Monday, June 30, 2008

Work Break

I have a full day evidentiary hearing later this week and then will enjoy an extended weekend in an undisclosed coool location. I doubt that I will be able to read blogs, much less post on this one in the next week.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Bishop Chane on Gay Marriage

Bishop John Bryson Chane, Bishop of the Diocese of Washington, had this comment in the Guardian yesterday:

Conservative Christians say opening marriage to gay couples would undermine an immutable institution founded on divine revelation. Archbishop Henry Orombi, the primate of the Church of Uganda, calls it blasphemy. But, theologically, support for same-sex marriage is not a dramatic break with tradition, but a recognition that the church's understanding of marriage has changed dramatically over 2,000 years.

Christians have always argued about marriage. Jesus criticised the Mosaic law on divorce, saying "What God has joined together let no man separate", but even that dictum appears in different versions in the Gospels, and was modified in the letters of Peter and Paul. Christians had to square the ecstatic sensuality of the Song of Songs with Paul's teaching that marriage was a fallen estate, useful primarily in saving those who could not be celibate from fornication.

This tension is indicative of the church's long struggle to reconcile the notion that sexuality is a gift from God with its deep suspicion of the pleasure of sex. As the historian Stephanie Coontz points out, the church did not bless marriages until the third century, or define marriage as a sacrament until 1215. The church embraced many of the assumptions of the patriarchal culture, in which women and marriageable children were assets to be controlled and exploited to the advantage of the man who headed their household.

The theology of marriage was heavily influenced by economic and legal considerations; it emphasised procreation, and spoke only secondarily of the "mutual consolation of the spouses". In the 19th and 20th centuries, however, the relationship of the spouses assumed new importance, as the church came to understand that marriage was a profoundly spiritual relationship in which partners experienced, through mutual affection and self-sacrifice, the unconditional love of God.

The Episcopal Church's 1979 Book of Common Prayer puts it this way: "We believe that the union of husband and wife, in heart, body and mind, is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God's will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord."

Our evolving understanding of what marriage is leads, of necessity, to a re-examination of who it is for. Most Christian denominations no longer teach that all sex acts must be open to the possibility of procreation (hence, contraception is permitted). Nor do they hold that infertility precludes marriage. The church has deepened its understanding of the way in which faithful couples experience and embody the love of the creator for creation. In so doing, it has put itself in a position to consider whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

Opponents of gay marriage may raise other objections - that it is unsuitable, for instance, to raise children with two mothers or two fathers. I believe these arguments are easily refuted, but they are arguments about effective social policy, not sound theology. Christians who want to deny others the blessings they claim for themselves should not assume they speak for the Almighty.



Read it all here.

Friday is For Politics: The State of the Race II


As shown by pollster.com's "poll of polls", Obama is keeping (but not increasing) his modest lead over John McCain. What is interesting is that Obama is clearly doing a better job exciting his bases than McCain. As the graph below shows, however, Obama still has a sizable percentage of Democrats who have strongly negative views about him. This, of course, is the expected result of the primary battle:



Nate Silver explains:

A greater number of Democrats' -- about 8 percent -- have a very unfavorable view of Obama. These 8 percent are your PUMAs -- people that will probably not vote for Obama under any circumstances. Only 4 percent of Republicans feel that way about John McCain.

Obama would be thrilled, of course, if he could actually get his defection rate down to 8 percent: John Kerry lost 11 percent of Democrats to George W. Bush; Al Gore lost 11 percent to Bush and 2 to Nader; Bill Clinton lost 10 percent to Bob Dole and 5 percent to Ross Perot. In reality, Obama will probably lose almost all of the "very unfavorables" and perhaps half of the "somewhat unfavorables", which would produce a defection rate of 12-13 percent (not all of those necessarily to McCain). McCain's defection rate, by that calculus, would be 9-10 percent (not all of those necessarily to Obama).

But look, by contrast, at the enthusiasm gap between the two candidates. 56 percent of Democrats have a very favorable view of Barack Obama, while just 34 percent of Republicans have a very favorable view of John McCain. The thing that's a little bit scary for McCain is that this is after a likely voter screen has been applied, and so even after you get done filtering out those Republicans around the margins who weren't planning to vote in the first place, many of the remaining ones are still doing so for McCain somewhat grudgingly.


Read it all here.

Nate's website, by the way is (along with pollster.com), a political junkie's dream. He tracks all the state by state polling and does daily electoral college projections. Here is his latest map:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

James Dobson Doesn't Speak For Me

James Dobson gave a radio show yesterday that was very critical of Barack Obama's views on faith and politics. Reports on his remarks can be found here. Well within a day, there is a website up called "James Dobson Doesn't Speak For Me" that responds to Dobson's attacks. What is interesting is who is behind this website. CBN Corespondent David Brody explains:

The effort is being spearheaded by Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell. Caldwell is the well-known, well-respected minister of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. Windsor Village began with 25 members. Today it has more than 14,000.

You probably remember Caldwell from the 2000 RNC Convention. He introduced President Bush. The two men are still very close. He is one of President Bush's closest spiritual advisors. According to reports, he conducted Jenna Bush's wedding. . .

Sources tell The Brody File that as of 8 a.m. EST, more than 2,700 people have logged on to this Web site.



Read it all here.

The website includes a point by point refutation of Dobson's remarks, and includes this statement:

James Dobson doesn't speak for me.

He doesn't speak for me when he uses religion as a wedge to divide;

He doesn't speak for me when he speaks as the final arbiter on the meaning of the Bible;

James Dobson doesn't speak for me when he uses the beliefs of others as a line of attack;

He doesn't speak for me when he denigrates his neighbor's views when they don't line up with his;

He doesn't speak for me when he seeks to confine the values of my faith to two or three issues alone;

What does speak for me is David's psalm celebrating how good and pleasant it is when we come together in unity;

Micah speaks for me in reminding us that the Lord requires us to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with Him;

The prophet Isaiah speaks for me in his call for all to come and reason together and also to seek justice, encourage the oppressed and to defend the cause of the vulnerable;

The book of Nehemiah speaks for me in its example to work with our neighbors, not against them, to restore what was broken in our communities;

The book of Matthew speaks for me in saying to bless those that curse you and pray for those who persecute you;

The words of the apostle Paul speak for me in saying that words spoken and deeds done without love amount to nothing.

The apostle John speaks for me in reminding us of Jesus' command to love one another. The world will know His disciples by that love.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

God As What Emerges From Complexity

Scientific American reviews Reinventing the Sacred (Basic Books, 2008) a new book by Stuart Kauffman, that argues that God is what emerges from complexity:

French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace was able to “imagine an Intelligence who would know at a given instant of time all forces acting in nature and the position of all things of which the world consists.... Then it could derive a result that would embrace in one and the same formula the motion of the largest bodies in the universe and of the lightest atoms. Nothing would be uncertain for this Intelligence.”

By the early 20th century science undertook to become Laplace’s demon. It cast a wide “causal net” linking effects to causes throughout the past and into the future and sought to explain all complex phenomena by reducing them into their simpler component parts. Nobel laureate physicist Steven Weinberg captured this philosophy of reductionism poignantly: “All the explanatory arrows point downward, from societies to people, to organs, to cells, to biochemistry, to chemistry, and ultimately to physics.” In such an all-encompassing and fully explicable cosmos, then, what place for God?

Stuart Kauffman has an answer: naturalize the deity. In his new book, Reinventing the Sacred (Basic Books, 2008), Kauffman—founding director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics at the University of Calgary in Alberta and one of the pioneers of complexity theory—reverses the reductionist’s causal arrow with a comprehensive theory of emergence and self-organization that he says “breaks no laws of physics” and yet cannot be explained by them. God “is our chosen name for the ceaseless creativity in the natural universe, biosphere and human cultures,” Kauffman declares.

