Showing posts from May, 2008

Obama Leaves his Church

It is really sad that it has come to this:

Barack Obama resigned Saturday from his Chicago church — where controversial sermons by his former pastor and other ministers had created repeated political headaches for the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination — his campaign confirmed.

The resignation comes days after the Rev. Michael Pfleger, a visiting Catholic priest, mocked Obama's Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, for crying in New Hampshire during the runup to the primary there.

Previously, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright — former pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ and Obama's minister for about 20 years — drew unwanted attention for the campaign when videos of several of his fiery sermons surfaced.

In them, Wright suggested the U.S. government may be responsible for the spread of AIDS in the black community and equated some American wartime activities to terrorism.

Obama has said he was not present for the controversial sermons by Wright or Pfleger and …

Ian McEwan on the Day of Judgment

Ian McEwan has a fascinating two part series in the Guardian on "end time thinking." Part one is here, and part two is here.

Here are some interesting points:

First, McEwan notes that "end time" thinking is quite pronounced in the United States:

Five centuries later, the United States, responsible for more than four-fifths of the world's scientific research and still a land of plenty, can show the world an abundance of opinion polls concerning its religious convictions. The litany will be familiar. Ninety per cent of Americans say they have never doubted the existence of God and are certain they will be called to answer for their sins. Fifty-three per cent are creationists who believe that the cosmos is 6,000 years old, 44 per cent are sure that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead within the next 50 years. Only 12 per cent believe that life on earth has evolved through natural selection without the intervention of supernatural agency.

In general, bel…

Tobias Haller on Genesis

Tobais Haller is consistently posting real gems. His latest post on the relationship of God to creation, and the implications for morality, is no exception. I strongly urge you to read it here.

I won't even begin to summarize or even "highlight" Father Haller's argument--it is to rich for even that. Instead, I want to focus on his take on reading the Genesis narratives in a post-Darwin world view. I found this quite insightful:

Genesis is not history — certainly not natural history — but sacred story. Much theological thought, even in the post-Darwinian era, and even among non-Fundamentalist thinkers, has been hampered by neglect of this distinction. This does not mean that the story is to be discarded or disregarded; language, which is based on symbols, is essential to communication. The moment we move from things themselves to the names we give them we have stepped into a symbolic world; how much more with larger concepts for which no underlying “thing” can even …

The CIA and Waterboarding

The following is a page from a heavily redacted report by the Inspector General of the CIA. Although the redactions are immense, the report does conform that waterboarding was used on at least three detainees by the CIA.

The full report can be found here. Here is the ACLU's explanation of the document:

After CIA Director Michael Hayden publicly admitted that the CIA has, in fact, waterboarded detainees, the agency could no longer cling to its last excuses for covering up the use of the very word “waterboarding” in CIA records. As a result, yesterday we obtained several heavily redacted documents in response to an ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit brought by the ACLU and other organizations seeking documents related to the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody overseas.
While the documents do, in fact, reveal the word “waterboarding” or some variation, they leave pretty much everything else to the imagination. The pages that haven’t been completely withheld (many of t…

Conservative Catholics Up For Grabs

It appears that Douglas Kmiec is not the only conservative Catholic considering voting for Obama. As the Wall Street Journal is reporting, conservative Catholics are more interested in the economy than abortion--and that is creating an opening for Obama:

Since the 1970s, the country's roughly 64 million Catholics have generally voted in line with the nation. Still, some distinct segments of Catholics can swing an election.

Among those blocs are the 12 million or so non-Hispanic Catholics who attend weekly Mass. While less-observant Catholics have vacillated between parties and supported John Kerry in 2004, a majority of these traditional Catholics has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1992, says John Green, a senior fellow with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. In 2004, 62% backed President Bush.

This time around, they seem less likely to back a Republican.

This time around, they seem less likely to back a Republican.

Tricia Louis, a 43-year-old Republican…

Climate Change on Google Earth

Now this is really cool--although, it may be a big time killer:

The British Antarctic Survey and the UK's Met Office have released a pair of new layers for Google Earth that depict the effects of climate change across a 3D map of the globe. In one fell swoop, this about doubles the amount of climate content that's easily accessible from the Google Earth Gallery and Showcase pages.
To check out the maps, download and install Google Earth, then click here to download and open the map file (in KML format) from BAS and here for the Met Office map. (If Google Earth doesn't run when you click those links, you'll have to run it yourself and open the KML files from the File menu.) They will load into the 'Places' bar on the left - checking boxes there displays the content.

