelve Tribes of American Politics.

Just 13% listed social issues first, half the number who did in the summer of 2004. 61% listed the economy first compared to 32% in 2004.

The Twelve Tribes were introduced in 2004 as a collaboration between Beliefnet and John Green of the Bliss Institute at University of Akron, based on the National Surveys of Religion and Politics. The premise: most political reporting acted as if there were two groups – the Religious Right and Everyone Else. So we crafted a new set of groupings, inspired by the twelve tribes of Biblical Israel, but formed
around similarities in religious beliefs and practice.

The 2008 Twelve Tribes survey, conducted from June-August, also found:

  • A massive shift among Latino Protestants is what has fueled the hugely important move of Hispanics to the Democratic Party (more).

  • The centrist Tribes – Convertible Catholics, Whitebread Protestants and Moderate Evangelicals – have moved to the left on some social issues but have become more suspicious of government spending programs. Republicans remain strong with these groups groups (more).

Read it all here. You can also find the McCain-Obama breakdown, the full survey results, the methodology or Steven Waldman's full analysis.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Abortion Rate Continues to Decline

The Guttmacher Institute released their annual study on abortion rates. I think the most stunning fact is that abortion rates are almost at the level they were in 1974 when Roe v. Wade was decided. good news in my view. There is also a host of other demographic information for anyone serious about abortion reduction. Here is the Washington Post report:

In the first comprehensive analysis since 1974 of demographic characteristics of women who have abortions, researchers found that the overall drop in the abortion rate has been marked by a dramatic shift, declining more among white women and teenagers than among black and Hispanic and older women.

"There's been a real change in the picture of women who get abortions," said Rachel Jones, a senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute, a private nonprofit reproductive health research organization considered to be one of the most authoritative sources on abortion trends. "This is the first time anyone has looked at this in a comprehensive way."

Jones and her colleagues analyzed annual data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and by periodic surveys that Guttmacher has conducted of abortion providers between 1974 and 2004.

The analysis confirmed previous reports that the abortion rate fell to the lowest level since 1974, dropping 33 percent from a peak of 29 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 in 1980 to 20 per 1,000 in 2004.

During that period, the proportion of abortions obtained by women younger than 20 dropped steadily, falling from 33 percent in 1974 to 17 percent in 2004. For those younger than 18, it fell from 15 percent of all abortions in 1974 to 6 percent in 2004. At the same time, the proportion of abortions obtained by women in their 20s increased from 50 percent to 57 percent, and the share done for women age 30 and older rose from 18 percent to 27 percent.

Although abortion rates have declined among all racial and ethnic groups, large disparities persist, with Hispanic and black women having the procedure at rates three to five times the rate of white women.

In 2004, there were 10.5 abortions per 1,000 white women ages 15 to 44, compared with 28 per 1,000 Hispanic women of that age and 50 per 1,000 black women. That translates into approximately 1 percent of white women having an abortion in 2004, compared with 3 percent of Hispanic women and 5 percent of black women. Jones attributed that to the focus on reducing teenage pregnancy and on increasing contraceptive use.

In other words, a focus on rducing teenage pregnancy worked between 1974 and 2004. (Note that there are disturbing sings that this progress is no longer occuring). If we want to reduce abortions further, the focus needs to be on older women:

"We've made the most important progress in reducing teen pregnancy and abortion rate, [rather] than reducing unintended pregnancy in older women," Jones said.

"We know from other research that having lower income makes a woman more likely to get an abortion. Women of color tend to be lower-income, and so in turn when confronted with an unintended pregnancy are more likely to have an abortion," Jones said.

The proportion of all abortions performed for women who already had a child increased from 46 percent in 1974 to 60 percent in 2004, reflecting the trend of women who cannot afford to have another child turning to abortion, Jones said.

The findings indicate "we need to figure out efforts to reduce unintended pregnancy, not only among teenagers but among all women, and in particularly women of color," she said. "A lot of policymakers are stuck 30 years back when most women getting abortions are teenagers and college students, and that isn't so much the case these days."

Others said the findings underscore the need to increase access to contraception for poor women.

"Birth control is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies," said Laurie Rubiner, vice president for public policy at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "Unfortunately there's a large number of uninsured people in this country, and if you are uninsured you are less likely to have access to affordable health care, including affordable birth control."

Read it all here.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Liberal Woman's Take on Sarah Palin

Some on the left seem so keen on victory in November that they come close (well, ahem, real close) to suggesting that that Sarah Palin should stay home and raise her kids. My decidedly liberal (well, in most ways) wife has a different view. She is an ardent Obama/Biden supporter, but thinks that the candidacy of Sarah Palin has much to celebrate. Here are her thoughts as expressed in an email blast that she sent to her friends around the country:

I think we should be grateful to Sarah Palin. Really.

These are things I think changed when Sarah Palin became the darling of the Republican Right:
1. It's OK for a woman to be politically ambitious. Before this, women were condemned by the Right for such ambition. Sarah Palin is the poster child for political ambition, and the Right just eats it up.
2. It's OK for a woman to be tough. Before this, a tough woman was perceived as not feminine enough -- not enough of a woman. Sarah Palin has shown that a woman can be tough and feminine. You've got to give her that. No more need to dress like a man to be taken seriously at a meeting. It's about time.
3. It's OK for a woman to be a sarcastic bitch. (I gotta tell you, I'm thrilled about this one!) Any other woman who had taken the tone Governor Palin did in her acceptance speech would have been raked over the coals, but now, it's all OK.
4. Being in the PTA, and the carpool, and managing a household now count as real world experience that prepares a person to do something other than be a homemaker, even to govern our nation. Hallelujah! Feminists have been saying for decades that traditional "women's work" was real work that required real skills and should count for something and not be written off. Now the Right has recognized that. Excellent. I'm going to update my resume.
5. It's OK for a woman not to be the primary care giver of her children. This is sort of a corollary to #1, because one of the reasons that women were condemned for political ambition is that they were "not taking care of" their children and families. Sarah Palin is clearly not the primary caregiver for her kids, even for her newborn. (She went back to work when Trig was 3 days old.) That is OK. Really. Families have the right to choose how best to organize themselves, and no two families are the same. Again, feminists have been saying this for decades, but the Right has resisted it mightily. Now, they've embraced it. Good for everyone.
6. The next time the Right wants to take a holier than thou attitude about anyone to the political left of them, we just remind them that Sarah Palin's pregnant, teenage, unwed daughter didn't bother them, that they understood that people are fallible, that we all have our moments of weakness, and that we should not be condemned for our mistakes that we have recognized and atoned for. Also, the Right has said that people cannot be held responsible for the misdeeds of their loved ones (kids, spouses, siblings). Excellent.

