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Two Americas

20 Oct

Gertrude Himmelfarb in her book One Nation, Two Cultures (2010) argued that America is comprised of two distinct cultures.  A traditionalist one (conservative, Puritan heritage) and a dissident one (counterculture of the 1960s).  She wrote:

As a minority, the traditionalist culture labors under the disadvantage of being perennially on the defensive.  Its elite — gospel preachers, radio talk show hosts, some prominent columnists, and organizational leaders–cannot begin to match, in  numbers or influence, those who occupy the commanding heights of the dominant culture; professors presiding over the multitude of young people who attend their lectures, read their books, and have to pass their exams; journalists who determine what information, and what ‘spins’ on that information, come to the public; television and movie producers who provide the images and values that shape the popular culture; cultural entrepreneurs who are ingenious in creating and marketing ever more sensational and provocative products.  An occasional boycott by religious conservatives can hardly counteract the cumulative, pervasive effect of the dominant culture.

The Truth About Inherit the Wind by Carol Iannone | Articles | First Things

27 Jan–36

Reviewing trajectory of current case law regarding religious vs ‘erotic’ liberty

7 Jan

Very helpful episode of the “The Briefing” (Al Mohler) today on the current legal landscape (cases and rulings) regarding the ‘collision’ between religious liberty and ‘erotic’ liberty (his word). Basically, current cases indicate a significant narrowing of the ‘religious exemption’ and ‘ministerial exception” language. As you move away from the pulpit, religious organizations are losing their 1st amendment cover and ability to receive these waivers, exemptions, and exceptions to anti-discrimination laws and/or judicial decisions.



Interpreting the data of Black Lives Matter and Law Enforcement

5 Jan

From Rachel Lu:


Is it rational for black men to fear they may be killed by police? The Washington Post has just released a new, groundbreaking study on police violence that may help answer that question. It investigates every fatal police shooting in the United States in 2015. You can see the data here.

Plenty of arresting details come out of this study. Those who followed the Tamir Rice case may be interested to know that realistic-looking toy guns were involved in fully 3 percent of the shootings. Almost 10 percent of victims were unarmed when they were killed, and a very disproportionate number of these were black. About a quarter of the suspects were fleeing when they were shot, while a quarter struggled with mental illness.

The headliner, though, is something we already knew: a lot of Americans get killed in police shootings. As of Christmas Eve, police in America had fatally shot 979 people across the United States. (The Guardian, with a similar study, puts the number over 1,000.)

That’s a lot, when you consider that multiple European countries can count on one hand the number of fatal police shootings each year. Every country is different, of course, in innumerable ways. Nevertheless, such enormous disparities should prompt some probing questions.

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Perhaps we should stop listening to secularists in our fight against ISIS

26 Feb

From Dr. Paul Miller in The Federalist (excerpt):

In truth, the Islamic State’s (ISIS’s) religious nature is banal because it is so obviously true. The Islamic State is difficult to comprehend only for secularists who believe religion is an aberration in the modern world. It isn’t: they are. Ignoring the religious nature of jihadists is the simple arrogance of those who dismiss as “false consciousness” the sincere devotion of the faithful. I read Graeme’s piece and felt like Captain Renault being shocked—shocked!—to find gambling going on in Rick’s Cafe. You’re only shocked if you’ve been deluding yourself for a decade.

But the religious nature of the Islamic State—and of jihadist terrorism generally—feeds into some disturbing chatter I’ve heard among conservative friends and colleagues. People rarely say it publicly, but in private conversations and emails among friends, I’ve heard more mutterings about the problems with “Islam,” about how the Islamic State proves Islam is not a “religion of peace.” I heard someone wonder when we were going to recognize the threat from “them” and start tracking Muslims in America to protect ourselves from their plots.

We are right to dismiss the White House’s pablum as vacuous nonsense. But rejecting one idea does not mean we have to affirm its opposite. It is false that jihadism has nothing to do with Islam; but that does not mean that Islam is nothing but jihadism. The tiresome, politically-correct cliche about the vast majority of Muslims not being terrorists….is true.

