Showing posts from January, 2008

Super Tuesday: Some Political Analysis

This is very off topic for this blog, but I am sorry--I am a political junky and the Presidential race is just too fascinating to ignore this year. For what its worth, here is my analysis of the state of the Presidential race as we come close to Super Tuesday.

Before I separately analyze the Republ;ican and Democratic races, it is important tio emphasize the importance of Super Tuesday. Over 40% of the Delegates at the two conventions will be selected that day. And, unlike in previous years, the states in play are all over the country.

Republican Race

My prediction is that after Super Tuesday, John McCain will not have enough delgates to win the nomination, but his lead will be nearly insurmountable. The battle may well continue, but in the end I think McCain will get the nomination. (I happen to think that McCain is the best Republican choice for the country, but this may be bad news for Arizona Democrats.)

Why do I think so? First, it is important to understand how delegates are ch…

An Example of Reconciliation

As the battle rages in the Anglican Communion between the so-called progressives and orthodox on the issue of same sex relationships, reconciliation seems both badly needed--and misunderstood.

To be clear, reconciliation does not mean giving up on ones values, positions or beliefs. It seems being willing to engage in an an honest discussion with those with a different point on view in a way that lets us live together despite our differences.

On the web, there has probably been no better advocate for a theology that embraces same sex marriage than Tobias Haller, and on his blog, he gives a very good example of what reconciliation is all about:

At the last General Convention I had an extended, semi-public, late-night, and to a large extent alcohol-fueled, discussion with a leading English Evangelical. He came on very strong, and so did I. Yet there was no animus or animosity in the conversation, but rather conviction on both sides, and I did not let him off the hook or allow him to give in…

Middle Age Depression

As readers of this blog can tell, I am an avid reader of the science press. I guess it comes from the fact that I was a chemistry major, and have kept a life long interest in all things scientific even after choosing a different career path.

Today, I ran across a very interesting study that says that our happiness levels form a U curve over our lifespan--we are happiest at the beginning and the end but apparantly miserable in the middle. Here is the Science Digest description:

Using data on 2 million people, from 80 nations, researchers from the University of Warwick and Dartmouth College in the US have found an extraordinarily consistent international pattern in depression and happiness levels that leaves us most miserable in middle age.

The researchers found happiness levels followed a U shaped curve, with happiness higher towards the start and end of our lives and leaving us most miserable in middle age. Many previous studies of the life-course had suggested that psychological well-…

Father Peter Carey's List of "Must Read" Blogs

Peter Carey has listed his daily go-to list of blogs that cover the Anglican and Episcopal world. Aside from his questionable decision to include this blog on the list, Father Peter's list is quite a good one--and it includes the full spectrum of Anglican blogs--even ones like Stand Firm, which Peter admits "tends to drive me wacko."

Aside from including my own blog, Peter's list has one critical problem--he forgot to include his own must-read blog.

Read Peter's list and add to his list in the comments.

Two Studies Conclude Same Sex Relationships Are Healthy

There are two new papers from the Journal of Developmental Psychology that offers new evidence that gay and lesbian relationships are healthy:

As Science Daly reports:

Same-sex couples are just as committed in their romantic relationships as heterosexual couples, say researchers who have studied the quality of adult relationships and healthy development. Their finding disputes the stereotype that couples in same-sex relationships are not as committed as their heterosexual counterparts and are therefore not as psychologically healthy.

These results are from two studies featured in the January issue of Developmental Psychology.* Both studies compared same-sex couples with opposite-sex couples on a number of developmental and relationship factors. The first study examined whether committed same-sex couples differ from engaged and married opposite-sex couples in how well they interacted and how satisfied they were with their partners. Evidence has shown that positive interactions improve the…

Telling the Truth About the FARC

My wife lived and worked in Colombia for many years, including a stint at the U.S. Embassy in Bogata, and then spent a decade in Washington, D.C. working on Colombia policy, with a focus on cocaine and heroin trafficking. We met when we both worked at the White House Office of National Drug Control Strategy. (My wife and I jokingly tell people that we met doing drugs at the White House).

One of our great frustrations has always been the assumption by many of our progressive friends that FARC (the major guerrilla group in Colombia) is a legitimate leftist revolutionary movement. It is is not. It is a group of thugs. (What else do you call an organization that kidnaps children?) I was therefore pleased to see that Ben Whitford wrote a commentary for the Guardian Comment is Free group blog that makes this very point. Some highlights:

While the group's leaders still profess to share Ch├ívez's leftist - and, increasingly, Bolivarian - ideals, the truth is that these days Farc is less …

Father Jake Has a Dilemma

The Episcopal blogosphere is spilling lots of electrons on the fact that many orthodox priests in San Jacquin are thinking hard about staying with the Episcopal Church (and not join their bishop in the Southern Cone. Check out The Lead for some excellent coverage of this story.

