The World Wide Religious Web for Monday, February 6, 2012

OSLO, 1993–2012(?): The Peace Process Is Formally Buried.

The talk of Hamas changing from an Islamist terrorist group committed to Israel’s destruction and the murder of its Jewish population into a non-violent political group is as genuine as the similar rationalizations that were put forward in the 1990s for Arafat. Bringing Hamas into the PA government means an end to all pretense of hope for peace. There were, after all, never any real differences between the two on the ultimate objective of eliminating Israel. Fatah was no more capable of signing a peace deal that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders were drawn, than Hamas. The influence of the Islamists will now spread from Gaza to the West Bank, renewing the threat of terrorism from that region that Israel’s security fence had largely eliminated.

ARAB SPRING, CHRISTIAN WINTER? State of Fear: Syria’s Christians Face the Specter of Civil War and Sectarian Violence.

In light of this poisoned atmosphere, we do know for certain that many of Syria’s Christians are simply terrified. Part of this is a fear shared by many Syrians together, of a quickly growing threat of unrestrained civil war. Part of this is also reserved for the potential of sectarian retaliation, in the wake of civil war and a breakdown of order: will Sunni militias (not average Sunni townsfolk, who are most interested in surviving and protecting their loved ones as well) seek to exact revenge on Asad’s Alawi community and their perceived allies, such as Christians? And if the regime falls, will Islamists—an unknown quantity in the equation at the moment, but a likely part of a post-Asad Syria—move to strip non-Muslims of their long-held religious freedoms? Both of these scenarios are deeply troubling to many of the nation’s Christians.

A DIFFICULT QUESTION: What To Do about Violent Biblical Texts?

Yes, the bloody scriptures continue to exist, and in some circumstances, in certain conditions of social and political breakdown, extremists will cite them to provide a spiritual aura to violent and revolting acts that they were going to commit anyway. But that does not mean that we should hold the scriptures themselves responsible, or imagine that the faith as such is irrevocably tainted. Religions develop and mature over time, and it is lunatic to condemn a whole faith on the basis of its ancient horrors. That’s true for Christians, Jews — and Muslims.

THE PLANNED PARENTHOOD/KOMEN DEBACLE: The Pink Ribbon and the Dollar Sign.

In all of this, though, we can gain an opportunity to see what the abortion culture is all about: cash. Planned Parenthood and their allies use the thoroughly American language of freedom of choice and women’s empowerment, but what’s at stake, as seen here, are billions of dollars. That’s why, despite their talk about adoption as a “choice,” Planned Parenthood and others hardly ever lead women through an adoption process relative to how often they promise them the “fix” of a “terminated pregnancy.” There’s a profit motive involved in every abortion.

CONSCIENCE EXCEPTION: Evangelicals Mounting Concerns Over Obama Administration’s Contraception Mandate.

The NAE was among several evangelicals groups “in solidarity but separately” from Catholic groups that requested a stronger religious exemption after Health and Human Services ruled in August that insurance plans must provide contraception with no copayment. In January, however, federal officials reaffirmed its position, saying the government would give church-affiliated organizations an extra year to adapt to the requirement.

RELATED: NAE, Assemblies of God agree with Catholics’ objection.

WHO PAYS THE PIPER CALLS THE TUNE: Army Silenced Chaplains Last Sunday.

In Catholic churches across the country, parishioners were read letters from the pulpit this weekend from bishops in their diocese about the mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services giving Catholics a year before they’ll be required to start violating their consciences on insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs. But not in the Army. 

THE TITHE TABOO: The Real Taboo: Forget Sex, Let’s Talk About Monday (and How Much We’re Not Giving).

…a lot of American Christians don’t follow any rudimentary pattern of giving. This became evident to me a few years ago when I read Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money . Using surveys and interviews, and a review of statements by major denominations, sociologists Christian Smith, Michael Emerson and Patricia Snell unpack a bevy of astounding statistics and patterns of thought and action that may make some readers scratch their chins, and others cringe, and still others jump out of their seats and say “I knew it!” For starters, regular church attenders (those who report attending church twice a month or more) earned $2 trillion in 2005 (p.12). Smith et al. point out that after-tax tithing at 10% would have amounted to $46 billion per year (p.13), enough money to address a whole slew of needs facing millions both stateside and abroad (pp.13-18).

AMBIVALENCE ABOUT THE FOUNDERS: Slavery: America’s Original Sin?