In Kauffman’s emergent universe, reductionism is not wrong so much as incomplete. It has done much of the heavy lifting in the history of science, but reductionism cannot explain a host of as yet unsolved mysteries, such as the origin of life, the biosphere, consciousness, evolution, ethics and economics. How would a reductionist explain the biosphere, for example? “One approach would be, following Newton, to write down the equations for the evolution of the biosphere and solve them. This cannot be done,” Kauffman avers. “We cannot say ahead of time what novel functionalities will arise in the biosphere. Thus we do not know what variables—lungs, wings, etc.—to put into our equations. The Newtonian scientific framework where we can prestate the variables, the laws among the variables, and the initial and boundary conditions, and then compute the forward behavior of the system, cannot help us predict future states of the biosphere.”

This problem is not merely an epistemological matter of computing power, Kauffman cautions; it is an ontological problem of different causes at different levels. Something wholly new emerges at these higher levels of complexity.

Similar ontological differences exist in the self-organized emergence of consciousness, morality and the economy. . . .[E]conomics and evolution are complex adaptive systems that learn and grow as they evolve from simple to complex and how they are autocatalytic, or containing self-driving feedback loops. . . [S]uch phenomena “cannot be deduced from physics, have causal powers of their own, and therefore are emergent real entities in the universe.” This creative process of emergence, Kauffman contends, “is so stunning, so overwhelming, so worthy of awe, gratitude and respect, that it is God enough for many of us. God, a fully natural God, is the very creativity in the universe.”



Read it all here.

This is obviously not the God of theistic religions, but is instead an explanation that what we call God is the result of the complexity of nature. This is Deism 2.0.

Ruth Gledhill: There Will Be No Spilt

Ruth Gledhill has certainly provided great coverage of GAFCON. Here is her latest report:

Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi, primate of Kenya and leader of that country's four million Anglicans, confirmed last night that there will be no split at Gafcon. See our news report. This is significant because he is heading the committee that is drawing up the final communique that will be issued on Sunday night. It also confirms the word here that the agenda is now reform from within, as we reported earlier. The figure that is crucial in all this is not based in Africa at all, although he is in the Global South. The formidable Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, pictured here at Gafcon, has become the key player on the Anglican conservative wing, shifting the emphasis from the US conservatives to the South. Significantly, Pittsburgh bishop Bob Duncan, who heads Common Cause, isn't even here, although he was in Jordan and looked after the Pakistani and Sudanese bishops who weren't allowed into Israel after the others left to be with Archbishop Akinola. Bishop Duncan's address in Jordan has been emailed out widely.

. . .

But we are here at Gafcon, and it is clear that the mantle of leadership has fallen on Archbishop Jensen. With all those lovely pies to have fingers in in England - Wycliffe, Oak Hill (whose principal is here), St Helen's - does anyone seriously think this man wants to walk away? No, he is building an impressive empire from within and none of us should underestimate. Anyway, I like worship at St Helen's. The music is great, it feels good. It is full of highly-intelligent doctors from St Bart's. (The hospital, that is!) This is what gets the people in and in an age of a declining liberal centre, finding a Christianity that still works is important.

At Gafcon, the 300 or so bishops, and that includes probably a dozen or maybe more from the American continuing churches, are visibly impressed by Archbishop Jensen and it comes over in what they say. The change of tone is significant. The rhetoric is still high, but it has become more, somehow, recognisably 'Anglican'. In other words, although they would resist strongly calling it this, compromise is in the air.

I asked Archbishop Nzimbi at the press conference to talk about the communique. Will there be a split?

'I cannot think of anything better than maintaining the faith. The faith remains to me more important than the other positions I have. Gafcon is going to help the Anglican Church. We are still Anglicans.

'Lambeth passes resolutions. No action is taken. It becomes something which cannot have authority... It is one of the instruments which is not giving results.'

In other words, what they are looking for is authority and leadership. They are not getting it from the figure of unity or the instruments of community, save in one respect. Love or loathe his views, and I fall Anglican-style in the middle here, Achbishop Jensen is one of the few in the Church outside Africa who can lead and who possesses authority.

Archbishop Henry Orombi, of Uganda, also at the press conference last night, took over at this point: 'What we are meeting for here is not to plan to walk away. We are meeting to renew our commitment, to renew our faith, to get a sense of direction of what we can be as Anglicans. We do not want to start a new Church.'

So there you have it folks. There will be no schism. The Anglican in me is delighted. But what do I tell my newsdesk?



Read it all here.

I think there two developments of note. First, despite expectations that GAFCON would lead to a split in the Anglican Communion, that is not occuring. Second, leadership of the orthodox Anglicans is moving away from the Africans to Archbishop Jensen.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Only Gay at GAFCON

GAFCON is a conference of orthodox Anglicans who oppose the direction of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada--particularly on issues of sexuality. It is taking place now in Jerusalem. For up to the hour reporting, go the Lead. For a thoughtful orthodox Episcopalian comment on GAFCON, check out what Father Dan Martins has to say on his blog here.

Ruth Gledhill, the religion reporter for the Times is in Jerusalem, and also offers good coverage. She has a fascinating blog post today about Iain Baxter, the oly openly gay man at GAFCON:

In the early 1990s, when he was in his 20s, Iain Baxter spoke passionately at the Methodist Conference in the UK arguing the case for chastity outside marriage and fidelity within it. His speech helped sway the conference and that became its official policy, although in practice the Methodists are more liberal. Iain became a Christian at 14, at about the same time he was starting to understand that he was gay.

. . .

He is no longer a conservative evangelical, but still a passionate Christian, serving as a lay deacon in the Metropolitan Church of Christ in Manchester, and is open about his sexuality. He is celibate at the moment. Given the attitude of the Christian church in general towards homosexuality, there are not that many openly-gay Christian men to choose from. It was he who asked the question about persecution of homosexuals to which the African primates failed to give an adequate response, although Sydney's Peter Jensen did step in and issue the required condemnation. Riazat Butt has written about this and Thinking Anglicans has posted the press conference transcript, meaning I won't post it here.



. . .

Iain, walking with me down the Via Dolorosa after the Mount of Olivers trip, explained what happened when he was converted at 14. 'I clearly remember thinking that God had called me for one of two possibilities. One was that I was to tell the Church that homosexuality was ok. The other was that I was to tell the world that it was wrong. For the first ten years, I said the latter. I became a Methodist local preacher and preached that all sex outside marriage was wrong.'

He explained what changed his mind. 'It was seeing God at work in a very powerful way in many lesbian and gay Christians, seeing them display the fruits of the spirit, the fruits of love and joy and forgiveness. It was being able to go along to the Metropolitan Church and being able to worship God in a very real and powerful way, being changed by God's power.'

Regarding Gafcon, he is there as an act of service. 'I am sure that many of them are deeply committed and are God's people. I am praying that their eyes will be opened.'



Read it all here.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sunday Worship at Trinity Cathedral


This short video, taken during the Bishops' visit to our parish on Trinity Cathedral, does a good job showing what worship is like at Trinity Cathedral. Sadly, there are no shots of my family that I noticed.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Stopping the Big Sort: We Need More Garys

Gary is a frequent commentator on this blog. I think that it is safe to say that Gary disagrees with my perspective on virtually every issue discussed on this blog. He rejects evolution and thinks that Christianity requires a belief in the Genesis account of creation. He seems to be a Biblical literalist (or at least something close). And, please, don't get him started on gays and lesbians! (In one comment, he pretty much asked for my early demise since I once represented a group fighting a proposal to place a constitutional ban on same sex marriage in the Arizona constitution).

Still, I have immense respect and admiration for Gary. Why? Despite the fact that my blog probably makes him mad, and apparently challenges the very core of his belief system, he drops by here to read what is posted here several times a day. He actively seeks out opinions that are contrary to his own. He does not let himself live in a safe conservative part of the blogosphere.

I thought of this when I read a review of The Big Sort in the Economist:

Because Americans are so mobile, even a mild preference for living with like-minded neighbours leads over time to severe segregation. An accountant in Texas, for example, can live anywhere she wants, so the liberal ones move to the funky bits of Austin while the more conservative ones prefer the exurbs of Dallas. Conservative Californians can find refuge in Orange County or the Central Valley.

