Thursday, January 31, 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 chosen in Republican races. These are largely winner-take all primaries. Thus, even a razor thin win by McCain will result in an overwhelming victory in terms of delgates.

Second, McCain is now winning all the national polls and the trends are in his favor. Given that Super Tuesday is very close to a national primary, this suggests that McCain will do very well next Tuesday. Here is the summary of polling complied by pollster.com:



Second, while the state-by-state polling has been thin, the polls that have been done show McCain doing very well in the largest delegate rich states (indeed, in most states) and again, the trend is in his favor. Here is a pollster.com chart summarizing the state polls. The darker the cirle, the more recent the poll:



In sum, we have every indication that McCain will win a large share of the delegates, giving him a huge delegate lead after Tuesday.

Democratic Race

My prediction is that Clinton will come out of Super Tuesday with a delegate lead, but the lead will not be significant enough to end the race. The post-Super Tuesday primaries will decide the Democratic race. Who will ultimately prevail? I think this would be a wild guess at this point. The polling trends seem to show that Obama has the momentum both nationally and in many states, but the Clinton Campaign does very, very well in the kind of state by state battle that will follow Super Tuesday.

As a starting point, it is important to understand that the Democratic delegate selection is based on a complex proportional formula that is based on both statewide numbers and congressional district results. There is no winner take all in these races. As such, Obama could still win a significant number of delegates in each state even if he comes in second. And because the delegates are allocated by congressional district, he could come out with more delegates than Clinton even in states that Clinton wins. Indeed, this happened in Nevada (and in 1992, Bill Clinton won more delegates in Arizona even though he lost the vote statewide). Finally, 20% of the delegates are not chosen by the primaries at all--rather, they are so-called Super Delegates--party officials, Governors, Senators, etc. Obama has done remarkably well holding his own with these delegates.

So, here are some poll numbers. First, national polling shows that Clinton has the lead, but that the race is tightening and that Obama has the momentum according to the pollster.com summary chart:



The Gallup poll released today shows this as well:



The Rasmussen polling is consistent with the Gallup poll now. Interestingly, the tracking poll from last night was the first night that Edwards was not included on the Rasmussen poll and it had the race as a dead-heat.

The State polling is, again, quite thin, but again shows Clinton leading most (but not all states), but with Obama gaining in several states:



In short, it appears that Clinton wil have the better night on Super Tuesday, but there may be a surprise surge by Obama. And regardless of the outcome of Super Tuesday, the battle will continue over the course of several more weeks.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

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 to easy slogans or rest unchallenged in his "orthodoxy." In fact, I met him on his own Evangelical ground, and towards the end of the evening he was in tears of gratitude for my not having simply given up on him but pressing the conversation. He said he had never encountered an American Episcopalian willing to actually debate or even discuss the issue at the level of seriousness it required. I heard the next day from another English Evangelical who was present at this discussion (mostly silent and on the sidelines but observing keenly) that this had been a profoundly important experience for his colleague.

It is with the same kind of seriousness — and a soupçon of humor here and there, in, I hope, the best Anglican tradition! — that I am attempting to lay out the argument here, in part by taking the Scripture with the seriousness it deserves, and the very close reading it requires. That Matt Kennedy is taking my efforts seriously and responding in kind (though perhaps with less humor; but that's another matter!) is, I take it, a good sign. There are even points on which we agree, it seems. And both Matt and I will receive nods of approval from those who agree with us on the points on which we disagree, and who are already more or less convinced of the rightness of their point of view. Others, less convinced, may be swayed one way or the other, in part because the conversation is serious and raises issues that have too often been passed by in more general discussions.


Read it all here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

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-being stayed relatively flat and consistent as we aged.

Using a sample of 1 million people from the UK, the researchers discovered that for both men and women the probability of depression peaks around 44 years of age. In the US they found a significant difference between men and women with unhappiness reaching a peak at around 40 years of age for women and 50 years of age for men.

They found the same U-shape in happiness levels and life satisfaction by age for 72 countries: Albania; Argentina; Australia; Azerbaijan; Belarus; Belgium; Bosnia; Brazil; Brunei; Bulgaria; Cambodia; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Croatia; Czech Republic; Denmark; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; El Salvador; Estonia; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Honduras; Hungary; Iceland; Iraq; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Kyrgyzstan; Laos; Latvia; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Macedonia; Malta; Mexico; Myanmar; Netherlands; Nicaragua; Nigeria; Norway; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Puerto Rico; Romania; Russia; Serbia; Singapore; Slovakia; South Africa; South Korea; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Tanzania; Turkey; United Kingdom; Ukraine; Uruguay; USA; Uzbekistan; and Zimbabwe.

The authors, economists Professor Andrew Oswald from the University of Warwick and Professor David Blanchflower from Dartmouth College in the US, believe that the U-shaped effect stems from something inside human beings. They show that signs of mid-life depression are found in all kinds of people; it is not caused by having young children in the house, by divorce, or by changes in jobs or income.

University of Warwick Economist Professor Andrew Oswald said:

"Some people suffer more than others but in our data the average effect is large. It happens to men and women, to single and married people, to rich and poor, and to those with and without children. Nobody knows why we see this consistency."

. . .

Their paper entitled "Is Well-being U-Shaped over the Life Cycle?" is to be published shortly in Social Science & Medicine.

The research analysed information on 500,000 randomly sampled Americans and West Europeans from the General Social Surveys of the United States and the Eurobarometer Surveys. The authors also looked at the mental health levels of 16,000 Europeans, the depression and anxiety levels among a large sample of U.K. citizens, and data from the "The World Values Survey" which gives samples of people in 80 countries.





