Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On Bowles-Simpson

The news media (at those outlets I read regularly) missed the lead on the Bowles-Simpson proposal for deficeit reduction. the real shock of the proposal was calling for a target of 21% of GDP for tax reciepts. To get to 21% would mean a sharp increase in taxes, since we are currently at 14.8% (the lowest since 1950). If, however, we let all the Bush tax cuts expire, we would get close to that 21% without having to do anything else.

Faith in the News

The intersection of theology and politics is often in the news it seems. Martin Marty, of the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, recently noted that some “Tea Partiers undergird their opposition to global warming with theology of the biblical sort. Last October 20 in The New York Times, John M. Broder did a close-up of typical action in campaigns at Jasper, Indiana. Global warming? “It’s a flat-out lie!” shouted the founder of the local T.P., basing his view on theologian Rush Limbaugh and “the teaching of Scripture. ‘I read my Bible. . . [God] made this earth for us to utilize.’” Lisa Deaton, a founder of Tea Partyish “We the People Indiana,” added gloss: “Being a strong Christian, I cannot help believe the Lord placed a lot of minerals in our country, and it’s not there to destroy us.”

Marty continues, “It would be easy to refute and dismiss such proclamations, but they are generously backed. Broden: “Those views in general align with those of the fossil fuel industries,” which subsidize—at the rate of [by now well over] $500 million in the last two years—lobbying against legislation that would help postpone The End. Such industries can always find some dissenter against the overwhelming scientific consensus which warns against the destruction of the planet. Ron Johnson, the new senator from Wisconsin, settles it all scientifically. Climate change? “It’s far more likely that it’s just sunspot activity.” Or part of an every ten-thousand year cycle. Wait and see.

Marty notes that “LaVonne Neff commenting in Christianity Today on Bill McKibben’s Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, quoted stories identifying the author as “probably the nation’s leading environmentalist” and “the world’s best green journalist.” He is also, she notes, “a churchgoing, Sunday-school teaching Methodist, who wants to see Christians leading the environmental movement,” and makes a theological case for their doing so. McKibben argues for “small and local” ways to help confront the issue. Ms. Neff, contra Mr. Limbaugh and other theologians on the far right, argues that McKibben’s recommendations “fit well with Scripture’s respect for creation” and “its requirement to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

In conclusion, Marty writes: “Many Catholics, Jews, and Mainline Protestants, who have worked this theme in their “social justice” preaching, rejoice to hear such evangelical voices. Neff writes, “McKibben is not a doomsday prophet,” but he is a prophet crying in our heating-up wilderness.

References

Global Warming and American Christianity by Martin E. Marty, Sightings, 11/15/2010, the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

“Local is beautiful: Bill McKibben believes we can thrive on a planet that will never be the same,” Christianity Today, November, 2010.

John M. Broder, “Climate Change Doubt Is Tea Party Article of Faith,” New York Times, October 20.

Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by (New York: Times Books, 2010).

---, “Hot Mess: Why Are Conservatives So Radical about the Climate?” The New Republic, October 6, 2010.

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, in the June 17th issue, reports on Giving USA for 2009.  According to another monitoring agency, Empty Tomb, “religion” last year raised 100.95 billion dollars, which means that it represents 33 percent of all charitable giving.  
           
The public knows that the financial crisis and recession have hit philanthropy hard.  The big givers held back most:  Gifts in the over-one-million-dollar class were down 63.6 percent!  Giving to colleges and universities was down 17.8 percent and to hospitals, down 11 percent.  On such a scale, religion held up well.  Analysis of 1,247 religious organizations in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability showed giving was down only 3.7 percent there, all according to the Giving USA  reckoning.  Empty Tomb found that overall giving to religion, after inflation, was down only 0.3 percent.  
           
The first question about statistics is:  How accurate are they?  One gets the impression from the numerous people quoted in the several Chronicle articles that a) they recognize the surveyors as conscientious, their methods ever-improving, their intentions good, b) but the results are not fully trustworthy.  Many observers think that the decline in most of the areas, including religion, the “least-declinist,” is more steep than reported.  It has certainly been steeper than that at St. Mark’s.

The analysts look at annual reports and balance sheets of religious organizations, most of which have had to cut back on personnel and projects because there are smaller funds with which to work.  They talk to development officers and financial stewards and draw the conclusion that almost across the board, there’s been a decline of more than 0.3 percent.  You might say that the professionals can “feel it in their bones,” trading anecdotes, looking in the mirror, and reading e-mails about unemployed relatives who, no matter where their heart is, cannot keep up with pledges or match those from earlier years. Again, our experience at St. Mark’s would confirm their intuitions.
           
Joblessness, market jitters, and other factors can take a spiritual toll.  It is also important to see where priorities are.  Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council, rightly says that “the impact of the recession has been spotty.  Rescue missions and child-sponsor groups in many cases have done well, while others are impacted more significantly.”  Favorite causes and those which have commanded loyalties over the years fare best.
           
In the Great Depression, many religious groups suffered a great depression, so in this Great Recession it is natural for many groups to experience some, if not great, recession.  But comparing international and local cultural trends, one can only conclude that great numbers of Americans, including many supporters of the mission and ministry of St. Mark’s, moved by their faith, can be counted on.
 
References:
Marty Martin, June 21 “Sightings”. http://bit.ly/9GuzI6
http://philanthropy.com/extras
http://www.emptytomb.org/
http://www.givingusa.org/gusa/mission.cfm 
 

Graph

Average Federal Tax Burden

The Heritage Foundation averages the federal tax burden as a percentage of GDP at 18.2% over the past 30 years. That would seem to be a reasonable target. The tax burden is presently 14.8%.

see http://www.heritage.org/budgetchartbook/current-tax-receipts

Federal Tax Revenue as a Percentage of GDP



I believe on of the best ways to gauge whether or not we are over-taxed is to look historically at federal tax revenue as a percentage of GDP. As you can see, according to this chart, we are below average and thus due for an increase.

The question that must be answered is how best to increase taxes. A net worth tax would be a progressive (as opposed to regressive) solution.

Time for a Net Worth Tax?

Two systemic problems in our current economic configuration: Some do not save enough. Some do not spend enough.

Saving more improves personal balance sheets, and makes more money available for investment. After a decade of over consumption for those of below average net worth, Americans are beginning to save more.

The downside to saving more, however is that consumer spending by this group will not be the robust engine of U.S. economic growth that it has been in the recent past.

Want to encourage consumption by those who can afford it (given the importance of consumer activity to the economy)? Want to encourage saving by those who don’t save? Tax net worth above the national average at a progressively higher rate. Those below the national average would pay no net worth tax and those above would pay progressively more. 50th percentile maybe 0.01% (marginal rates) of net worth, 75th percentile maybe 1% of net worth, 99th percentile maybe 2 percent of net worth.

Friday, October 1, 2010

New Bishop's Consecration

 Recording of webcast available online

Those who were unable to view the webcast of Bishop Terry White's consecration as the bishop of Kentucky on Saturday because of Internet difficulties, and those who were there but just want to watch it again, you will find a recorded version posted online.  Kudos goes to Carlile Crutcher, our videographer, who worked into the wee hours of Sunday morning, to get the webcast recording up by Sunday afternoon.

The video quality at the start may be a bit rough, but it does improve as it progresses. Since its posting, so far 71 people have uploaded the video.

DVDs of service
Those with slow or no Internet connection may still be able to view the consecration in a few weeks. A polished, archival version is being produced by the diocese, and DVDs will be available for a small fee to cover the duplication cost. (The price will not exceed $10; it may cost slightly less, depending upon the total number requested).   If you wish to make arrangements to obtain a DVD, contact Mary Jane Cherry, Communications Director, Diocese of Kentucky, at maryjane@episcopalky.org or 502-584-7148.


Other places to visit online
Throughout the weekend, photographers took hundreds of photos during pre-consecration events on Friday, the consecration on Saturday, and the new bishop's seating on Sunday. If you go to the diocese's home page (www.episcopalky.org), you will find links to the photos as well as to copies of the consecration service bulletin, the sermon given by the Rev. Canon Susan Sommer, and photos, a story about Bishop White's seating at the cathedral on Sunday, Sept. 26, and a copy of his sermon, the first given in the Diocese of Kentucky. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Every Member Canvass

With the Fall stewardship campaigns soon to be launched (Episcopalians call these an "Every Member Canvass"), I thought I would share with you an article written by Martin Marty of the University of Chicago:

The Chronicle of Philanthropy chronicles – you guessed it – philanthropy, and in the June 17th issue reports on Giving USA for 2009.  While the category of religion may not always overwhelm casual readers of trend-reports, religious giving is much watched.  And there is much to watch. According to another monitoring agency, Empty Tomb, “religion” last year raised 100.95 billion dollars, which means that it represents 33 percent of all charitable giving.  While such giving is from the heart and so, on that level, is secret, it is also very public, thanks to the Internal Revenue Service and the reports of the congregations and agencies, most of which must, and do, give scrupulous accounting of the funds.
           
The public knows that the financial crisis and recession have hit philanthropy hard.  The big givers held back most:  Gifts in the over-one-million-dollar class were down 63.6 percent!  Giving to colleges and universities was down 17.8 percent and to hospitals, down 11 percent.  On such a scale, religion held up well.  Analysis of 1,247 religious organizations in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability showed giving was down only 3.7 percent there, all according to the Giving USA  reckoning.  Empty Tomb found that overall giving to religion, after inflation, was down only 0.3 percent.  
           