Over time, this means Americans are ever less exposed to contrary views. In a book called “Hearing the Other Side”, Diana Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania crunched survey data from 12 countries and found that Americans were the least likely of all to talk about politics with those who disagreed with them.

. . .

Residential segregation is not the only force Balkanising American politics, frets Mr Bishop. Multiple cable channels allow viewers to watch only news that reinforces their prejudices. The internet offers an even finer filter. Websites such as conservativedates.com or democraticsingles.net help Americans find ideologically predictable mates.

. . .

America, says Mr Bishop, is splitting into “balkanised communities whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible.” He has a point. Republicans who never meet Democrats tend to assume that Democrats believe more extreme things than they really do, and vice versa. This contributes to the nasty tone of many political campaigns.



Read it all here.

We all need to learn from Gary. We need to get out of our habits of reading blogs we agree with written by people who think like we do. Like Gary, I doubt that this will change the way we think, but it will undoubtedly help us at least to to begin to understand different views of the world.

Of course, Gary, I am still hoping for a conversion!

Friday is For Politics: The State of the Race

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Okay, I can't help myself. I have to blog at least a little bit on the Presidential race--even when there is no faith angle. I therefore announce my new weekly post: Friday is For Friends: the State of the Race.

So here is the state of the race: As you can see from the "poll of poll" chart from pollster.com, Obama has had a noticeable bounce since Clinton left the race. The lead is still small--five points on average, but the lead is there nonetheless.





Perhaps most critically, this bounce is most pronounced in states, like Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania that Obama lost to Clinton. It appears that Obama is now beating McCain in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and is in a dead heat in Florida. These are "must win" states for McCain--especially since Obama is doing well in places like Colorado and Virginia.

So what does this all mean? Josh Marshall provides some great analysis in this video:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Father Matthew Presents: The Ascension and Mary Poppins



Okay--this has to be one of Father Matthews best videos: a clever explanation of why Jesus ascended by a study of the movie Mary Poppins. Brilliant.

N.T. Wright on the Colbert Report Tonight


N.T. Wright (aka Tom Wright), the Bishop of Durham, and a leading Anglican biblical scholar, will be on the Colbert Report tonight. His recent books include: Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church and Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense.
Hat tip to Dan Porter.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Anastasis


Here is the latest from Trinity Cathedral Media that I blogged about earlier. (Anastasis, by the way, is Greek for Resurrection). The video itslef is about Jesus's descent into Hell. Enjoy

Giles Fraser on Gay Marriage


The Rev. Gileas Fraser offers thoughtful piece on gay marriage on BBC Radio this morning:

Back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as the Book of Common Prayer was being put together, marriage was said to be for three purposes:
First, It was ordained for the procreation of children …
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication ..
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.
How do these three concerns relate to the prospect of gay marriage?

The third priority insists that marriage is designed to bring human beings into loving and supportive relationships. Surely no one can deny that homosexual men and women are in as much need of loving and supportive relationships as anybody else. And equally deserving of them too. This one seems pretty clear.

The second priority relates to the encouragement of monogamy. The Archbishop of Canterbury himself has rightly recognised that celibacy is a vocation to which many gay people are simply not called. Which is why, it strikes me, the church ought to be offering gay people a basis for monogamous relationships that are permanent, faithful and stable.

So that leaves the whole question of procreation. And clearly a gay couple cannot make babies biologically. But then neither can those who marry much later in life. Many couples, for a whole range of reasons, find they cannot conceive children – or, simply, don’t choose to. Is marriage to be denied them? Of course not.

For these reasons - and also after contraception became fully accepted in the Church of England – the modern marriage service shifted the emphasis away from procreation. The weight in today’s wedding liturgy is on the creation of loving and stable relationships. For me, this is something in which gay Christians have a perfect right to participate.

I know many people of good will are bound to disagree with me on this. But gay marriage isn’t about culture wars or church politics; it’s fundamentally about one person loving another. The fact that two gay men have proclaimed this love in the presence of God, before friends and family and in the context of prayerful reflection is something I believe the church should welcome. It’s not as if there’s so much real love in the world that we can afford to be dismissive of what little we do find. Which is why my view is we ought to celebrate real love however and wherever we find it.


Read (and listen) to it all here. (You can also find it here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

New Scientific Evidence on Origins of Sexual Orientation


Two new studies provide new evidence of the biological origins of sexual orientation,. The first study examined brian differences relevant to sexual orientation:

Researchers using brain scans have found new evidence that biology—and not environment—is at the core of sexual orientation. Scientists at the Stockholm Brain Institute in Sweden report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that gay men and straight women share similar traits—most notably in the size of their brains and the activity of the amygdala—an area of the brain tied to emotion, anxiety and aggression. The same is true for heterosexual men and lesbians.

Study author, neurologist Ivanka Savic–Berglund, says such characteristics would develop in the womb or in early infancy, meaning that psychological or environmental factors played little or no role.

"This is yet another in a long series of observations showing there's a biological reason for sexual orientation," says Dean Hamer, a molecular biologist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), who was not involved in the study. "It's not just a reflection of people's behavior, nor is it a choice, nor is it something in their rearing environment. [The study] shows that it's something that people are born with."

Previous studies have examined brain differences between gay and straight people on the basis of their responses to various tasks, such as rating the attractiveness of other people. The problem was that there was no way to determine whether their responses were colored by learned social cues.

To get around this, Savic-Berglund focused on the structure and function of brain regions that develop during fetal development or early infancy—without using any cognitive tasks or rating systems.

The researchers used MRIs to determine the volume and shapes of the brains of 90 volunteers—25 straight and 20 gay members of each sex. They found that the straight men and gay women had asymmetrical brains; that is, the cerebrum (the largest part of the brain, which is responsible for thought, sensory processing, movement and planning) was larger on the right hemisphere of the brain than on the left. In contrast, they found that women and gay men had symmetrical cerebrums.

The team next used PET (positron emission tomography) scans to measure the blood flow to the amygdala, that part of the brain controlling emotion, fear and aggression. The images showed how the amygdala connects to other parts of the brain, giving them clues as to how this might influence behavior. They scanned subjects' brains when they at rest and did not show them photos or introduce other behavior that might have been learned.

They found that in gay men and women, the blood flowed to areas involved in fear and anxiety, whereas in straight men and lesbians it tended to flow to pockets linked to aggression.

Robert Epstein, emeritus director of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies in Concord, Mass., agrees that the study offers compelling evidence that sexual orientation is a biologically fixed characteristic. But he cautions that these findings may vary in different people whose sexual orientation is not that clear-cut, which his own research shows includes a majority of the population.





Read it all here.

The second study examined the relative importance of genetics and the environment:

The study is the largest in the world so far and was performed in collaboration with the Queen Mary University of London. More than 7,600 Swedish twins (men and women) aged 20-47 years responded to a 2005 - 2006 survey of health, behaviour, and sexuality. Seven percent of the twins had ever had a same-sex sexual partner.

"The results show, that familial and public attitudes might be less important for our sexual behaviour than previously suggested", says Associate Professor Niklas Långström, one of the involved researchers. "Instead, genetic factors and the individual's unique biological and social environments play the biggest role. Studies like this are needed to improve our basic understanding of sexuality and to inform the public debate."

The conclusions apply equally well to why people only have sex with persons of the opposite sex as to why we have sex with same-sex partners. However, the conclusions are more difficult to transfer to countries where non-heterosexual behaviour remains prohibited.

Overall, the environment shared by twins (including familial and societal attitudes) explained 0-17% of the choice of sexual partner, genetic factors 18-39% and the unique environment 61-66%. The individual's unique environment includes, for example, circumstances during pregnancy and childbirth, physical and psychological trauma (e.g., accidents, violence, and disease), peer groups, and sexual experiences.