Why would this be the case? The study offers some speculations, but the most persausive explanation to me is that the happiest people tend to live longer:

"What causes this apparently U-shaped curve, and its similar shape in different parts of the developed and even often developing world, is unknown. However, one possibility is that individuals learn to adapt to their strengths and weaknesses, and in mid-life quell their infeasible aspirations. Another possibility is that cheerful people live systematically longer. A third possibility is that a kind of comparison process is at work in which people have seen similar-aged peers die and value more their own remaining years. Perhaps people somehow learn to count their blessings."




Read it all here.

As a fairly happy guy at nearly 49, I guess this is very good news--the future should be even brighter!

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.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

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 quality of relationships in ways that foster healthy adult development.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign compared 30 committed gay male and 30 committed lesbian couples with 50 engaged heterosexual couples and 40 older married heterosexual couples, as well as with dating heterosexual couples. All the partners responded to a questionnaire that documented how positively they interacted with one another on a day to day basis. The couples were also observed during a laboratory task and were monitored for distress by skin conductance and heart rate.

Results showed that same-sex relationships were similar to those of opposite-sex couples in many ways. All had positive views of their relationships but those in the more committed relationships (gay and straight) resolved conflict better than the heterosexual dating couples. And lesbian couples worked together especially harmoniously during the laboratory tasks.

. . .

In the second study, researchers from the University of Washington, San Diego State University and the University of Vermont wanted to examine how sexual orientation and legal status affected relationship quality. To do so, they followed 65 male and 138 female same-sex couples with civil unions, 23 male and 61 female same-sex couples not in civil unions and 55 heterosexual married couples over a three-year period. One member of each heterosexual couple was a sibling to a member of a civil union couple.

Both partners in all of the couples answered questions regarding their demographics, status of their relationship, number of children, sexual behavior, frequency of contact with their parents with and without their partners and perceived social support. Partners in same-sex relationships also answered questions regarding disclosure of their sexual orientation to their family, peers and work associates.

The researchers found that same-sex couples were similar to heterosexual couples on most relationships variables, and that the legalized status of a relationship did not seem to be the overriding factor affecting same-sex relationships.



What was also interesting from the study (but which should have been obvious) is the legal protections of civil unions may work to increase the commitment of same sex relationships:

However, the same sex-couples who were not in civil unions were more likely to have ended their relationships compared to those couples in same-sex civil unions or heterosexual marriages. This suggests that the protections afforded by a legalized relationship may impact same-sex relationships, something the study's authors plan to follow up on in future research, said Balsam.



Read it all here. The papers can be found here and here.

This research clearly has implications for the debate on same sex marriage.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

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 Chávez's leftist - and, increasingly, Bolivarian - ideals, the truth is that these days Farc is less a revolutionary outfit than a criminal enterprise with a vested interest in the status quo. Its struggle is inspired not by coherent ideological principles, but merely by avarice and the pursuit of power for its own sake.

The group's long march away from socialism stems in large part from the decimation of the Unión Patriótica, its political branch, by right-wing death squads during the 1980s. More than 3,000 of Farc's best political cadres were systematically gunned down, skewing the organisation's power balance toward its military wing and leaving its remaining leadership understandably cynical about the possibility of peaceful reform.

Since then, Farc has shown little inclination to participate in peace talks, and it has treated ceasefires merely as opportunities to regroup and prepare for further conflict. It's also speeded up its recruitment process at the expense of ideological indoctrination; the new wave of Farc troops - and, increasingly, junior officers - lack more than a nominal commitment to communism.

The group's political identity has been further eroded by its growing entanglement in Colombia's drug trade. The Farc now taxes all levels of drug production; the UN estimates that in 2003 the group made over $200m from the drug trade. And narco-trafficking has come to transcend ideology. In 2005, the International Crisis Group reported that Farc was systematically cooperating with its archrivals, the ultra-rightwing AUC militia, to produce and ship coca paste.

Along the way, Farc has lost any pretensions to popular support: national polls regularly show that less than 5% of Colombians support the guerrillas, and even in rural areas the group lacks any significant support base. The Farc's role as an occupying, rather than a liberating, army has been reinforced by its wanton disregard for civilian casualties. It persists in using landmines and gas-cylinder mortars, which cause massive collateral damage, and routinely tortures and kills peasants it suspects of supporting its enemies.

Then, of course, there's the kidnapping. The group's hostage-taking long ago became little more than a cash cow. Of the 700 or so hostages it currently holds, only a few dozen are of any political value. The rest are ordinary people, seized from as far afield as central Venezuela, being held merely for ransom; last week, even as Chávez called for Farc's recognition, the group seized another six tourists from a beach on Colombia's Pacific coast.

This, then, is the real Farc: not a band of Marxist rebels but a militarised criminal gang, inextricably tied to kidnapping and the drug trade. It has little or no popular support, and no political agenda to speak of. Even if it demobilised, it would fare poorly in elections. Ultimately, for Farc's leaders - whether we call them terrorists, insurgents or merely criminals - the bullet still holds far more appeal than the ballot box.

It's clear, of course, that talks are necessary - 40 years of fighting have shown that Farc can't be defeated through military action alone - but efforts to broker peace that don't acknowledge Farc's fundamentally non-political goals will inevitably fall short. Worse, Chávez's offer of unconditional recognition comes as the Farc are feeling the squeeze from Álvaro Uribe's tough anti-insurgency tactics. Ultimately, the Venezuelan leader's move risks relieving that pressure and giving the Farc the strength they need to fight on.



