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From Atheist to Christian at Yale – Dr. Paul Lim

19 Sep

Religious composition of Two-Parties; Nones nearly 1/3 of Democratic Voters

6 Sep

From PRRI:


Spiritual but not religious

6 Sep

From Pew:

Grading “The Family,” my review

20 Aug

How would I grade “The Family,” a Netflix documentary based on Jeff Sharlet’s book of the same title?

Central thesis: There is a secret conspiracy of fundamentalist Christians organized as “The Fellowship” led by “The Family” to seize political power in America and throughout the World.

Supporting Claims and Evidences



Because “The Fellowship” events and activities concentrate on political elites, The Fellowship believes that God favors the elites and is therefore out of line with the mission of Jesus.

Simply because a Christian ministry targets a subset, any subset, of a population doesn’t mean the ministry believes God favors that subset.  Do Nigerian missionaries believe that God favors Nigerians?  The Fellowship sees itself as a ministry/mission to politicians, who, along with all ensouled humans, are to evangelized.  No evidence, quotes, were provided to support the claim (made in the final episode) that the Fellowship/Family believes that God favors elites out of all humanity


“The Fellowship” is a society owned, operated, controlled by white evangelical fundamentalist right-wing zealots.  

The Fellowship has a disproportionate number of evangelicals and Republicans.  But Democrats, liberals, theological liberals, African-Americans, are present throughout the event and activities and inner leaders.  Also, evangelical and fundamentalists are never defined.  How can an evangelical or fundamentalist (which are not synonymous) deny the authority, sufficiency of the whole bible and emphasize only the gospels (as allegedly the Fellowship/Family does)? Is that cult-like activity, poor doctrine of scripture or is that lowest common denominator Christianity, maximizing their appeal theological conservatives, Protestant liberals, and Catholics. 


“The Fellowship” holds secret prayer breakfasts, indicating conspiratorial aims.  

Evangelicals, Christians of every kind, hold prayer meetings in secret if and when confessing of sin is to be a regular and important part of it (as the film clearly reveals about them here).  Like AA meetings.


“The Fellowship” is really doesn’t police itself, befriends or accommodates or fails to renounce subversive evil opportunists who seek to use the Fellowship as a door to U.S. politicians; if it isn’t wicked itself it is very naive and careless in this regard.

This part of the film was the most credible and most supported in terms of evidence.  However, Christians who are driven by evangelism are often naive and vulnerable/gullible.  They are notorious for being so forgiving and so gracious that they get duped at best, and even mistakenly err on the side mercy at the expense of justice or common sense at worst.  But that hardly makes them conspiratorial.  


“The Fellowship” has a single goal, power.  Everything else they talk about is a ruse.  

No evidence was provided that The Fellowship uses (or even could use) carrots or sticks to control anyone (a key ingredient of real and actual power).  They don’t have a reward/punishment system, not even campaign contributions, to achieve their goals.  The films doesn’t even explain what the power goals are (I suppose power for its own sake?).  As far as the evidence that was presented is concerned, they use prayer and fellowship across the political aisle to realize their stated objective, conversion of politicians to Jesus Christ in hopes of changing the world.    


“The Fellowship” activities and influence violates the Separation of Church and State enshrined in the Constitution.

The Fellowship isn’t a church, for one thing.  It has no institutional structure.  No formal creed. No legal status or designation.  So a church government isn’t being entangled with a civil government at all.  If the claim is that Christians violate the separation of church and state when they intentionally try to influence politicians, then this is simply a bad understanding of the first amendment, since Christian influence was not and is not unconstitutional in a republic any more than black influence or feminist influence.  Moreover, it would prove too much, because in the film Sharlet seems to condone and cheer Christians who attempt to influence politicians for the sake of the poor.  Can’t have it both ways.  In fact the most organized, oldest, and frequent number of religious lobbying groups (not talking prayer breakfasts, but registered lobbyists and their parent organizations) in D.C. are not right-wing or theologically conservative, but left-wing and theologically liberal, who believe that political activity is in fact part of the mission of the church.  If explicit religious influence bothers Sharlet, he must outraged by the religious left, but he’s not.