The first question about statistics is:  How accurate are they?  One gets the impression from the numerous people quoted in the several Chronicle articles that a) they recognize the surveyors as conscientious, their methods ever-improving, their intentions good, b) but the results are not fully trustworthy.  Many observers think that the decline in most of the areas, including religion, the least-declinist, is more steep than reported.  These analysts look at annual reports and balance sheets of religious organizations, most of which have had to cut back on personnel and projects because there are smaller funds with which to work.  They talk to development officers and financial stewards and draw the conclusion that almost across the board, there’s been a decline of more than 0.3 percent.  You might say that the professionals can “feel it in their bones,” trading anecdotes, looking in the mirror, and reading e-mails about unemployed relatives who, no matter where their heart is, cannot keep up with pledges or match those from earlier years.
           
Why is accuracy important?  Consultant Edith Falk says “people want to have these numbers so they can benchmark against national numbers.”  They are “also important because they are used to measure just how generous Americans are.”  Joblessness, market jitters, and other factors can take a spiritual toll.  It is also important to see where priorities are.  Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council, rightly says that “the impact of the recession has been spotty.  Rescue missions and child-sponsor groups in many cases have done well, while others are impacted more significantly.”  Favorite causes and those which have commanded loyalties over the years fare best.
           
In the Great Depression, many religious groups suffered a great depression, so in this Great Recession it is natural for a parade of leaders to experience some, if not great, recession.  Those who stress religious motivations, and speak of the bounties from God and the values of community, will not and should not be satisfied with the giving levels in still-prosperous America.  But comparing international and local cultural trends, one can only conclude that great numbers of Americans, moved by their faith, can be counted on.  Will they prosper if and as the nation “comes out of” its current fix?  
 
References:
http://philanthropy.com/extras
http://www.emptytomb.org/
http://www.givingusa.org/gusa/mission.cfm 
 

Friday, September 10, 2010

On "Park51"

“Park51” is the initiative undertaken by Sufi Muslims to build a community center to serve lower Manhattan and to build bridges torn up a decade earlier in the 9/11 attack. A great deal of disinformation is being spread about this plan. The proposed community center will have a prayer room, but not a mosque.

The branch of Muslims proposing the center are Sufis, and I suspect that their new center will be more likely than any other building in Manhattan to be bombed by Islamist extremists. Moderate Sufi imams are in the frontline AGAINST the extremes of Islam, not fronts for it, and the extremists hate them because of it. The Imam behind the building of this community center has been an outspoken critic of the extremists, and has worked tirelessly for the cause of peace. The proposed community center is to further that mission--bolstoring those who deplore the violence and wish to promote peace from within the Islamic religion (which as President Bush often reminded us, is the vast majority of muslims in the world).

I commend to you a reflection written by an Episcopal priest serving near "Ground Zero" and the proposed "Park51" project:

http://bit.ly/dgu3r8

Thursday, September 2, 2010

On Neighborhood Schools

Long bus rides by young students are detested by all. All things being equal, nearly all would prefer a school close to home.

Further, people like to have choices. I grew up in a rural area with only one school (public or private)--no choice. I never even thought about the fact that I didn’t have a choice. But, if given the opportunity, nearly everyone would prefer to be able to choose among alternatives rather than the choice being made for them.

Accommodating these two (practically universal inclinations) is difficult. Schools are not like rubber balloons that can inflate and deflate with ease. Schools have a maximum capacity and a minimum usage (below which it is not efficient to keep them open). School boards already struggle with changing demographics and populations (think Oldham county in recent years). In practical terms, there could be no guarantee that a child could attend the school of his or her choice (what if everyone choose the same school?) Even a guarantee that a child could attend the school closest to its place of residence would not allow the flexibility necessary for economic efficiency.

The real problem though is economic segregation. Neighborhoods are economic monoliths. We, as a society, have still not solved the problem of income diversity within a small geographic region. The “problem” being the lack of economic diversity. Comparing the wealthiest and the poorest zip codes in the metro area gives you an idea of the problem neighborhood schools would create.

There are, however, ways of dealing with all of the problems while being sensitive to the inclinations outlined above. The current solution, while commendable on many fronts, has been met with opposition from those who would like more choice and/or would like shorter bus rides for the students.

What if we allowed students residing in the poorest neighborhoods to have first choice as to what school they wish to attend. After the poorest neighborhood has chosen, move to the next poorest neighborhood, so on and so forth. When a school fills, then enrollment would be closed at that school. The idea being that the more affluent have more options due to their affluence (private schools, alternate forms of transportation, etc.) and therefore are more capable of dealing with the inconvenience of more limited public funded options.

Such a system might result in de facto neighborhood schools (if everyone always chose the remaining open school closest to them). But if so, then it would be dictated as such by those most likely to suffer from such a system. Further, if a student from a poor neighborhood preferred a school in a distant affluent neighborhood, then that would be their choice, allowing them the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of such a decision. Students from more affluent neighborhoods would have more limited choices amongst public offerings but due to their relative affluence would be better equipped to deal with such limitations.

There are, however, educational objectives that are best met by creating diverse student bodies. If the above system, created less diverse student bodies. Our children's educations would suffer. If so, would the cost be worth the ability to choose and the convenience of short bus rides?

Bridges, Tolls & 1-64 along the Waterfront

Interstate 64 along Louisville’s waterfront has been a sore point for the city for some time. In 1999, Doug Cobb (then president and CEO of Greater Louisville Inc., the metro chamber of commerce) proposed solving this problem by removing the interstate, reversing what may be one of Louisville's greatest urban planning mistakes.

In a meeting of the Southern Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Cobb presented the innovative concept to remove I-64 from Louisville's waterfront with detailed drawings of Waterfront Park and the realignment of I-64 to the proposed East End bridge. Mr. Cobb's idea, however, gained almost no media attention, and soon disappeared from public discussions. David Barhorst and David Coyte of the Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation, both of whom were at the 1999 presentation, expressed support for Mr. Cobb’s solution to the I-64 problem.

In 2005, two Louisville business men, J. C. Stites and Tyler Allen launched a public media campaign to advance Mr. Cobb’s idea. Nonetheless, the idea (now rejected by Mr. Cobb as nothing but a “paper dream”) has not gained the support of elected officials in Jefferson County.

Now, with the discussion of tolls in Louisville to pay for new bridges, it is time to discuss the fate of I-64 along the waterfront in this new context.

I’ve been having my own “paper dreams” of late. Thus far the discussion of tolls has centered upon whether or not to toll both new and old bridges or just the new bridges. A different approach would be to use the tolls to deter drive through traffic in downtown Louisville along the waterfront. Once the east end bridge is completed, re-route I-64 around Louisville and toll vehicles that pass through downtown Louisville going both east and west. If we can toll old bridges, we should be able to toll old interstates. Go around downtown, your journey from east to west (or west to east) is free. Go through downtown, you are tolled. One tolling station near the Galt House could serve both East and West bound traffic. The effect of the tolling might help the city in judging the feasibility of Mr. Cobb’s “paper dream.” Would people who were just passing through travel along the waterfront if it were slower (no I-64) or more expensive (tolled)? The toll effect might approximate the effect of eliminating I-64 and give everyone a chance to evaluate the new traffic patterns.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