Read it all here.

Remember this the next time you hear someone complaining that President Uribe is not negotiating in good faith with the FARC.

Monday, January 21, 2008

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's claim that they were.

. . .

Since Dan and Jim were a class ahead of me, I didn't get to know them that well. But I can tell you that they were not among what I would call "the extremists." Dan was an exceptionally bright seminarian, and would get passionate about things theological, but I can never recall him engaging in any form of personal attacks. Jim liked to laugh, and was quick with a story or a comment that would make you chuckle. He was one of those people whose mere presence was cause for you to break out in a smile. I suppose they don't qualify as friends, but they are certainly two priests whom I respect, even when we disagree.

And so, I have a bit of a dilemma. I don't want Dan, Jim or my four friends to leave the Episcopal Church. And I don't think there is any reason for them to do so. But some days I feel that by encouraging the kind of radical (ok, crazy) conversations that we sometimes have here at Jake's Place, I am helping push them out the door. That troubles me.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not going to backpedal. I am convinced that the Episcopal Church is fulfilling her vocation by moving forward toward full inclusion of all God's people. And, because of that conviction among many other Episcopalians, there may come a day when my friends will decide that they have been called to no longer be a part of the Episcopal Church. That will be a sad day for me, personally, and I will sincerely wish them Godspeed as they set out on their journey. But that would not be cause for me to compromise what I believe to be God's call.

We must defend the Church from those who seek to destroy her. But in our zeal, let us take care to not attack those with whom we simply disagree, yet conduct such disagreements with an absence of malice.

And, yes, I'm preaching to myself as well.

Pray for the Church.



Read it all here.

So let's all join, Father Jake (and Father Dan) and pray for the Church.

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.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

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 walk instead of ride the bus, those walls of oppression would not be moved. But maybe if a few more walked, the foundation might start to shake. If a few more women were willing to do what Rosa Parks had done, maybe the cracks would start to show. If teenagers took freedom rides from North to South, maybe a few bricks would come loose. Maybe if white folks marched because they had come to understand that their freedom too was at stake in the impending battle, the wall would begin to sway. And if enough Americans were awakened to the injustice; if they joined together, North and South, rich and poor, Christian and Jew, then perhaps that wall would come tumbling down, and justice would flow like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Unity is the great need of the hour – the great need of this hour. Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it’s the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country.

. . .

Unfortunately, all too often when we talk about unity in this country, we’ve come to believe that it can be purchased on the cheap. We’ve come to believe that racial reconciliation can come easily – that it’s just a matter of a few ignorant people trapped in the prejudices of the past, and that if the demagogues and those who exploit our racial divisions will simply go away, then all our problems would be solved.

All too often, we seek to ignore the profound institutional barriers that stand in the way of ensuring opportunity for all children, or decent jobs for all people, or health care for those who are sick. We long for unity, but are unwilling to pay the price.

But of course, true unity cannot be so easily won. It starts with a change in attitudes – a broadening of our minds, and a broadening of our hearts.

It’s not easy to stand in somebody else’s shoes. It’s not easy to see past our differences. We’ve all encountered this in our own lives. But what makes it even more difficult is that we have a politics in this country that seeks to drive us apart – that puts up walls between us.

We are told that those who differ from us on a few things are different from us on all things; that our problems are the fault of those who don’t think like us or look like us or come from where we do. The welfare queen is taking our tax money. The immigrant is taking our jobs. The believer condemns the non-believer as immoral, and the non-believer chides the believer as intolerant.

For most of this country’s history, we in the African American community have been at the receiving end of man’s inhumanity to man. And all of us understand intimately the insidious role that race still sometimes plays – on the job, in the schools, in our health care system and in our criminal justice system.

And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King’s vision of a beloved community.

We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.

. . .

So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The division, the stereotypes, the scapegoating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others – all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face – war and poverty; injustice and inequality. We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late.

Because if Dr. King could love his jailor; if he could call on the faithful who once sat where you do to forgive those who set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time, and bind up our wounds, and erase the empathy deficit that exists in our hearts.

. . .

That is how we will bring about the change we seek. That is how Dr. King led this country through the wilderness. He did it with words – words that he spoke not just to the children of slaves, but the children of slave owners. Words that inspired not just black but also white; not just the Christian but the Jew; not just the Southerner but also the Northerner.

He led with words, but he also led with deeds. He also led by example. He led by marching and going to jail and suffering threats and being away from his family. He led by taking a stand against a war, knowing full well that it would diminish his popularity. He led by challenging our economic structures, understanding that it would cause discomfort. Dr. King understood that unity cannot be won on the cheap; that we would have to earn it through great effort and determination.

That is the unity – the hard-earned unity – that we need right now. It is that effort, and that determination, that can transform blind optimism into hope – the hope to imagine, and work for, and fight for what seemed impossible before.



Please read the entire sermon. I for one was moved deeply by it in some unexpected ways.

UPDATE: If you want to see the entire sermon, it is finally on YouTune. It lasts 34 minutes and includes his introduction:

Saturday, January 19, 2008

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 tendency, and regain its moral authority? I don't think so. The problem goes far deeper than the campaigners for an "inclusive church" seem to understand. In fact the gay issue highlights the authoritarianism intrinsic to the very concept of the church.

. . .

The liberal Anglican priest (let's call him Father Giles) is bitterly critical of the church's collusion in homophobia. But he fully believes in the authority of the church, and his own authority. He affirms the right of the church to define orthodoxy: the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, is decided by the corporate mind of the church. Likewise a true sacrament is something authorised by the institution. He claims to have authority by virtue of having been ordained into the church. Christianity is not a subjective free-for-all, he insists: it is a communal, traditional thing, with rules.