This really is progress. Now, any native-born American really does have the opportunity to become president. Best of all, the genie is out of the bottle on these issues and won't be going back in.

[I might add that my wife has lots of foreign policy experience should anyone be looking for a future Vice President. She worked as an expert on Latin America for nearly a decade in the State Department, Defense Department, and White House. The picture above was taken when Allison was with her boss Barry McCaffrey during President Clinton's state visit to Colombia in 2000. She was trying to get a picture with Juan Valdez when Secretary Albright butted in. And she has made her own choices about work/family balance. She left a position with Governor Napolitano to be a fulltime stay-at-home mom for our son.]

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

September 11th: Remembering Friends

On Memorial Day last year, 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 I did last year, for 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 seven years ago. Do me a favor tomorrow: take a break from the 2008 election and 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.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Climate Change: New Evidence for the Hockey Stick

The so-called "hockey stick" chart--which shows a rapid rise in global temperature is a mainstay in arguments that humans are causing climate change--a center of attacks by climate change denialists. A new study offers a revised chart that conforms the hockey stick chart. Climat Feedback explains the development:

The contentious ‘hockey stick’ climate change graph has again been upheld as broadly accurate, doubtless to the rage of climate denialists/sceptics/whatevers.

A team led by Michael Mann of Penn State University has looked at a whole range of proxies for surface temperatures over the last 2,000 years in an attempt to counter criticism of the graph, which showed a long ‘handle’ and a sharp upturn (the blade).
Their findings? As the Christian Science Monitor puts it: “It still looks a lot like the much-battered, but still rink-ready stick of 1998. Today the handle reaches further back and it’s a bit more gnarly. But the blade at the business end tells the same story.

”The previous hockey stick had been accused of relying too much on data from tree rings so this PNAS study may silence some of the critics when it appears later.

Read it all here. There is good coverage here as well.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Time for Decency: What They Said

If you are are tempted to make political use of the pregnancy of Sarah Palin's daughter's pregnancy, please heed these words.

First, from Hilzoy:

It's easy, in the midst of a political campaign, to forget that the people involved are, after all, people. Some of them -- Sarah Palin, for instance -- place themselves under a media spotlight of their own free will. Others -- her daughter, for instance -- wind up there through no fault of their own. Imagine yourself in her position: there you are, seventeen years old, pregnant, unmarried. Maybe you understand what happened and why; and maybe your parents and friends do as well. But zillions of bloggers and reporters and pundits are about to make the most personal details of your life into a political issue, and they don't understand it at all. And yet, despite that, they are about to use you and your unborn child to score points on one another, without any regard whatsoever for you and your actual situation.

I want no part of this. None at all. To those of you who think otherwise: that's your right. But ask yourself how you felt when Republicans scored points using Chelsea Clinton, who didn't ask to be dragged into the spotlight either.

. . .

If the past is any guide, some people will respond to this post by saying that the Republicans would not hesitate to use Democrats' teenage children to score political points. That may be. Three responses: first, so what? Just because they do it doesn't mean that we should. Second, any argument for going there would have to assume that this would, in fact, be a political winner, and thus that not using it would entail some sort of political sacrifice. I am not at all convinced that that is true. Most importantly, though, there are some lines I'm not willing to cross no matter what the other side does.

Second, here is Barack Obama:

I have heard some of the news on this and so let me be as clear as possible. I have said before and I will repeat again, I think people's families are off limits, and people's children are especially off limits. This shouldn't be part of our politics, it has no relevance to governor Palin's performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president. And so I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories. You know my mother had me when she was 18. And how family deals with issues and teenage children that shouldn't be the topic of our politics and I hope that anybody who is supporting me understands that is off limits.

In the days and weeks ahead, there will be plenty of legitimate questions about Palin (such as her membership in the fringe Alaskan Independence Party, her deception about her opposition to the Bridge to Nowhere, and Troopergate). Leave her family--especially her children--out of the fray.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Can Democrats Get Votes From the Faithful

The obvious answer to the heaqdline is, of course, yes. After all, I am an active member of a church, worship there weekly, and I am an enthusiastic Obama/Biden supporter. The real question is whether Obama/Biden can win the votes of socially conservative religious voters (both Catholics and Evangelicals). The New Yorker has a very interesting analysis:

The most effective Democratic religious outreach has been performed by the Democrat to whom it comes most naturally, Obama. Almost as soon as he joined the Senate, Obama became a prized booking on the speech circuit, where he proved to be fluent in what Jesse Jackson once called “faith talk.” Obama spoke forthrightly about his Christian beliefs and about his conversion experience (“Kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side in Chicago, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me”), in a way that was hardly customary for Democratic politicians. In casting Republicans as the dangerous God Party, Democrats had turned themselves into the Secular Party so resolutely as to seem almost hostile to religious faith—a perilous position in a country where ninety-two per cent of the population believe in God, more than two-thirds believe in the presence of angels and demons, and nearly a quarter have said that the attacks of September 11, 2001, are prophesied in the Bible.

Obama addressed this problem in a remarkable speech on June 28, 2006, at a gathering of the Christian-left group Call to Renewal, in Washington, in which he offered a frank critique of liberal queasiness regarding faith. “There are some liberals,” Obama said, “who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word ‘Christian’ describes one’s political opponents, not people of faith.”

Echoing the themes of Deal Hudson’s 1998 Catholic-voter report, Obama said, “The single biggest gap in party affiliation among white Americans today is not between men and women, or those who reside in so-called red states and those who reside in blue, but between those who attend church regularly and those who don’t.” He told secularists that they “are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square,” and suggested that “a sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state.”

He went on, “Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation—context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase ‘under God.’ I didn’t. Having voluntary student prayer groups use school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats.”

The entire article is well worth a read--and it concludes that the juty is still out on whether Obama can indeed win these voters.

Genetic Diversity in Europe

Well. I am back from a tough month at work followed by a week's vacation. In searching the web today, I found Ed Young's fascinating account about how European genes mirror European geography:

Within a drop of blood, you can find all the information you need to reasonably guess where a person came from, without ever having to look at their face, name or passport. Small variations in our DNA are enough for the task. They can be used to pinpoint someone's place of origin to a remarkable degree of accuracy, often to within a few hundred kilometres.

