The World Wide (Religious) Web for Wednesday, August 31, 2011


FIRST AMENDMENT ETIQUETTE? “Thou Shalt Not Say ‘Jesus.’”

Americans have the right to use Jesus’s name (or the name of other religious figures, for that matter) in public spaces. But having a right to do something does not make it prudent or winsome. On this point I would agree with the ACLU and other secularists: public meetings like those of the Campbell County Board of Supervisors are not appropriate places for sectarian fulminations. But there’s a difference between speech that is inappropriate, and speech that should be constitutionally banned.

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POT, KETTLE: In his review of Christian Smith’s controversial new book, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, Robert H. Gundry concludes:

Though Smith has justifiably brought to the fore a problem in pervasive interpretive pluralism, then, this problem plagues all literature, not just the Bible as perceived by biblicists. In regard to the latter, I find his arguments incoherent and his solutions inadequate. He cites Don Carson to the effect that solving the problem requires “better scriptural exegesis.” Indeed. So maybe someone should write a book arguing that pervasive pluralism in biblical interpretation is due to the lingering deleterious effects, even on biblicists, of nonbiblicism in the past. But what do I know? I’m neither a sociologist nor a theologian. Just a biblicist.

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WORSHIP WARS: “Steak on a Paper Plate: Serious Worship in a Casual World.”

Can a contemporary, casual service bring worshippers face to face with the glory of God in a way that buttresses and upholds the magnificent truths being expounded from the Word? I think the answer is yes, but not always.

It’s like eating steak on a paper plate.

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HAVE WOMEN STOPPED GOING TO CHURCH? “Religion and the Bad News Bearers.”

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NATIONAL RELIGIOUS CAMPAIGN AGAINST TORTURE: “Shame on You, Dick Cheney.”

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TREES DIED FOR THIS? “God and the Detectives: Religious mysteries, a perplexing case.”

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GOOD NEWS FROM PEW RESEARCH CENTER: “Muslim Americans: No Sign of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism.”

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I BLAME GEORGE SOROS: “Court Rejects Prostitution Restrictions on AIDS Funding.”

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OVER HILL, OVER DALE: “Preparing clergy for war: army chaplains train by the hundreds for the combat zone.”

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FROM MY MAGAZINE: “The Fulfilled Life: Rediscovering the Transforming Power of Sanctification.”

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Tuesday, August 30, 2011


DID IRENE HAVE A PURPOSE? “The Speculation-Derision-Relief Cycle of Natural Calamities.”

The fact that this speculation-derision-relief cycle must occur after almost every single natural calamity (and many man-made ones, too) suggests that, at least, we’re not as secure in our secularism as we like to claim.

Perhaps, but it’s not just religious people offer reasons for natural calamities. The Goracle (as Al Gore is affectionately known around here) regularly preaches that we are “Global Warmers in the Hands of an Angry Gaia,” which is just a secular version of natural-disaster teleology.

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WHAT CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS? “U.S. Muslims happy with their country despite pressure, study finds.”

Many American Muslims feel singled out by government anti-terror policies; significant minorities have been called names or had their mosques attacked; and most say it’s harder to be a Muslim in the United States now than it was before September 11, 2001.

And yet the vast majority say their communities are very good places to live, that Americans are not hostile toward Muslims, and that American Muslims have a better quality of life than Muslims elsewhere, the survey of more than 1,000 American Muslims has found.

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HERE TO STAY. “The Inconvenient Truth of the Evangelical Vote.”

So it is that a presidential campaign that is largely about the economy is nevertheless deeply shaped by issues of faith and morality. The evangelical vote, which comprised an astonishing 44 percent of GOP presidential primary voters in 2008, is poised to play a larger role than ever. The media, which has been publishing the obituary of religious conservatives prematurely for a quarter century, will discover once again that social conservatives are here to stay. Their return from a long exile from civic engagement in the late 1970s was not a fad. Nor was their deep conviction that America needs moral and spiritual renewal to return it to its founding principles.