An Object Lesson on July 4, 2010

Homily for Proper 9 Year C 2010
The Episcopal Church has set aside July 4 of each year as a day of prayer for our nation. Proper Psalms, Lessons, and Prayers were first appointed for this observance in the Proposed Prayer Book of 1786. They were deleted, however, by the General Convention of 1789, primarily as a result of the intervention of Bishop William White. Though himself a supporter of the American Revolution, he felt that the required observance was inappropriate, since the majority of the Church’s clergy had, in fact, been loyal to the British crown.
Writing about the Convention which had called for the observance of the day throughout “this Church, on the fourth of July, for ever,” White said, “The members of the convention seem to have thought themselves so established in their station of ecclesiastical legislators, that they might expect of the many clergy who had been averse to the American revolution the adoption of this service; although, by the use of it, they must make an implied acknowledgment of their error, in an address to Almighty God. . . . The greater stress is laid on this matter because of the notorious fact, that the majority of the clergy could not have used the service, without subjecting themselves to ridicule and censure. For the author’s part, having no hindrance of this sort, he contented himself with having opposed the measure, and kept the day from respect to the requisition of the convention; but could never hear of its being kept, in above two or three places beside Philadelphia.”
It was not until the revision of 1928 that provision was again made for the liturgical observance of the day. Since 1928, however, this observance has been an official day on the Church calendar. For the last decade, we have held a special service on the fourth day of July, here at St. Mark’s, in observance of this special day. At these services, we have sung hymns--musical prayers--asking for God’s blessing upon our country and giving thanks to God for the many benefits we enjoy as citizens of this country. We have offered up prayers to God for ourselves as citizens, and for those who serve us in the government--Administrative, Judicial, and Legislative.
The service has become part of the community’s celebration of this day. We have had nearly as many persons from the neighborhood as we have had members of this parish in attendance.
This year, however, we will have no special observance. I figured since the day of the observance this year, did not fall on the fourth of July, that no one would attend. This year, the observance of Independence Day, falls on the fifth day of July. So, I canceled the service. It is hard enough to get people to come to a special service for our nation when it falls on the fourth of July. I knew it was pointless to attempt it on any other day. Next year, however, when the fourth day of July falls on a Monday, we will once again liturgically observe Independence Day.
As for today, our nation and its founding, rest heavily upon our hearts and minds. We will, therefore, include in our prayers (both sung and said) particular petitions for our country and its citizens. I am particularly aware of those members of our parish who cannot be with us today, because their service to this nation has taken them to Afghanistan or Iraq. While they are continually in my prayers, on this day, I am very aware of the burden upon my heart that concern for their welfare has created.
We have many prayers to make, as we contemplate the state of our union. Environmental diaster on our southern coast, an economic crisis in its third year, two wars that are proving very difficult to end. While our petitions are many, so are our thanksgivings. Even in economic crisis, we enjoy a prosperity others can hardly imagine. We enjoy liberty and freedom few in the history of the world have ever known.
All of this, however, is but prologue to my sermon--a sermon for when “Proper 9 of Year C” happens to fall on the fourth of July. In fact, the sermon is not on the “propers”--as is typical. The sermon is, rather, a meditation on the annomoly of it being Proper 9 of Year C on the fourth of July, 2010.
As many of you know, all Feast Days appointed on fixed days in the Calendar, when they occur on a Sunday, are
transferred to the first convenient open day within the week. There are some exceptions to this rule. Easter and Christmas are such exceptions. Given the importance of the observance of the Lord’s Day, few other observances are to take precedence.
Now I know that this rather strict adherence to the rules of the Church calendar sometimes annoys you. I remember being chastized a few years ago when Holy Week fell during March Madness. I was asked, “Can’t you plan Good Friday on another day?”
I had to explain that I lacked the authority to do so. To change the Church calendar is “above my pay grade.” But we can learn a great deal about ourselves when such conflicts arise. What are our priorities? What are our values? Is the object of our worship the creator, or merely some part of the creation?
Today is an object lesson. Is today the Lord’s Day or is it Independence Day? What we learn from the Church calendar is that the observance of Independence Day does not take precedence. We enflesh that rule by the choice of readings and collects for today. But, I ask myself--how do I enflesh that rule in my life--not just my liturgical observance? Maybe the answer is easy for you, but it is not for me. Historically, it has not been easy for persons of conscience.
As I indicated earlier, most clergy of the Episcopal Church were loyal to the English throne during the Revolutionary War. At their ordinations, they had taken a vow of loyalty to the King and they took their vows seriously.
Those who take their faith and their allegience to any earthly realm seriously must always struggle with the tensions such convictions bring. Its why Rome fed Christians to the lions two thousand years ago. Christians said their ultimate loyalty could never be to the state. Its why Bonhoffer was imprisoned and killed. He said his ultimately loyalty was to God, not his country. Even today, in too many places, governments continue to persecute Christians precisely because we refuse to give our ultimate loyalty to any earthly power.
I suppose their are persons who worship America. Some of them may even think of themselves as Christians. We can’t forget that the vast majority of the citizens of Nazi Germany were church-going Christians. Most clergy, both Catholic and Protestant, supported Hitler and his government. But I don’t know any personally who worship America (at least not of which I am aware). But what we say and what we do are not always in sync. So, I wonder, in the living of my life, when the Lord’s Day conflicts with Independence Day (as it were)--what will I do?

Too Good to be True?

The Sunday Telegraph has reported the openly gay Dean of St. Albans Cathedral will be the next Bishop of Southwark .

The story is hard to believe.

The process for the selection of a Bishop is very different in the Church of England than in the Episcopal Church: a committee nominates, the Prime Minister signs off on the nominee and the Queen appoints. The Archbishop of Canterbury chairs the committee ("The Crown Nominations Commission"). If the Dean of St. Alban's is the nominee, then the role of the Archbishop in his selection will be an interesting story.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that Rowan Williams (the Archbishop of Canterbury) favored Jeffrey John (Dean of St. Alban's Cathedral) to be the nominee. That Johns would be favored by Williams is hard to believe.

John was nominated to be the Bishop of Reading in 2003, but was asked by Williams to "stand down" before he could be consecrated as Bishop and installed at Reading. If the story in the Telegraph is true, Williams has changed course.

Further, Williams has been critical of the Episcopal Church for consecrating two openly homosexual persons as Bishops. Again, if the story in the Telegraph is true, Williams has changed course.

Williams' position on openly homosexual persons serving as Bishop has, however, been complicated. Before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Williams supported the full inclusion of homosexual persons into the full life of the Church. As the Archbishop of Canterbury, however, he has opposed the consecration of openly homosexual persons to be bishop. Apparently, Williams laid aside his personal convictions in this matter and followed his understanding of the dictates and duties and obligations of the office of Archbishop of Canterbury.

Given this history, the story in the Telegraph is hard to believe.

Monday, May 17, 2010

"Footnotes" to the Blog Post Below

1. Karen Armstrong, “Resisting Modernity: The Backlash against Secularism,” Harvard International Review, Vol. 25(4) Winter, 2004. See http://hir.harvard.edu/index.php?page=article&id=1189

2 For an examination of “white flight” see Kevin M. Kruse, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005).

3 Nancy Tatom Ammerman, Bible Believers: Fundamentalists in the Modern World (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1988), pp. 14-15.

Of Baptist congregations in the late twentieth century, she writes: “The typical Baptist church had moved to the suburbs.” Nancy Tatom Ammerman, Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990), p. 54.

One example, Gustav Niebuhr and Gayle White write of First Baptist Church, Atlanta moving to the suburbs. G. Niebuhr and G. White, “Stanley’s plan for First Baptist puts congregation at crossroads,” the Atlanta Journal and Constitution (March 12, 1988), A-1, 18; and “First Baptist backs plan to sell property,” the Atlanta Constitution (March 14, 1988), A-1, 7. It is interesting to place Niebhur and White’s article in the context described by Kruse in White Flight.

4 Ammerman, Baptist Battles, p. 146.

5 Ammerman, Baptist Battles, p. 146.

6 See Ammerman, Baptist Battles, “Table 5.4,” p. 147.

7 Ammerman, Baptist Battles, p. 148.

8 Ammerman, Baptist Battles, p. 148.

9 For Marsden’s more thorough analysis see, George Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1991).

10 Ammerman, Baptist Battles, p. 149. See also, Kevin M. Kruse, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005).

11 Ammerman, Baptist Battles, p. 149.

12 Ammerman, Baptist Battles, p. 149.

13 Ammerman, Baptist Battles, p. 149.

14 Ammerman, Baptist Battles, p. 149. Ammerman cites: A. Swidler, “Culture in action: Symbols and strategies,” American Sociological Review 51(1986):273-286; and Clifford Geertz, Islam Observed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968).

15 See James Patterson, Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996) and Kenneth Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).

16 Frank Hobbs and Nicole Stoops, “Demographic Trends in the 20th Century,” Census 2000 Special Reports, CENSR-4 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U. S. Census Bureau, November 2002), p. 14.

17 Hobbs and Stoops, p. 14.

18 Hobbs and Stoops, p. 14.

19 Hobbs and Stoops, p. 14.

20 Hobbs and Stoops, p.14.

21 Hobbs and Stoops, p. 14.

22 Hobbs and Stoops, p. 14.

23 See Ronald Oakley, God’s Country: America in the Fifties (New York: Dembner Books, 1986). Oakley’s chapter “Home, Sweet Home” summarizes both the causes and effects of post-war suburbanization. See also James Patterson, Grand Expectations. For a critique of suburbanization see John C. Keats, The Crack in the Picture Window (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1956).

24 George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 3.

25 As quoted by Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, p. 3.

26 Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, p. 3.

27 Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, p. 4.

28 Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, p. 153.

29 Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, p. 156.

30 Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, p. 164.

31 The phrase “moved underground” is Grant Wacker’s of Duke University Divinity School. See his “Teacher Serve” essay for the National Humanities Center (Divining America, 20th Century).
http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/twenty/tkeyinfo/fundam.htm

32 Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God, p. 217.

33 Armstrong, Battle for God, p. 234.

34 Armstrong, Battle for God, p. 234. Later Armstrong writes that they “felt uprooted and alienated from the society in which they lived” and “were often newcomers from the rural districts to the rapidly expanding cities.” Armstrong, Battle for God, p. 267.

35 As quoted in Farzana Hassan, Prophecy and the Fundamentalist Quest: An Integrative Study of Christian and Muslim Apocalyptic Religion (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2008), p. 84.

36 Lyman Kellstedt and Corwin Smidt “Measuring Fundamentalism: An Analysis of Different Operational Strategies” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Sep. 1991), pp. 259-278. They write: “Although a ‘fundamentalist’ segment (defined in terms of the above beliefs) has captured positions of authority within the Southern Baptist Convention, it would be a mistake to label this largest of Protestant denominations as entirely fundamentalist in nature” [emphasis mine]. Fred Grupp, Jr. and William Newman, “Political Ideology and Religious Preference,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 12 (December, 1973) pp. 401-412; Larry Peterson and Armand Mauss “Religion and ‘Right to Life’: Correlates of opposition to abortion” Sociological Analysis 37 (3) 1976, pp. 243-254; F. M. Ethridge and J. R. Feagin, “Varieties of ‘fundamentalism’: A Conceptual and Empirical Analysis of Two Protestant Denominations” Sociological Quarterly 20 (1) 1979, pp. 37-48; Ted Jelen, “Respect for Life, Sexual Morality, and Opposition to Abortion” Review of Religious Research 25 (March, 1984) pp. 220-231; Kathleen Murphy Beatty and Oliver Walter, “Religious Preference and Practice: Reevaluating Their Impact on Political Tolerance,” Public Opinion Quarterly, 48 (Spring, 1984), pp. 318-329; classify individuals affiliated with certain denominations, such as Southern Baptists, as fundamentalists.