Our veneration for the Founders is deserved. In them we find, with apologies to Tom Brokaw, another “greatest generation,” with political genius and courage that puts us to shame today. They created the world’s longest-lasting constitutional republic. They articulated the dynamic principle that “all men are created equal,” a belief that undergirded all of America’s great moral reform movements, from abolitionism to civil rights.

Nevertheless, we are also obligated to recognize slave owning as an immoral practice that stained America’s founding. The Founders were flawed people—as are we all. They were inspired political leaders, but not saints or apostles. Two and a half centuries of retrospection tends to put a people’s moral failings in sharp relief. Should our nation endure, we might expect Americans of the twenty-third century to gawk at today’s manifest moral failings as well.

FAMOUS DAD OR NO DAD AT ALL: Presidential Fathers and Sons.

Voters this year look set to continue an odd pattern that’s prevailed in presidential politics for a quarter century. They will elect either a candidate with a famous father or with no father.

IT’S THE CULTURE, STUPID! Conservative Poverty Fighting.

The critical questions for Mead are these: What do the poor really need? How can we effectively meet that need? Money comes second to what Mead argues the poor truly deserve: a lifestyle transformation. “Progress against poverty,” he insists, “requires programs with the capacity to redirect lives, not just transfer resources.” In reaching that goal, he adds, “recent conservative policies are more effective than what came before, and it would be a mistake to abandon them.”

GOD’S OWN PARTY? Why I Am a Christian Republican.

In short, when it comes to the way goods are created and distributed within a society, we ought to err on the side of those entities that are not given coercive authority by God: business, social services, the Church and a variety of other existing bodies. They aren’t perfect, and never will be. But for all the deception and sin that goes on within them, they lack the authority to coerce—and that is an important limitation. 

Genuine liberty entails the responsibility of each to not only pursue his own welfare, but to recognize and respond to the needs of his neighbor, without the state having to tap him on the shoulder. My concern is simply that when the government becomes the solution to the erosion of our virtues, it will crowd out businesses that provide jobs and charities that provide both spiritual and material support. And in doing so, the remedy will prove more devastating than the disease.

The World Wide Religious Web for Tuesday, January 31, 2012

BECAUSE IT’S EASIER TO BE A BOY: Why Young Men Aren’t Manning Up.

Young men are being shaped by prolonged adolescence and perceived obsolescence, and powerful social forces are at work to keep them that way.

For instance, a much-publicized Relevant magazine article highlighted a study that found 80 percent of evangelical Christians have had premarital sex, slightly below the 88 percent mark of society at large. Sex is readily available and as a motivator for pursuing marriage seems all but off the table. Fear of divorce further undermines the draw of marriage.

For another example, I’ve already hinted at the fact that the current growth sectors of the job market are geared more to the skills of women. In addition, average college loan debt post-college is more than $25,000, so even men with their act together often must delay taking on the added financial burdens of home and family. Women, despite their newfound financial independence, still expect to marry up. Many young men, unable to handle adult expectations, have simply chosen not to try.

They’ve been rewarded for throwing in the towel with a hook-up culture skewed in their favor, a growing buffet of man-centric entertainment, and a plunging limbo bar of social expectations. And—paradoxically in the current market—they have a relatively high amount of disposable income to play around with, and no financial obligations but the ones they choose. Man up? Are you kidding?

THEIR VIOLENCE, AND OURS: Secular Theocracy: The Foundations and Folly of Modern Tyranny, Part 2.

The reality of today’s secular theocracy is that its hypocritical authoritarianism circumvents the natural-law tradition of Christian teachings. Cavanaugh well sums up the incoherence of the secular theocrat who claims that, “Their violence—being tainted by religion—is uncontrolled, absolutist, fanatical, irrational, and divisive. Our violence—being secular—is controlled, modest, rational, beneficial, peace making, and sometimes regrettably necessary to contain their violence.” The appalling problem with the “myth of religious violence” is not that it opposes certain forms of violence, but that it not only denies moral condemnation of secular violence, it considers it highly praiseworthy.

AN EXTENSION OF THE STATE? Religious Liberty and Civil Society.

