The World Wide (Religious) Web for Thursday, September 22, 2011

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT WATCH: “Judgment’s Triumph: The Unjust Death of Troy Davis.”

On Wednesday, September 21 the US Supreme Court chose to deny Troy Davis’ final appeal for a stay of execution. In spite of his claim of innocence, no physical evidence of guilt, and the recantation of the majority of witnesses against him, Mr. Davis is now a murder victim. It is ironic and illogical that he was murdered by people who claim to support justice for the victim of murder. It is beyond infuriating to know that statics show that if Mr. Davis were white, the chances of a death sentence would have been significantly lower in the first place.

The controversy that rightly surrounds this issue will lead to many questions being asked of religious leaders in the coming weeks, and each tradition will add its own voice to the conversation in unique and hopefully helpful ways. As it happens, I’m part of a faith tradition that worships a man who suffered an unjust trial and was executed in an affront to justice, not unlike Mr. Davis. If anyone has something to say about execution, it’s Jesus.


FOR BEING A JERK: “Did Galileo get in trouble for being right, or for being a jerk about it?”

But times changed, and Popes changed with them. In 1623, Cardinal Maffeo Barberini became Pope Urban VIII. Barbarini had met Galileo at a dinner in 1611, where he delighted in the sharp arguments Galileo made to completely destroy those who debated his ideas. This was just after Galileo had come by a new telescope, which allowed him to pick out the universe in more detail than anyone had before, and before the Injunction, so he very well might have discussed his heliocentrist ideas with Barberini at the time. The two men maintained a friendship that endured for over ten years. When Barbarini became Pope, Galileo met with him personally to take up the matter of Copernicanism again.

The two discussed the idea, and how it affected scripture. Barbarini, in the position to appear magnanimous and fair-minded, formally granted Galileo to write about the theory. Mindful of the political climate, Galileo did not suggest a polemic. Instead of an argument, the idea would be presented as a dialog in which characters discussed the two ideas and compared their merits.

Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World came out a decade later, and became a huge success in intellectual circles. It was exactly what it was promised to be, a dialog about the two ideas. Then someone noticed something. The advocate for Copernicanism was smart and well-spoken, while the one that espoused the Aristotelian geocentric view of the solar system came off as stupid and pigheaded. Well, authors always find a way to show their intentions, and it might have ended there if people hadn’t noticed that the feeble-minded geocentrist used some of the same arguments that the Pope had made during his discussions with Galileo. In some cases, he even used direct quotes of what the Pope had said. And just to underline his authorial intentions, Galileo named the geocentrist ‘Simplicio’ – the Simpleton.

The friendship that Galileo had enjoyed was broken, with a vengeance. He was hauled into Rome and brought before Inquisition, this time not of his own accord. The private warning, and the official Injunction that had been given to him in 1616, were brought forward, and things were looking bleak. Galileo defended himself with technicalities. Although the Injunction had been issued, it had not been signed or properly processed (even in the 1600s, all court systems had bureaucracy). While it was true, he said, that he did discuss Copernicanism, his book was an examination of both sides and so he was technically not ‘arguing in favor of it.’ While these arguments were technically true, the Church would have been more inclined to come down in favor of technicalities in the case of someone who had refrained from publicly calling the Pope a dummy.



The failure of our elites to acknowledge such evidence [of Islamic radicalism] has fueled the anxieties of Americans. But if elites have been too cavalier about the challenges Islam poses to America, ordinary citizens and their tribunes have been too alarmist, depicting scenarios in which Muslim leaders are not only devious (which many have been) but also omniscient — as if they were exempt from the difficult tradeoffs that all political actors inevitably face. In fact, Muslim leaders have typically been recent arrivals largely ignorant of America’s huge, dynamic society and its complicated politics. Like other immigrants forced to learn and adapt, they have made many mistakes.

Remarkably absent from both the elite and popular story lines is an appreciation of how America has changed Muslims. To be sure, not all of these changes have been benign. But we must address them all the same. Such a reckoning would not only abate our credulity about the competence of Islamists, but would also help to restore our faith in the resilience of American values and institutions — a faith that has been strikingly absent among American Islam’s most strident critics. Most important, it would facilitate our addressing the real challenges posed to America by Islam.

Among these challenges, the most salient is the loyalty of Muslim Americans. This is not to suggest that Muslims are actively disloyal. Yet their loyalty to this nation is muddled. This confusion is due in part to the influence of cosmopolitan values and corresponding policies (such as dual citizenship), and partly to contemporary America’s apparent unwillingness to place serious demands on its citizens. Beyond these factors, however, the Muslim-American confusion over loyalty also reflects the lingering influence of Islamist leaders, institutions, and ideology. This more subtle challenge is hardly unprecedented in our history as a nation of immigrants — but in our debates about America’s Muslims, it has been overlooked both by complacent elites and by alarmist populists.