37 Compiled from The Quarterly Review: Handbook Issue 48(4), 1988, pp. 70-71, 95. Compiled by Nancy Ammerman. See Nancy Ammerman, Baptist Battles, p. 52.

38 Sources: For the percent of the population that is rural, “Urban and Rural population: Earliest Census to 1980” (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1983). For the 1926 figures for churches and membership, Census of Religious Bodies: 1926 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1929). For 1981 figures on churches and membership, The Quarterly Review: Handbook Issue 42(4), 1981, pp. 10, 12. Figures compiled by Nancy Ammerman and published in “Table 3.2” Baptist Battles, p. 53.

39 Ammerman, Baptist Battles, p. 54.

40 Harvey Cox, “Why Fundamentalism Will Fail: A Seemingly Unstoppable Force is Being Undone from the Inside” Boston Globe, November 8, 2009. See http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2009/11/08/why_fundamentalism_will_fail/?page=1

41 Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009), p. 1.

42 Jonathan Weber, “Demographic trends now favor downtown” in “The Big Money” for MSNBC, May 20, 2009. See http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30810275/from/ET/

43 Patrick A. Simmons and Robert E. Lang, “The Urban Turnaround” Redefining Urban and Suburban America: Evidence from Census 2000 (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 2003), pp. 51-62.

44 Aaron M. Renn, “The New Look of the American Suburb,” at Urbanophile: Passionate About Cities (Sunday, April 18th, 2010). http://www.urbanophile.com/2010/04/18/the-new-look-of-the-american-suburb/

45 Cox, “Why Fundamentalism Will Fail,” http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2009/11/08/why_fundamentalism_will_fail/?page=4

46 Ammerman, Bible Believers, p. 16.

47 Peter Smith, “Southern Baptists Fret Over Decline as Annual Meeting Begins,” USA Today (June 10, 2008). See http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2008-06-10-southern-baptists_N.htm

48 Cox, The Future of Faith, p. 1.

49 Armstrong, “Resisting Modernity: The Backlash against Secularism,” Harvard International Review, Vol. 25, 2004.

50 Armstrong, “Resisting Modernity.”

51 Armstrong, “Resisting Modernity.”

52Armstrong, “Resisting Modernity.”

53 Cox, Future of Faith, p. 1.

Decline and Fall of Fundamentalism (at Least in the Suburbs of America)

Karen Armstrong defines religious fundamentalism thusly:
Religious fundamentalism represents a widespread rebellion against the hegemony of secularist modernity. Wherever a modern, Western-style society has been established, a religious counterculture has developed alongside it in conscious rebellion. Despite the arguments of politicians and intellectuals, people all over the world have demonstrated that they want to see more religion in public life. The various fundamentalist ideologies show a worrying disenchantment with modernity and globalization. Indeed, every single fundamentalist movement that I have studied in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation. All are convinced that the modern, liberal, secular establishment wants to wipe out religion. Each fundamentalist group has sprung up independently; each even differs significantly from other fundamentalists within their own faith tradition. But at the root of all these movements is the same visceral dread that is rapidly being transformed in some quarters into ungovernable rage. This should not surprise us; culture is always contested, and the proud secularism of Western modernity was almost bound to inspire a strong religions reaction.1

Given Armstrong’s definition, the casual reader may be surprised to learn that Harvey Cox believes fundamentalism is in decline. Modern, liberal, and secular influences are not on the wane. Why then would a religious reaction to such influences be in decline? What follows is a reflection on that question.

While Professor Cox speaks of a global decline of fundamentalism across faith traditions, this paper narrowly focuses on Christian fundamentalism in America in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The following will demonstrate a correlation between the growth of suburbia in America and the growth of Christian fundamentalism in America and the reasonableness of predicting a decline in Christian fundamentalism in America in the near future.

A Comfortable Spot in the Suburbs

Certain strands of fundamentalism in late twentieth century America are connected with suburbia. Suburban self-identified fundamentalist congregations (faith communities) are overwhelmingly inhabited by suburbanites of two types: “white flight” suburbanites and “urban migration” suburbanites.2 The former have left the city for the suburbs because they have become disenchanted with modern urban living and retain some animosity toward both the urban center of cities and modernity in general. The later have left the farm and a life in rural American for a new life in the suburbs with all the possibilities and challenges the move offers. Together, these two groups of first generation suburbanites form the core of many fundamentalist congregations.

Nancy Tatom Ammerman, a sociologist, in her book Bible Believers: Fundamentalists in the Modern World analyzes a fundamentalist congregation describing it as occupying “a comfortable spot in the suburbs.3 In her research, Ammerman finds that where people grew up and whether they had moved later to a different sort of place made a difference in their religious beliefs.4 Those who grew up in the suburbs or small cities were more likely to adopt a non-fundamentalist brand of Christianity.5 Those who grew up on farms, however, were least likely to locate on the left of center.6 Further, she found that those who had grown up on the farm, but moved to the suburbs as adults, were, as a group, the most likely to self-identify as “fundamentalists.”7 Those who grew up on the farm and continued to live in rural areas were not as likely to describe themselves as fundamentalists. She posits that those who have moved from farm to suburb identify “with a movement that has historically sought to preserve threatened values.”8 Ammerman’s sociological research points to a reality the historian George Marsden has noted as well. Marsden quipped: “An evangelical is someone who loves Billy Graham. A Fundamentalist is someone who loves Billy Graham and wants to fight about it.”9 Those who stayed on the farm, while equally as religiously conservative as their suburban cousins, don’t have a need to fight about it.

The second group that Ammerman found most likely to identify with fundamentalism was the group that grew up in urban centers, and chose as adults to move to the suburbs.10 Ammerman argues that the appeal of fundamentalism as a religious ideology was greatest for those who felt the greatest disruption from the effects of the suburbanization of America.11 She describes them as “those who moved from farm to city and those who fled big cities.”12 Thus, those most likely to identify themselves as “fundamentalists” (at least among Baptists) were those who were part of the twentieth century’s urbanization of America (farm to city) and those who were part of the twentieth century’s “white flight” (urban center to suburban living). With regard to the suburbs, Ammerman writes: “If fundamentalism can be defined as a movement in organized opposition to the disruption of a previously accepted orthodoxy, then we would expect to find it thriving in just such places.”13 On this point, she writes

Indeed religion’s very character is different when it must face a changing environment. In a relatively undisturbed setting, religious practices are tightly interwoven into the fabric of life. One learns prescribed rituals as part of an array of necessary knowledge for membership in the group. Beliefs about the deity or sacred scripture are appropriated alongside beliefs about planting and harvesting, birthing and burying. While culture is undisturbed by outside intruders, by changes in technology or climate, these everyday ways of being and believing remain central to the group’s way of life. But when change occurs, everyday patterns of life are thrown into disarray, and the links between beliefs and practices are disrupted. Things that used to work do not work anymore. Ways of making a living, relating to neighbors, and even relating to God, are made uncertain by the dislocation of the cultural system. What used to come naturally no longer seems plausible. What used to be possible by habit must now be thought about, reevaluated, rationalized, perhaps even given a new sacred meaning. People have to think about why they do what they do, as well as whether they want to do it at all. Both patterns of living and the ideas that legitimate those patterns are “up for grabs” in times of cultural disruption and transition.14

The American Dream

Sociologically and demographically the post-World War II growth of suburbia in America has been well documented.15 The growth of the suburbs was driven by two migrations: urban center to suburbs and rural to suburban. As for the later, the population of the United States grew increasingly metropolitan from 1910 to 2000.16 In 1910, 28% of the population lived in urban areas. By 2000 80% of the population would live in metropolitan areas. Most of the growth in metropolitan areas was suburban growth. Half of the population of the United States would live in suburbia by the close of the century.17

“Metropolitanization” characterized much of the demographic change in America in the 20th century. Before the second World War, the majority of the population lived in rural areas. By the end of the century, 4 out of every 5 people would live in metropolitan areas (and half of these would live in suburbia).18 The growth was essentially the growth of the suburban population. By the year 2000, the urban core would represent a smaller share of the population than it did at mid-century.19

In 1910, only 21% of the population of the United States lived in central cities (the urban core) and only 7% lived in the suburbs.20 As the metropolitan areas in America grew, the suburbs grew disproportionately. Beginning in 1940, the suburbs would account for the majority of the growth of metropolitan areas. Post-World War II there was a massive migration of people into new suburbs. By 1960, the proportion of the U. S. population living in the suburbs (31%) was roughly equal to that of the urban core (32%).21 For the remainder of the century the proportion of the population living in the urban core would be stable, but the suburbs would continue to grow substantially.22

The reasons for this growth was multifaceted, but included the social legacy of the Great Depression, the end of the war, the return of the soldiers to the U. S., those former soldiers beginning families, the consequent “baby boom,” the “G. I. Bill,” government backed loans for first time home buyers, and the availability of relatively cheap automobiles and cheap gas to run them.23 The chart below, from the U. S. Census Bureau, tells the story.