In this sense, what is at issue in the controversy over the administration’s rule is not just the question of religious liberty but the question of non-governmental institutions in a free society. Does civil society consist of a set of institutions that help the government achieve its purposes as it defines them when their doing so might be more efficient or convenient than the state’s doing so itself, or does civil society consist of an assortment of efforts by citizens to band together in pursuit of mutual aims and goods as they understand them? Is it an extension of the state or of the community? In this arena, as in a great many others, the administration is clearly determined to see civil society as merely an extension of the state, and to clear out civil society—clearing out the mediating layers between the individual and the state—when it seems to stand in the way of achieving the president’s agenda. The idea is to leave as few non-individual players as possible in the private sphere, and to turn those few that are left into agents of the government. This is the logic of a lot of the administration’s approach to the private economy, not just to civil society. It is key to the design of Obamacare (which aims to yield massive consolidation in the insurance sector, leaving just a handful of very large insurers that would function as public utilities), of significant portions of Dodd-Frank (which would privilege and protect a few very large banks that would function as public utilities while strangling all the others with red tape), and of much of the regulatory agenda of the left. And it is all the more so the character of the administration’s approach to charitable institutions. It is an attack on mediating institutions of all sorts, moved by the genuine belief that they are obstacles to a good society.

“WE HAVE TO PASS THE BILL SO THAT YOU CAN FIND OUT WHAT IS IN IT”: Obamacare’s Great Gift: Clarification.

If nothing else, in declaring war against our consciences, the Obama administration has given American Catholics a great gift of clarification; a fractious family we may be, but—as the saying goes—we are church. And we have the right to be who we are.


It’s almost comical if folks didn’t believe this while claiming religiosity. This is the true War on Christianity in our country. It’s not about prayer in schools, or soccer trumping Sunday school. It’s about groups of pundits, politicians and “American”-centric groups redefining the teachings of Jesus to suit their economic, social or political agenda. You know it’s working when those spouting the anti-Christian rhetoric rile people into anger and hatred. You know it’s working when Christians are confused into believing that the the health of their neighbor is not their concern. That individual freedom is radically more important than community well-being. You know it’s working when these movements strategically quote the teachings of Jesus to suit their own agendas, rather than base their leadership on the foundations of love, compassion, and concern for our fellow human — which any good Christian knows is Jesus’ clear central message.

PARTISAN IDOLATRY: The Perils of Making Jesus in Your Own Image.

A scholarly study released this week attempts to answer how staunch Christians can make such differing claims about how the teachings of their faith should inform their politics. The bottom line: Many Christians make God, or at least Jesus, in their own image, projecting their own politics and priorities onto their interpretation of the divine will.

IT’S THE CULTURE, STUPID! Values Inequality.

So much for the idea that the white working class remains the guardian of core American values like religious faith, hard work and marriage. Today the denizens of upscale communities like McLean, Va., New Canaan, Conn., and Palo Alto, Calif., according to Charles Murray in “Coming Apart,” are now much more likely than their fellow citizens to embrace these core American values. In studying, as his subtitle has it, “the state of white America, 1960-2010,” Mr. Murray turns on its head the conservative belief that bicoastal elites are dissolute and ordinary Americans are virtuous.

Focusing on whites to avoid conflating race with class, Mr. Murray contends instead that a large swath of white America—poor and working-class whites, who make up approximately 30% of the white population—is turning away from the core values that have sustained the American experiment. At the same time, the top 20% of the white population has quietly been recovering its cultural moorings after a flirtation with the counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, argues Mr. Murray in his elegiac book, the greatest source of inequality in America now is not economic; it is cultural.

BAD SCIENCE: The Genetics of Same-Sex Attraction.

To his credit, Bruni gets a number of things right, including the most important thing: Science will not solve our culture’s struggles about sexual orientation. But when science is cited, we should at least get it right.

GOD IS A PLACE WITHIN OURSELVES? How the Placebo Effect Proves that God Exists.

Which brings us back to the placebo effect. It is mysterious, right? We don’t know how it happens. A person was sick and they take a sugar pill and next thing you know — voila — they are healthy. To call this “the placebo effect” is to dress up our ignorance in words. What has actually happened is nothing short of a miracle. Science has got no explanation for it– something immaterial (a thought?) has impacted something material (our body) in a way which utterly defies logic.

And that is what prayer is all about. Prayer is based upon the conviction that the immaterial is more powerful than matter itself. Whether we call this immaterial force “God,” “the ground of our being,” “Spirit,” or “higher consciousness” doesn’t matter. The point is– there is an uncanny power (which all of us without exception have got access to) which performs miracles. The sick can be cured, the broken can feel whole again.