The new discovery comes from a team of Swiss and American researchers led by John Novembre at UCLA, who wanted to understand how the human genome varies on a continental scale. To that end, they looked at the genomes of over 1.300 people sampled from almost three dozen countries across Europe. The sample was originally collected by GlaxoSmithKline to hunt out genetic variations that influence the effectiveness of drugs and their side effects, but Novembre's team put it to use in understanding the links between genes and geography instead.

They analysed at single-letter differences in DNA ("single nucleotide polymorphisms" or SNPs) at about 200,000 places in each of the genomes. They compared this data to each person's country of origin as well as that of their grandparents if possible.

. . .

The result was startling - the genetic and geopolitical maps of Europe overlap to a remarkable degree. On the two-dimensional genetic map, you can make out Italy's boot and the Iberian peninsula where Spain and Portugal sit. The Scandinavian countries appear in the right order and in the south-east, Cyprus sits distinctly off the "coast" of Greece.

Zoom in closer, and the map even reveals distinct genetic cluster within Switzerland based on the language people speak. German-speaking Swiss cluster to the east, Italian speakers to the south and Francophiles to the west. Even so, the clusters overlap and in general, the data reveals a genetic continuum between Europeans, where the borders of the genetic map are fuzzier than those of its geographical counterpart. As far as genes are concerned, the closer together two people live, the more similar their DNA is.

. . .

The results have implications for a lot of biomedical research. Many scientists are scanning entire genomes on a hunt for SNPs that affect a person's risk of diseases like cancer or their reaction to drugs. Novembre says that researchers who are running these "whole-genome studies" need to bear in mind where their sample has come from. Even if a study looks at a small and seemingly related parts of Europe, it would have to adjust for any geographical influences in the genetic variations it uncovers.

Read it all here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Catholics, Evangelicals and Abortion

Ed Kilgore has a fascinating essay at Beliefnet about the fact that Evangelicals are foar more pro-Life than Catholics:

There are variable measurements of this phenomenon, but no real doubt about the basics. A September 2007 Pew survey showed white evangelical Protestants agreeing that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases by a 65-31 magin; Catholics favored keeping abortion legal in all or most cases by a 51-44 margin (with no appreciable difference between Hispanic and non-Hispanic Catholics). On a related issue that helps measure the intensity of anti-abortion views, the same poll showed white evangelicals opposing embryonic stem cell research by 57-31, while white non-Hispanic Catholics favored it by 59-32.

Moreover, the evangelical-Catholic gap on abortion looks likely to increase in the future. An April 2004 Pew survey providing generational breakdowns showed that white evangelicals under 35 favored abortion restrictions by more than a two-to-one margin (71% among those under 25), while those over 65 actually (if narrowly) opposed more restrictions. The generational trend lines among white Catholics moved in exactly the opposite direction.

Ed then explores why this should be the case, given the consistent and forceful teachings on abortion by the Catholic hierarchy. He offers some conjectures, but even he is not very satisfied with his answers:

so whence cometh today's white evangelical anti-abortion ferver? One theory is that these folk are radically alienated from contemporary American culture, and view legalized abortion (along with premarital sex, open gay/lesbian lifestyles, and TV/Hollywood "trash culture") as a symbol of a depraved society. This is undoubtedly the view of some well-known evangelical leaders like James Dobson, who often indulges himself in Nazi analogies for the "Holocaust" of abortion. But objective measurements of evangelical cultural alienation are generally ambivalent, and they are famously enthusiastic about adopting contemporary culture in their own liturgical and missionary practices.

Another theory, for which I can offer little other than plausible conjecture, is that the "framing" of the abortion issue--particular its treament as fundamentally a matter of the reproductive rights of women, or of personal privacy--that underlies the pro-choice argument is simply uncompelling to many white evangelicals. Aside from the strongly anti-feminist bias of much of contemporary evangelical teaching, American evangelicals have become strongly averse to the libertarian traditions of church-state separation and protection of individual conscience that once was a central feature of their own belief system. And perhaps an inability to even hear the pro-choice case has reinforced the impact of such secular phenomena as widely available sonogram images of fetal development.

The bottom line is that I don't know, and I'm not sure anyone knows, if Barack Obama or any other pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-feminist politician or party can make significant inroads into the white evangelical vote by minor tweaks in abortion policies or how they are presented. Evangelicals, of course, care about other issues like the war in Iraq, the economy, the environment, and corruption in Washington, that could incline them towards a vote for a Democratic presidential or congresstional candidate. And that's why (along with chronic disappointment with GOP promises to "deliver" on cultural issues like abortion) so many evangelical leaders like Rick Warren are expressing an openness to two-party competition.

Read it all here.

I doubt that the answer lies in religious doctrine. Instead, I think the answer lies more squarely in culture. Abortion is but one of many issues in which many American Roman Catholics quietly disagree with church teachings.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Political Interlude: The State of the Race

Charles Franklin consistently offers great analysis on politics and polling and this chart is a great example. It compares polling in this year's presidential race to the last two races. It shows that Obama is in better shape now than Kerry and Gore were at this point in the race. But it also shows the extreme volatility in all presidential races inthe final months that means that this race really is too close to call. Democrats who want Obama to be elected presidnet can't be complacant: they need to work hard for the victory.

Here is some analysis by Franklin:

But what about the future? The dynamics of the next 92 days are all important for where we stand on November 4. Since we can't foresee those 92 days yet, let's see what happened during the same time in 2000 and 2004. That gives us a better idea how much change we might anticipate in the next three months.

In 2004, Kerry slowly built a 2 point lead by this time, and held a small lead through much of the summer. But then the race took a sharp turn, with Bush making a 6 point run, taking a four point lead with 50 days to go. Kerry gained back 3 points of that in the polling, but less than 2 points of it in the actual vote, losing by a 2.4 point margin.

In 2000, Bush led in most of the early polls, holding a 6 point lead with 107 days to go. Then Gore moved sharply up, erasing Bush's lead and then adding a 3 point lead for Gore with about 56 days left. Bush promptly reversed Gore's gains with a six point move in the GOP's direction, and led by about 3 points over the last three weeks of the campaign. Of course, the 2000 polls were misleading in predicting a Bush win. Gore won the popular vote by 0.6 points.

So far in 2008, Obama has enjoyed a run up of 5.5 points since his low point in late March. That run is on a par with Bush's in 2004 but still a bit less than Gore's 9 point run in 2000, and on par the Bush's 6 point rebound that year.