…jihadist religious claims are certainly relevant. Success in war depends on knowing your enemy. Social scientists who dismiss the religious claims of jihadists, treating religion as epiphenomenal to some other “real” cause, betray a materialist, secularist bias and do not help us understand our enemy. The secularist view—that jihadism is the product of frustrated rational actors lashing out at their disempowerment in corrupt, poor, repressive societies left behind by globalizing modernity—is true but incomplete, the shallow understanding of secular modernity unable to come to grips with the enduring power of religious identities.

Religion powerfully intermixes with politics in all societies in the world, including the United States—whether it is the religion of Christianity or the religion of Enlightenment secularism.

An atheist explains the different political theologies he sees in Christianity and Islam (does it explain violence and oppression?)

28 Jan

From Robert Tracinski in The Federalist:

The Charlie Hebdo massacre once again has politicians and the media dancing around the question of whether there might be something a little bit special about this one particular religion, Islam, that causes its adherents to go around killing people.

It is not considered acceptable in polite company to entertain this possibility. Instead, it is necessary to insist, as a New York Times article does, that “Islam is no more inherently violent than other religions.” This, mind you, was in an article on how Muslims in the Middle East are agonizing over the violent legacy of their religion.

It is obviously true that all major religions have had violent periods, or periods in which the religion has coexisted with violence. Even those mellow pacifist Buddhists. These days, especially the Buddhists, who are currently fomenting a pogrom against a Muslim minority in Burma.

But in today’s context, it’s absurd to equate Islam and Christianity. Pointing to the Spanish Inquisition tends to undermine the point rather than confirm it: if you have to look back three hundred years to find atrocities, it’s because there are so few of them today. The mass crimes committed under the name of Islam, by contrast, are fresh and openly boasted about.

As an atheist, I have no god in this fight, so to speak. I don’t think the differences between religions make one more valid than another. But as the Charlie Hedbo attack reminds us, there is a big practical difference between them. In fact, the best argument against the equivalence of Christianity and Islam is that no one acts even remotely as if this were true. We feel free to criticize and offend Christians without a second thought—thanks, guys, for being so cool about that—but antagonizing Muslims takes courage. More courage than a lot of secular types in the West can usually muster.

So it’s a matter of some practical urgency to figure out: what is the difference? What are its root causes?

As I see it, the main danger posed by any religion to its dissenters and unbelievers lies in the rejection of reason, which cuts off the possibility of discussion and debate, leaving coercion as an acceptable substitute. I’m with Voltaire on that one: “If we believe absurdities, we will commit atrocities.” But all religions are different and have different doctrines which are shaped over their history—and as we shall see, that includes different views on precisely such core issues as the role of reason and persuasion.

I should preface this by saying that I am no expert on theology, particularly Muslim theology. Yet there are a number of big, widely documented differences between Christianity and Islam that can be seen in the traditions established by their history and in the actual content of their religious doctrines.

The life of Christ versus the life of Mohammed.

Mohammed was a conqueror who gained worldly political power in his lifetime and used it to persecute opponents and impose his religion. He also fully enjoyed the worldly perks of being a tyrant, including multiple wives. Jesus, by contrast, was basically a pacifist whose whole purpose on earth was to allow himself to be tortured to death.

He even explicitly forbade his followers to use force to defend him. Here’s John, Chapter 18: “Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear…. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”

This does not imply that all Christians ought to be pacifists. But it certainly sets a tone for the religion. The life of the founder of a religion is held up to his followers as a model for how they should live their own lives. The life of Mohammed tells the Muslim that he should expect to rule, whereas the life of Christ tells the Christian he should expect to sacrifice and serve. Which leads us to a deeper doctrinal difference.

“What you do to the least of these, you do to me.”
In Matthew, Chapter 25, Christ tells his followers what will happen during the final judgment, when he separates the righteous from the wicked.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Similarly, there is an episode during the Last Supper when the apostles are squabbling about which of them is greatest. Christ intervenes and tells them that the greatest is he who serves others the most.