Read it all here. Razib of Gene Expression offers this observation of the second study:

In plain language these results suggest that the largest proportion of the variance within the population for this trait (same sex orientation) can not be accounted for by variation in genes or shared family outlook/experiences. They also shouldn't be surprising, Judith Rich Harris has written two books, The Nurture Assumption and No Two Alike, attempting to explain the "non-shared environmental" aspect of variance which pops up in behavior genetic studies (the breakdown is often on the order of 50% genetic, 10% shared environment, and 40% non-shared environment). Do note that that component of variance may still have biological underpinnings; e.g., an environmental shock during the prenatal stage which changes the path of development. Finally, I do think it is intriguing that females show a much larger contribution of shared environment. To me this dovetails with the anecdotal observation that facultative homosexual behavior is more common among females than males, especially when you exclude extreme situations such as imprisonment or living in Saudi Arabia.


Read it all here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Some Thoughts on Marriage


In watching the debate over same sex marriage now occurring in both our churches and in our politics, it has struck me that we often equate the two. That is, we too often jump to the conclusion that our religious views on marriage are, and should be, incorporated into our civil law (and vice versa). In most cases, we don't think much about the issue--we use the word "marriage" as if its civil and religious meaning were the same.

This, of course, is not true, and has not been true in our secular society for many years. I thin that this point was made very well in a recent post by Scottiology:

A couple in my church had started to date. Movies, dinner, platonic stuff. Here’s the problem: he was married. He had been separated from his wife for three years; his ex-wife, who had started the divorce proceedings, was living with another man; and the divorce was pretty much finalized they were just waiting for a couple of clarifications from child services, in fact, they were several months past a court date when they were first told by the court they were divorced. A couple of board members were scandalized. How could he date someone when he was still married. In discussing this a board member made the statement, “The divorce is not final until the government says its final.”

So I asked a question, “Lets say a couple comes to our church and they have lived together for a couple of years are we going to recognize them as married?” The man answered me, “No, they are living in sin.” I said, “Well the government says they’re married. When a couple live together for a period of one year they are considered common-law married by the government. Their assets would be separated equally as if they had been “married.” So answer me if a divorce can only be ended by the government don’t we then have to recognize a marriage started by the government?” The man had no answer because he didn’t see the hole in his argument. He viewed marriage as a legal contract with the authority of the government making it important. Even sadder, as leader in the church, he had no concern for their dating procedure, or even any thoughts on what proper Christian dating looked like. I think that we should have higher view of marriage than this in the church.

Primarily what the government is proposing with gay “marriage” is a legal contract. A way to protect the assets of both persons entering the contract. Something that should not concern or worry the church. It also allows some partners to receive medical benefits. Again something that should not concern the church. But here’s the problem this is also how Christians and the church are treating “marriage.” Just a contract that is increasingly being enacted for its out clause. As an example of our “high standard” of marriage and our views on the “sanctity” of marriage many studies suggest that Christian divorce rates are currently the same as non-Christians.


Read it all here.

I think his point is an important one--to most Christian denominations, marriage is more than a mere legal contract--it is a commitment, and a covenant, but one that means more than a mere legal obligation. It is also, in many denominations, a sacrament. It is no surprise, therefore, that same sex marriage is an issue that is dividing many denominaions.

Sadly, however, we ignore the fact that in our civil law, marriage is a legal obligation, and in evaluating the public policy issue of civil unions or same sex partnerships, it is a mistake to impose religious views about marriage on the secular law.

One of the most important results of a marriage is that if there is a divorce, the state plays a decisive role in deciding the future of the children. The state makes its decision based not on the wishes of the parents, but the best interests of the children. I find it deeply ironic that "family values" crusaders want to deny children of gay and lesbian couples this same right to have their interests taken into account. Yet, absent some status for same sex couples, generally only one member of the couple is viewed as a parent, and if there is a separation, this sole parent has the absolute right to determine the future of the child--and the best interests of the child get no hearing.

And we provide benefits to a married couple--such as health care decisionmaking authority, tax benefits, and the like--because we recognize that a family is a single unit and society is better off if we encourage its stability. Doesn't society benefit from a stable family headed by a same sex couple? How is the "sanctity of marriage" protected when the children in that family cannot have access to the health care provided to the "wrong" parent? How is it "protecting the family" when a family headed by a same sex couple has no access to survivor benefits when one parent dies?

Yes, yes, I know that there legions of studies that show that children raised with both a mother and a father do better than children raised in the home of a single parent. Yet , these studies are irrelevant: they compare families with opposite-sex parents to single-parent families, not with those headed by same-sex parents. These studies have nothing to do with whether a father and father or mother and mother do a worse job than a mother and a father.

Each religious denomination will need to make its own decisions about who it will marry and who it will not. I suspect that within a decade most of the mainline denominations will provide same sex marriage ceremonies. I also suspect that most Evangelical denominations and the Roman Catholic Church will not do so in my life time.

We cannot, however, allow our diverse religious views of marriage and the ethics of sexuality govern our secular institutions, and I have yet to hear a cogent argument against civil unions or same sex marriages that is based on secular reasoning.

Barack Obama on Faith and Public Policy


Many have expressed some concern with Obama's comfort in talking about his own faith--as well as his outreach to the Evangelical and Catholic communities. This speech--given in a church to a religious audience--should answers those concerns.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day


I was rather taken with this post on father's day by atheist P.Z. Myers:

Think back through your past: most but not all will remember their fathers well. Many will have known their grandfathers, but only in their aging years. Some will have met their great-grandfathers, but remember only an old, old man. Beyond that, you might have a few stories, a sepia-colored photo, an entry in a genealogy record, and the otherwise relatively recent will be nothing but a name and a few dates, while go back a few centuries and not even that will be there anymore. Each of those men were for a time among the most important people in their children's lives, and now, nothing but dust. Do you think you will be any different?

But wait. I am not some glum nihilist who counsels everyone on the futility of their existence. There is more to this story than generations of wasted effort — to think that misses the whole point.

Look at the biology. Parenthood has a personal cost — we know this objectively. Both males and females are sinking a great deal of effort into reproduction, and we know experimentally that parental investment in breeding and care for offspring reduces longevity — and it's true for fathers as well as mothers. Those of us with caring fathers know well the time and work involved, and the heartache we caused, and the hopes and worries that afflicted our parents.

Richard Dawkins famously said we come from a long line of survivors, that we are all descended from historical champions. This is true, but it leaves off another important factor: they were all survivors who made a sacrifice in order to leave progeny. Almost all of this chain of fathers are nameless and faceless, but all have in common the fact that at some time in their life they spent health and time to create new life (and before you belittle paternal investment as often little more than a spasm and spurt, think about the genuine cost of sexual reproduction; it's such a silly activity, with only a small and transient reward, and yet it's so ingrained in our being that we take for granted that males will sink much of their life into the business of courtship. Among humans, of course, responsible parenting is also a huge, prolonged expense.) Our parents were people who held our hand through childhood, who gave us the car keys when we were adolescents, who got us through high school and college, who paid for our weddings and gave us assistance through the rough spots, and all of that was to send us off into the world on our own, and they took pride in our independence. What a strange idea, that a life could find meaning in selflessly helping a generation that will leave one behind.

That is what fatherhood is really about: not immortality, not long-term reward, but self-sacrifice to launch a new generation into the world with a little momentum and a little potential … potential to stand autonomously and be something new; not to serve the past but to become the future. We regretfully watch our fathers fall away behind us, knowing that we will be next, and at the same time we prepare our own children to carry on and be themselves, just as we were given this chance at life.

I miss my dad, but I also know how to honor him. By being myself, as he brought me up to be, and by raising my children to be themselves, as he did for me.



Read it all here.