Yet when the church claims authority to rule on sexual morality his tune changes. This aspect of its teaching is mistaken, he says, and amounts to a betrayal of the Gospel. The problem is that this tradition of sexual moralism is part of the traditional authority of the church, which Father Giles claims to affirm. In other words, he accepts the authority of the church when it suits him and rejects it when it does not.

In my opinion, the gay crisis shakes the foundations of ecclesiology. Organised religion has always been authoritarian, in calling certain moral rules God's will, in saying that moral and doctrinal orthodoxy must be upheld. As I see it, Christianity rejects this; it dispenses with the moral "law". It claims, scandalously, that God wills a new freedom - from "holy morality", from the bossy legalism inherent in religious institutionalism. Liberal Christians should be truly liberal, and see that the concept of an authoritative church has had its day - that God calls us to something new.


Read it all here.

The argument merits a much longer response than I can muster up this late on a Saturday morning (And I have been thinking about Theo's column since I first read it this morning), but I have to disagree. The notion that just because I think that the orthodox position on one issue is wrong hardly means that the other positions are necessarily wrong. And it certainly does not mean that faith has to become a relativistic free for all.

The Church need not, and should not, be authoritarian, but it need not fear asserting an authoritative faith.

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 of the traditional understanding of marriage, both in the culture and in the law, lost the battle 30 and 40 years ago. Opposition to gay marriage looks to many SSM proponents like irrational prejudice because so many Americans long ago conceded, whether they knew what they were doing or not, that marriage is essentially contractual, and has no organic connection to transcendental values -- at least none that should be reflected in the law.

To put it another way, if most heterosexuals considered traditional marriage to be sacred, there wouldn't be so much divorce, and there wouldn't be so much cohabitation. I think SSM proponents understand this intuitively, which is why the more fair-minded of them believe anti-SSM folks argue in bad faith. Mind you, the fact that the majority made a bad decision a generation ago is no reason to accept the further development of that decision's consequences without protest. But recognizing that the deconstruction of traditional marriage did not start with the gay rights movement is necessary if cultural conservatives are to realistically understand where we are in this culture, where we're likely to go, and what the prospects for cultural renewal along the lines we recognize really are (answer: dismal).


Read it all here.

What do you all think?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

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 published the report in the March issue of the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.


Whatever the reasons, the trend was welcomed by abortion opponents and abortion rights advocates.


"This study shows that prevention works, and that's what we provide in our health centers every day," said Cecile Richard of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "At the end of the day, Americans of all stripes believe that we need to do more to prevent unintended pregnancy and make health care affordable and accessible."



Said Randall K. O'Bannon of the National Right to Life Committee: "It's still a massive number, but it's moving in the right direction." He added that at least some of the drop may be the result of changing attitudes.

. . .

The report was based on a survey, conducted regularly since the 1970s, of all abortion providers known to the Guttmacher Institute. It is considered one of the most authoritative sources of data on abortions in the United States. The latest survey, of 1,787 providers, was conducted in 2005 and was the first since 2000.

. . .

The total number of abortions among women ages 15 to 44 declined from 1.3 million in 2000 to 1.2 million in 2005, an 8 percent drop that continued a trend that began in 1990, when the number of abortions peaked at more than 1.6 million, the survey found. The last time the number of abortions was that low was 1976, when slightly fewer than 1.2 million abortions were performed.

The abortion rate fell from 21.3 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 in 2000 to 19.4 in 2005, a 9 percent decline. That is the lowest since 1974, when the rate was 19.3, and far below the 1981 peak of 29.3.

The abortion rate varies widely around the country, tending to be higher in the Northeast and lower in the South and Midwest. The rate in the District dropped 20 percent but remained higher than that of any state at 54.2. Virginia's rate fell 9 percent, to 16.5, while Maryland's rate rose 8 percent, to 31.5.

The proportion of pregnancies ending in abortion also declined, falling from 24.5 percent in 2000 to 22.4 percent in 2005 -- a 9 percent drop and down from a high of 30.4 in 1983.




Read it all here.

A full copy of the study can be found here.

What is promising about the study is that it appears that the rate and number of abortions are dropping despite little decrease in access to abortion services. This means that the reason for the drop has to do more with the success of prevention programs and the decisions of women to not abort.



As you can see from the chart above, Arizona,had a three percent drop in the abortion rate from 2000 to 2005, to a rate of 16 percent--which is lower than the national rate of 19.4 percent. There was, however, an increase in the rate between 2004 and 2005.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

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, said. “What we have now found is that it also serves as positive reinforcement for aggression.”

For the experiments, a pair of mice - one male, one female - was kept in one cage and five “intruder” mice were kept in a separate cage. The female mouse was temporarily removed, and an intruder mouse was introduced in its place, triggering an aggressive response by the “home” male mouse. Aggressive behavior included tail rattle, an aggressive sideways stance, boxing and biting.

The home mouse was then trained to poke a target with its nose to get the intruder to return, at which point it again behaved aggressively toward it. The home mouse consistently poked the trigger, which was presented once a day, indicating it experienced the aggressive encounter with the intruder as a reward.

The same home mice were then treated with a drug that suppressed their dopamine receptors. After this treatment, they decreased the frequency with which they instigated the intruder’s entry.

In a separate experiment, the mice were treated with the dopamine receptor suppressors again and their movements in an open cage were observed. They showed no significant changes in overall movement compared to times when they had not received the drugs. This was done to demonstrate that their decreased aggression in the previous experiment was not caused by overall lethargy in response to the drug, a problem that had confounded previous experiments.