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LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON…OR NOT: “The son of intelligent design heavyweight Michael Behe discusses his journey to atheism.”

Behe: The journey from very devout Catholic to outspoken atheist took about six months total. Once my trust in the Bible was shaken, I still believed strongly in a theistic god, but I realized that I hadn’t sufficiently examined my beliefs. Over the next several months, my certainty of a sentient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity faded steadily. I believe that the loss of a specific creed was the tipping point for me. After I lost the element of trust—be it trust in the Bible, trust in a church, or trust in the Pope—I had no choice but to vindicate my own beliefs through research, literature, and countless hours of deep thought. It was then that my belief in any sort of God faded away gradually, and to this day I continue to find more and more convincing evidence against any sort of design or supernatural interference in the universe. As for the arguments from design, such as irreducible complexity or the so-called fine-tuning of the six cosmological constants, I have many reasons for dismissing them each in particular, but one overarching reason would be the common refutation of William Paley’s classic watchmaker argument—the only reason that complex objects appear to be designed is because we as humans create complex objects, and we then assume that complexity is indisputably indicative of a designer. This is an association we make only as a result of what our “common sense” tells us.

Leo Behe is obviously a very intelligent young man, although he hasn’t gone to college yet. As can be seen from the excerpt above, his arguments are standard atheist fare. But would The Humanist have interviewed him if his last name weren’t Behe?

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SAUCE FOR THE GOOSE: In response to Bill Keller’s questions for religious candidates, Marvin Olasky pens some “Questions for Evolving Candidates.” My favorite:

Do you agree with Darwin that “higher races” should and will become dominant over “lower ones?” If not, what in Darwinian thinking suggests that races do not compete with each other in struggle for survival of the fittest?

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THE “ICK” FACTOR: “Pedophilia and the Limitations of Science and Law.”

Seeming to confirm all our worst fears about the present age, an advocacy group called B4U-ACT sponsored a conference this month whose attendees—mainly psychiatrists and researchers—seek to de-stigmatize pedophilia. Their literature is quite clear on that goal; they are not being misunderstood or misrepresented by the media.

And…

One of the chief lessons is that there is no built-in brake on where or how far “scientific” inquiry will take us. Science, per se, will not tell us to prioritize the innocence and moral safety of children. Those quantities are irrelevant to science. Science cannot tell us what is morally wrong. In attempting to reassure the public, the American Psychiatric Association appealed to moral and not scientific principles.

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DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES ON THE SAME REALITY: “The Common Ground Between Science and Religion.”

If we change the question to science versus religion, however, people flock to either pole of the debate. Some religious fundamentalists close their eyes to the scientific laws that make our 21st century lives possible in the name of preserving the literal words of scripture written down millennia ago by men who had a different understanding of how the universe worked. On the other extreme, scientific atheists look down their noses at those who hold religious beliefs as simpletons belonging to a different age.

The core problem in this debate stems from both sides overstretching their perspectives. A religious worldview that denies scientific knowledge will ultimately be doomed to irrelevancy. A scientific worldview without a larger philosophical, metaphysical or religious system in which to anchor itself strands one like a shipwreck survivor adrift in an ocean of meaninglessness. Neither science nor religion, on their own, can hold all of the answers to existence, but maybe together they can complement and strengthen each other.

And…

But as good as science is at explaining the how and the what of existence, it falls short with the why and the should. Science better describes mechanics than it does meaning.

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DOES JESUS WANT CREDIT FOR BIEBER? “Justin Bieber Gives Jesus Christ Credit in VMA Win.”

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CONSERVATIVES AGAINST PERRY: “What’s So Scary About Rick Perry?”

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A FACE ONLY A MOTHER COULD LOVE: “The Benefits of Being Ugly.”

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FROM MY MAGAZINE: “What Does It Mean to Say God Is Holy?” by Derek Tidball, author of The Message of Holiness.