God Bless you P.Z., this blogger says grinning.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Naked Liturgist

Father Bosco Peters has a great website on liturgy. He also has a great sense of humor, which is is putting to use as the "Naked Liturgist." This video on the "Liturgy of the Notices" is an excellent start:

Andrew Gerns on Tim Russert


My Episcopal Cafe colleague (and fellow politcal junkie), the Rev. Andrew Gerns, has a post about the death of Tim Russert that is a must read:

But there is another lesson. Ironically, it is a lesson that may get lost in the hoopla around his death. It is a lesson that all of us--we who preach and celebrate sacraments, we who take part in the councils of the church, we who follow the ups and downs of the Anglican/Episcopal battles in blogs and interest groups--can profit from.

The lesson is this. Faith in Jesus Christ and grounded in the Church makes a real difference in this world, in this life, right now. Russert was a man of faith. It did not make him less worldly. Faith did not make him more partisan. Faith did not make him smug or self-righteous. Faith made him who he was. His faith in Jesus Christ and his life in the Church made him better.

And a better Tim Russert made for a better world.

At the end of day, a better you and a better me, grounded in faith and company of faithful people, makes for a better world.

He defined himself as a Catholic Christian. He said about his parents that their faith did not cause them "to wave around their rosaries" but that it give them hope and a sense of belonging to God. Their faith made them better.

That is why he spoke at Notre Dame to the sex abuse scandals of his Church. The abuse was at once a violation of the person and dignity of the victims, a violation of sacred trust, and a violation of the meaning, source, and goal of the life of faith. Knowing what a life grounded in faith can be, he knew how utterly ruinous such crimes could be. He urged his Church to take it on before his Church could bring itself to.

At the end of the day, it is all about this. Faith defines us. Faith guides us. Faith teaches us. Faith helps us care for other. Faith makes us better. Tim Russert was, by his own account, a person of faith.

Judging from the response to his death, everyone around him saw that.

The lesson is this: if Tim Russert is made better by his faith, so are we. He teaches us that politics is important, but what really matters is a gracious manner and generous heart. He taught that work is important, but what really matters is an unshakable hope, the ability to call out the best in others. He was famous, but he taught us that what is really important is compassion for the poor, the hurt, the lonely and the outcast.

Politics is important. Even church politics. But if at the end of the day, the fruits of faith are not there, what good is it? What earthly good can we in the church possibly be if people aren't living a life of faith that makes them better, more hopeful, more caring people?

We pray for Tim Russert and his family and friends in the grief. May God's holy angels surround them with God's love and peace. May Tim's soul and the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. May he and all who have died in Christ rise in glory at his glorious and triumphant return.


Read it all here.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Faith and Alien Life


The Rev. John Mather, the priest at one of the new "church plants" in the Arizona Diocese, pointed me to this very interesting article in Wired about the religious implicatins of a discovery of alien life:

Little green men might shock the secular public. But the Catholic Church would welcome them as brothers.

That's what Vatican chief astronomer and papal science adviser Gabriel Funes explained in a recent article in L'Osservatore Romano, the newsletter of the Vatican Observatory (translated here). His conclusion might surprise nonbelievers. After all, isn't this the same church that imprisoned Galileo for saying that the Earth revolves around the sun? Doesn't the Bible say that God created man -- not little green men -- in his image?

Indeed, many observers assert that aliens would be bad for believers. Jill Tarter, director of the Center for SETI Research, once wrote that finding intelligent other-worldly life "will be inconsistent with the existence of God or at least organized religions." But such predictions tend to come from outside Christianity. From within, theologians have debated the implications of alien contact for centuries. And if one already believes in angels, no great leap of faith is required to accept the possibility of other extraterrestrial intelligences.

Since God created the universe, theologians say, he would have created aliens, too. And far from being weakened by contact, Christianity would adapt. Its doctrines would be interpreted anew, the aliens greeted with open -- and not necessarily Bible-bearing -- arms.

"The main question is, 'Would religion survive this contact?'" said NASA chief historian Steven J. Dick, author of The Biological Universe. "Religion hasn't gone away after Copernican theory, after Darwin. They've found ways to adapt, and they'll find a way if this happens, too," Dick says.

The central conundrum posed to Christianity by alien contact would involve the Incarnation -- the arrival of Jesus Christ as God's representative on Earth, his crucifixion and the absolution of humanity's sins through his forgiveness.

"It would still be true -- but if there are other races and intelligences, then what is the meaning of this visit to our race at that time?" asked Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno, who in 2005 penned the booklet Intelligent Life in the Universe?

Some propose that the Earthly incarnation of Jesus some 2,000 years ago redeemed all intelligent creatures, in all places and -- since a space-faring race is likely older than us -- in all times. Others have suggested that Jesus could take multiple forms.

"Just as Jesus is human like you and I, you would find an alien-specific Jesus," said Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary professor Ted Peters.

But Peters and others also say that aliens may not have fallen into sin, instead existing in a state of grace, neither having nor needing Jesus. In that case, missionaries would have no call to convert them.



Read it all here.

My sense is that, just as was the case with evolution, our thinking about God would need to change as a result ofa discovery of alien life, but I don't think the discovery would require much rethinking. Of course, if alien cultures have their own Incarnatin, the religious implications would be profound.

James McGrath on Thinking About God


James McGrath has a great blog--one that I read and link to often. He has returned the favor by linking back to my own blog, which really makes me a fan. Grin. He has recently answered threee interesting questions on the Ancient Hebrew Poetry blog. I found this post--on why we need to think about God differently--very interesting:

I think it is often Biblical scholars who are most aware of how much the Biblical literature (and thus Biblical views of God) is intrinsically linked to ancient cosmologies, worldviews, culture, historical setting, and assumptions of various sorts. (I suspect that is why there is such a strong side interest in science fiction among Biblical scholars). As you point out in your question, there will always be much that we do not know about the past. There will also be much that a North American such as myself can never assume when reading the Bible or thinking about God. The same is true in Western Europe and Australia. The result is that the most prominent authors, preachers, theologians, scholars and bloggers talking and writing about the Bible are particularly challenged when it comes to having any hope of reading the text in the way a first century person living on the Eastern Mediterranean would. And so the idea that one can simply “read the Bible and understand it at face value” is extremely problematic – which is not to say that it may not nonetheless be a better alternative than having an authoritarian ecclesial monopoly on interpretation that is no more scholarly or culturally-sensitive in its approach, but that is another issue.

And so, in part, my statements about thinking differently about God are merely observations about what must inevitably be the case. Even at that level, I suspect that there is bound to be resistance to this idea in some circles. But I do intend to go further and be prescriptive. I want to encourage us to actively and self-consciously think about God differently than people have in the past.

And I must confess that I am not persuaded that I have managed to follow my own advice as yet. Indeed, I’m not yet sure what it might mean to follow my own advice! For the most part, when I survey the different theological ideas that are proposed in response to our developing scientific understanding of the universe, I cannot think of a single clear instance of a genuinely new way of thinking about God that has been formulated in response to it.

In the “New Age” circles, one finds many people turning to Wicca or Eastern traditions. Among theologians interested in science and religion, there is a fondness of panentheism and process thought. But none of these are new ideas, but merely a recycling and reshuffling of older ways of thinking. Now it may indeed be the case that some of the older ideas and metaphors are more suitable to our present-day context. In most instances, however, it may simply be that because they are unfamiliar, these alternative spiritualities are attractive because they seem new.

I do not in any way object to such openness to other traditions and ideas; I simply want to point out that adopting ideas from another old tradition is not progress. Perhaps human beings have thought all the different kinds of thoughts we are capable of thinking about God, and all that remains is to reshuffle them from time to time to keep them from getting too stale and moldy. But I like to hope that genuine progress in religion is indeed possible. We’ve made ethical progress over the centuries, and science has progressed, and so why should theology be different? Whether it is Sallie McFague suggesting the image of God’s body, or Juergen Moltmann drawing on the Kabbalistic notion of zimzum, these are indeed helpful rediscoveries of neglected older ideas. But they aren’t new.