Before Crabgrass was a Concern

At the same time the suburbs were growing, fundamentalism was growing. Fundamentalism, however, was not born in the suburbs. Fundamentalism’s origin was among evangelical Christians in the early twentieth century and predates the emergence of suburbia. The “gilded age” was seen by many (not just those who would become fundamentalists) as a turning away from God.24 In his Preface to Morals, Walter Lippmann (no fundamentalist) complained of the “irreligion of the modern world.”25 Thus, the 1920s were for many a time of profound spiritual and cultural crisis. Fundamentalists believed “modernity” and the theory of evolution had brought about this social and cultural catastrophe.26 Fundamentalism was a militantly anti-modernist movement. Of this movement, George Marsden writes: “Fundamentalism was a loose, diverse, and changing federation of co-belligerents united by their fierce opposition to modernist attempts to bring Christianity into line with modern thought.27 Fundamentalism’s campaign was to purge the congregations of modernism and schools of Darwinism.

Before World War I the fundamentalist movement was quiescent. After the war, fundamentalism emerged as a cultural force. The disruption caused by the returning of soldiers from war, labor disputes, and terrorist bombings engendered panic and alarm. Further, there was (as intimated above) concern and angst over rapidly deteriorating moral standards.28 Finally, the threat of “Bolshevism” weighed heavily upon the American psyche.29 This sense of disruption, though temporary for most Americans, was only the beginning for Fundamentalists.30 From 1920 to 1925 fundamentalism flourished and maintained impressive vitality. The “Scopes Trial” of 1925, however, would mark the end of this phase in the history of American fundamentalism. The trial, with the public scrutiny that accompanied the trial, drained fundamentalism of its vitality. Fundamentalism moved into the shadows and out of the lime light.

Revive Us Again

After 1925 and into the 1930s, fundamentalism “moved underground,” building schools, colleges, seminaries and missionary agencies.31 Of this period, Karen Armstrong says “There were ‘two nations’ in America, unable to share each other’s vision of the modern world.”32 She labels this period of fundamentalism’s history in America as a time of “counterculture.” Whether “underground” or forming a “counterculture,” fundamentalism was to reemerge from the shadows.

Armstrong terms the period of reemergence as “mobilization.” Of fundamentalism, she writes: “They had often experienced modernity as an aggressive onslaught.”33 But, they were beginning to mobilize. And, their ranks were increasing. The growth was internally attributed to “God’s blessing” upon the movement. Sociologically, however, the growth was due to the increasing number of persons who were experiencing the secularization and rationalism of modern urban societies as disruption. By the 1960s many evangelicals, with “roots” in rural America, found themselves in metropolitan settings (most often suburbia) and they were “angry and were determined to fight the liberals and secularists who had, they believed, oppressed and marginalized them.”34

Mass media played a role in the development of late twentieth century fundamentalism. Pat Robertson established his “Christian Broadcasting Network.” Jerry Falwell, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, and a host of lesser known “TV evangelists” began disseminating their beliefs via modern mass media. There is a certain amount of epistemic tension created by using modern mass media to combat “modernity.” Nevertheless, the growth was spectacular. During the 1980 presidential election, Pat Robertson declared: “We have enough votes to run this country!”35

The Southern Baptist Convention, while not monolithically fundamentalist, is nonetheless a good barometer of the growth of fundamentalism in the twentieth century.36 In 1931, the Southern Baptist Convention reported 3.9 million members. By 1986 that number had grown to 14.6 million.37 In 1926, 92% of Southern Baptist congregations were located in rural areas and 72% of members lived in rural areas. By 1981, only 50.1% of Southern Baptist congregations were located in rural areas and only 25.3% of members lived in rural areas.38 The decline of Southern Baptists rural base entailed the spectacular growth of their suburban congregations. Sociologist Nancy Ammerman summarizes this phenomena “The typical Southern Baptist church had moved to the suburbs.”39

As has been shown, the growth of suburbia and the growth of fundamentalism is positively correlated. If suburbia is one place where socially conservative persons meet modernity and experience the disruption of previously conceived norms, and fundamentalism is birthed in such places of disruption, then it is not surprising to find the two conjoined in this way.
Prospects: the Decline and Fall

Professor Harvey Cox, in an article for the Boston Globe, says “for all its apparent strength, the fundamentalist sun is setting on all horizons.”40 He continues, “a tectonic shift in religion is underway, and the fundamentalist moment is ending.” In his 2009 book, The Future of Faith, Cox argues that the “age of belief” is being supplanted by an “age of the spirit.” When pondering the future, Cox posits that “fundamentalism, the bane of the twentieth century, is dying.”41 There are sociological and demographic reasons to believe he is correct, at least about Christian fundamentalism in America.

The future for suburbia will be different from the past. Jonathan Weber, writing for MSNBC, has noted “Most demographic and market indicators suggest that growth and development across the country are moving away from the suburban and exurban fringe and toward center-cities and close-in suburbs.”42 With regard to population growth, the 1990s were the best years for central cities since the 1950s.43 For the concerns of this paper, however, the most important piece of data is the slowing of rural to urban migration. While the suburbs will continue to grow, the growth will be fueled by births and immigration from abroad (or recent immigrants from abroad moving from central cities to the suburbs), not rural to urban migration. The suburbs will, therefore, take on a different persona in the future. The first suburbs are now aging and need renewal. Such renewal is apt to be provided by recent immigrants from abroad.44 Agriculture being industrialized, the main force driving rural to urban migration, only happens once. In America, it happened in the early to mid-twentieth century. That migration pattern is now in the past. While they will continue to grow, the growth of the suburbs will be demographically different in the future.

The future for fundamentalism will be different from the past. Second generation suburbanites do not tend to become fundamentalists. Professor Cox writes: “Virtually anywhere on the planet, it is hard to imagine the grandchildren of fundamentalists reconciling themselves to their tightly constricted spiritual world.”45 Ammerman’s sociological data confirms his intuition. Ammerman writes: “Although they carefully surround ‘church kids’ with a biblical world, a large number of Southside’s [a fundamentalist congregation’s] youth, like the youth across Fundamentalism, choose to leave when they reach an age of consent.”46

First generation suburbanites will decline in number in the years to come. The mass migration of farm to city that followed World War II has now ended. What was a flood has become a trickle. “White flight” migration of those in the urban core to the suburbs has also now ended. Again, what was a flood, has become a trickle. In some places, the trend may even be reversing itself, with some city centers showing population growth. As this first generation of suburbanites dies, those institutions they supported, such as communities of faith, will have to find new patrons or decline themselves. If a congregation remains committed to fundamentalism, the congregation will be in decline. If the congregation begins to accommodate the second (and third) generations of suburbanites, the congregation will not long remain fundamentalist. The spectacular growth of fundamentalism, like the growth of suburbia, may be slowing, or may have even already peaked and is presently in decline. If the Southern Baptist Convention is a barometer, then it is interesting to note that from 2001 to 2006 their membership did not grow, but remained flat. Beginning in 2007, their membership has been in slow decline.47

Put another way: if fundamentalism is produced by the disruption caused by being introduced to modernity as an adult and fewer and fewer adults are being introduced to modernity (the majority of the population having grown up with modernity), then one would expect fundamentalism to wane. The conditions necessary for the flourishing of fundamentalism are abating. Fewer and fewer adults are being introduced to modernity. More and more of the population grows up in modern urban settings. Children of fundamentalists live in a world that is secular, and yet religion is seen to thrive. Modernity has not annihilated religion the way many feared (and others hoped). As Professor Cox indicates in The Future of Faith:
The resurgence of religion was not foreseen. On the contrary, not many decades ago thoughtful writers were confidently predicting its imminent demise. Science, literacy, and more education would soon dispel the miasma of superstition and obscurantism. Religion would either disappear completely or survive in family rituals, quaint folk festivals, and exotic references in literature, art, and music. Religion, we were assured, would certainly never again sway politics or shape culture. But the soothsayers were wrong. Instead of disappearing, religion--for good or ill--is now exhibiting new vitality all around the world and making its weight widely felt in the corridors of power.48

Karen Armstrong has noted, “every single fundamentalist movement that I have studied in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation. All are convinced that the modern, liberal, secular establishment wants to wipe out religion.”49 Second generation suburbanites are not apt to share this fear with their parents.
Postcard from Suburbia

Karen Armstrong defines religious fundamentalism as “a widespread rebellion against the hegemony of secularist modernity.”50 As she has surveyed the contemporary religious scene, wherever she has encountered a modern, Western-style society, she has noted a religious counterculture developing alongside it in conscious rebellion. One such place were American suburbs. People all over the world have demonstrated that they want to see more religion in public life. In America, the suburbs have been inhabited by just that sort of person. The world’s various fundamentalist ideologies show a disenchantment with modernity and inhabitants of America’s suburbs, many having moved there from rural areas, isolated from modernity in many ways, suddenly experience the disruption modernity can bring. Others come to the suburbs, fleeing the city’s center, trying to escape modernity by escaping from an urban existence.

While each fundamentalist group around the world has sprung up independently; and each even differing significantly from other fundamentalists within their own faith traditions, still “at the root of all these movements is the same visceral dread.”51 The very same visceral dread was to be found in American suburbs across the country. Culture always being contested, it is not surprising to find the secularism of modernity inspiring a strong religions reaction.52 This strong reaction can be seen in suburbia.