Judging from the dynamics we've seen in the past it is quite reasonable to expect the current trend to shift by half-a-dozen points. August and the conventions have been periods of substantial change in both previous elections, so if history repeats itself the next 4 or 5 weeks should be pretty interesting.

The bottom line is neither campaign should be complacent or despondent. There is a lot of time left and recent history shows that both up and down swings of 6-9 points are entirely plausible.

Read it all here.

Its the Creation Stupid

Nick Reeves, executive director of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, has this post on the Guardian's "Comment is Free" blog that argues that religious leaders need to take an interest in environmental issus:

Profiling the award-winning environmental campaign work of Archbishop Bartholomew of Constantinople, spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, Riazat Butt asks if religion can help prevent eco-catastrophe (The pope of hope, June 18). After all, as the archbishop told Butt: "Religious people were indifferent, or even hostile, to science. Scientists and ecologists could see little relationship between their world and the world of faith."

At a global environment conference in London last year, my professional institution, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, brought together representatives of all the major faiths. There was one matter on which they all agreed: the need to collaborate for action on the environment, and especially on climate change. The leadership of Archbishop Bartholomew was seen as a beacon.

But faith groups have been silent for too long on this crisis, and should do far more to remind us of our moral duty to restore and protect the fragile ecological balance of the planet. As the archbishop said: "We are all culpable. Each one of us has a smaller or greater contribution to the deliberate degradation of nature."

Butt, in reporting the environmentalism of some religious leaders, suggests that an ecological coalition of faiths is possible: "There is hardly a religious leader in the world now who is not preoccupied by the problems of pollution and climate change." And it's true. In the last year or so we have seen faith leaders including the Dalai Lama, the Bishop of Liverpool and Pope Benedict step down from the pulpit and speak directly on environmental issues. This is good news and "God-bothering" of the sort we need for the 21st century.

What the faith groups can offer is a framework - ethical, spiritual, imaginative and intellectual - for the pursuit of all the good that relates to human destiny. Fazlun Khalid, director of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, has urged faiths to civilise and change behaviour for a fairer, sustainable world. But they must engage with people and evangelise first - heeding Bartholomew's big idea for an economic model that is about replenishment, compassion and nurturing. In other words: it's creation, stupid!

Read it all here.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Doug Chaplin on Scripture and Homosexuality III

In his wonderful series on homosexuality in the Bible, Father Doug Chaplin reaches the critical reference to Romans 1:18-32. I really urge you to read the whole post--it has many themes that are well worth thinking about. But here are some highlights to whet your appetite:

I think Romans is written to a very specific situation in Rome, where there are significant divisions between Jew and Gentile Christians. I think Paul both wants to secure a welcome for himself as a character some saw as divisive, and to encourage them to mend the breach. In the opening chapters he is keen to get both sides to agree that in fact all, Gentile and Jew alike, have sinned. He first expounds a common view of Gentile sinfulness from a Jewish perspective, then a typical Gentile criticism of Jewish hypocrisy. Both of these are examples of a rhetorical device – speech-in-character (prosopopeia). They serve to get heads nodding in agreement first on one side, then on the other, until both have been led together to the conclusion that “there is no-one righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3:10). From this point Paul is able to introduce Jesus as the pattern of faithfulness to death which both reverses this sinful pattern and provides the means of atonement for it. (Rom 3:25)

On this analysis, Paul’s words on homosexuality are part of what is presented as a typical Jewish attack on Gentile morality.

. . .

This is certainly painted on a larger canvas than previous denunciations we’ve looked at, yet its nature as speech-in-character, and its place in the argument of the letter means that it must be recognisable as commonplace, not as startlingly original Pauline theology. There is, however, nothing to show that Paul wouldn’t share this prosopopeic critique; indeed, there is good reason to suppose that he would hold pretty much the same view as his rhetorical Jewish character.

The passage (and this is one good reason for assuming Paul chose his speech-in-character carefully and to mesh with his broader theological picture) locates itself in a narrative of creation and rebellion, at the heart of which lies idolatry. There are many recognisable parallels between what Paul writes here and Wisdom 13-14 and this is the core of the shared analysis: idolatry, which leads to degrading, unnatural and wicked behaviour. One possibility is that Paul may be alluding to two stories in his treatment of what is unnatural (Rom 1:26 “against nature” = τὴν παρὰ φύσιν). I suspect that behind the accusation against the women is the story of the Nephilim in Genesis 6 where there is a mingling of angels and women. Likewise, I wonder whether the story of Sodom is behind what Paul says about men: otherwise it is a little hard to see what he means in context by “the due penalty for their error”. This would, unlike OT interpretations of the Sodom story, align Paul with Jude 6-7, which also seems to combine the two stories in close proximity. Paul is more explicit than Jude in linking this behaviour to a disordering of God’s creation, presumably a part of what he later refers to as its having been made subject to futility (Rom 8:20). The sexual disordering, however, is a consequence of the primary disordering, which is worshipping the created (idols) instead of the Creator (God). It is as much as anything a sign of human estrangement from God.

. . .

Perhaps one of the oddest things about the passage (and another reason for thinking Paul has these “past events” in mind is that the sexually unnatural behaviour, symptomatic of the disordering of creation, seems to fall between the primal sin of idolatry, and the everyday sins of humanity, where Paul’s list, oddly, includes no sexual sins. “They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” If you haven’t ever committed even one of those sins, please leave your name in the comments.

Where then does this leave us?

  • Paul’s treatment of same-sex activity doesn’t belong in any straightforward way to his list of sins, It belongs primarily to his narrative of how creation became disordered.

  • Paul’s whole argument in the first half of Romans, into which this speech-in-character fits well, is that the whole of creation is disordered, and is being re-ordered in and through Christ.

  • Exploring that context of order and disorder, creation and recreation in Christ, offers perhaps the most fruitful way forward, and picks up on a concern I’ve noted in looking at some of the other texts.

  • Whatever else Paul is saying, he has influenced the whole Christian tradition in ways which are generally supported by our perceptions of life. The way the world is is not the way it is meant to be. It is deeply problematic simply to read off from where we are or what we are, and say “this is how God made me”.

  • Given that Paul sees same-sex behaviour as a consequence of idolatry, it is hard to imagine how he might respond to the idea of same-sex activity between those who on every other index except this one appear to be faithful Christians.