And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
This is a very profound idea that goes against the grain of most of human history. I’m a big fan of the Classical world, but the pagans still regarded it as normal, right, and natural that the physically strong set the terms for everyone else. Thucydides famously summed it up in the Melian Dialogue: “The strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must.” Thucydides was clearly critical of that view, but the Classical world didn’t have a clear alternative. As far as I know, Christ was the first to insist that even the lowest, least significant person has value and that we will be judged by how we treat him.

The distinctive idea here is not a belief in self-sacrifice—Islam, with its emphasis on the glory of dying in battle, has that idea in abundance. Nor is it the idea of a duty to serve others—Communist regimes were built on the idea that the individual exists only to serve the collective. Instead, it is the idea that each individual has a supreme and sacred value. Even Ayn Rand declared this to be the idea from Christianity that most impressed her.

Islam has no corresponding idea. The news is constantly bringing us a story of some imam somewhere declaring it consistent with Islam for a man to beat his wife, and the rise of the Islamic State in Syria has provided us current examples of Islam sanctioning slavery, including the capture and systematic rape of sex slaves. This is a religion that is still very much in the “rights of the conqueror” mode, in which the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

Again, this goes back to the beginning. Consider the story, from one of the earliest Arab biographies of Mohammed, of Asma bint Marwan, an Arab poet in Medinah who spoke out against the rise of Mohammed. According to legend, he asked his followers, “Who will rid me of the daughter of Marwan?” (His version of Henry II’s “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”) One of them took it on himself to sneak into her house and murder her in her sleep. There are questions about the authenticity of the story, but the fact that it was widely believed and reported indicates the example Mohammed set.

To be sure, this brutal attitude is partly because of the backwardness of some of the quasi-feudal societies that are majority-Muslim, where divisions of tribe and caste still dominate. But then again, Islam hasn’t done much to elevate those societies, despite having more than a thousand years to do so.

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More on the silliness of Nesweek’s attack on Christianity – from Robert Gagnon

20 Jan

From Dr. Robert Gagnon:

Newsweek, in an article by Kurt Eichenwald, says that Christians who regard homosexual practice as sin (or who—horror!—favor prayer in public school) “are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians,” “hypocrites,” “Biblical illiterates,” “fundamentalists and political opportunists,” and “Pharisees.” To support his slurs, Eichenwald first tries to undermine reliance on Scripture as a supreme authority for moral discernment and then to show how Christians, oblivious to the problems with biblical inspiration, ignore its clear teaching.

Eichenwald claims that the New Testament Greek text is unreliable, ignoring the fact that no other ancient text comes close to being so well attested. For example, while the oldest surviving manuscript for a significant portion of Plato’s fourth-century B.C. dialogues dates to 895, for the first-century a.d. New Testament the dates are ca. 200 (Paul) and the third century (Gospels, Acts), with over a dozen substantial manuscripts from the fourth–sixth centuries. Only a tiny fraction of the variations among the manuscripts pose any serious problem for scholars in determining the original text. Furthermore, no major Christian doctrine hangs in the balance because of these variations.

Eichenwald also charges that modern English translations of the New Testament are notoriously unreliable. The truth is that there are today a dozen or so fairly reliable translations. Eichenwald cites as his key example of translation inaccuracy renderings of the Greek verb proskunéō(προσκυνέω) as “worship” when applied to Jesus. Although the verb’s basic sense is “prostrate oneself (before),” Eichenwald is ignorant of places in the Gospels where the sense is already sliding over into the meaning of “worship” such as when the disciples “prostrated themselves before” Jesus after he stilled the storm, declaring “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matt 14:33).

Eichenwald flubs even worse when he claims that nowhere in the New Testament is there a clear indication that Jesus is part of the Godhead. He erroneously tries to dismiss the reference in Philippians 2:6 to Jesus being in “the form of God” as a mistranslation of “the image of God,” ignoring both many parallels with the figure of Wisdom in early Judaism and many other New Testament texts that speak to Jesus’s pre-existent divine state.

Eichenwald claims that excessive attention to the authority of the Bible, particularly regarding the doctrines of the incarnation and the atonement, has been responsible for bloodshed. It is an odd charge given the vast numbers of Christians throughout history (including the first few centuries) were inspired by their understanding of Jesus’s gracious incarnation and death to be non-violent.

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