WHAT’S IN A NAME? “Southern Baptist Convention Considers Name Change Again.”

A 2006 poll by the Center for Missional Research found that while Southern Baptists were favored overall by the majority of adults polled, 1 in 4 said that knowing a church was affiliated with the SBC would have a negative impact on their decision to visit or join a church. That number was significantly higher for younger adults; nearly 40 percent of the adults 18–24 said the affiliation would have a negative impact on their decision. Some SBC churches (as well as other congregations in other church families) have changed their names in recent years to downplay their denominational identity. The number of SBC members has been declining over the past few years, and the number of new baptisms into the church dropped to 332,321 in 2010, the lowest since the 1950s.

EXPLAINING FAITH (AWAY?): “Intuitive? Try God.”

God is related to decision-making style, with those who rely more heavily on intuition reporting higher rates of belief, while those who are more reflective tilt toward atheism.

By linking religious belief to intuition, the study supports the idea that there is something in the cognitive makeup of humans that promotes belief in a higher power. For example, the natural tendency that people have to see a purpose behind random events, or the need to reduce uncertainty in their lives — as well as the anxiety it causes — may promote a belief in God.

The authors emphasize that their findings, by themselves, imply no value judgment about whether intuitive decision-making is better or worse than reflection. Indeed, Shenhav said, being able to make quick, intuitive decisions can be a great strength. People inevitably rely on both intuitive and reflective thinking, with different styles for different situations.


CHRISTIAN COLLEGE OR CHRISTIAN CAMP? “How to Get a College Education.”

Unfortunately, too many students today are unwilling to engage in the kind of risk-taking that is essential to education. Many Christian parents think that college is a place where “cherished beliefs” should be affirmed, not challenged. They want their children to have a four year experience in which they are told that everything they have ever believed about life, God, society, science, etc., is true.

Quite frankly, such an approach to college education baffles me. If this is what college is about, then what is the point? Why spend tens of thousands of dollars on an experience that will not stretch the mind? Students can participate on sports teams, make friends, have meaningful social experiences, find a spouse, play in the band, or learn certain specialized skills, and still not be educated. Why not just send your kids to a four-year Christian camp?


POVERTY AND SINGLE PARENTING: “On Child Poverty, MSM Ignores the Basic Truth.”

The cardinal rule for writing about child poverty if you are in the mainstream media is this: Never, ever mention single parenthood. This New York Times article on a study showing that one in three young families with children were living in poverty in 2010 scrupulously obeys the rule. The Times offers several possible reasons for this recent rise in child poverty, including the high-tech, high-skills economy and the greater difficulties of going on welfare following the 1996 federal welfare-reform law. It never articulates, however, what is overwhelmingly the largest predictor of child and family poverty: The family is not a two-parent household. In 2007, single-parent families were nearly six times more likely to be poor than married-parent families; that ratio has not significantly changed. The closest the Times comes to acknowledging the role of single parenthood in child poverty is to note that blacks and Hispanics have the highest rates of child poverty. Why that would be, the Times does not say, but it’s just what you’d expect from groups whose illegitimacy rates are 73 percent and 53 percent, respectively.


PENNED IN PAIN: “When Theological Work Is Dangerous.”

Theology is always a bit suspect (who among us can truly know the Triune God and write sufficiently about His beauty and power?).  And bad theology can certainly come out of bad circumstances.  But it is also quite possible that Christian theologians writing in favorable circumstances will misperceive or even distort the theological writings of the Scriptures, so many of which were penned in pain.


OUTLIERS: “Poll finds evangelicals stand apart on evolution, climate change.”


LEFT-WING “DOMINIONIST” WATCH: “It’s not ‘class warfare,’ it’s Christianity.” Just imagine the hoopla if a right-wing Christian argued for tax policy based on biblical imperatives.


SO LONG, FAREWELL… “Goodbye to that old mountain religion.”


THE END OF MEDICAL MORALITY: “Attack of the Euthanasia Organ Harvesters.”


TESTIMONY: “John Piper: I Was Racist.”


FIRST AMENDMENT WATCH: “OC Couple Threatened with $500-Per-Meeting Fines For Home Bible Study.”


FROM MY MAGAZINE: “Don’t Shirk the Dirty Work” by Glenn Reynolds.

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