What made the film succeed in promoting a creepy conspiratorial narrative wasn’t the substance of the argument but the manipulation of the music, image and video editing, and radical interpretations.  But this doesn’t mean The Fellowship is innocent.  There is a legitimate criticism of The Fellowship or The Family, but it doesn’t come from Sharlet nor is it stated in the film.  It’s an internal and theological criticism.  It’s the notion, misguided notion, on the part of so many in the Christian Right but also the Christian Left that the way you usher in the Kingdom of Christ, the way that you impact the world for Christ, is through political processes.  This is an old but stubborn temptation.  “Convert or influence the politicians and you get Christian America” is a canard swallowed first by the Christian Left and then by the Christian Right and wrong-headed, misguided, and unbiblical in both cases.  The purpose of the Christian Church isn’t to make any nation Christian again.  It is to proclaim the gospel in Word and Sacrament and function as a separate Kingdom, a faithful witness to their heavenly Kingdom, in the midsts of the kingdoms of this world.  The church’s mission is spiritual in nature, and in pursuit of that spiritual mission, the host cities, societies or governments in which they find themselves may be impacted positively, although only incidentally.  The film didn’t prove that the goal was power.  It only proved that the goal was conversion as a vehicle to social/political change.  The Fellowship can be rightly criticized for embracing that methodology.      

Reality vs the Mass-Incarceration Hype

20 Aug

From City Journal

“Certain must-pass ideological litmus tests have arisen for the 25 declared candidates (so far) seeking the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Perhaps chief among them is subscription to the belief that the American criminal-justice system is racist and overly punitive. This Democratic unanimity makes sense in light of the criticism that many of the leading candidates have faced from activists, left-wing media, and other, more “woke,” presidential hopefuls for their earlier acceptance, or even endorsement, of proactive policing, quality-of-life enforcement, and incarceration as reasonable methods of combating crime….

“True, for a subset of America’s prison population, incarceration does not serve a legitimate penological end, either because these individuals have been incarcerated for too long or because they should not have been incarcerated to begin with. Justice dictates that we identify these individuals and secure their releases with haste. But none of the above claims advanced by the presidential hopefuls is correct—and acting on any of them would be disastrous.”

“Not only are most prisoners doing time for serious, often violent, offenses; they’ve usually received (and blown) the second chance that so many reformers say they deserve. Justice Department studies from 2000 through 2009 reveal that only about 40 percent of state felony convictions result in a prison sentence. A Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) study of violent felons convicted over a 12-year period in America’s 75 largest counties shows that 56 percent of the offenders had a prior conviction record.

Even though most state prisoners are serious and serial offenders, nearly 40 percent of inmates serve less than a year in prison, with the median time served about 16 months. Lengthy sentences tend to be reserved for the most serious violent crimes—but even 20 percent of convicted murderers and nearly 60 percent of those convicted for rape or sexual assault serve less than five years of their sentences. Nor have sentences gotten longer, as reformers contend. In his book Locked In, John Pfaff—a leader in the decarceration movement—plotted state prison admissions and releases from 1978 through 2014 on a graph. If sentence lengths had increased, the two lines would diverge as admissions outpaced releases; in fact, the lines are almost identical.”Percentage of State Prisoners by Category of Offense—2017 (Chart by Alberto Mena)

[Is it about racism?]

“On the morning of May 25, 2019, according to prosecutors, two men—29-year-old Michael Washington and 23-year-old Eric Adams—drove down a residential street in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, on the city’s South Side. Leaked surveillance video from a police camera showed the car as it passed a small group of people near a parked vehicle. One of them was an unarmed 24-year-old black woman, Brittany Hill, holding her one-year-old daughter, who waved at the car just before the vehicle’s occupants opened fire. Hill shielded her child from the bullets but was fatally wounded in the abdomen (just below where she was holding her child) and collapsed in the gutter. Washington was on parole at the time of the shooting, after serving time for a drug charge. Citing prosecutors, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that “Washington has nine felony convictions, including for a 2004 second-degree murder charge and a 2001 battery charge that was reduced from attempted murder in a plea agreement.” Adams, the second alleged shooter, also had an active criminal-justice status at the time of the shooting. He was on probation following a conviction for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon in 2018. In addition to the gun offense, Adams’s Chicago police record includes arrests for public-order offenses relating to marijuana possession and gambling.