While it may be surprising to learn that Harvey Cox believes fundamentalism is in decline at a time when modern, liberal, and secular influences are not waning, Prof. Cox’s intuition is nonetheless confirmed by a sociological/religious reflection on America’s suburbs. The population growth of America’s suburbs is correlated to the growth of religious (Christian) fundamentalism. As the flow of migrants from rural areas and the inner city slow, so will the growth of fundamentalism. Prof. Cox is correct, “fundamentalism, the bane of the twentieth century, is dying.”53

Friday, May 14, 2010

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

Protestant Free Supreme Court

A few days ago, I noted that Justice Stevens was the last protestant on the Supreme Court. With Kagan being nominated for his seat, we will have no protestants on the court. We will have six Roman Catholics and three Jewish justices serving on the bench. My initial thoughts: (1) we Episcopalians have had more than our fair share, we can't complain; (2) living in Louisville, home of Justice Brandies, it is nice to know that only a short time ago, it was unthinkable that there would be three Jewish members setting on the court and not only will there be three, but no one is thinking twice about it (I call that real progress); and (3) this certainly does mark the passing of the WASP (White, Anglo, Saxon, Protestant) dominance of civic life in America (which is, to my mind, a good thing, so no tears being shed on this keyboard).

Along these lines, it is nice to note that for the first time there will be three women on the bench.

But, I also note that the court will have only graduates from Harvard and Yale as members. I guess we can take only so much diversity. Oh, well. Some establishments change. Some stay the same.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Book Review: "The Left Hand of God"

Michael Lerner, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006).

According to the back jacket flap of the book, the author, Rabbi Michael Lerner, is the editor of Tikkun magazine and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue of San Francisco and Berkeley, California. Rabbi Lerner received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley and in clinical psychology from the Wright Institute. The subtitle of the magazine he edits, Tikkun: A Bimonthly Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture, and Society summarizes his current interests. He is well known as a political, cultural, and social critic operating from and out of his Jewish faith.
In summary, Rabbi Lerner argues that “...a social change movement that allowed itself to learn from the accumulated spiritual wisdom of the human race would have an immense potential to engage the most creative energies of the American people…” (p. 382). He divides his project into two parts. Part One presents his critique of American politics, culture and society which he finds in a state of spiritual crisis. Part Two is comprised of his proposed response to this crisis which includes a spiritual covenant with America. The subtitle of the book, “taking back our country from the religious right” accurately describes both Lerner’s concern in Part One and his solution in Part Two.
Lerner describes the “right hand of God” as muscular, powerful, saving and liberating. Lerner describes the “left hand of God” as compassionate, nurturing, loving and caring. Lerner’s thesis is that the “left hand of God” has been ignored by both the political right and left in America. The political right has allowed the religious right to celebrate the “right hand of God” but has ignored God’s left hand. The political left has failed to learn from the accumulated spiritual wisdom of the human race and has instead chosen to celebrate a secular (religion free) vision of America. Consequently, God’s left hand has been ignored. Lerner’s prescription for recovery is for people of faith to celebrate the “left hand of God” the way the religious and political right has celebrated the “right hand of God.”
Lerner argues that the religious right is aware of the growing depression that people are feeling, a deep emotional depression amongst Americans--a lack of any hopeful picture of what the world could be. And that failure, the failure to paint a more hopeful picture, is not a failure of the “religious right” in general or the premillenial-dispensationalist-fundamentalists in particular, but rather, its a failure of the mainstream political framework in America to address the major questions facing the world in the 21st century. He calls on the “religious left” to reinvigorate the conversation in America and address this failure by promoting the religious sensibilities embody in the metaphor of the “left hand of God.”
Drawing on the political effort by Newt Gingrich and the Republican party in 1994 in developing and promoting a “Contract with America,” Lerner advocates a new “Spiritual Covenant with America.” He says, “Its the Democrats’ turn” (p. 227).
Lerner’s “Spiritual Covenant” proclaims a commitment to the traditional spiritual values of love, generosity, kindness, responsibility, respect, gratitude, humility, honesty, awe, and wonder. He outlines public policy commitments on families, personal responsibility, social responsibility, education, health care, environmental stewardship, security, and science. He calls on people of faith to promote this spiritual covenant.
By way of evaluation, Lerner’s thesis is well supported. His belief that America is in the midst of a spiritual crisis is substantiated by his many examples of people searching for meaning in a despiritualized world. He draws on his work as a psychotherapist in this “diagnosis” of the “symptoms” and causes of the crisis. In Lerner’s interviews with spiritual seekers, he hears repeated concern for the erosion of social values, the vices of greed and over-consumption, the instability and fragility of families, the search for community, and the monetization of all aspects of life. Further, he makes a well reasoned argument that the political right has recognized and exploited this crisis of spirit. In the search for spiritual meaning, Americans have been drawn to right-wing religious communities for comfort in the midst of the crisis and instruction on how to fix what is broken. The political right has embraced these seekers and provides an answer for the question Thomas Frank asked in his 2004 book What’s the Matter with Kansas?: why do Americans vote against their own economic interests in supporting the political right. Lerner would answer that those in spiritual crisis favor the spiritual over the economic.
Lerner’s line of reasoning, that the solutions offered by the political right have not so much alleviated the spiritual crisis of America as it has traded on the political value of the crisis, will sound intuitively true for those on the political left, but is not apt to persuasive to any on the political right. But, the political right is not Lerner’s audience. As he makes clear in the second half of his book, he is writing for people of faith and calling people of faith to embrace a politics of meaning that is broader than the program of conservative politics in contemporary America.
The book is ambitious and therefore raises the expectations of the reader. Those expectations will not always be met. At places, The Left Hand of God, wants to move in all directions at once and thus loses its focus. Similarly, it is not only sprawling, but rambling at points. Perhaps the most serious concern, however, is in the central metaphor of the text: God’s hands.
The God of American popular culture in the early twenty-first century is pictured by Lerner as a deity with two hands: one raised in triumph (the right) and the other bandaged and hanging limply in a sling (the left). One might, therefore, expect an argument for a God with two working hands, neither being neglected, both equal in strength. But by the end of the book, clearly Lerner would really prefer a left handed God whose right hand is tied behind God’s back. The metaphor, in this way, breaks quickly. Lerner clearly has a politically liberal reader in mind and he makes no attempt to engage a skeptical politically conservative reader. This critique, however, is based on a misunderstanding of the metaphor.
Lerner never intends his metaphor to bring to the reader’s mind the sort of God implied by this critique. Rather, Lerner intends his provocative metaphor to expand a liberal secular reader’s understanding of the potentiality inherent in religion and to encourage the disenfranchised religious left not to lose heart. The metaphor is meant, to say “Look! God doesn’t have just one hand! Religion is multifaceted and neglected by the political left. End the neglect. Let’s exercise God’s other (left) arm!” In this way, the metaphor works beautifully. But when a person of faith, rather than a person of the secular left, picks up the volume, the metaphor gives rise to an unintended expectation of “balance” in politics and harmony in the culture war. In this way, the subtitle plays an important role and should not be overlooked. Lerner is plotting a strategy to take “back our country from the religious right.” It is for another author to provide a vision of a two handed God; a God who empowers and strengthens and in whose might justice prevails and a God who is always concerned with the plight of the poor and the marginalized, a God of steadfast love. Exploring the implications of an ambidextrous God is not Lerner’s concern.
Lerner also develops the metaphor of the mind of God having both a left and a right hemisphere. He writes of the “perfection” of God, hinting at a God that is not only not one handed but who exercises both the right and left sides of the brain in a balanced, harmonious, and healthy way. Drawing on his background in psychotherapy, Lerner creates an analogy to bipolar disorder and suggests that we have portrayed God as manic in right brain function and depressed in left brain function. Again, this analogy suggests the need for a leveling, a dose of theological lithium to restore healthy behavior. These are, however, just hints and not the purpose of his project. Another author, with greater sensitivity to the religious right, such as Jim Wallis, might develop this project in such a direction and thereby draw some of the religious right to Lerner’s vision. Lerner’s rhetorical style, however, is not well suited for that task and his focus is the secular liberal reader, not the reader of the religious right.
Lerner’s work calls to mind a book by President Jimmy Carter Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis published in 2005 by Simon & Schuster. Carter, like Lerner, analyzes the political and religious right and comes to many of the same conclusions, but from his Christian (Baptist) faith. Likewise, Lerner’s and Carter’s work is similar to Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get it. It is no coincidence that Wallis‘ book is published by the same publishing house as Lerner: HarperSanFransico. These three, and others like them, point to an emerging trend in the early years of the twenty-first century, the desire by some on the political left to remove the right’s seeming monopoly on religion in America.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Religiosity of the Supreme Court

John Paul Stevens is currently the only Protestant jurist on the United States Supreme Court. Justice Stevens has announced his retirement at the end of the current term.  Of the eight remaining justices, six self-identify as Roman Catholic and two as Jewish.  

The U.S. Constitution clearly states that there will be no religious tests for office.  But until fairly recently the Supreme Court has been overwhelmingly Protestant and 35 have been Episcopalian (more than any other religious group).

For the nation’s first two generations all members of the court were Protestant.  In 1836, Justice Roger Taney became the first Catholic member. But for thirty years after Taney, the court was again entirely Protestant. Edward Douglas White ended the “Protestant monopoly.”