Both maps make good use of the program's time-series tool: as you watch an animation or drag a slider, BAS shows Antarctic ice shelves receding over recent decades, and then the Met Office steps in…

Crucifixion and Ice Cream?

To me, this is just---well, odd, and very disturbing. Am I alone?

Amid cell phones ringing, video cams rolling and ice cream melting under the Florida sun, a blood-spattered Jesus stumbles through the crowd on his way to Golgotha, where nasty Roman soldiers strip him, nail him to the cross and crucify him—while perspiring tourists look on in Bermuda shorts. After the resurrection sequence, visitors applaud and line up for a photo op, not with Mickey or Minnie, but a disciple or bloody-handed yet friendly centurion. Welcome to Orlando's most unusual theme park, the Holy Land Experience.

Read it all here.

More on the Problem of Evil

Father Sam Norton's discussion of the problem of evil that I blogged about earlier this week has turned into a successful meme. Some great minds on the blogosphere are taking on the challenge.

Professor James McGrath says the following:

Often the issue of theodicy is viewed as finding the best solution to the problem of undeserved suffering that preserves the concept of God we already have. But this assumes that we have received a unified, definitive understanding of God that must be preserved in this way, and anyone who has engaged in academic study of the Bible or religion in general will know that this is not the case. And so unless one has good reason for assuming a particular set of symbols and doctrines relating to God, the best approach is that set forth in the Book of Job: formulate and reformulate a view of God that does justice to the world as you experience, while also acknowledging how limited our understanding of the universe we are a part of really is.

If I were the sor…

The Direction of Time

Sean Carroll, a senior research associate in physics at the California Institute of Technology, has a wonderfully rich and accessible article in the Scientific American that attempts to address a real puzzle: why does time seem to only move in one direction. Here are some excerpts:

Among the unnatural aspects of the universe, one stands out: time asymmetry. The microscopic laws of physics that underlie the behavior of the universe do not distinguish between past and future, yet the early universe—hot, dense, homogeneous—is completely different from today’s—cool, dilute, lumpy. The universe started off orderly and has been getting increasingly disorderly ever since. The asymmetry of time, the arrow that points from past to future, plays an unmistakable role in our everyday lives: it accounts for why we cannot turn an omelet into an egg, why ice cubes never spontaneously unmelt in a glass of water, and why we remember the past but not the future. And the origin of the asymmetry we expe…

Our Reasonable Faith

RJS, a scientist and a Christian, has had a very good series on faith and reason at Jesus Creed. It is following Tim Keller's new book, The Reason for God. I thought that the latest essay was worth noting:

We are wrong to believe that we will ever construct an irrefutable argument or proof for the existence of or the nature of God. This is an impossible task. Rather we will look at preponderance of evidence and the viability of a Christian world view, taking into account all of the evidence we have available. Even in science we have no absolute proof – only empirically based theories that organize and explain the evidence better than anything else available. A theory is accepted if it explains and predicts — a theory is refined and improved, sometimes substantially, sometimes incrementally, in the light of new evidence, observation, and information. Keller says:

If the God of the Bible exists, he is not a man in the attic, but the Playwright. That means we won’t be able to find hi…

Bibical Literalism and Denominations

Well this is provocative. Razib of Gene Expression has decided to examine a variety of data about various religious denominations to see if there is any relationship between the views on bibical literalism of each denomination and factors such as IQ scores and education. Here is the chart on education, using the demographic data from The Pew Religion Survey:

Razib notes that the R2 goes up to 0.81 (the measure of the fit of the curve, and thus the correlation) if you exclude Roman Catholics.

Razib does not think that education necessarily "causes" a reduced beleif in bibical literalism. Instead, her thinks that a different dynamic-focused on the education of the clergy, is at play:

What I think is going on is simply what we might term the Wisdom of the Crowds; people conform to the social and religious group which they identify with. Biblical literalism flourishes because most people trust pastors and parents who preach it. Similarly, a more metaphorical reading flourishes beca…

Father Sam Norton on the Problem of Evil

One of the theological issues that I am trying to struggle with is the famous "problem of evil", which is once again brough to the forefront by a new book by Bart Ehrman. The problem is one that theologians have struggled with for centuries, and there are no pat answers. Father Sam Norton (whose blog is well worth reading--great stuff on theology and peak oil, as well as wonderful photographs) had this short but useful post on his blog today:

In a comment, scott (gray) asked these four questions, which I think could work as a meme...