  • Despite the fact that there is more theological context here, it is not a context dealing with same-sex behaviour, which is part of the argument, not the point of the argument. Thus this is not Paul’s creative and considered pastoral theology. It is, if you like, part of his theological hinterland, which as his missionary and pastoral context calls for, he can either draw upon, and drastically reshape around the Christocentric core of his gospel. It is, I suggest, more a case of “Paul thinks” than “Paul teaches”.

  • Paul’s oft quoted words in the context of this discussion “those who practice such things deserve to die – yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them”are in fact applicable only by implication to the sexual behaviours he references, and directly to a wide range of sins including being gossips, slanderers, haughty, boastful, heartless, ruthless and many more. See why I told you to be nice in the comments!

I will attempt in a subsequent post to pull some threads together and see where we go next, but in my view this text does offer a more significant contribution towards exploring what it means to be caught up in a disordered creation which God is drawing into a new Christ-ordered one. Nonetheless, I find it poses more questions than answers, and we need to consider further some of the biblical, theological and pastoral themes that might help us explore those questions.

Read it all here.

Bishop Kirk Smith on Lambeth

My bishop, Kirk Smith of Arizona, offers some encouraging words about Lambeth:

I was amazed about how well this morning's session went. You may be reading in the press about how fragmented we are. But this is due to the fact that a few hot heads are are quick to cozy up to any reporter they can find. There are two or three American bishops here who would like nothing better than to see the Conference fail. The truth is that there is an (dare I say it?) almost miraculous cooperative and respectful spirit at work here. This morning for example, there was no mention of punishing the Americans. The word "accountability" was not even mentioned. Instead, we talked a lot about the example of a marriage covenant which is based not on punishment but on a spirit of the parties "loving each other no matter what." It was pointed out that the current proposed Covenant with all its provisions for kicking people out of the Communion sounds more like a pre-nuptial agreement than a marriage covenant!

If my group is typical, and from what I can tell, it is, there are some pretty clear themes: 1. There is a desire to stay together, no matter what. Relationships are more important that doctrine. 2. Most want a covenant that is an affirming rather than a disciplinary doctrine. 3. People have little regard for the Primates. 4. We want to meet together more often and work together more closely.

All this seem very positive to me. But remember--this Conference is only a consulting body, there will be no policy declaration issued when we get done. The work we do will be sent onto the Covenant design group that meets in September. They in turn will report to the Anglican Consultative Council at their meeting in May. The ACC has three options: 1)Reject the final draft of the Covenant,2)Send it back for more work, 3)Pass it onto the Provinces for final approval. My guess is that thanks to the work done here, the draft the ACC gets in the spring will look much different than the St Andrew's draft we have before us today.

Read it all here.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Doug Chaplin on Scripture and Homosexuality II

Doug Chaplin has continued his exploration of the Scriptures and Homosexuality. His latest post discusses 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11, both of which seem to include "sodomites" in a list of sins. Here are highlights from Doug's excellent analysis:

Here are 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 from the NRSV.

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (1 Timothy 1:8-11)

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers– none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

. . .

Embedded within both lists as one of these “typical” sorts of sinner, is the one the NRSV chooses to translate as “sodomites” – ἀρσενοκοῖται (arsenokoitai). As far as I can see, whether reading conservative authors like Robert Gagnon, or liberal ones like Dale Martin, in the end what we think this word means is a best guess. The argument from etymology (not one I normally like) is, in the absence of better arguments from usage, something to which we have to give more weight. That etymology indicates something like “those (men) who go to bed with men”. It seems to me quite likely that it’s a made up word, possibly within Jewish or Christian circles (based on the language the Greek Bible used to translate Leviticus), and probably as a term of abuse. Since the first use of the word we know about is in these lists, and much of its subsequent usage is also in lists, we don’t have much help in finding out whether it had a precise or a general meaning. It could have a very broad context, and include a wide range of sexual activity between men. It could have a much narrower context, whether in the context of allowing oneself to be a passive partner, the abuse of a slave, rape or the “educational relationships” between men and boys, or something else. The point about a best guess is that we don’t know. Most of the English translations not only make it sound as though we know.

I haven’t said anything about the other word sometimes enlisted in the argument. That malakoi (μαλακοί) means “soft ones” or “the effeminate” is fairly clear. However, since effeminacy could also mean anything from being far too interested in women’s company, and dressing up to seduce them, through cowardice, to being a man willing to be penetrated by another and so on and so on, we need more context to know how to translate it here. It could just as easily be paired with the preceding adulterers (μοιχοί) as the following arsenokoitai (ἀρσενοκοῖται.) It is better, probably, to look for a neutral and inclusive term such as the NJB’s “the self-indulgent” than risk being wrongly specific.

This is where it is important to remember just how much interpretation goes into reading and translation. If “the Bible said” what the NET says: “The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God” – if that was the text, we might all know better where we stood. But it does not, and there is far too much interpretation in such a translation. It is this sort of sure and certain over-interpretation which raises a suspicion (however unjustified) of other influences affecting the reading.

In short, I find that these texts have comparatively little to say. Some form of not entirely clear sexual activity between men is listed in two vice lists, one aimed at distinguishing the behaviour of pre-conversion Gentiles from the life that fits the kingdom of God, the other at distinguishing the sort of sinful behaviour that might characterise false teachers. Both lists appear to be associated with what one can be redeemed from. But whatever the behaviour is, the writer(s) of these vice lists take(s) it as axiomatic that it is wrong, and seriously wrong at that. But in my view that’s part of the problem. There’s no hint of theological reflection at all, so we have no idea why they’re saying what they’re saying about whatever form of sexual activity between men they have in view. We’re not quite sure precisely what is condemned, and we’ve no idea why, not on the basis of these texts. We are however, pretty sure it’s condemned. That makes the task of faithful interpretation more difficult than is often admitted.

Read it all here. Here are links to the other posts in this series:

Gay questions to straight answers

Texts of Queer Terror (1)

The stranger angel: texts of queer terror (2)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tobias Haller on Universalism and Relativism

Tobais Haller has another great post oday about universalism and relativism:

Two of the most common accusations directed these days at The Episcopal Church is that it tends towards a relativistic ethic and a universalist view of salvation. I'm concerned to clarify these terms a bit, for they seem rather vague. I tend, myself, towards absolute moral standards tempered by an ethic based on certain biblical principles elaborated by Jesus and Paul. And I hope for universal salvation, but hope is not belief.

That being said, some further clarity is warranted. As to what moral relativism might look like, would this qualify: "I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean." (Romans 14:14 )? I would call that "subjective" — and I suppose one might see subjectivism as a subset of relativism.