In the early twentieth century the nation began to expect a “Catholic seat” and then also a “Jewish seat” on the court. The nomination of the first Jewish Justice, Louis Brandeis, was bitterly contested. Anti-Catholic sentiments were also still common in the early part of the twentieth century.  However, despite the nation’s uneasy relationship with its Catholic and Jewish citizens, the practice of having one Jewish and one Catholic Supreme Court justice continued more or less from 1916 until 1972 (Nixon broke with the tradition).  
 
In 1967, Justice Thurgood Marshall became the first African-American to join the court and in 1981 Justice Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to do the same.  Recently, I dare say, we have not viewed religion to be as important as race and gender.

In 1985, when asked about the future of maintaining a Catholic seat on the Supreme Court, Catholic jurist William Brennan remarked that in fifty years’ time “no one will care about these things.”

For the Record the “Top Five”: Episcopalian 35; Presbyterian 19; Catholic 11; Unitarian 10; and Jewish 7.

 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Avatar & Religion

The question:

Week 9 and 10 Response Paper Assignment - Due April 14th

Very simply: write 500-700 words on the aspects of the film relevant for not just religious issues, but religious issues in America. What connections can you make between the film and particular themes we have discussed so far in class? What does this film suggest about the general relationship between Hollywood and religion in American society? Make sure to keep your response within the word limit, even if this keeps you from discussing every example of American religion in the film you’ve selected.

My answer:

I selected Avatar because Professor Cox promoted us viewing it in a lecture. As Prof. Cox indicated, it has broken box-office records around the world (including here in America) and was nominated for the “Best Picture” award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science.

Most obviously, the name of the film has religious connotations for Hindus in America. The term “avatar” is used in sacred Hindu texts to denote incarnations of deities. For instance, Rama, the seventh avatar of the deity Vishnu, of the sacred poem Ramayana, is (in the Sanskrit language) an “avatar.” Krishna is the avatar in the epic poem Mahabharata.

The term “avatar,” however, is currently used by those who play virtual reality games or participate in virtual reality social networks or learning environments. In these contexts, avatars are the participant’s “incarnation” in the virtual reality world of the game, social network, or learning environment.

To all but practicing Hindus, the term “avatar” has this later connotation, most Americans being oblivious to the etymology of the word. Nonetheless, there are a significant number of Hindus in America and there were some initial protest from Hindus to James Cameron’s use of the term as the film’s title. Rajan Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism (based in Nevada), in a press release, said that “avatar” was one of the central themes Hinduism and insensitive handling of faith traditions sometimes results in pillaging serious spiritual doctrines and revered symbols and consequently injures devotees.

The interplay between religion and the film, however, does not end with its title. American Roman Catholics were warned by the Vatican that the film flirts with the worship of nature (see Alessandra Rizzo’s article in January 12, 2010 Huffington Post). Vatican Radio said the film “cleverly winks at all those pseudo-doctrines that turn ecology into the religion of the millennium.”

For many theologically liberal Christians the film’s exploration of the themes of imperialism, greed, ecological disregard and corporate irresponsibility were welcomed and warmly embraced. Neopaganism, of which Pope Benedict was concerned, did not seem to worry liberal protestant Christians.

Ross Douthat wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times that called the film “Cameron’s long apologia for pantheism.” I find that assessment unwarranted by the content of the film. “Apologia” is too strong a word. The Vatican’s “flirt” is more accurate. Ross goes on to say that “pantheism has been Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation.” And names, “The Lion King,” “Pocahontas,” “Dances with Wolves,” and “Star Wars” as examples. Again, I find his judgment unwarranted. Disney’s portrayal of African religious practice in “The Lion King” or the portrayal of Native American religion in “Pocahontas” and “Dances with Wolves” is hardly the advocacy of pantheism. You can quibble with whether or not the films gave an accurate portrayal (given the limitations of the genre and medium), but to suggest that the films promote or are an evangelistic tool of pantheism seems silly to me. Avatar struck me as a remake of “Lawrence of Arabia” and I have never heard anyone suggest that “Lawrence of Arabia” was an apologia for Islam. Ross believes pantheism to be religiously misguided. I agree. “Avatar,” however, is not to my mind (as he suggests) an apologia for pantheism.

More interesting was Jonah Goldberg’s opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times. Goldberg summarizes the film thusly: the hero “goes native, embraces the eco-faith of Pandora's Na'Vi inhabitants and their tree goddess, the "all mother," and rallies the Pandoran aborigines (not to mention the Pandoran ecosystem itself) against the evil forces of a thinly veiled 22nd century combine of Blackwater and Halliburton.” Whereas I was not sure if Ross and I watched the same film, Goldberg and I certainly did. Like Goldberg, what I find interesting is how the film is unapologetically religious and yet a “blockbuster” and an Academy Award nominee.

Ross’ litany of films he believes promotes pantheism can be seen as a litany of films that have religious plot elements or themes and I would note that all were successful at the American box office. To my mind, rather than seeing Hollywood as a den of heresy, the take home lesson here is that America is very comfortable with religion, even when the religious convictions being expressed are not their own and further the popularity of these films attest to not only the comfort with religion (which is passive) but the nature of America to be affirmative of religion (a more active/positive response).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Holy Week Reflections by Rowan Williams

ENGLAND: Archbishop of Canterbury offers Holy Week reflections

By ENS staff, March 30, 2010

[Episcopal News Service] Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is giving three Holy Week lectures in a series entitled "The beginning of the Gospel -- reading Mark's life of Jesus."

In the March 29 lecture, titled "History and Memory," Williams talked about Mark, the origins of his work and how the Gospel of Mark "has an exceptional impact." He also spoke about the purpose and the goal of the book and what scholarship has been doing with Mark's gospel for the last century. A questions and answers session followed the lecture.

The March 30 lecture is titled "Unveiling Secrets" and the final lecture on March 31 is to address "A Lifelong Passion."

Williams is presenting the lectures at Canterbury Cathedral.

Multimedia versions of the lectures are available here.

In addition, Lambeth Palace has posted a Holy Week video message in which the archbishop calls the days leading up to Easter "a week when we discover in a way we don't do at any other time just who we are and just who God is." A transcript of his message is here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

God vs. God

Sean Hannity was recently scolded by bloggers for being disinterested in Mosab Hassan Yousef’s theology.  The Fox TV host was castigated for being too politically correct to join Yousef in his attack on Allah when Hannity interviewed Yousef on his March 4th program.

Yousef said, “There are no moderate Muslims.”  “All Muslims are the same,” (that is, they are all militant). He adds, but the "most criminal terrorist Muslim has more morality than their God” (what Yousef calls “the God of the Koran”). Further, he stated, “Their God is a terrorist and ignorant.”
           
The following day, the Wall Street Journal published an interview of Yousef by Matthew Kaminski. The headline read: “THEY NEED TO BE LIBERATED FROM THEIR GOD.”  It turns out that liberation is not merely physical liberation by military force, but also spiritual liberation. Yousef says his father is “doing the will of a fanatic God…a fanatic, fundamentalist, terrorist God.” People “don’t want to admit this is an ideological war [but]…[t]he problem is their God.” Yousef claims that the God of the Koran is the real enemy we must fight.
           
Yousef is living in the U.S. and is a convert to Christianity.  He often speaks of “the grace, love and humility that Jesus talked about.”  

Here we have God vs. God, our God vs. their God, good God vs. bad God.  Mosab Hassan Yousef’s book, Son of Hamas, presents a view of the “God of Islam” which is a distortion and bears no resemblance to the God of Abraham which all Muslims, Christans and Jews worship. It is easy, in our world, to forget that we are talking about the same God--the God of Abraham. As Abraham’s children, we are siblings. In this way, there is no “us” and “them”, only “us” and “us.”

Yousef may be right about some things, but I know he is wrong about God. There is but one God.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Documentary

I am making a short documentary for a class I am taking at Harvard this Spring semester (part of my sabbatical). Spent the day conducting an interview with a biologist on evolution. Tomorrow more interviews.

Friday, March 5, 2010

More on Maximum Wage

From a 2006 Atlantic Monthly article on income distribution in the USA. Illustrates why I believe we need a"Maximum Wage." http://bit.ly/9f8f11

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Homosexuality & Christian Scripture

You can now purchase a copy of my lecture from 2004 on Homosexuality and Christian Scripture from Carmichael's Bookstore in Louisville, Kentucky. Both the Frankfort Avenue and Bardstown Road locations have copies available. I am going to give the proceeds (if there are any) to the Fairness Campaign.

Each book comes with a DVD of the lecture.

Great for study groups! Read the book. Watch the DVD. Talk about it!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wording of Amended Motion on ACNA

The Church of England's General Synod debated the following Private Member's Motion by Lorna Ashworth:

“That this Synod express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America”

The final amended text that Synod voted for is as follows:

That this Synod, aware of the distress cause by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States of America and Canada,

"(a) recognise and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family;

(b) acknowledge that this aspiration, in respect both of relations with the Church of England and membership of the Anglican Communion, raises issues which the relevant authorities of each need to explore further; and

(c) invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ode to Wittgenstein



http://bit.ly/9zAJsy

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Street Creeps and the Maximum Wage

More in the paper today about bonuses being given to AIG employees. I repeat. We need a maximum wage (see below).