The Vanderbilt experiments are the first to demonstrate a link between behavior and the activity of dopamine receptors in response to an aggressive event.



read it all here.

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 principles it would like candidates and their supporters from both parties to follow:

1. That religious differences should not be used to marginalize or disparage candidates.

2. That candidates should acknowledge “that no faith can lay exclusive claim to the moral values that enrich our public life.”

3. “While it is appropriate for candidates to connect their faith to their policy positions, their positions on policy must respect all citizens regardless of religious belief.”



Read it all here.

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?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

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 usually allow. Take an analogy: someone hears a great piece of music and responds to it in itself. But someone else knows that the piece is part of a symphony and can be even more appreciated when heard as part of the whole in which it has a crucial place. As human beings we can recognise and respond to particular moral insights. But a religious believer claims to understand these as part of a much larger whole in which they have a vital place: in particular, there is a fount and origin of all our moral insights which is good, perfect good, all good, our true and everlasting good. For a Christian, this is above all shown in the willingness of God to enter the flux of history, to redeem it from within.

. . .

Commenting on the view that a society without religion will collapse, Dawkins writes: 'Perhaps naively, I have inclined towards a less cynical view of human nature than Ivan Karamazov. Do we really need policing - whether by God or each other - in order to stop us from behaving in a selfish and criminal manner? I dearly want to believe that I do not need such surveillance - and nor, dear reader, do you.'

But this overlooks a number of points. First, many people who have strong moral commitments without any religious foundation were shaped by parents or grandparents for whom morality and religion were fundamentally bound up. Moreover, many of those in the forefront of progressive political change, who have abandoned religion, have been driven by a humanism that has been essentially built up by our Christian heritage as Charles Taylor has recently brought out in his magisterial study, A Secular Age. How far are we living on moral capital?

Then, although I believe there is a shard of goodness in every human person, there is a dark side to our nature that it is sentimental to ignore, one which is still wreaking such terrible havoc. As WH Auden put it: 'We have to love our crooked neighbour with our crooked heart.' This points to the need for both self-knowledge and grace. At the beginning of this new year, with the world so stricken with growing inequality, corruption, decadence and conflict, each of us, believer and unbeliever alike, need all the help we can get.



Read it all here.

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 but with different switch settings. Health vegetarians avoid meat for practical reasons, like lowering cholesterol and avoiding toxins. Moral vegetarians avoid meat for ethical reasons: to avoid complicity in the suffering of animals. By investigating their feelings about meat-eating, Rozin showed that the moral motive sets off a cascade of opinions. Moral vegetarians are more likely to treat meat as a contaminant — they refuse, for example, to eat a bowl of soup into which a drop of beef broth has fallen. They are more likely to think that other people ought to be vegetarians, and are more likely to imbue their dietary habits with other virtues, like believing that meat avoidance makes people less aggressive and bestial.

Much of our recent social history, including the culture wars between liberals and conservatives, consists of the moralization or amoralization of particular kinds of behavior. Even when people agree that an outcome is desirable, they may disagree on whether it should be treated as a matter of preference and prudence or as a matter of sin and virtue. Rozin notes, for example, that smoking has lately been moralized. Until recently, it was understood that some people didn’t enjoy smoking or avoided it because it was hazardous to their health. But with the discovery of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, smoking is now treated as immoral. Smokers are ostracized; images of people smoking are censored; and entities touched by smoke are felt to be contaminated (so hotels have not only nonsmoking rooms but nonsmoking floors). The desire for retribution has been visited on tobacco companies, who have been slapped with staggering “punitive damages.”

At the same time, many behaviors have been amoralized, switched from moral failings to lifestyle choices. They include divorce, illegitimacy, being a working mother, marijuana use and homosexuality. Many afflictions have been reassigned from payback for bad choices to unlucky misfortunes. There used to be people called “bums” and “tramps”; today they are “homeless.” Drug addiction is a “disease”; syphilis was rebranded from the price of wanton behavior to a “sexually transmitted disease” and more recently a “sexually transmitted infection.”



Indeed, as Pinker notes, if morality is hard-wired in our brain, why should we consider our moral choices as fixed? Pinker offers some thoughts on why we should view morality as existing apart from our biology even if we accept that our moral instincts are indeed hard-wired in our brains::

Here is the worry. The scientific outlook has taught us that some parts of our subjective experience are products of our biological makeup and have no objective counterpart in the world. The qualitative difference between red and green, the tastiness of fruit and foulness of carrion, the scariness of heights and prettiness of flowers are design features of our common nervous system, and if our species had evolved in a different ecosystem or if we were missing a few genes, our reactions could go the other way. Now, if the distinction between right and wrong is also a product of brain wiring, why should we believe it is any more real than the distinction between red and green? And if it is just a collective hallucination, how could we argue that evils like genocide and slavery are wrong for everyone, rather than just distasteful to us?

Putting God in charge of morality is one way to solve the problem, of course, but Plato made short work of it 2,400 years ago. Does God have a good reason for designating certain acts as moral and others as immoral? If not — if his dictates are divine whims — why should we take them seriously? Suppose that God commanded us to torture a child. Would that make it all right, or would some other standard give us reasons to resist? And if, on the other hand, God was forced by moral reasons to issue some dictates and not others — if a command to torture a child was never an option — then why not appeal to those reasons directly?