And the greatest miracle of all is that this power can connect us to a place within ourselves of boundless love, peace and well being. Do we need any other proof for the existence of God?

THE RELIGIOUS WRONG? Newt Gingrich and the Future of the Right.

What would Weyrich, who died in 2008, make of the fact that Newt Gingrich — who was himself having an adulterous affair during the Clinton impeachment proceedings (one of several conducted by the former speaker, according to his own testimony and a number of lengthy journalistic investigations, including this one from CBS and that one from the Daily Beast) — won the 2012 South Carolina Republican primary with a plurality of voters who described themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians?

OY VEY! BUT NO! Did Romney Eliminate Kosher Nursing Home Food as Governor?

IN HIGH SCHOOL OR COLLEGE, MOSTLY: If People Leave the Faith, When Do They Do It?

QUITE A FEW THINGS, ACTUALLY: What’s the difference between a Pastor and a Priest?

The World Wide Religious Web for Monday, January 30, 2012

THE EVANGELICALIZATION OF PENTECOSTALISM: The Pentecostal Paradox: As the Global Church Grows, American Tongues Fall Silent.

But while more mainstream evangelical churches have borrowed charismatic styles of worship and thus become more “pentecostalized,” Pentecostal churches in North America are moving away in public worship gatherings from the more demonstrative expressions of spiritual gifts, such as messages in tongues with interpretation, prayers for healing and prophecy. In many cases, churches and megachurches have chosen to relegate glossolalia and other charisms to Sunday night services or small groups and, in some cases and settings, according to church historian Dr. Stanley Burgess, “it has virtually disappeared.”

ON THE INCARNATION: Jesus and the Goodness of Everything Human.

The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth, fittingly called the “church father” of the 20th century, put it this way: “As the man Jesus is himself the revealing Word of God, he is the source of our knowledge of the nature of man as created by God.”

The logic of this simple statement is compelling: If men and women can know who they are only on the basis of the Word of God, then it is only by looking at the One who indeed is himself the Word of God, Jesus Christ, that we can know our identity and nature. Barth put it succinctly: All study and knowledge of human beings is “grounded in the fact that one man among all others is the man Jesus.”


But there are trade-offs as well, which liberal communitarians don’t always like to acknowledge. When government expands, it’s often at the expense of alternative expressions of community, alternative groups that seek to serve the common good. Unlike most communal organizations, the government has coercive power — the power to regulate, to mandate and to tax. These advantages make it all too easy for the state to gradually crowd out its rivals. The more things we “do together” as a government, in many cases, the fewer things we’re allowed to do together in other spheres.

Sometimes this crowding out happens gradually, subtly, indirectly. Every tax dollar the government takes is a dollar that can’t go to charities and churches. Every program the government runs, from education to health care to the welfare office, can easily become a kind of taxpayer-backed monopoly.

But sometimes the state goes further. Not content with crowding out alternative forms of common effort, it presents its rivals an impossible choice: Play by our rules, even if it means violating the moral ideals that inspired your efforts in the first place, or get out of the community-building business entirely.

FAITH & THE FOUNDING: God of Liberty: An Interview with Thomas Kidd.

[Paul Harvey]: Your previous book, published in 2010, God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution outlines 5 broad tendencies, or “religious principles,” about religion and American society, that you believe united the revolutionaries and founders who otherwise disagreed with each other wildly on specific points of Christian doctrine. Can you say something about those principles?

[Thomas Kidd]: So much of the popular discussion of faith and the American Founding revolves around the personal faith of the major Founders. This is an interesting topic, but I don’t actually think it tells us much about the role that religion played in the larger process of creating the American republic. So I sought to broaden the focus to the level of the public religious principles that helped unite the Patriots. These included religious liberty, the importance of virtue, the dangers of vice, the principle of equality by creation, and the role of Providence in human affairs. When you look at these principles, it is easier to understand why people of such sharply differing personal beliefs as Thomas Jefferson and the Baptist evangelist John Leland could cooperate so enthusiastically during the Revolution.

WHICH JESUS? No Country for Evangelicals.