I think this is wonderful news. I want a church where the orthodox and the progressives worship together.

I gather from some private emails and from some blogs that many progressives are not so certain that this is a good thing. I find this very disturbing. Fortunately, Father Jake is not among them:

Dan Martins has offered this update regarding the dismissal of members of the Standing Committee in San Joaquin. He identifies the source of the quote in his previous post as being the Rev. James Snell, President of the Standing Committee and Rector of St. Columba's, Fresno. He also provides a quote from another priest which offers a second verification that resignations were not offered, in spite of Bp. Schofield…

History of Religion

Here is another cool map. The history of 5000 years of religion in 90 seconds.

You can find lots of similar use of maps to show history here and here.

Barack Obama's Sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Today

Barack Obama gave a sermon today at Martin Luther King Jr.'s former church. It is worth reading in full, and Andrew Sullivan has the full sermon here. Here are some highlights:

Because before Memphis and the mountaintop; before the bridge in Selma and the march on Washington; before Birmingham and the beatings; the fire hoses and the loss of those four little girls; before there was King the icon and his magnificent dream, there was King the young preacher and a people who found themselves suffering under the yolk of oppression.

And on the eve of the bus boycotts in Montgomery, at a time when many were still doubtful about the possibilities of change, a time when those in the black community mistrusted themselves, and at times mistrusted each other, King inspired with words not of anger, but of an urgency that still speaks to us today:

“Unity is the great need of the hour” is what King said. Unity is how we shall overcome.

What Dr. King understood is that if just one person chose to…

Is Liberal Anglicanism Dead?

Theo Hobson thinks that the controversy over inclusiveness in the Agn;lican Church will kill liberal Anglicanism:

This year Anglicanism will define itself with new clarity - the once-a-decade Lambeth conference will confirm the anti-liberal mood of the last five years. The humiliation of liberal Anglicanism will be complete. Its demand for equality for homosexuals has been thrown out in the most decisive possible way.

I think it's time to admit that the tradition of liberal Anglicanism is finished. Those Anglicans who carry on calling for an "inclusive church" are relics of a previous era. They should face the fact that the religious landscape has changed utterly. Liberal Anglicanism has become oxymoronic. For the first time this church has defined itself in opposition to liberalism, taking a decisively reactionary stance on a crucial moral issue.

. . .

But surely, says the liberal Anglican, this can change. Surely the church can change its mind, reject its homophobic tenden…

Civil War in Four Minutes

Andrew Sullivan thinks this is cool. I agree. A history of the civil war in four minutes.

Rod Dreher on Marriage

Rod Dreher is a social conservative. I am assuredly not. Still. I always find him worth reading, and this post was no exception:

You know, I agree with Huckabee and others that if the legal and cultural definition of marriage is taken to be fluid and entirely subjective, that there's no limit on how far we can take it. But let's get real here: gays and their pro-same-sex-marriage allies are only lagging indicators of a vast cultural shift that, yes, heterosexuals forced. In the 1960s and since, marriage as an institution was revolutionized. No longer did people think of it as having an essential sacred meaning. Rather, people came to think of it as a contractual agreement between willing parties. Once that happens, the game is over. I'm not saying that people think of marriage solely in contractual terms. But divorce law and practice today does reflect that fundamental redefinition of marriage. It seems to me that cultural conservatives concerned (rightly) with the loss o…

Abortions Continue to Decline

The number of abortions in the United States hit the lowest level since 1976. Here is the Washington Post coverage:

The number of abortions performed in the United States dropped to 1.2 million in 2005 -- the lowest level since 1976, according to a new report.

The number of abortions fell at least in part because the proportion of women ending their pregnancies with an abortion dropped 9 percent between 2000 and 2005, hitting the lowest level since 1975, according to a nationwide survey. . . .The report did not identify reasons for the drop in abortions, but the researchers said it could be caused by a combination of factors.
"It could be more women using contraception and not having as many unintended pregnancies. It could be more restrictions on abortions making it more difficult for women to obtain abortion services. It could be a combination of these and other dynamics," said Rachel K. Jones of the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health research organization, which pu…

New Science on Why We Are Aggressive

A group of Vanderbilt University scientists offer some evidence that we are aggressive because aggressive behavior affects the reward pathways in the brain. In other words, we get pleasure from aggression:

New research from Vanderbilt University shows for the first time that the brain processes aggression as a reward - much like sex, food and drugs - offering insights into our propensity to fight and our fascination with violent sports like boxing and football.