But I also think that the actors, situation, intent, and so forth have to figure in any moral or ethical judgment — there are very few acts that in and of themselves are always morally wrong regardless of these other factors.

To use the late Richard Norris' example, it is o.k. for a surgeon to stick a scalpel into someone, but not for an assassin. The act of "knife insertion" is only deemed moral or immoral on the basis of these other factors.

To take an example closer to home, you could not, if shown a photograph of a couple engaged in heavy necking (or more), be able to tell simply on the basis of the photograph if this was a moral or immoral act. You would need to know certain things concerning them and their relationship with each other, and possible others, to make such a determination. But once these other things are known, it is possible to make an absolute judgment, and to stand by it: for instance, assassination and adultery are always morally wrong. (Utilitarian, teleological, or consequentialist ethicists might fudge on these both, given the circumstances; I would rather stick, as Bonhoeffer himself did, with the notion that sometimes wrong acts have extenuating circumstances, but that they are still wrong, and those who commit them are responsible for them. Thank God, God forgave even those who crucified him, and they were about as wrong as wrong gets.)

Which brings me to universalism. Would this, also from Paul, qualify: "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob." (Rom 11:25-26)?

Paul makes a compelling case for universal salvation (the healing of the wound of sin; not the same thing at all as "going to heaven" whatever that unbiblical phrase might mean), and he bases it on his understanding of the universality of sin itself. It is reciprocal: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Cor 15:22) Just as we did not fall under sin on our own account or by our own actions, so too we are not saved by our own efforts or actions. It is the faith of Christ (even unto death), not our personal faith in Christ, that saves us (from eternal death).* He is the savior, not we ourselves.

That's how it works, folks, and it is a great mystery.

Read it here.

More on Obama's Faith Outreach

David Brody of the Christain Broadcast Network has an interesting post today about Obama's faith outreach. He notes that Obama discussed it with members of Congress yesterday:

The Brody File has learned that the Obama campaign met with over 30 House members and senior staff this morning to strategize on Obama's faith outreach strategy this fall.

A meeting participant tells The Brody File it was a "high level strategy session" that focused on how to stress Barack Obama's family values and how to respond to faith based attacks from his religious conservative critics on the right. The off-the-record briefing was led by Obama's religious outreach team and when the meeting was over, House members and senior staff in the room agreed to host values forums in their district and talk publicly about Obama's family values in their surrogate work. The meeting focused quite a bit on Catholic outreach. According to one member in the room, the mood was very positive and upbeat.

House members present included Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Congressman Tim Ryan (they both have been working on a House bill that would work to reduce the amount of abortions in the country) Congressman Mel Watt, former Congressman Tim Roemer, speaker Pelosi's senior advisor and others. During the meeting, Congresswoman DeLauro told the group the following: "It's a miracle that we're even in this room, as Democrats. But we're not here for show; we're here for work."

And folks, that's the important point to remember here. The Democratic Party is serious about courting faith voters. The tables have been turned. The Democrats are serious about this.

John Kerry wasn't the best candidate to carry out that faith message in 2004. But fast forward to 2008 and in steps Barack Obama. He has a faith narrative that complements what the DNC has been trying to do the last 5 years or so. It's a match made in Heaven so to speak.

read it all here.

Bishop Alan Wilson on the Bible

One of the "blogging Bishops" at Lambeth, Bishop Alan Wilson of Buckingham, has a great post today about what Anglicans think about the authority of the Bible:

  • I have not met anyone here of whom it would be true to say simply that they do not believe in the Authority of Scripture. How we believe in what kind of authority are other questions. Here are some indications of the ways a group of us form five continents, in Indaba, saw our distinctively Anglican use of the Bible. How are we, as Anglicans, “formed by Scrpture?”

  • The Word of God is a person, not a text. In Islam, for example, the Qu’ran is a privileged untransalteable text. For Christians Scrupture has authority as it is interprteed and applied, not as a simple absolute. We are very resistant to idolatry; idolatry of the book, idolatry of reason, idolatry of tradition. All three are resources for the Spirit, not totems or weapons against other children of God. We need to interpret the Scriptures through the icon of Christ.

  • We take the text very seriously in itself, in all of its subtlety, richness, occasional divergence and uncertainty. We begin with what it means in its own terms and historical context. So we establish the Sctipture we transmit and guard, distinguishing it carefully from our response. For example, in the Early Church women were to wear hats and be submissive so as to win their husbands for Christ. How would a woman in any of our various contemporary cultures behave so as to reflect Christ to her spouse and wn them? Absolutizing wearing hats in itself is a superficial and inadequately contextualized response to this text.

  • We then go on to take an honest view of our real world circumstances. Scripture speaks directly to each person, as who they are and where they are. Therefore we need to be aware of our own cultural spectacles as we read, before we try and inculturate any meaning we believe we can derive from the text. The Holy Spirit inspires a process of recognition and sympathetic resonance, by which Christ speaks to us where we are, and as the people we are.

    Our Church community and communion that hold us accountable to the Scriptures, as this process is prayerfully pursued in fellowship. If you want to know what we believe, and how the Scriptures form us, worship with us.

  • There has tendency in the post-enlightenment West to erect Reason into an absolute, or even idol. Even Conservative Anglicans sometimes mine the scriptures for soundbites or notions, then extract them from their context and absolutize them in a way that can even compromise basic principles of Christian discipleship. Sometimes (as in prosperity theology) one element is isolated against others in a distorting way. It is the whole counsel of God we must seek, distinguishing clearly between the use of our mind as a tool for discernment, into which God can speak, and any tendency to engage in merely rationalist discourse, Conservative or Liberal.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Martin Marty on Catholic Change

Martin Marty has a "Sightings" column on the ordination of women. The post focuses less on the merits of the ordination of women than on the argument that Cathoic doctrine is unchangeable:

Whether Catholics should change and begin ordination of women is their business, not mine, at least not here and today, though outcomes of Catholic debates do have huge "public religion" consequences. I can only testify to the manifest blessings so many churches, like my own (ELCA), have received during the past half-century from the ministry of women-ordained. My business instead picks up on Egan's closing paragraph, where he argues against Sr. Butler's reversion to and repetition of the claim that Rome does not change. He orthodoxly celebrates the constancy of teachings from Rome. But: "New questions arise, and new horizons open, cultures themselves are transformed, and the fund of human knowledge changes." His article has no room to provide chapter and verse when he lists understandings and teachings in which Rome "has changed dramatically, in ways that could not have been foreseen."