Do we not need new ways of thinking about God as so much new is discovered in other areas? Or have we exhausted all possible avenues of exploration and progress in theology? Singing “God of wonders, beyond our galaxy” is simply taking the old language of God being “higher than the heavens” and updating it, and the result is something different (since a God beyond the Milky Way seems far more distant than one residing just above the celestial dome) but not new. Or is the role of theology perhaps simply to keep us in dialogue with our past heritage, and to not forget the insights we’ve already had?



Read it all here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

John Haught and the Leap of Faith

I am quite taken with the writings of John Haught--particularly on how our concepts of God must change to account for evolution. A self-described "religious naturalist" (and great writer!) Chet Raymo, however, makes a good point--Haught's analysis of faith can only get him so far:

Why believe in the absence of convincing evidence? Says Haught: "Theology, unlike scientism, wagers that we can contact the deepest truths only by relaxing the will to control and allowing ourselves to be grasped by a deeper dimension of reality than ordinary experience or science can access by itself. The state of allowing ourselves to be grasped and carried away by this dimension of depth is at least part of what theology means by 'faith.'"

If this means we have an intuition of a depth to creation that for the moment -- and possibly forever -- eludes scientific explanation, then I would be the last to take issue. Art, poetry, even what we might call the mystical experience, all give expression to the sense that we remain profoundly ignorant of the universe of which we find ourselves a part. In fact, the more we learn scientifically about the world, the more marvelous and mysterious it seems. This is the faith of the religious naturalist. It is presumably what Haught means by "depth."

But if Haught means we must relax our critical faculties and our respect for the evidence of "ordinary experience" in order to be "grasped and carried away" by some transcendent person, then the religious naturalist -- and most certainly Dawkins and company -- will beg to demur.

I don't think this second meaning is what Haught has in mind, but it's damnably difficult to pin him down. He wants to embrace an orthodox theology, but every time he eases up on a traditional dogma, he gets all wispy. "Inexhaustible mystery"? Fine. The "deeper ground" of our being? OK. But what about all that other stuff, John. The Nicean Creed, for example. Or the literal resurrection of the God-man from the dead. If it's all just symbolic language for expressing our sense of depth, then why not just come on over and join those of us who choose to put our faith in the reliable, tentative, consensus knowledge provided by science, while remaining open to the depth and mystery implicit in our essential ignorance. Surely there is enough to celebrate in this world of inexhaustible wonder without giving a wink and a nod to the neolithic formulations codified in Catholic doctrine.


Read it all here.

More on the Partisan Divide on Climate Change

I posted last week on the partisan divide among voters on the issue of climate change. The National Journal has done a survey of members of Congress that shows that this divide is even greater in Congress:



The National Journal prints comments made by those who were surveyed that is also very illuminating. Here are comments by Republicans:

"Reasonable people have doubts. For every Al Gore, there is an intelligent scientist armed with legitimate facts to debunk him."

"But this is an opportunity for us to export U.S. innovation to improve global environmental responsibility and not just regulate ourselves."

"In the '70s, the 'consensus of scientists' was that we were beginning global cooling. Now it is global warming. Excuse me if I am skeptical of this newest form of secular religion. Perhaps we should pause and take a breath before we drink the new Kool-Aid!"

"The Earth is warming, but we don't know whether it's caused entirely by humans or whether human actions can change it."

"It is proven that it is a partial cause, but not the primary cause."

"No, not man-made pollution alone."

"Human contribution is minimal, but pollution should be reduced for a cleaner environment."

"If there's one thing poll after poll indicates, it's that the science is not settled on this issue."

"What has been proven is that a well-targeted pop-culture campaign can trump even the best of science. The bad news is, a very few will get very rich, and the rest of us will foot the bill with mythical creations like cap and trade. The impact of such programs on the environment: Zero. The cost to the American public: Huge. The grin on Al Gore's very wealthy face: Priceless!"

"It's been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Democrats are OK with the idea of surrendering our spot atop the world economy."



May favorite comment is "If there's one thing poll after poll indicates, it's that the science is not settled on this issue." Since when do public opinion polls decide science? Read it all here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Obama's Religion Outreach

Obama's campaign thinks they have a real opportunity to attract younger Evangelicals, and they are taking steps to get these voters:

The “Joshua Generation Project” - a name based on the biblical story of Joshua and his generation, which led the Israelites into the Promised Land – aims to reach out to young people of faith on moral issues such as poverty, Darfur, climate change, and the Iraq war, according to Christian Broadcasting Network’s The Brody File.

“There's unprecedented energy and excitement for Obama among young evangelicals and Catholics,” said a source close to the Obama campaign to CBN’s David Brody on Friday. “The Joshua Generation project will tap into that excitement and provide young people of faith opportunities to stand up for their values and move the campaign forward.'"

The campaign acknowledges that some young faith voters will automatically rule out Obama because of his pro-abortion rights stance, but it hopes others will come aboard when they hear about other values which they see “eye to eye” with the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

"Whatever you think of the 'Joshua Generation Project,' you have to give the campaign their due because they are making concerted efforts to NOT ignore faith voters,” Brody commented. “In my reporting, I can tell you this is not a contrived effort. The folks behind this believe in not only the mission of winning over faith voters to Obama but the larger mission of not ignoring faith voters when it comes to politics."



Read it all here. As on eof the first steps in this project, Obama met earlier this week with several Evangelical leaders:

Barack Obama discussed Darfur, the Iraq war, gay rights, abortion and other issues Tuesday with Christian leaders, including conservatives who have been criticized for praising the Democratic presidential candidate.

Bishop T.D. Jakes, a prominent black clergyman who heads a Dallas megachurch, said Obama took questions, listened to participants and discussed his "personal journey of faith."

The discussion "went absolutely everywhere," Jakes told The Associated Press, and "just about every Christian stripe was represented in that room."

Jakes, who does not endorse candidates and said he also hopes to meet with Republican presidential candidate John McCain, said some participants clearly have political differences with Obama. The senator's support for abortion rights and gay rights, among other issues, draws opposition from religious conservatives. Some conservatives have criticized Jakes for praising Obama.

Jakes said the meeting, at a law firm's offices, seemed designed to prompt a wide discussion rather than to result in commitments from either Obama or those attending. Others familiar with the meeting said some participants agreed to attend only because it would be private.

Rich Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella organization for evangelical churches and ministries, said Obama asked participants to share "anything that's on your mind that is of concern to you."

"I think it's important to point out this isn't a group of people who are endorsing Obama," Cizik said in an interview. "People were asked for their insider wisdom and understanding of the religious community."

Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for the Rev. Franklin Graham, said Graham attended and asked Obama whether "he thought Jesus was the way to God, or merely a way." DeMoss declined to discuss Obama's response.

Graham, who succeeded his father as head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, found the senator "impressive" and "warm," DeMoss said.

"He feels that dialogue with someone who may be president is useful whether or not you agree with them on everything or anything," DeMoss said. Graham expects to soon meet with Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Joshua Dubois, the Obama campaign's director of faith outreach, said the meeting included "prominent evangelicals and other faith leaders" who "discussed policy issues and came together in conversation and prayer." Similar sessions will occur "in the months to come," he said.

About 30 people attended, the campaign said, but it released only three names: the Rev. Stephen Thurston, head of the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., a historically black denomination; the Rev. T. Dewitt Smith, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., which was home to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders; and Bishop Phillip Robert Cousin Sr., an A.M.E. clergyman and former NAACP board member.

Two sources familiar with the meeting, but who spoke on background because the session was private, said others attending included conservative Catholic constitutional lawyer Doug Kmiec; evangelical author Max Lucado of San Antonio; Cameron Strang, founder of Relevant Media, which is aimed at young Christians; the Rev. Luis Cortes of Esperanza USA; and Paul Corts, president of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities.



Read it all here.

what is interesting about this approach is that Obama is not pandering to this group--in the sense of changing positions on issues--but rather is attempting a genuine dialogue, including leaders such as Graham who are unlikely to ever support Obama.

National Science Academies on Climate Change

I often talk about the scientific consensus developing on the issue of lcimate change. Here is the latest evidence of this consensus:

The scientific academies of 13 countries on Tuesday urged the world to act more forcefully to limit the threat posed by human-driven global warming.