Aggression occurs among virtually all vertebrates and is necessary to get and keep important resources such as mates, territory and food,” Craig Kennedy, professor of special education and pediatrics, said. “We have found that the ‘reward pathway’ in the brain becomes engaged in response to an aggressive event and that dopamine is involved.”

“It is well known that dopamine is produced in response to rewarding stimuli such as food, sex and drugs of abuse,” Maria Couppis, who conducted the study as her doctoral thesis at Vanderbilt…

Respect and Faith on the Campaign Trial

Well this is interesting. A group of religious leaders are calling fro more respect on the campaign trial for religious differences:
A group of Catholic, evangelical and mainline Protestant leaders have asked that religion not be used to advance partisan political agendas on the presidential campaign trail.

The statement, signed by over two dozen priests, pastors and theologians, says that religion has intruded into the primary season in what the signatories see as troubling ways.

“In this year’s presidential campaign, we are troubled to see candidates pressed to pronounce the nature of their religious beliefs, asked if they believe every word of the Bible… and faced with prejudicial analyses of their denominational doctrines,” it says.

The statement was issued by Faith in Public Life and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, two organizations dedicated in different ways to bridging gaps between faiths and focusing on issues of social justice.

The statement lines out three basic princ…

Looking Forward to Lent

I may be odd, but Lent is my favorite part of the church calendar. Why? To use a very crass analogy, I find that I obtain spiritual "capital" that I can use the entire year. And now, I really need Lent--I am running a bit low spiritually speaking.

In the past few years, I have found that rather than give up something for Lent, I gain much more by adding something--I try to focus my reading on faith. Last year I focused on atonement. The year before, I used Lent to read the first three volumes of N.T. Wrights' tome on Jesus. So, I am now open to suggestions on good books or topics I can use to focus myself this coming Lent. Any suggestions?

Morality and Religion

Well, since we are talking about morality, science and faith today, I thought I would also post on what Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford wrote in response to Richard Dawkins had to say about the ability of human beings to be moral in the absence of faith.

Like me, he agrees that an atheist can be an upstanding, altrustic moral person without a faith in God. Heck, I know legions of atheists that fit this description. Harries, however, while agreeing with this point argues that the connection between morality and religion are more complex than Dawkins seems to understand:

Dostoevsky's Ivan Karamazov said: 'If God did not exist, everything would be permitted.' Sartre agreed. Dawkins disagrees. Morality belongs to us as human beings. I agree too. I do not believe that a society without a religious basis for its morality will always collapse. But I do think that the relationship between morality and religion is more complex than either Dawkins or religious believers…

Th moral instinct

Today, at the Lead, I posted on a must-read essay by Steve Pinker on the moral instinct--why be try to comply with what appears to be a universal moral code. Here is a copy of what I posted:

Steven Pinker, the Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and the author of “The Language Instinct” and “The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature,” has an essay in today's New York Times Magazine that is well worth a read.

He discusses the current state of science (from a variety of fields, including genetics, psychology and neurology) about our moral instinct. He does more than merely describe the science--he also notes that science is itself affecting our moral debates:

We all know what it feels like when the moralization switch flips inside us — the righteous glow, the burning dudgeon, the drive to recruit others to the cause. The psychologist Paul Rozin has studied the toggle switch by comparing two kinds of people who engage in the same behavior …

On Proofs of God

This morning's New York Times Sunday Book Review includes a review of Temple University mathematician John Allen Poulus' new book, Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up. In the book, Poulus takes on the traditional "proofs" of God and not surprisingly (since even most theologians share his view) finds them wanting.

The review argues that Poulus misses the point:

The classic arguments for the existence of God have few friends these days. Theologians scorn them, insisting that they “objectify” a Supreme Being that can be known only through self-revelation. Philosophers make a parlor game of dissecting their logic. (In the 1994 book “God and the Philosophers,” edited by Thomas V. Morris, none of the 20 philosophers who discussed their religious faith said they came to it through logic; typically, it was a matter of experiencing what they felt to be the love of God in their lives.) And ordinary believers have never heard of them.

Father Matthew on the Sacraments: Part Six--Confession

This is part of Father Matthews new series on the sacraments. This is very well done--and is on the Rite of Reconciliation of a Penitent (Confession), one of the sacraments in the Episcopal Church.