This throws us back to wondering where those reasons could come from, if they are more than just figments of our brains. They certainly aren’t in the physical world like wavelength or mass. The only other option is that moral truths exist in some abstract Platonic realm, there for us to discover, perhaps in the same way that mathematical truths (according to most mathematicians) are there for us to discover. On this analogy, we are born with a rudimentary concept of number, but as soon as we build on it with formal mathematical reasoning, the nature of mathematical reality forces us to discover some truths and not others. (No one who understands the concept of two, the concept of four and the concept of addition can come to any conclusion but that 2 + 2 = 4.) Perhaps we are born with a rudimentary moral sense, and as soon as we build on it with moral reasoning, the nature of moral reality forces us to some conclusions but not others.

Moral realism, as this idea is called, is too rich for many philosophers’ blood. Yet a diluted version of the idea — if not a list of cosmically inscribed Thou-Shalts, then at least a few If-Thens — is not crazy. Two features of reality point any rational, self-preserving social agent in a moral direction. And they could provide a benchmark for determining when the judgments of our moral sense are aligned with morality itself.




This is a very rich and useful essay--and is well worth a read. Read it all here.

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.

Still, studying these arguments can pay big intellectual dividends. Take the cosmological argument, the first one Paulos considers. It goes something like this. The universe we live in seems contingent. Nothing about it suggests that it exists by its own nature. Therefore, if there is an explanation for the universe’s existence, that explanation must involve another kind of entity — one that does exist by its very nature. Call this entity “God.”

From that barest of sketches, it is obvious that the cosmological argument has some grave problems. For one thing, it takes for granted the dubious principle that everything has an explanation. For another, there is no reason to suppose that the self-existent entity it points to has any other divine attributes, like omniscience or benevolence. But grappling with its flawed logic has led to a deeper understanding of existence, causation, time and infinity.

Paulos misses most of that. Just when the going ought to get good, intellectually speaking, he bales out with a jokey allusion to self-fellating yogis. He has a similarly glib way with the other classic arguments for God’s existence. The ontological argument — which, in its most up-to-date version, involves a subtle analysis of how existence might be built into the very definition of being like a god — is “logical abracadabra.” The argument from design is a “creationist Ponzi scheme” that “quickly leads to metaphysical bankruptcy.” You wonder how such transparently silly arguments could have engaged serious thinkers from Descartes, Leibniz and Hegel to the present day.

. . .

Paulos concedes that, just as arguments for God’s existence are logically inconclusive, so too are arguments against God’s existence. That means that you can either believe or disbelieve without being convicted of stark irrationality. Similarly, Paulos’s fellow mathematicians can either believe that they are communing with a Platonic realm of perfect mathematical entities, or they can believe that they are playing a meaningless game with symbols on paper. Most mathematicians appear to be in the former camp. Is it wrong of them to hold this unexamined and (arguably) groundless faith if it helps them flourish in their mathematical lives?

The same pragmatic justification may apply to the many intellectuals I know who, despite the exertions of Paulos, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins et al., are serious about religion (usually, as it happens, either Catholicism or Judaism). But I sometimes wonder whether they’re not a little like the physicist Niels Bohr, who (the story goes) nailed a horseshoe above his office door for good luck. “You don’t really believe in that stuff, do you?” a colleague asked him one day. To which Bohr responded, “No, but I’ve heard it works even for people who don’t believe.”


Read it all here.

I think this review comes fairly close to the views of Christians, like myself, who are willing to accept the teachings of science, yet still believe in God. In the end, given that science and rationality can neither prove nor disprove our faith, I think that our differences with our modern atheist and agnostic friends is caused by a different world view--and that world view is the result of personal experience and not reasoning.

I have a world view that what we can detect with our senses is not all that there may be. Like the philosophers questioned by Thomas Morris, for me this acceptance of the possibility of a God was largely the result of a sense of a loving God active in my own life. Could this be nothing more than some unexplained brain chemistry or the misfiring of a few of my synapses? Perhaps. But like the Platonic mathematician, my life is richer for my belief, and (in my view at least), I am a better person because of my belief. So why change?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

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.

Enjoy

Saturday, January 5, 2008

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 continue to stand for the traditional expression of the Faith.


As you might imagine, the Anglican blogosphere is having a great deal of fun with this. My favorite response is by Andrew Gerns:

Given the many cultural permutations of the story of the Magi, one might wonder what the problem is. The letter says that we must conform to Scripture, rather than make Scripture conform to us and our preferences and tastes. Fine.

But one of the ways we conform to Scripture is to let it infuse us, challenge us, change us. The image of the card allows us to look at the story of the Magi's visit with new eyes. It is not saying that the Magi were, or should have been, women. It is not a retelling of the story or changing the nativity...it is a reflection on the meaning, depth and power of the incarnation and our response to it.

. . .

The folks in Fort Worth say they are mad about Scripture being reinterpreted. But the story itself has an amazing (and rich) story of interpretation! In fact, were it not for that history, the story would not nearly be as lovable--or lovely! But there is reinterpretation and then there is meddling. Clearly, the good people in leadership in Fort Worth don't want to go there.

Okay. So the card is not their cup o' tea. Why have they chosen to take public offense?

I think that they are offended with the idea that faithful women can encounter the Messiah. They are offended that faithful women might gather round and give praise and homage to our Lord and come away with a message of peace and community.

Is that really so threatening? For some people it clearly is.

(Besides... we all know that if the Magi were really women, they'd have brought much more useful gifts!)


Read it all here.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Iowa

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 a story of youth, possibility and unity through diversity — the primordial themes of the American experience.

And Americans are not going to want to see this stopped. When an African-American man is leading a juggernaut to the White House, do you want to be the one to stand up and say No?