He offers a short list. You could look 'em up: "on slavery, women's inferiority, the divine right of kings, the uses of torture, the status and dignity of the Jewish people, the execution of heretics, the idea of religious liberty, the moral legitimacy of democratic governments, the indispensability of Thomism, the structure of the universe itself." In all these cases, after Catholic change has been virtually total and quickly taken for granted, one is hard put to think back to when it supported slavery, women's inferiority, torture, et cetera, or opposed the items just listed which it now affirms.

Several years ago Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabbin, editors, corralled eighteen scholars who tracked papal statements which suggest significant revisions and reversals in "understanding and teaching," in Rome Has Spoken. Their authors, for example, tell of "Usury: Once a Sin, Now Good Stewardship." Evolution. Positive views of sexual expression within marriage, changes in scriptural interpretation, ecumenism, and more. Admittedly, the nature and extent of changes on some of these subjects are open to debate and should be debated. But change there certainly has been.

"Religious Freedom" is the change most recognized and experienced by modern publics. Rome Has Spoken quotes a dozen papal prohibitions against religious freedom from 1184 to 1906. Change came suddenly, beginning with Pius XII in 1946, more explicitly with John XXIII in 1963 and then, conciliarly, at the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Just 102 years ago, Pius X was still teaching the following in a papal encyclical: "that the state must be separated from the church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error…an obvious negation of the supernatural order." "Rome" changed, and admitted it did so – and survived. Globally, it flourishes now most where it had persecuted least.

Read it all here.

Of course, many (but not all) items on this list are also true of Anglicans (and other Christian denominations as well). Tradition is important, but it has its limits as a source of authority.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Theo Hobson on Lambeth

I found these comments by Theo Hobson on the Lambeth Conference quite interesting:

Of course it makes perfect sense to avoid resolutions and just talk. This is what should have happened 10 years ago. Instead, the Lambeth Conference passed the divisive resolution condemning homosexuality. It had been on the fence on sexuality, and it fell off. Can it get back on, and resume its drift to a liberal position? Can it move away from its official discriminatory policy, and affirm the right of each province to make its own rules on sexuality? Is this what most bishops want? It's hard to say.

I arrived at the conference with a rough typology of Anglican opinion in mind. The basic division of evangelical and liberal can be sub-divided: there are evangelicals who accept Williams' leadership, and those who don't. Those who don't, of course, have mostly stayed away. And there are liberals who fully support Williams' approach, and those who worry that it's a sell-out. So both the evangelicals and the liberals can be divided into the loyalists, and those who want a new, sharper approach – let's call them the itchy.

Despite the boycott, there are plenty of itchy evangelicals here. Yesterday the Sudanese archbishop urged the Americans and Canadians to repent of their liberalism, and other African bishops are bound to give the hacks similar not-very-new news stories in the coming days. Yet the majority of evangelicals fall into the loyalist camp. They believe the conference will strengthen the communion around the existing orthodoxy.

The majority of the English bishops seem to be loyal liberals. They want a liberalisation of the communion's position on sexuality in the long run, but are wary of pressing the issue – unity comes first. What about the itchy liberals, those who aren't so philosophical about the continuing exclusion of gays, and consider the non-participation of Gene Robinson to be an offence against traditional Anglican tolerance? They hardly seem to exist. You won't find an English bishop wanting to criticise Williams for a failure of liberal leadership.

So why aren't the liberals itchier? This is the big question. Is it because they are too weak to form a protest lobby? No: the answer is more complex. The reason is that the liberals have a deep trust that the communion's position on sexuality will liberalise, given time. Of course they cannot say this – because it contravenes the existing orthodoxy, and also because it would sound colonial – "let's wait for the developing nations to catch up". In other words, they follow their leader's example: bite your tongue and wait for the Holy Spirit to enlighten the communion.

. . .

This is the "unofficial official" line of the conference: reform must come, but slowly-slowly, so that the cause of global evangelism is not harmed, and Anglican unity not further broken. In theory of course, the conference has no "line" at all – bishops will listen to each other, and then a "reflection" statement will be produced that affirms the existing orthodoxy. This is why so many evangelicals have boycotted: they knew that this tacit reformist agenda would be present.

So the whole event is an incredibly delicate exercise in long-distance liberalism. Luckily for Williams, there seems to be a majority view in favour of this. (The Gafcon boycott is actually a Godsend.) Yes, of course there will be evangelical demands that the Americans and Canadians are excommunicated, but these demands will spur the rest into defending unity, and praising the efforts of their leader. You have to marvel at Williams' careful cunning, which of course entails a sort of holy hypocrisy.

Read it all here.

Ruth Marcus on Candy Bombers

This is a name-droppers dream: my law school friend Ruth Marcus (now an opinion writer at the Washington Post) has a column tdoay about Candy Bombers, a book written by my friend Andrei Cherny. (Really, they are both my friends--you can check out my Facebook page for proof. Grin).

In any event, Ruth's op-ed and Andrei's book are both worth reading. Here are some highlights from Ruth's column:

The city is in dire straits -- its economy shattered, its citizens desperately hungry. Random violence is rising, electricity is sporadic. Three years after the invasion, hope for a brief occupation has faded. The mission is to build democracy from the ruins of dictatorship, but sober analysts question whether a flaw in the national character makes freedom unattainable.

This is not Baghdad 2008 but Berlin 1948, which makes the reunified German capital a particularly fitting venue for Barack Obama's speech tomorrow. The lush Tiergarten where Obama will speak was then a wasteland where Berliners struggled to grow vegetables in the shadow of the bombed-out Reichstag.

. . .

The story of the Berlin Airlift and Halvorsen's mission is told in "The Candy Bombers," a new book by Democratic strategist Andrei Cherny. If the plural of anecdotes is not data, the stacking of historical analogies is not sound policy. Yet, as Cherny writes, "Their story has powerful resonance for our own time. In confronting the Berlin blockade, America went to battle against a destructive ideology that threatened free people around the world. In a country we invaded and occupied that had never had a stable democracy, we brought freedom and turned their people's hatred of America into love for this country, its people, and its ideals."

The lessons of the Berlin Airlift are anything but simple, which is what makes it such a useful historical moment. Cherny's book is something of a Rorschach test on Iraq: The message readers receive may depend on the mindset with which they arrived.

Thus, Obama can rightly point to the airlift as evidence that maintaining America's moral voice is an essential component of its foreign policy. The United States stands to gain as much from a modern-day Candy Bomber as it risks losing from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Those who doubt the capacity of government, in the aftermath of Katrina, to mobilize quickly and implement deftly can take heart from the example of organizational whiz Bill Tunner, who turned a slapdash operation incapable of supplying Berlin into a precision drill that kept the beleaguered city going through a long winter.