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Monday, August 29, 2011


DOMINIONISM AND ANTI-DOMINISM: Michelle Goldberg thinks Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are devotees of Rousas John Rushdoony and other theocrats. (Ryan Lizza has similar thoughts.) Hunter Baker disagrees here, here, and here. I’ve actually read Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen, Gary North and others who are various labeled “Dominionists,” “Theonomists,” and “Christian Reconstructionists.” Indeed, Greg Bahnsen was a teach of mine. On the basis of that reading, I am confident that neither Perry nor Bachmann are Dominionists. Oh, and you might also want to read Ross Douthat and Douglas Groothuis on the same topic.

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DON’T WORRY BILL, I’M AN ATHEIST, JUST LIKE… Anthony Sacramone takes down Bill Keller in an hilarious post that points out how overblown are the Left’s concerns about GOP presidential candidates’ religion. Plus, he poses a few tough questions of his own for secularists.

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NOT SOLD ON EITHER: The Center for American Progress (a left-wing think tank) has released a new report, “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” about the ideas and funding of five conservative “Islamophobes”: Frank Gaffney, Pamela Geller, David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes, and Robert Spencer. I have my doubts about the extent of what Spencer calls “stealth jihad,” which makes me wary of the conclusions of Gaffney et al. But by the same token, I’m not sold on the CAP report either. But since the CAP has raised the issue of the funding sources of religious hatred, I wouldn’t mind someone doing a report on the funding sources of progressives who write hysterical screeds about “Dominionists.” Scratch an anti-Dominionist, and I bet George Soros begins to itch.

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IT’S JESUS, STUPID! “Mark Noll on the Foundation of the Evangelical Mind.” Mark Noll on any topic is always informative, but his new book, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, is especially good. (And “stupid” is an homage to “It’s the economy, stupid,” not a slur on Noll, who’s one of the smartest professors I ever had the privilege to learn from.)

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9/11 AND ATHEISM: “9/11 gave birth to aggressive, unapologetic ‘New Atheists.’”

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NO PRAYERS ON 9/11: “Excluding prayer from 9/11 memorial compounds the tragedy of that day.”

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ORTHODOXY OR FERTILITY? “Why Conservative Churches Are Growing.”

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THE THIRD ADAM (SMITH, THAT IS): “Classical Economics And Its Religious Underpinnings.”

After several decades of research, Viner concluded that Smith was an example of a strand of thought which he called “optimistic providentialism.”  This view goes back to the early Christian church fathers, as far back as the time of St. Augustine. It grew to eventually become popular in intellectual circles at the time of Smith.  Viner pointed to the extremely important idea he dubbed “providential abundance,” which held that the universe was designed by God to be abundant. The necessities of life were widely distributed by Him, and even the luxuries of life could be had when free people are allowed to pursue self-interest. Man, being in possession of free will, could waste and squander opportunity through plunder, war and empire, but those were not the original design. Frederick Bastiat develops this idea more fully in Economic Harmonies, arguing that peaceful labor and abundance was the Edenic intention, but that there had arisen a “misunderstanding between God and mankind,” in which the latter chose the path of coercion.

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NOT THE EFFECTS YOU MIGHT THINK: “The Lasting Effects of Your School” surveys what public school, private school, and homeschool graduates are “most likely to” and “least likely to” do. I thought the effects of homeschool were interesting:

Most likely to: Want a job that pays well; get divorced; feel helpless in dealing with the problems of life; lack any clear goals or sense of direction; accept authority of church leadership; feel prepared for a  vibrant religious and spiritual life; marry young.

Least likely to: Want a job that is directly helpful to others or is worthwhile to society; spend much time volunteering or going on mission trips; be involved in political campaigns.

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SIDE BENEFIT: HE CAN COUNT ALL TWELVE APOSTLES ON TWO HANDS. “Nicknamed ’24,’ Cuban man considers his 4 perfectly formed extra digits a blessing.”