1. if the nature of god is omnipotent, benevolent, and anthropomorphic (that god is a person, who sees suffering as wrong, and can change all of it), why does god not act to relieve all suffering, or at least the greatest amount of suffering for the greatest amount of people the greatest amount of time?
2. if you were god, and you were omnipotent and benevolent, how would you respond to suffering?
3. if this is not the nature of god, what is the n…

Remembering Friends: My Memorial Day Rememberance

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.

Just as I did last year, I want to make Memorial Day a bit less abstract by telling you about 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.

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 comp…

Father Matthew on Ordination

New Evidence on Human Migration

Most of the genetic work exploring the migration of humans out of Africa and thoughout the world rely on a amall set of genes. A group of Oxford scientists have announced a new statistical method that takes account of the entire genome, and the new methodology is already disclosing some interesting findings:
Scientists from the University of Oxford and University College Cork have developed a technique that analyses shared parts of chromosomes across the entire human genome. It can give much finer detail than other methods and makes it possible to delve further back in time and identify smaller genetic contributions. Application of the method has already turned up such surprising findings as a strong Mongolian contribution to the genes of the Native American Pima people and gene flow from the north of Europe to Eastern Siberia. Previous methods of genome analysis have either concentrated on one part of the human genome -- for example, just the Y-chromosome -- or are based on "bea…

Thinking About the Resurrection

Recently, the Rev'd Geoffrey M. St.J. Hoare, Rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Atlanta, caused quite a furor in the conservative blogosphere by one line in his Easter sermon:

We don’t have to understand the stories as factual accounts of anything in order to grasp the truth that God’s grace changes everything.

Recently, my new friend Dan Porter (who has a decidely orthodox view of the resurrection by the way) came to the Rector's defense in the form of a letter to the rector himself. It is a wonderful post and well worth a full read, but here are some highlights:

I am 65 years old. For most of my adult life I have wrestled with what to believe about the resurrection—in a factual sense. At times, during those many years, I have closely identified with scholars such as John Dominic Crossan and many others in the Jesus Seminar. Some such as Crossan and Marcus Borg have argued that Jesus was not even buried in a tomb. Certainly, there is a good measure of historical plausibil…

Defending the Sadducees

Professor McGrath has a very interesting post on his website about the Sadducees. He thinks they have gotten a bad rap:

We only know about the Sadducees from their critics (or at the very least those who disagreed with them): Josephus is probably the least negative source, then there are the New Testament and Rabbinic literature, both of which are polemical. It is interesting to note that the Sadducees' views, as described by Josephus, are similar to those held by the more progressive Christians of our time: a denial of "fate" (i.e. determinism), of supernatural beings such as angels, and the afterlife. It may seem ironic that the most progressive voices today sound like the most conservative from Jesus' time. But being "progressive" doesn't mean adopting the newest ideas. If it did, fundamentalism is relatively new, and so we'd all be clamouring to hop on that bandwagon. But in fact, being progressive means being willing to change and listen, even t…

An Evangelical Scholar Speaks Out on Homosexuality

David Gushee, distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, is a self-described Evangelical centrist. He is also a brave man, who has written two columns for the Associated Baptist Press about homosexuality. The first column, published in late March focused on how the church treats GLBT persons:

I’m one of the few leaders in Baptist life with the freedom to talk openly and honestly about the complex theological, moral, pastoral, and public policy issues raised by homosexuality without destroying myself professionally.

Because I hold a tenured professorship in Christian ethics at Mercer University, I am one of those rare souls who can talk candidly about this hot-button issue. And these days I’m finding it hard to avoid the nagging and unsought conviction that this freedom now demands responsible exercise.

Methodology is everything. Starting points are everything. Glen Stassen and I wrote a widely read book in which we argued that truly Christian ethics foc…

NEVER: Religious Bloggers Against Torture

Aaron Krager of Faithfully Liberal has started a new campaign called Never: Religious Bloggers Against Torture. since I am a religious blogger and am against torture, I joined the Facebook group. Here is a link the the website.

You can find my own past posts on torture here.