Harry Truman's steadfastness in the face of contrary advisers -- some argued for yielding Berlin to the Soviets, others advocated a collision course on the ground -- demonstrated how a determined president, having unleashed the atomic bomb, could then find the narrow path between foolish appeasement and full-scale war. Obama can safely argue that Truman's restrained course was wiser than George W. Bush's rush to war.

But there are lessons from the airlift that should be more unsettling for those, like Obama, who want to be done with Iraq. The impulse of many Americans then, just as now, was to be finished with the entire project. " 'Get Germany off the American taxpayer's back' was the call of conservatives in Congress," Cherny writes.

An occupation that looked irretrievably lost by spring 1948 turned paradoxically into success as the blockade continued. Berliners' misery deepened, but so, too, did their faith in America and democracy. Berliners who had told pollsters since the war's end that they would choose "economic security" over "freedom" changed their attitudes in the face of American kindnesses.

Read it all here.

(For the record, I think the Berlin as Baghdad analogy faulty).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Are Solutions to Climate Change Feasible?

The debate on climate change has seemed to have shifted from whether there is a problem (the overwhelming consensus--except in the Republican caucuses in Congress)--is that there is a problem), to how best to address the problem. do we lower carbon emissions? Or invest instead in dealing with the change?

A study out of Minnesota suggest that reducing climate change is feasible:

The research team, which will release the new study July 22, modeled emissions for Minnesota and found that it is possible to reduce emissions by 30 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050 and possibly exceed those numbers if a combination of strategies are implemented, including reducing fuel consumption, increasing fuel efficiencies and fuel carbon content and by using new methods for designing communities. However, the researchers point out that the methods could be applied nationally. In fact, history shows that when one state or city implements environmental policy changes, the nation often follows.

The emission reduction goal is achievable if action starts today," said Bob Johns, director of the Center for Transportation Studies. "By changing the amount of traveling we do, purchasing vehicles with higher fuel efficiency and adopting low-carbon fuel standards we can exceed the goals that the Minnesota legislature has put before us and be a leader in the nation for reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

"This study provides a great starting point for the 2009 legislative session and will help facilitate a thorough debate and good policy development to create cost effective solutions and improve Minnesota's energy security," said Rep. Melissa Hortman, who commissioned the study.

The researchers say that the majority of the changes don't require any costly or new technologies and are applicable in other states too, not just Minnesota.

. . .

For instance, the savings from buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle can offset the added cost of technology in less than a year by using technologies that are already available and manufacturing vehicles that achieve the CAFE standards and even go beyond them.

The study also suggests improving fuel economy for heavy-duty fleet by refining aerodynamics, using lower rolling-resistance tires and reducing speed. Those changes could contribute about 13 percent of the transportation sector's reduction goal by 2015. There could be an even greater emission reduction if goods movement shifts from truck and airplane to rail and boat.

"The technology to make this happen exists, it is just a matter of using it," said David Kittelson, professor of mechanical engineering and study researcher. "The engines we use in our cars are no worse or better than the engines they have in passenger cars in Japan or Germany - the difference is, we put our engines in enormous cars."

Read it all here.

Ignoring the Atheist Vote?

Francis Wilkinson has an interesting post at the New York Times noting that while neither McCain nor Obama are making any efforts to gain the atheist vote, this was not true of past campaigns:

White evangelical and born-again Christians account for nearly one fourth of the electorate — a prize understandably worth fighting over. However, what we won’t see, yet again, this year is either candidate acknowledge — let alone pander to — the 16 percent of Americans categorized by the Pew Forum on Religion and Society as atheist, agnostic or free-range “nothing in particular.” It seems American politicians scarcely think twice about sidling up to the religious fringe — Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama each has had the odd preacher in the attic. But, fearing the wrath of the righteous, they’d rather be struck by lightning than show a glimmer of respect for nonbelievers.

Their forebears on the campaign trail were not all so skittish. At the end of the 19th century, Robert Ingersoll was the most notorious heretic in the land, famous for his lectures debunking Christianity and the Bible. Yet Republicans — yes, the party of George W. Bush and the Rev. Pat Robertson — begged him to campaign in their behalf.
Campaign, he did. For more than two decades, Ingersoll barnstormed across the country drawing huge crowds, including one at an 1896 campaign appearance in Chicago for William McKinley that the Chicago Tribune claimed was 20,000 strong. Ingersoll was not merely a stage attraction but a confidant of Republican leaders — and a highly public one. In a masterful speech, he nominated Senator James G. Blaine for president at the party’s 1876 convention in Cincinnati and nearly won Blaine the nomination. When Blaine lost the contest to Rutherford B. Hayes, Ingersoll stumped vigorously for Hayes in turn.
Ingersoll’s lectures on religion — “Some Mistakes of Moses” was a typical title — left the pious apoplectic. Evangelicals considered his influence so pernicious that they organized a day of prayer for his conversion. (He thanked them for their concern but remained happily heretical.)
His pointed, often comical, impiety probably cost him a cabinet post or ambassadorship, but Ingersoll’s proximity to President Hayes and his Republican successors was nonetheless on open display; they didn’t reach for garlic and crucifixes when “Pope Bob” visited the White House.
Victorian America, that supposedly repressed, high-button era, not only tolerated Ingersoll, it celebrated him, rewarding him with respect and wealth and honors. Mark Twain called Ingersoll a “master,” and Walt Whitman described him as “a bright, magnificent constellation.” But Ingersoll struck a chord that reverberated beyond the cultural elite. Tens of thousands of Americans, from Buffalo to New Orleans, paid money to listen, laugh and learn at the feet of the Great Agnostic, even if they didn’t share his views. Clerics were often spotted in the crowds.

. . .

Looking back from this era in which political discourse is bound by religious strictures, Ingersoll’s legend seems not only distant but tall, as though he were a kind of Paul Bunyan of blasphemy. Today, no major politician would risk association with the brilliant and big-hearted Great Agnostic, whose oratory commanded the late 19th century stage like no other. Devoted father, husband, friend and patriot be damned. Piety trumps all.

Read it all here. It is also worth looking at the wikipedia profile of Ingersoll. Ingersoll was certainly an agnostic and a critic of releigion, but he was much, much more. He apparantly was viewed as the great orator of his day, and he focused on issues beyond religion.