Obama has achieved something remarkable. At first blush, his speeches are abstract, secular sermons of personal uplift — filled with disquisitions on the nature of hope and the contours of change.

He talks about erasing old categories like red and blue (and implicitly, black and white) and replacing them with new categories, of which the most important are new and old. He seems at first more preoccupied with changing thinking than changing legislation.

Yet over the course of his speeches and over the course of this campaign, he has persuaded many Iowans that there is substance here as well. He built a great organization and produced a tangible victory.

. . .

Obama is changing the tone of American liberalism, and maybe American politics, too.

On the Republican side, my message is: Be not afraid. Some people are going to tell you that Mike Huckabee’s victory last night in Iowa represents a triumph for the creationist crusaders. Wrong.

Huckabee won because he tapped into realities that other Republicans have been slow to recognize. First, evangelicals have changed. Huckabee is the first ironic evangelical on the national stage. He’s funny, campy (see his Chuck Norris fixation) and he’s not at war with modern culture.

Second, Huckabee understands much better than Mitt Romney that we have a crisis of authority in this country. People have lost faith in their leaders’ ability to respond to problems. While Romney embodies the leadership class, Huckabee went after it. He criticized Wall Street and K Street. Most importantly, he sensed that conservatives do not believe their own movement is well led. He took on Rush Limbaugh, the Club for Growth and even President Bush. The old guard threw everything they had at him, and their diminished power is now exposed.

Third, Huckabee understands how middle-class anxiety is really lived. Democrats talk about wages. But real middle-class families have more to fear economically from divorce than from a free trade pact. A person’s lifetime prospects will be threatened more by single parenting than by outsourcing. Huckabee understands that economic well-being is fused with social and moral well-being, and he talks about the inter-relationship in a way no other candidate has.

In that sense, Huckabee’s victory is not a step into the past. It opens up the way for a new coalition.

. . .

Will Huckabee move on and lead this new conservatism? Highly doubtful. The past few weeks have exposed his serious flaws as a presidential candidate. His foreign policy knowledge is minimal. His lapses into amateurishness simply won’t fly in a national campaign.

So the race will move on to New Hampshire. Mitt Romney is now grievously wounded. Romney represents what’s left of Republicanism 1.0. Huckabee and McCain represent half-formed iterations of Republicanism 2.0. My guess is Republicans will now swing behind McCain in order to stop Mike.

Huckabee probably won’t be the nominee, but starting last night in Iowa, an evangelical began the Republican Reformation.



Read it all here.

Second, Diana Butler Bass has an interestign analysis of the very different faith backgrouns of Obama and Huckabee:

In the late 19th century, American Protestantism divided into fundamentalist and modernist camps. In the political realm, fundamentalists believed that personal conversion was the foundation of politics. If Jesus changed individuals, individuals might change society if God so called them. But they more typically shied away from politics as sinful, defining it as an essentially hopeless enterprise. They eschewed social change in favor of a kind of feisty Jesus-centered ethics of personal responsibility, private prayer, and morality. They bemoaned the possibility of political change without being born again.


Modernist Protestants argued that politics existed as part of larger social structures—economic, social, and class systems. These structures were corrupted by sin and injustice. Yet, they could be transformed through human goodness and God's justice. Instead of emphasizing individual morality, modernist Protestants extolled a political theology of the common good regardless of personal faith. As a result, they stressed hope, change, and the future in their politics—and its communal emphasis tended to resonate with African-American Protestants.


During the last century, these two visions have gone through several historical permutations. However, they continue to shape American Protestantism. As a Southern Baptist, Huckabee emphasizes Christian conversion, personal morality, and individual character. Obama, as part of a liberal denomination, articulates the communal vision of progressive Protestantism, appealing to human goodness, optimism, and social justice. Whereas Huckabee speaks of the "zeal" of individuals to "do the right thing" and act heroically, Obama preaches on "building a coalition" to transform the nation through innovation and creating a new global community. They are replaying, in dynamic new voices, an old disagreement in American religion.


The Iowa winners represent the two major traditions of Protestant political theology. If Huckabee and Obama wind up as presidential nominees, it would be the first time since the Great Protestant Divide that candidates so clearly articulated these two versions of religion and politics—and so clearly have the opportunity to reshape an old argument. Although it is far too early to make such predictions, the next election could be a referendum on the Protestant political soul.



Read it all here.

My take on this is similar to Brooks. I think that it is likely that Obama will now get the nomination, but Hillary Clinton's stength cannot be underestimated. this battle will go on for some time. I also think that Brooks is right about Huckabee's appeal--this is not Jerry Fallwell. This former Baptist minister did not govern as a Moral Majority leader--which is why the establishment Republicans like the Club for Growth and Rush Limbaugh hate Huckabee so much. In a real sense, Huckabee reflects the new Evangelical leader that I have written about on this blog--I can't imagine that I would ever vote for the man, but there is much to admire about him.

Anglican Bloggers on Facebook

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

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 with the people behind the websites. Who knows, we might discover we’re all human after all. And where the bloggers lead the bishops follow. Or something.



Read it all here. The Facebook group can be found here.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

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 about at least one thing all along: it is not just homosexuality which divides the 50 or 60 million Anglicans around the world. They are also divided about whether women can be priests; some Anglicans doubt whether even men can be priests (the more extreme evangelicals believe in "ministers" or leaders instead); they are divided over whether marriage must be lifelong, and, if so, always to one woman (there are parts of Africa where the church welcomes polygamous converts); and they are also bitterly divided about Islam and Zionism.

. . .