With these three men, it’s not hard to argue that the criminal-justice system failed the public. All three had troubling criminal histories, signaling a general disregard for law and social norms. Yet they were deemed fit for parole or probation, resulting in two murders. In each case, both the perpetrators and the victims were black. Though the decarceration crowd continues to point to racial disparities in criminal enforcement, the data on criminal victimization suggest that the burden of any crime increase that accompanied large-scale prisoner releases would mostly fall on low-income black communities. Though black men constitute about 7 percent of the population, they accounted for 45 percent of America’s 15,129 homicide victims in 2017, FBI numbers show. A BJS study of homicides committed from 1980 to 2008 found that the victimization rate of blacks was six times that of whites. The black homicide-offending rate was about eight times the white rate. These differences, not racial animus, go a long way toward explaining the oft-lamented fact that black men are six times likelier to be incarcerated than white males.

Countless citizens on Chicago’s mostly minority South and West Sides have been victimized by offenders like Washington and Adams who’d gotten one too many “second” chances. A January 2017 University of Chicago Crime Lab study found that, of those arrested for homicides or shootings in Chicago in 2015 and 2016, about “90 percent had at least one prior arrest, approximately 50 percent had a prior arrest for a violent crime specifically, and almost 40 percent had a prior gun arrest.” On average, someone arrested for a homicide or shooting had nearly 12 prior arrests, the study noted—and almost 20 percent had more than 20 priors. You find more of the same in crime-wracked Baltimore. According to the Baltimore Sun, “85 percent of the 118 murder suspects identified by police [in 2017] had prior criminal records,” with nearly 36 percent being “on parole or probation” at the time of the alleged crime.

The serial offender isn’t just a problem in the highest-crime American cities. Data show that such crime has been occurring in urban jurisdictions across the country for years. The BJS study on violent felons convicted in large counties found that offenders on probation, parole, or released pending disposition of a case constituted 37 percent of those convicted during the 12-year period examined. With so many of the nation’s most serious crimes perpetrated by people with an active criminal-justice status—and with 83 percent of released prisoners arrested for a new crime within nine years of getting out—the safety benefits of incapacitation become startlingly clear.”

From City Journal


The Rise of the Nones – Public Discourse

19 Aug

“The coming years will witness more heated debates as the new “religious” culture clashes with the Christian consensus that was. We will also see a decline in the public’s comprehension of principles that Christianity helped to articulate, even though those principles are not exclusive to Christian theology. Charity and civility will be necessary for navigating these waters. So will forthright and clear defenses of fundamental freedoms with vigorous legal and philosophical arguments.”

Is Religious Liberty Truly In Peril? A Warning. –

14 Aug

That the first amendment only protects your freedom to believe whatever religious thing you want, and not your religious practices, is precisely what the Supreme Court told the Mormons in the late 1800s and when it validated Congressional statutes disenfranchising Mormons, prohibiting them from serving on juries, an eventually even legally dissolving the LDS Church inc. altogether. If the first amendment only protects your religious beliefs, not practices, it actually doesn’t protect religion at all since no one has the capacity to get inside your head and stop you from believing anything.

“After French makes his case that religious liberty is besieged, Marci Hamilton responded, stating, “David French says that our constitutional tradition does not give religious believers absolute rights—even as he argues that they should be free, in most instances, from laws that they consider incompatible with their beliefs. But there is only one absolute right in the Constitution, and that is the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right to believe anything you want. The government may never prescribe beliefs.”

This is the most revealing paragraph in the entire exchange. Note carefully what Marci Hamilton is doing. She has reduced the constitutional right of religious liberty to a right merely “to believe anything you want.” This is a radically reductionist argument, which undermines the broad and crucial protections guaranteed and respected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment secures more than a mere right to believe, in private, anything you want.”

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