It is not coincidental that the 2012 Republican presidential primaries are bringing this truth to light. A precursory scan of the contemporary landscape of evangelicalism reveals a splintered, disconnected culture in which any interpretation is up for grabs. Even looking at some of the presumed figureheads of evangelicalism reveals just how many different versions there are. Are you an evangelical like Mark Driscoll, who believes in an overly hip, tough-guy Jesus? Or like Benny Hinn, who, with Zionist John Hagee, recently prayed that God would lead the United States into war on behalf of Israel? Or perhaps you identify more with John Piper, whose extreme reformed theology says that some are chosen and others, unfortunately, are just not. I could go on; there’s the prosperity gospel of Joel Osteen, the socially conscious evangelicalism of Jim Wallis, or the libertarian faith of Marvin Olasky. When Rick Santorum recently said that “we always need a Jesus candidate,” which Jesus did he have in mind?

EVANGELICALS FOR RON PAUL? The Rise of Christian Libertarians.

Probably one of the biggest disgraces of this “one nation under God” is that the government has had to step in to help those the Church should’ve been helping, to do what the Church was called to do. The Church failed—and government stepped in. Perhaps the reason many now lean Libertarian is because they’d like the Church to take back—and take seriously—its calling to transform this world. It’s Jesus—not Uncle Sam—that people should see and know whenever blessings flow and mercy, justice and love roll.


Just three years after George W. Bush left the White House, compassionate conservatives are an endangered species. In the new Tea Party era, they’ve all but disappeared from Congress, and their philosophy is reviled within the GOP as big-government conservatism. Is this just a case of the Republican Party wanting to distance itself from the Bush years — or is compassionate conservatism gone for good?

TURNING THE TABLES: The Same-Sex “Marriage” Proposal Is Unjust Discrimination.

If marriage is not a bodily, emotional, and spiritual union of a man and a woman, of the kind that would be fulfilled by procreation, then what makes a union marriage and why should the state support it? It is not simply a union that is formed by a wedding ceremony: that would be a circular definition. Nor is every romantic and sexual relationship a marriage, and certainly there is no point in the state promoting all such relationships. Perhaps one will say that it is a stable, committed, and exclusive romantic-sexual relationship. But how stable would a romantic-sexual relationship need to be in order to be a marriage? Suppose John and Mary have a romantic-sexual relationship while college students but plan to go their separate ways after graduation: is that stable enough to be a marriage? If not, why not?

Or suppose Joe, Jim, and Steve have a committed, stable, romantic-sexual relationship among themselves—a polyamorous relationship. On what ground can the state promote the relationship between couples, but not the relationship among Joe, Jim, and Steve? The argument here is not a slippery slope one. Rather, the point is: There must be some non-arbitrary features shared by relationships that the state promotes which make them apt for public promotion, and make it fair for the state not to promote in the same way other relationships lacking those features. Without this the distinction is invidious discrimination. The conjugal understanding of marriage has a clear answer: (a) marriage is a distinct basic human good, that needs social support and that uniquely provides important social functions; (b) marriage’s organic bodily union and inherent orientation to procreation distinguish it from other relationships similar in superficial respects to it. But the same-sex marriage proposal’s conception of marriage has no answer. In fact, its conception of marriage is actually an arbitrarily selected class, and so the enactment of this proposal would be unjust.


What Real Marriage has going for it, in the end, is the only thing it doesn’t share with scores of other marriage books: Mark Driscoll. Driscoll has preached the book’s content, he tells us, in “England, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Australia, India, and Turkey” and has talked personally to “hundreds of thousands of couples.” The author’s bio reminds us that he is “one of the world’s most downloaded and quoted pastors.” He pastors the “2nd most-innovative church in America.” The hype in the press release isn’t, ultimately, about Real Marriage; it’s about Mark Driscoll.

The book may be ordinary, but Driscoll is an evangelical celebrity; and celebrities are standouts. As Christopher Bell puts it in American Idolatry, celebrities must be present in our lives, yet remain unattainable. The more like us a celebrity is, the less useful he becomes as a celebrity. The Mark Driscoll of the Thomas Nelson press release—one of the “25 Most Influential Pastors of the Past 25 Years,” the man who has “taken biblical Christianity into cultural corners previously unexplored by evangelicals”—is a lot more marketable than Mark Driscoll, the husband who spent the first decades of his marriage screwing up. Mark and Grace Driscoll do a fine job, in Real Marriage, of acknowledging that they struggle just as much as any other couple. But no publicist is going to send out a press release that begins, “Two perfectly ordinary people have some hard-earned wisdom to share with you!”

NO HONOR IN MURDER: Family convicted in Canada ‘honor murders.’