In a joint statement, the academies of the Group of 8 industrialized countries — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States — and of Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa called on the industrialized countries to lead a “transition to a low-carbon society” and aggressively move to limit impacts from changes in climate that are already under way and impossible to stop.


The statement, posted by the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, urged the Group of 8 countries to move beyond last year’s pledge to consider halving global emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 and “make maximum efforts” to reach this target.


The academies recommended speeding the adoption of new energy technologies and encouraging changes in behavior that curb energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions. They also urged investing more to improve solar and nuclear energy technologies and in projects to capture and permanently store carbon dioxide produced by power plants. The academies also said it was necessary to study artificial “geoengineering” methods for stabilizing climate, as well as large-scale reforestation.



Read it all here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Obama's Bounce Holds Firm

Totally Friggin' Awesome: Trinity Cathedral Media

I have posted a few videos from Trinity Cathedral Media. The most recent issue of Arizona Life gives some background on this great project:

Bryan Matuskey is just 22 and has already made a name for himself making music videos for regional bands and vocalists. He recently finished a gig as mastermind of a cutting-edge music TV show. And now, he is directing his talent and energy and insight into producing videos for the newly organized Trinity Cathedral Media.


-----

"Hi! I'm Bryan with a ‘y'!"

"Um... Hi, Bryan with a 'y'. I'm Craig with a ‘c'. What's up?"

"My friends and I were shooting a video and we were walking by and tried the door and it was open and we thought we'd take a look around. Do you mind?"

"No prob. We're just setting up for our Ancient/Future, eChurch@5 worship service. Feel free to wander. Take your time. Let me know if you have any questions."

We continued the set-up; the little group wandered around. The sun was blazing through faceted glass. Glittering light cascaded across floors and pews splashing across the opposite wall.

Suddenly, ‘Bryan with a y' was blocking my path. "What is this place!?"

"It's an Episcopal Church. Trinity Cathedral, to be exact."

"Wow. It's phenomenally beautiful! And it has this amazing energy! It's like God shines in every piece of wood, steel, stone and paint!"

His posture changed - sort of like he was somehow standing lighter on his feet. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. And this silence descended upon him. A moment later, his eyes opened and he was all exuberant energy.

"I want to use this place in a video. It'll be Totally Friggin' Awesome!!"

And so it was.

And so it continues to be.

. . .

In order to understand what Bryan and Trinity Cathedral Media are trying to do, how about a little factoid? Since the TCM page on YouTube went up two weeks ago, the videos have been viewed over 2,000 times. So far, the videos have received stellar reviews and a number of requests for HD versions which would be used with small groups or within the context of the liturgy.



Read it all here.. The author of the piece is the Rev. Craig Bustrin, who serves as Assistant to the Dean at the Cathedral.

You can look at all of the videos here. My son's Sunday School class had a sneak preview of the latest video. Teddy said it was "about God." I am envious.

Yes, another post on the "Problem of Evil"

James Woods has a review of Bart Ehrman's new book on the problem of evil in the most recent issue of The New Yorker. Woods makes a series of arguments about heaven similar to that made by an astute commmentator of this blog:

Heaven, one of the tenderest verses in the Bible has it, is where God will wipe away all tears from our faces. In her novel “Gilead,” Marilynne Robinson adds, in a line just as tender, if a little sterner, “It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required.” Robinson, herself a devout Protestant, means that the immense surge of human suffering in the world will need, and deserves, a great deal of heavenly love and repair; it is as close as her novel comes to righteous complaint. But one could also say, more skeptically, that Christianity needs the concept of Heaven simply to make sense of all the world’s suffering—that, theologically speaking, Heaven is “exactly what will be required.” In the end, Heaven, it seems, is the only tenable response to the problem of evil. It is where God’s mysterious plan will be revealed; it is where the poor and the downtrodden, the sick and the tortured, will be healed; it is where everything that we went through on earth will suddenly seem “worth it.”

But Heaven is also a problem for theodicists who take the freedom to choose between good and evil as paramount. For Heaven must be a place where either our freedom to sin has been abolished or we have been so transfigured that we no longer want to sin: in Heaven, our will miraculously coincides with God’s will. And here the free-will defense unravels, and is unravelled by the very idea of Heaven. If Heaven obviates the great human freedom to sin, why was it ever such a momentous ideal on earth, “worth” all that pain and suffering?

The difficulty can be recast in terms of the continuity of the self. If we will be so differently constituted in Heaven as to be strangers to sin, then no meaningful connection will exist between the person who suffers here and the exalted soul who will enjoy the great system of rewards and promises and tears wiped from faces: our faces there will not be the faces we have here. And, if there were to be real continuity between our earthly selves and our heavenly ones, then Heaven might dangerously begin to resemble earth. This idea haunted Dostoyevsky, who wrote a chilling fable about it called “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man,” in which the protagonist, on the verge of suicide, has a dream in which he has died and ended up on a pristine Greek island, a heavenly utopia where there is no sin. Then this man tells his first lie, and eventually utopia is corrupted: Heaven is just Eden all over again, and man is busy wrecking it.



Read it all here.

One Catholic blogger responds this way:

It is tempting to respond that we Christians claim to know very little about what heaven will be like, but that would no doubt sound to Wood like another shifty appeal to “mystery.” A better response has to do with the nature of freedom itself. For Christians, heaven is not the annulment of freedom but the fulfillment of it. The dignity of human beatitude depends on the drama of the life that goes before it, and the choices that shape that drama take place in time, which is freedom’s element. Outside of time, there are no more choices to be made, but only the full, immediate vision of what we have chosen.



Read it all here.

What is your response?

Monday, June 9, 2008

What's Next? Blogging the Rapture


Sometimes no comment is need. The following is for real--but borders on self-parody:

Christians who believe they might one day be physically swept up to heaven in the Rapture will be able to send e-mails to loved ones left behind on Earth nearly one week after the apocalyptic event takes place, thanks to a new website.

YouveBeenLeftBehind.com lets subscribers send an e-mail message to up to 62 people exactly six days after they've disappeared from the face of the Earth, Wired Magazine's Threat Level reports.

The website, run by Mark Heard along with four other Christians, dispatches the e-mails when at least three staff members fail to log in for six consecutive days. Its main purpose is to give Christians one final shot at evangelism.

"You've Been Left Behind gives you one last opportunity to reach your lost family and friends for Christ," states the website.

The site is predicated on one interpretation of Christian theology that puts the day of Rapture as the beginning of The End Times or Armageddon. Believers, according to this viewpoint, would be physically lifted up to heaven while those who have not accepted Christ would be left behind to suffer seven years of Tribulation under a global government headed by the Antichrist.

In addition to the e-mail function, users of YouveBeenLeftBehind.com can also store personal and financial documents on the site. Up to 150 megabytes of information would be sent to up to 12 people after the presumed rapture.

"In the encrypted portion of your account you can give them access to your banking, brokerage, hidden valuables, and powers of attorneys," explains the site.

"There won't be any bodies, so probate court will take seven years to clear your assets to your next of kin. Seven years, of course, is all the time that will be left. So, basically the Government of the Antichrist gets your stuff, unless you make it available in another way."

The services offered by the site cost $40 a year. Heard told Threat Level that he already has paying subscribers.

Some Christians have praised the idea.

"I do believe in the rapture. As far as the website goes I think it’s a great idea, because if you believe in the rapture (like me), you know that the time remaining on earth is short and is going to be the worst days the world has known. However, those left behind still will have the opportunity for salvation which is the message I would want to get across," wrote one Christian identified as "skinthemboys" on a forum site for Washington Redskins football fans.



Read it all here.

Looks like Obama Got a Bounce


Well, it looks like Hillary Clinton's decision to suspend the race--and the gracious manner in which she did so--is already giving Obama a bounce. Here is the Gallup analysis:

Obama has consistently held a lead of five to seven percentage points each night since it was reported that Hillary Clinton intended to suspend her campaign. These represent Obama's strongest showing versus McCain to date in Gallup Poll Daily tracking of registered voters' presidential election preferences. For much of the time since Gallup began tracking general election preferences in mid-March, McCain and Obama have been in a statistical dead heat.