A sign that the Anglican right is losing perspective

As a sign of how many elements of the Anglican right are really losing perspective is the fact that they are outrages--yes outraged--that our Presiding Bishop sent out this Christmas card. Here is what the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Fort Worth (who refuse to ordain women, by the way) had to say:

The Presiding Bishop has done something which defies explanation. This is the Christmas card she sent to Bishop Iker and presumably other TEC bishops. Given the increasing polarization in TEC (and the Anglican Communion) today, the only reason we can see for her to make this choice is that she is only interested in pushing the polarization just that much further.

The Presiding Bishop is an intelligent woman, so this reinterpretation of Scripture to exclude masculine images must be intentional. This card illustrates in many ways the core problem of the General Convention Church. Scripture cannot be made to conform to us, we must conform our lives and our faith to Scripture. We will cont…


Well last night was certainly exciting wasn't it? There is a great deal of good analysis out there, but I want to highlight two.

First, David Brooks does an excellent job explaining the Obama and Huckabee victories and does a decent job assessing what will come next:

Barack Obama has won the Iowa caucuses. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel moved by this. An African-American man wins a closely fought campaign in a pivotal state. He beats two strong opponents, including the mighty Clinton machine. He does it in a system that favors rural voters. He does it by getting young voters to come out to the caucuses.

This is a huge moment. It’s one of those times when a movement that seemed ethereal and idealistic became a reality and took on political substance.

Iowa won’t settle the race, but the rest of the primary season is going to be colored by the glow of this result. Whatever their political affiliations, Americans are going to feel good about the Obama victory, which is …

Anglican Bloggers on Facebook

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Dave Walker, who does all the cartoons for the Church Times (an English publication that is a must-read for the Anglican world) has organized an Anglican Blogger group on Facebook. Here is his description of what he hopes to accomplish:

A group for people who blog about Anglican goings-on. Also the people who comment on the blogs about Anglican goings-on. Also Anglicans who blog, but not about Anglican goings-on. Also those who have no idea what is going on, but want to join in.

This is a group for those who blog from the right hand pews, those who blog from the left hand pews and those who find themselves blogging in the central aisle where they might be struck down by a hymnbook from either side or be run down by the procession. Everyone is welcome.

I hadn’t planned this to be a place for in-depth debate, as there are lots of those out there anyway. But it might become a place to connect …

Andrew Brown on the Archbishop of Canterbury

Andrew Brown has a very interesting assessment of Rowan Williams' leadership of the Anglican Communion that I think has a great deal of merit:

Over the last few years, Dr Rowan Williams has sometimes looked criminally innocent ("The trouble with Rowan is that he's too damn Christian,") as one of his colleagues remarked; sometimes merely well-meaning but powerless; very occasionally he has looked as if he is working to an angelically cunning plan. This week has been a good week for the cunning plan interpretation. It is not that he has done anything - but his rigorous policy of inaction and delay has given his opponents an opportunity to fall apart which they have exploited to the full.

Plans for a gathering of his opponents in Jerusalem, reported yesterday by Riazat Butt, have imploded spectacularly with the announcement by the Bishop of Jerusalem that he does not want them to meet there. This isn't a trivial matter, because it reveals that Rowan has been right abo…

Garry Wills on Romney's Faith Speech

Garry Wills has an interesting commentary on Romney's Faith in America speech, that agrees with my own vew--that Romney took the opposite appraoch to that of JFK:

The situations are superficially the same—presidential candidates trying to remove an obstacle to their election arising from their church membership. But the obstacles are quite different. The objections some have to Mitt Romney's religion are twofold, theological and cultural. Those against John F. Kennedy when he gave his 1960 speech in Houston about his Catholicism were more solidly political. The theological problems with Romney come from evangelicals, who know that his Jesus is not a member of the divine Trinity.

. . .

Kennedy's problem was precisely political. . . And Kennedy's opponents were not interested in theological questions like transubstantiation. But there were solid grounds for political doubts about Catholics. The Vatican had not, in 1960, formally renounced its condemnation of American p…

AC Grayling on the Critical Ideological Divide

I have many differences with AC Grayling on some pretty fundamental issues--such as whether God exists, and whether religion is benificial to our world. Nonetheless, I though that his most recent post on the Guardian "Comment is Free" group blog was provocative and insightful. Here are some highlights:

When societies move beyond subsistence level, giving their members time to reflect and debate, questions of principle emerge, and with them ideological differences in politics and ethics. These are closely connected for the obvious reason that individual projects of building good lives do better in the context of good societies, those which at the least safeguard the margins of liberty required for personal autonomy and chosen relationships while, as a background condition for them, promoting justice and stability. Because "goodness", "liberty" and "justice" are essentially contestable concepts, they are inevitably the focus of ideological differ…