A Canadian jury Sunday convicted three members of a family of Afghan immigrants of the “honor” murders of four female relatives whose bodies were found in an Ontario canal.

3–5%: How Many Americans are Atheists? Fewer than You Might Think.

The first misinterpreted approach is to ask people if they think of themselves as an atheist. For example, the 2008 Pew Landscape Study found that 1.6% of Americans define themselves as Atheist. Likewise, the 2008 American Religious Identification Study found less than 1% of Americans describe themselves as atheists.

This type of question gets at social identification rather than people’s actual beliefs, and some people who believe that God does not exist do not think of themselves as atheists. There’s nothing wrong with asking this type of question as long as we understand what it’s measuring: a self-identity rather than actual beliefs.

The second misinterpreted approach is to ask people simply if they believe in God, with no other clarifying information. For example, a 2011 Gallup Poll found that 7% of Americans did not believe in God. A 2011 PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey found that 8% did not believe. A 2009 Harris Poll found 9%.

Here’s the problem this this approach: It’s not a measure of atheism. Yes, atheists will say that they don’t believe in God. But so too will agnostics, who do not believe in God because they don’t think it can be known.  In addition, there are people in the world who may believe that God exists, but they don’t “believe” in God in the sense of having faith and following Him. They too will answer “no” to this question.  That’s the problem: This question is ambiguous as to whether it’s getting at belief of God’s existence or acceptance of God as a guiding force.

ASSEMBLIES OF GOD NEWS: Paul Finkenbinder, “Hermano Pablo,” passes away; Young Evangel graduate killed in Afghanistan; and Valley Forge Christian College alumna, Jessica Buchanan, rescued by Navy SEALs.

The World Wide Religious Web for Tuesday, January 24, 2012

OPTIMISM & HOPE ARE DIFFERENT CREATURES: Disability: A Thread for Weaving Joy.

The great French Jesuit Henri de Lubac once wrote, “Suffering is the thread from which the stuff of joy is woven. Never will the optimist know joy.” Those seem like strange words, especially for Americans. We Americans take progress as an article of faith. And faith in progress demands a spirit of optimism.

But Father de Lubac knew that optimism and hope are very different creatures. In real life, bad things happen. Progress is not assured, and things that claim to be “progress” can sometimes be wicked and murderous instead. We can slip backward as a nation just as easily as we can advance. This is why optimism—and all the political slogans that go with it—are so often a cheat. Real hope and real joy are precious. They have a price. They emerge from the experience of suffering, which is made noble and given meaning by faith in a loving God.

STATISM AS RELIGION: Secular Theocracy: The Foundations and Folly of Modern Tyranny, Part 1.

The point is this: the rise of the modern state was in no way the solution to the violence of religion. On the contrary, the absorption of church into state that began well before the Reformation was crucial to the rise of the state and the wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

FROM DOMINION TO DEMISE: For the religious right, faith without works.

The movement of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson has been in decline for some time, but recent events suggest that they are wandering in the political wilderness.

Just last year, the Left was portraying religious-right “Dominionists” as an imminent threat to American democracy. Now it’s saying they’re nothing to worry about. If the Dominionism bubble burst so quickly, was it ever really a threat in the first place? Or just a bunch of hype from the usual suspects?

GROSS, GOD, OR GIFT: Why Christians are criticizing my Christian marriage and sex book.

God has a plan for sex: that it is to be enjoyed between one man and one woman in the context of marriage. This means that there are certain types of sex acts that abuse and misuse the good gift of sex that God gave, and that we are to honor God with our bodies by living our sexual lives in a way that glorifies him and honors the scriptures.

In our book, we blow up some common misconceptions about sex (like that the Bible prohibits stripteases or oral sex). We help people understand that it’s God’s intent that we steward and enjoy the gift of sex, like every gift he gives, in such a way that is glorious to him, good for our marriages and a lot of fun.

CAN WE SEE OBAMA AND GINRICH’S TITHE RECORDS TOO? Tax records show Romney donates millions to Mormon church.

“This is a country that believes in the Bible,” Romney said. “The Bible speaks about providing tithes and offerings. I made a commitment to my church a long, long time ago that I’d give 10 percent of my income to the church. And I’ve followed through on that commitment.”

BELIEVING SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS BEFORE BREAKFAST: Strong meat, not milk: Are some things impossible to believe?