Today's data are based on June 6-8 interviewing. Gallup had been reporting a five-day rolling average for the general election to this point, but now that the major party candidates are known Gallup will move to reporting a three-day rolling average. Obama would still hold a statistically significant lead (matching his best to date) in the five-day rolling average based on June 4-8 interviewing given his recent stronger performance.

Since Obama clinched the nomination, Gallup has also asked registered voters for their Obama-McCain preference if Clinton were Obama's vice presidential running mate. At this point, Clinton would seem to give a slight three-point boost to Obama's margin over McCain, with the Obama-Clinton ticket leading McCain by an average of 51% to 42% over the past three days.

There is not an overwhelming consensus among Democrats that Obama choose Clinton as his No. 2. In the latest Gallup Poll Daily tracking update (based on June 6-8 data), 53% of Democrats say Obama should pick his former nomination rival for vice president, while 36% say he should choose someone else. --


Read it all here.

New Poll on Faith and Politics

The Henry Institute at Calvin College has released the results of a poll that attempts to compare support of the 2008 Presidential candidates byvarious religious groups to the 2004 election. the results are very interesting:

Perhaps the most noteworthy overall pattern found in Table 11 is the general decline in the level of support expressed for McCain versus that for Bush. Evangelical Protestants hardly appear to be abandoning John McCain, but their level of support for McCain does not fully match the level of support that they expressed for Bush at roughly the same stage in the 2004 presidential election process. Traditionalist evangelicals exhibit a higher level of “undecided” voters in 2008 than 2004, while centrist and modernist evangelicals express higher levels of support for the Democratic presidential candidate than was evident in 2004.

Overall, Mainline Protestants appear to be somewhat more supportive of the Democratic candidate in 2008 than in 2004. However, this marginal increase in the Democratic direction conceals the fact that both traditionalist and modernist Mainline Protestants are actually somewhat more supportive of McCain in 2008 than they were of Bush in 2004. Where dramatic change has occurred has been among centrist Mainline Protestants, as they have shifted from strong support for Bush in 2004 (50 percent) to a nearly equivalent level of support for the Democratic candidate in 2008 (46 percent).

Traditionalist Catholics are more supportive of McCain in 2008 than they were of Bush in 2004, but the reverse is true with regard to centrist and modernist Catholics. Latinos, regardless of whether they are Protestant or Catholic, are much more supportive of the Democratic candidate in 2008 than they were of Kerry in 2004.

Tables 12 and 13 analyze the matchups between John McCain and Hillary Clinton (Table 12) and between John McCain and Barack Obama (Table 13). Overall, marginal differences are evident among religious voters when the Democratic nominee is Hillary Clinton as opposed to Barack Obama, though Obama tends to fare slightly better than Clinton in matchups against McCain. Nevertheless, certain important religious differences are evident should the Democratic nominee be Clinton rather than Obama. First, Latino Catholics and Jews are far more likely to support Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama, whereas Black Protestants, those of Other Faiths, and the Religiously Unaffiliated are far more likely to support Barack Obama than Hillary Clinton in their respective matchups with John McCain (with Black Protestants reporting a high level of uncertainty in their voting when Hillary Clinton is cast as the nominee of the party).


Read it all here. Lots of data to crunch for political junkies. Hat tip to Melissa Rogers.

Strengths and Weakness and Evolution

Last week, I posted about the new strategy in teaching creationism in the schools--by importing it as part of a theory that both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution should be taught. The Houston Chronicle has an excellent editorial about the dangers of this approach:

The focus of attention in this, the first overhaul of the science curriculum in over a decade, is not on the teaching of creationism, which has been rebuffed by several courts. It is on whether the curriculum will continue to include teaching on the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, including evolution.

It sounds reasonable. Who's against fair and balanced? But critics are alarmed that this is the latest chapter in what has become a national strategy of evolution's foes — a "teach the controversy" approach, whereby religion is propounded under the guise of scientific inquiry.

Given the recent comments of both the chairman and the vice chairman of the board, there is ample reason for alarm. As reported by The New York Times, the chairman, Don McLeroy, a Bryan dentist, described the debate as being between two systems of science.

"You've got a creationist system and a naturalist system," he said. He rejects evolution and believes the Earth is just a few thousand years old, but he insisted his rejection was not based on religious grounds. "My personal religious beliefs are going to make no difference in how well our students are going to learn science," McLeroy said.

Vice Chairman David Bradley, R-Beaumont, told the Chronicle, "Evolution is not a fact. Evolution is a theory and, as such, cannot be proved. Students need to be able to jump to their own conclusions."

What students really need is to be able to study science from materials that have not been hijacked by creationists whose personal agenda includes muddying the science curriculum. Creationism is not a "system of science." It is a religious belief and as such has no place in a science curriculum.

Furthermore, evolution is not a theory that "cannot be proved." A scientific theory is not a guess, but a tested explanation of how and why a natural phenomenon occurs. There is no doubt among mainstream scientists that evolution is a well-documented and easily observed phenomenon.

McLeroy and Bradley are not alone in their beliefs. Seven of the 15 members, one short of a majority, believe in intelligent design, as does Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who unilaterally appointed McLeroy to chair the board last summer a few weeks after the Legislature disbanded. (Much simpler than having to defend his controversial choice during Senate confirmation hearings.) These members are aligned with social conservative groups known for their strong stands on evolution, sexual abstinence and other hot-button issues covered in textbooks, the Dallas Morning News reported last year.

In one welcome sign that people conversant with science will have some input, a state-appointed committee of science educators is reviewing the curriculum requirements. One of them, Kevin Fisher, a school science coordinator, told the Times that committee members will recommend that the "strengths and weaknesses" phrase be removed. "When you consider evolution, there are certain questions that have yet to be answered," he said. "But a question that has yet to be answered is certainly different from an alleged weakness."

One can only hope the State Board of Education will heed their recommendation. All people are entitled to their private religious beliefs, but nobody is entitled to use the state's public education system to promote them. What chance do Texas students have of competing in the 21st century if their learning of science is warped and stunted by such benighted leadership?



Read it all here.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Technology Sabbath


As my priest, Nicholas Knisely knows all too well, I carry my blackberry around with me wherever I go--including to church on Sundays. (Nicholas does too!). And I hardly avoid the Internet on Sunday--and I even have an excuse since I am the Sunday editor of the group Episcopal news blog, the Lead.

Still, I think this suggestion by Michael Glasser makes a great deal of sense:

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with taking one day each week away from work completely. You might think this would be an easy task as there’s a “weekend” each week that allegedly offers up two full days of rest. And yet, as I work at home, the shiny big screen of the iMac beckons at all hours, and I am often in front of its white glow the first thing every morning and the last thing at night.

So, being that I am Jewish — though not very religious — I decided to shut down the computer each Friday night at sunset until Saturday at sunset, the traditional time of the Jewish Sabbath. I make exceptions when I need to get directions or check for a personal email. I still use my cell phone but try to limit it to personal calls only. While this day of technological rest can be a difficult routine, it has allowed me to stretch my time, spend more hours outside and be with people more in face-to-face settings.

And I’m not alone. The concept of a “Technology Sabbath” is becoming more widespread, both in religious circles and among bloggers and media people who are overwhelmed with the always-on nature of the broadband Internet and smartphones. And that overwhelming feeling is exacerbated by instant messaging, social networking and services such as Twitter, that allow us to do more informal communications electronically rather than in person.


The full article is well worth reading. Hat tip to Melissa Rogers.

There is something profoundly unhealthy about our emerging 24/7 culture. I need to find a way to make time for a technology sabbath--as well as periodic technology vacations and perhaps even a technology sabbatical. (I can hear Nicholas already saying "Good luck with that.")