The leaders of the church in south-east Asia are certainly anti-gay, and unenthusiastic about Muslims. But they don't like being pushed around, either, and the last straw came when one of their theologians received an angry email from Akinola which appeared to have been drafted by one of the Archbishop's conservative American advisers, whom he has rewarded with a bishopric.

The purpose of the Jerusalem meeting is to organise a formal rupture in the Anglican communion, which would leave the liberals isolated and cast out and someone very like Dr Akinola running a much more conservative, disciplined organisation. But there is no reason to believe that most Anglicans, conservative or not, want to belong to a disciplined global organisation.

The choice for them this summer may come down to one of Williams' painfully reluctant leadership or Akinola's enthusiastic alternative. If that is what happens, the events of this week make it look as though Williams will be the one to emerge with a global following - providing he doesn't try actually to lead them anywhere. Small danger of that.


Read it all here.

I think that Brown may be right. Williams is clearly working hard on a strategy of delay--and that strategy is working. the real test, of course, will be on attendance at Lambeth, but I suspect that many in the orthodox parts of the Anglican Communion will attend.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

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 pluralism and democracy. In fact, one of Kennedy's advisers on his Houston speech, the Jesuit John Courtney Murray, had recently been silenced by the Vatican for defending religious pluralism.

. . .

Kennedy had to convince people that he would not let the Vatican push him around. Romney has let evangelicals know that he would let them push him around. He not only has given them a theological formula on Jesus which he hopes they will accept—he implicitly has attacked Kennedy's absolute separation of church and state using the evangelicals' own slogan: those who think (like Kennedy) that "religion is seen merely as a private affair" are, Romney said, "intent on establishing a new religion in America—the religion of secularism. They are wrong." That phrase has not been much noticed in public comments on Romney's speech, but it is a key statement for the evangelicals. Like George Bush's speechwriters, Romney has learned the code of Rightspeak—just as he learned Leftspeak when running for governor in Massachusetts.

That secularism is a religion is a position fiercely held by some on the right. They use it to say that separating church and state breaches the First Amendment, which forbids the establishment of a religion. In their topsy-turvy arguments, the First Amendment thus forbids the separation of church and state. Romney was speaking in that code. In his speech he made many other appeals to the religious right, as when he put "the breakdown of the family" in his list of most pressing national problems (another hit at Giuliani). He praised the use of religious symbols "in our public places." Though he did not specifically mention the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, he implied approval of their presence there. (He should be questioned on this matter.) The Bush administration and its lackeying Republican Congress would do anything for the religious right. When the right said "Jump!" on the Terri Schiavo case, the President and Congress said "How high?" Romney signals that he would act in the same way.

. . .

Has Romney been able to "do a Kennedy," as his speech was billed in the press? Far from it. Kennedy was on the side of the future. He defied the Vatican's ban on American-style democracy, which was rescinded in the Second Vatican Council, convened after his election. Romney—looking to the past, and specifically to the current Bush administration's position—kowtowed to the religious right. Saying that he opposes religious tests, he passed that one.




Read it all here.

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 differences, the major forms of which are familiar staples of daily debate.

But underlying these familiar differences is a deeper opposition of thought, one that concerns this question: are individual human beings capable of overcoming such limitations of circumstance as birth, class, culture, deficits of education, and even the distorting pressures of history itself, to achieve by will and endeavour what they identify as good, granting that there are as many kinds of good as there are talents for achieving them? Or are people, or the vast majority of them, too weak, too fallible, too constrained by those circumstances, to be able to do this, meaning that they are essentially dependent, and need to be instructed and guided by the few who assume the role of leaders, teachers, those who know the right answers and possess the truth?

This great struggle of ideas is a modern one. It arises from the realisation, beginning in the 16th century, that the latter view, which had been dominant everywhere in history save for the enfranchised (adult male) communities of the Greek city states of classical antiquity and the educated strata of subsequent Hellenistic and Roman (especially republican) society, required challenge on the grounds that it not merely premises but actually works to achieve the permanent intellectual infancy of humanity. The monolithic ideologies require a dependent, submissive mass mind; in recovering the classical idea of individual potential for autonomy - the capacity of individuals to shape themselves according to their conception of such truly human goods as love, friendship, pleasure, kindness, knowledge and discovery, creativity and achievement - the modern western liberal and secular mind has fought to break itself free from that imposed dependency.

This is not a merely abstract point. This deep divide in opinion about what human beings are and what they can do is at work in concrete ways in the daily reality of our world, from the quarrels between outlooks that divide us on this website to the bitterness and violence of too much of the world beyond it.

. . .

In turning on nothing less than the question of the nature of humankind, the significance of today's debates is ultimate. The shock of collision between outlooks has exposed the nerve of the issue, and that is why so many are taking sides, or announcing which side they are already on. The polarisation is alas as dangerous as it is inevitable, which is why it is worth iterating the hope that rational debate, respect for evidence, and clarity, will sooner rather than later bring a peaceful conclusion to this phase in what could be, and certainly should be, humankind's progress.




Read it all here.

Now Grayling would put me on the "authoritarian" side of this divide--merely because I am a Christian--but I think his larger point about the roots of modern ideological conflict are nontheless instructive. One good example is the great Christian debate about the authority of Scripture. In my debates with those who assert that Scripture in inerrant (even among those who do not accept literalism), I am inevitably confronted with the argument that if the Bible is not accepted as inerant than the result is relativism and "pick and choose" Christianity. It seems to me that this reflects the very divide that Grayling proposes--and reflects a particular view of whether we can trust modern day Christians to listen to the Holy Spirit.