The World Wide (Religious) Web for Thursday, September 29, 2011

L’Shanah tovah, dear readers!


PRAY FOR YOUCEF NADARKHANI: “Troubling News: Death Sentence Still Imminent for Christian Pastor in Iran.”

Early this morning, the ACLJ received this troubling news from Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s attorney in Iran, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah. Mr. Dadkhah firmly denies that the court has agreed to overturn Pastor Youcef’s death sentence. He believes this is a lie spread by the Iranian secret service, even to members of his own family, to stop the media from reporting on this case.


IN RELATED NEWS: “Turkey’s Elephant in the Room: Religious Freedom.”


THE KERNEL AND THE HUSK: “An appeal to writers: Don’t confuse Christ with Christianity.”

I may be skeptical about formal religion, but I know the power and promise of personal faith in God. After nearly a year of writing this column, I am more convinced than ever about the need to differentiate between Christ and Christianity, religion and faith. Convincing people of the impotence of religion at times seems a hopeless task, but I know there are people out there who are thinking this through.

“Faith,” the Scriptures tell us, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” That speaks of conviction, longing and trust, not clichéd, boring religion.

The fact remains that most people don’t desire true life-giving faith in God; they prefer the convenience of inherited religion. The reasons are obvious: Religions give you rules to obey. They are handed down, no thinking need be done, and most people prefer to hang on to their institutional club membership for the tradition and the perks.


BUMMER OR KERNEL/HUSK SEPARATION? “Trends for U.S. Churches Mostly Pointing Down, Says Report.”


ON THE ONE HAND: “A Response to David Brooks: Young People Are Moral…Just In a Different Way.”

Of course, it’s no surprise that young adults are crafting moral models differently than their elders when vitriol taints our moral climate. One need only look to recent words spoken by politicians or, dare I say it, op-ed writers to see that. Young people watch these leaders, and they’re disheartened. They see themselves surrounded by a Venus flytrap of toxic judgmentalism that older adults feed as if they were Seymour Krelborn in Little Shop of Horrors. Meanwhile, young adults see this kind of morality failing them. They see judgment trumping cooperation and resulting economic instability. Now wonder they’re searching for a better way forward.

Of course, it is a timeless truth that every older generation thinks the younger one inheriting their legacy will destroy it. Whether there is any truth in this, I cannot say, as it is impossible to measure morality the way you would a cup of sugar. But what is clear is that young adults refuse to live in the black-and-white world painted by older generations and they have good reason to because it has not served them well. Perhaps, then, their morality is less grey than it is pink, purple and aqua. And maybe a little color, at this stage, is a good thing.


ON THE OTHER HAND: “Sociology and the Life of Virtue.”

As it turns out, if young adults haven’t grappled with Aristotle on virtue, Kant on duty, St. Thomas on the natural law, and Bentham and Mill on the principle of utility, they simply have no language to articulate the human moral experience. And to fill the void, they turn to what our therapeutic culture seems to value above all else – individual sentiment.

Perhaps Smith’s study may offer the most eloquent argument yet for the tangible benefit society reaps from the embattled, impractical liberal arts.  Are we content with a generation of ethical emotivists whose moral ramblings are inescapably, though thoughtlessly, Nietzschean?  If not, perhaps it’s time for us to remember that required classes requiring students to study Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Dante, St. Thomas, and Hegel might be the most practical courses colleges can offer.

Smith’s research on young people talking about their moral experiences recalls to mind something Socrates said just before his death:  “For you know well, my dear Crito, that to express oneself badly is not only faulty as far as the language goes, but does some harm to the soul.”  Socrates was on to something here – harm to the soul indeed.


CULPAE POENAE PAR ESTO: “In Defense of Capital Punishment.”

If wrongdoers do deserve punishment, and if punishment ought to be scaled to the gravity of the crime (harsher punishments for graver crimes), then it would be absurd to deny that there is a level of criminality for which capital punishment is appropriate, at least in principle. Even if it were claimed that a single murder would not merit it, it is not difficult to imagine crimes that would. Ten murders? Ten murders coupled with the rape and torture of the victims? Genocide? If wrongdoers deserve punishment and the punishment ought to be proportional to the offense, then at some point we are going to reach a level of criminality for which capital punishment is appropriate at least in principle. To claim that no crime could justify capital punishment—to claim, for instance, that a cold-blooded genocidal rapist can never even in principle merit a greater punishment than the lifelong imprisonment inflicted on a bank robber—is implicitly to give up the principle of proportionality and, with it, any coherent conception of just punishment.


IN RELATED NEWS: “Is there a death penalty-sized hole in Catholicism’s ‘seamless garment’ ethic?”

Is Catholic opposition to the death penalty losing traction as opposition to abortion, gay marriage, contraception and other causes become the defining “pro-life” issues for the American hierarchy?

That’s what some Catholics are asking after the bishops’ Pro-Life Activities Committee on Monday (Sept. 26) released its message for October’s “Respect Life Month” campaign, which kicks off in thousands of U.S. parishes on Oct. 2.


A CANDIDATE’S “EVANGELICAL MESSAGE”: “Bachmann urges Christians not to ‘settle.’”

On Wednesday, the congresswoman occasionally touched on politics in her speech, mostly blasting President Barack Obama’s health care reform for including funding for abortions, which can only be used in the case of rape, incest, or if the life of a woman is in danger.

She also took issue with Obama’s approval of an Institute of Medicine recommendation that health insurance fully cover birth control, including the so-called “morning-after” pill.

“We need to stand up to government takeover,” she said.

But Bachmann, who’s seen her poll numbers drop into the single digits over the last month, mostly charged the students not to settle on their faith.

“Usually when we settle, it’s a short-term ease,” Bachmann said. “But it’s the long-term hard that the Lord often asks us to choose.”


CHRISTIAN NATION? “Patriotism and the ‘God gap.’”

As to the religious identity of the nation, 62% said the United States is a “Christian nation” in a survey of 1,000 adults done a couple of years ago for Newsweek, while 75% of Americans call themselves Christian, according to the American Religious Identification Survey also done in 2009.

And earlier this year, writing for the CNN Belief Blog, Boston University religion scholar Stephen Prothero analyzed the religious affiliations of those elected to serve in the 112th Congress and concluded: “Is this a Christian nation? No way, says the Constitution. But U.S. voters are telling us something else altogether.”



In welcoming Louise Brown into the world we ushered in an era of new ethical dilemmas, a Pandora’s box that includes human cloning, the creation of “designer” babies, and the eugenics of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. Whether we create a dystopian future for ourselves will depend on whether we humbly accept our limits and fully understand our obligations. We may have 37 new ways to make a baby, but the purpose of baby-making remains the same: to bring into the world a human being created in the image of God.


DEMONIZING THOSE WITH WHOM YOU DISAGREE: “Multi-site Churches Are from the Devil.”


HMM… “Why Art Should Matter to Christians.”


WHEN IN NEW YORK… “In Brooklyn, a Hasidic walking tour opens ultra-Orthodox Jewish life to outsiders.”


FROM MY MAGAZINE: “I’m Feeling Spiritual Dry.” Advice for pastor’s wives from Gabriele Rienas.

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