Former Navy Chaplain George Clifford has a great essay at the Daily Episcopalian that argues that torture is both immoral and ineffective. Here is the money quote:

People who abandon a morality founded upon firm principles or unwavering virtue for consequentialism lack a moral floor below which they are unwilling to proceed. No act is too bad to contemplate if the potential benefits are of sufficient magnitude. Torture involves acts that should lie beyond the bounds of acceptable morality – always. Fortunately, debates about torture do not have to end with neither side speaking in terms the other cannot really understand. Not only is torture antithetical to Christian principles and incompatible with Christian virtue,…

Mapping the Bible

Well this is a very cool resource. Bible Geocoding offers lots of very interesting resources, including the use of Google Earth to offer a wealth of geographical information about every place mentioned in the Bible. You can look at the entire Bible as a whole or look at places identified in individual books. Check it out here.

Hat tip to Think Christian.

Support for Gay Marriage

If you are a political junky, there is no better place on the web than You not only get great polling data--you get in-depth understanding of various survey methodologies. How cool is that!! (At this point, my loving wife informs me that I am not a political junky--I am a political geek. Sigh)

In any event, as an example of the excellent work you can find on this site, is Charles Franklin's detailed analysis of the changing views of the public toward gay marriage.

First, Franklin offers this analysis of the changing views of the public on gay marriage:

[i]n 1985 82% of the public opposed same sex marriage, while only 11% supported it. By the early 1990s, when the data become richer, opposition was at about 65% while support stood at about 28%. Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the federal "Defense of Marriage Act" in September 1996, but public opinion trends seem not to have noticed at all, neither rising nor falling around that time. By the week …

Unread Books Meme

Through Tobias Haller (and he got it from Grandmère Mimi:)

What we have below is a list of the top 106 books most often marked as "unread" by LibraryThing users. Bold the ones you've read, underline the ones you read for school (actually, I used stars), italicize the ones you started but didn't finish.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales***
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Cloc…

Can Catholics Support Obama?

Roman Catholic Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver has published an essay that addresses the question: can a Roman Catholic support a pro-choice candidate such as Barak Obama. The essay is in First things, but he also relies on some previous remarks he made:

In the years after the Carter loss, I began to notice that very few of the people, including Catholics, who claimed to be “personally opposed” to abortion really did anything about it. Nor did they intend to. For most, their personal opposition was little more than pious hand-wringing and a convenient excuse—exactly as it is today. In fact, I can’t name any pro-choice Catholic politician who has been active, in a sustained public way, in trying to discourage abortion and to protect unborn human life—not one. Some talk about it, and some may mean well, but there’s very little action. In the United States in 2008, abortion is an acceptable form of homicide. And it will remain that way until Catholics force their political parties …

Letter to Aslan

McSweeney's is a fun diversion. Perhaps due to the release of the movie Prince Caspian they recently posted this "Letter to Aslan." For those familiar with the Narnia series, it is worth reading in full, but here are some highlights:

To His Imperial Majesty, Aslan, the Great Lion, he who rises from uncomfortable and broken stone tables, son of the Emperor-Over-Sea, with extreme respect:

In the course of talking-animal events, it may become necessary for one animal—or human—or divine being—to come and rescue Narnia from its deepest, darkest hours. We're cool with that. We're just saying ...

Why does it have to be kids?

No offense to your wisdom and such, but, frankly, things don't go so well when they show up. Consider the results so far:

. . .

Visit 2

1. The sudden and terrible arrests of multiple Narnia residents, stemming entirely from the unauthorized visits of a small child to the forest area.

2. The sudden release of multiple dangerous creatures, who, until …

Where We Go To Church

It turns out that Americans do not have a one-size-fits-all approach to our preferred faith community. some like large churches; others like small. some prefer contemporary services; others prefer more traditional services. Some move to more conservative churches; others moved to more liberal churches. Here is the report from the Christian Post:

In a study of over 1,000 American adults, released Monday by Ellison Research, 69 percent of all Americans who currently attend worship services have attended more than one place of worship - which includes churches, temples, or houses of worship - as an adult. Only 31 percent say their current place of worship is the only one they have regularly attended since age 18.

When changing where they worship, not all opt for a bigger congregation or a more contemporary worship style.

When choosing size, Americans are nearly evenly divided between a larger or smaller congregation. Forty-three percent of American Protestants have moved to a larger congreg…