Friday, January 29, 2010

Analogy

Imagine your house is on fire. What do you do?

I’d call the fire department.

Let’s say the fire-fighters save the house. It could have burned to the ground, but they were able to save it. Fire damage was done. It will be costly to fix, but it is so much better than having lost the whole house to the fire. It was costly to the city, paying fire-fighters and maintaining equipment and housing both fighters & equipment and training the fire-fighters and buying equipment, etc. But, my neighbors figure it was worth all the expense, since the fire department was able to stop the spread of the fire and their houses were spared. The costs are high; so, “What do you do?”

I’d bake the fire-fighters some brownies, maybe write an op-ed piece in the local paper extolling the virtues of the fire department, and be very grateful, filled with thanksgiving, for their coming to my aid.

In addition, however, I notice that the fire-fighters broke windows, some of which, in hindsight, they might not have had to break to put out the fire. What do I do?

Nothing. I figure it was an emergency and they had to make split second decisions. Under those circumstances, mistakes are bound to be made. Its the nature of an emergency. I don’t like it and frankly the fire department doesn’t like it either--but under the circumstances I figure these sort of things happen.

Once the fire was clearly being vanquished, I began to wonder what caused the fire. And I was grateful to see the fire marshall, on the scene, already investigating the cause of the fire. As relief comes that the emergency is over my anger begins to swell. I am mad. I want to know what caused the fire. My anger needs an object.

My neighbor points out that I campaigned against a local ordinance mandating that every home have working smoke detectors. At the time, I did not believe the government needed to intrude into my life--my home--by making it a crime to choose not to have a smoke detector. I said that even if the ordinance passed, I would then fight the funding for enforcement of the ordinance. I firmly believed there was too much government regulation in our lives. My neighbor said, that at the time, I had convinced him--but now, after my house burned, he was going to buy a smoke detector as soon as possible. I ask myself, am I a big enough man to admit I was wrong?

No. I’ll wait for the Fire Marshall’s report and assign blame elsewhere. What’s the point of blaming myself? And then I begin to wonder--what will the Fire Marshall find? What if that wiring, I had repaired by the “moon lighting” electrician, and never had inspected, caused the fire? What if my insurance will not pay for the damage, if my actions caused the fire? I’ve got to study the policy--quick. I resolve, no matter what the facts, I will not allow this to become my fault. I rethink the baking of brownies and the writing of op-ed pieces. Maybe I will sue the fire department for the unnecessary damage done to my home. If I am implicated, I can object to the Fire Marshall, maybe I can claim that he had it in for me since I had opposed the smoke detector thing. Then, maybe I can get the Fire Marshall fired and everyone will then doubt his investigation and the city will pay for the whole thing just to get me to shut up and then it will not matter what my insurance company will or will not pay. I’ll be put right. I wonder if I can sue for more and make a little money on this deal. Maybe move to a bigger house. I never really liked this one anyway.


------------------

Now, in this tale, I wonder...who is the home owner whose house burned down? What could the house be? Who are you in this story? How could the story have ended differently? If you could tell the story, how would you tell it?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Remove Ben Bernanke?

I am surprised that the anger of the hoi polloi might cost Ben Bernanke his job. I agree with Paul Krugman's assessment. He wrote today "Mr. Bernanke is a superb research economist. And from the spring of 2008 to the spring of 2009 his academic expertise and his policy role meshed perfectly, as he used aggressive, unorthodox tactics to head off a second Great Depression."

Bernanke is a Republican, so I am sure he does not have much political cover within a Democratic administration. But partisan politics aside, he knew his economic history and he knew how to avoid the same mistakes that lead to the Great Depression. He navigated those waters as well as anyone could possibly hope. I applauded the new administration when it reappointed him to head the Federal Reserve despite his political affiliation. I thought Time magazine got it right when it named him "Man of the Year."

There were a host of economic mistakes that led to our most recent gilded age, but Bernanke is hardly responsible for almost thirty years of ill concieved deregulation and a system of regressive taxation. He is, however, responsible from saving us from the effects of our folly. The medicine Dr. Bernanke administered was difficult to swallow and tasted awful--but it was better than allowing the disease to run its natural course.

We should be building a monument to honor Ben Bernanke, not removing him from his post.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Candidates for 8th Bishop of Kentucky

http://bit.ly/8bC2Gg

MoAmy has posted the names of the candidates for 8th Bishop of Kentucky.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Time for a Maximum Wage

A maximum wage was effectively in place in the United States from 1942 until 1964 during which the highest tax bracket was taxed at a rate of 91%. Its time to re-enact a maximum wage law.

A wage of ten times the minimum wage sounds reasonable to me. How many minimum wage earners are you worth? Three, four maybe. You work long hours--you are worth more than someone who only puts in 40 hours a week. The quality of your work is far superior to your collegues--you are worth at least two of the guys down the hall or across the factory floor.

But is anyone (ANYONE) so productive that their work could possibly be worth more than 10 miniumum wage workers? Currently about 2% of the American workforce makes more than ten times the minimum wage. We should use the income tax code to impose a maximum wage. If a maximum wage was enacted, 98% of Americans would not be taxed at a higher rate--but the excesses of our most recent gilded age would be brought to an end. With all the griping about Wall Street executive pay in Congress, on the editorial pages and among taxpayers, the President set new limits on pay at financial firms getting government assistance. CEOs at companies getting the most help from the government saw their salaries capped at a half million dollars a year. This came after President Obama described the huge bonuses and perks on Wall Street as shameful. It is not, however, just banking and Wall Street CEO's, but anyone with income more than 10 times the minimum wage.

In England, the "Statute of Artificers of 1563" implemented statutes of fixed maximum wage scales; Justices of the Peace could fix wages according "to the plenty or scarcity of the time". We need a modern version of the "Statute of Artificers." We need a maximum wage.

To counteract the increase in prevailing wages due to scarcity of labor, American colonies in the 17th century created a ceiling wage. We need a new ceiling wage. We need a maximum wage.

No one's work is of such quantity or quality to justifiy the compensation recieved by the top 2%. Enough is enough. It's time for a maximum wage law.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The following is from Martin Marty of the University of Chicago on Pat Robertson's recent remark concerning Haiti:

"...The incident shows development and expansiveness in Robertson, who has been one of the most consistent critics of secular humanism in all its forms. Yet for this – his televised revelation of the meaning of the catastrophe – the evangelist drew not on the Bible but on secular humanist sources.

You won’t find “pact with the devil” in your biblical concordance, as the phrase did not enter our culture from the Bible. Mention a “pact with the devil” and you will immediately be dredging up the explicit language of the Faust legend, whether from Marlowe or Goethe or Thomas Mann, who told classic versions of Dr. Faust’s famed contract. Search the literature and you will find secular humanists touting the greatest, Goethe’s Faust, as a “secular humanist manifesto.” Something good to say about Robertson, then? Yes: We like to document popular evangelicalism’s enlarging scope; here is an instance. Could Robertson have been courting secular humanists with this turn to non-Biblical sources?

Goethe’s Faust is big in college curricula and Great Books clubs and among opera goers; but the story of a pact with the devil also shows up in less elite circles, including one most explicit source. Guy Endore’s Babouk (1934) is a fictionalized version of the incident Robertson used to explain the curse on the Haitian people, who, in his estimation, deserved the earthquake because of an ancestral pact with the devil. Stalinist Endore did his research in Haiti, and came back to tell the story of Babouk, his version of Duffy Boukman, believed to have been the agent of the Haitian revolution against the French. Could Endore’s bad Communist novel have been Robertson’s source? If so, then we see the scope of sources that Robertson takes to be “true stories.” "

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The following review has appeared (proof that someone read my book!)

Charles Hawkins, Beyond Anarchy and Tyranny in Religious Epistemology: Postliberalism, Poststructuralism, and Critical Theory, University Press of America, (1997) - Read in December 2007. Charles Hawkins takes as the underlying premise that postliberal theology could learn much from comparison with poststructuralist theory. Both approaches are open to charges of relativism; Hawkins suggests that poststructuralism's more nuanced approach to the relativist charg. Hawkins quotes Richard Bernstein's diagnosis of cartesian anxiety which has as its sympton the problem that either there is some support for our being, a fixed foundation for our knowledge, or we cannot escape the forces of darkness that envelop us with madness, with intellectual and moral chaos" (p. 156). The emphasis on context in both poststructuralism and postliberalism has made this (universal) fixed foundation unobtainable. The result is not, argues Hawkins, an intellectual and moral chaos because both traditions are open to alternate readings. Although the comparison between postliberalism and poststructuralism was a little forced this was an interesting book worth a read if you can pick it up second hand.

Richard Gillingham, Liverpool, United Kingdom
BTh in Theology from Chester Univeristy (2002)
MA in Religion, Politics and International Relations from the University of Wales, Lampeter (2004).

http://www.subrationedei.com

Friday, January 15, 2010

News from the Episcopal Church in Haiti:

"We have devastating news to share with you from Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake yesterday...the damage in Port au Prince and areas around it is terrible.

There is no Cathedral. The entire Holy Trinity complex is gone. The convent for the Sisters of St. Margaret is gone. The Bishop's house is gone. College St. Pierre is gone...In Trouin, four people were killed during a service. In Grand Colline, the church is gone.one part of st Martin of tours is gone...In St. Etienne Buteau the church, the rectory and the school are gone.

The Rev. Kesner Ajax"