Given all that Hodge says about this subject, I can only conclude that if someone asked him “If it were revealed to you in a way you could not doubt that God does what is morally wrong would you still worship him?” he would reply that he would not because then, by dint of sheer intuition (as he means it), that would not be God. In other words, it’s an impossible hypothetical situation. The only difference between him and me is that, somehow, in a way I cannot grasp, he didn’t think “doing, approving or commanding what is morally wrong” includes what Calvinism says God does. I think he contradicted himself because it is intuitively true that “morally wrong” includes what Calvinism says God does (whether Calvinists grasp that or not). But he was no less “judging God’s morality” than I am. Neither of us is. We are simply explaining what it is possible and impossible to believe.

FAKE, BUT ACCURATE? Why Women Leave the Church—and Come Back Again.

On a foundational level, the vision of Henderson’s book is important. As Henderson notes, the topic of gender and the church is rarely marked by genuine listening. Opposing parties tend to approach the debate with preformed conclusions and generalizations, which produces little in the way of progress. A book in which women’s stories are allowed to “speak for themselves” (xix) is a welcome change.
It should here be noted that the Barna study, which Henderson cites at the outset, has been contested. After its publication, The Wall Street Journal ran a response from Rodney Stark and Byron Johnson in which both scholars discredited the study’s findings. They concluded that “across 38 years, there have been only small variations in church attendance, and Barna’s reported 11 percentage-point decline in women’s church attendance (to 44% from 55%) simply didn’t happen.”
Whether or not Barna’s findings are legitimate, the church is still called to reach the millions of lost women in this world. It is therefore incumbent upon Christians to listen to the voices of women inside and outside the church if we are to make disciples and retain them.

HAPPY (BELATED) RADICAL REFORMATION DAY! Why W Celbrate Radical Reformation Day.

Radical Reformation Day? Absolutely! But isn’t Reformation Day enough? Absolutely not! While Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary continues to celebrate the biblical progress made during the Protestant Reformation with Reformation Day on Oct. 31, we are compelled to honor the recovery of New Testament Christianity with Radical Reformation Day on Jan. 21. On this day in 1525, after an extended period of intense Bible study in the original languages, a period described by an early chronicler as an “extraordinary awakening and preparation by God,” [1] the first Anabaptists or “Brothers,” as they called themselves, recovered the New Testament practice of baptizing only believers.

LOVER IN A DANGEROUS TIME: Interview: Bruce Cockburn.

Cockburn says when he first became a Christian in the early 1970s, “it was unfamiliar territory. I listened a lot to people who claimed to know a lot about it which—the people on TV and the fundamentalist types who were quick to tell you they know all the answers. After a while, it was very clear that they were deluding themselves. At least I wasn’t cut out to have that kind of approach to things.

“To me, everything in life is a process. There is no stopping point; you never land. If you think you’ve landed somewhere, watch out, because God or whoever is gonna pull the rug out from under you, and you are going to have to start thinking again, trying to understand how you fit into things.”

Cockburn says he doesn’t care whether people believe he’s a Christian or not.

“What’s important is recognition that there is a spiritual side of life, and that needs to be paid attention to,” he says. “There’s a real distinction between materialism and a sense of the cosmos being a deeper place than that. If it’s a deeper place, then what does that ask from us? I don’t know the answer. I’m still working on it, and that is perhaps why people are willing to listen to the stuff I put into songs.”

NOT A GOOD IDEA: Westboro Baptist Church Plans To Protest Joe Paterno’s Funeral. If memory serves, Nitney Lions fans rioted when Penn State fired Paterno. I can’t imagine they’re going to cotton to a bunch of fundamentalist cranks protesting his funeral.

The World Wide Religious Web for Monday, January 23, 2012

39 YEARS OF BAD LAW: The Unbearable Wrongness of Roe.

Today [i.e., January 22, 2012], thousands of people at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., are commemorating the thirty-ninth anniversary of a legal and moral monstrosity, Roe v. Wade, and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton. The two cases, in combination, created an essentially unqualified constitutional right of pregnant women to abortion—the right to kill their children, gestating in their wombs, up to the point of birth. After nearly four decades, Roe’s human death toll stands at nearly sixty million human lives, a total exceeding the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin’s purges, Pol Pot’s killing fields, and the Rwandan genocide combined. Over the past forty years, one-sixth of the American population has been killed by abortion. One in four African-Americans is killed before birth. Abortion is the leading cause of (unnatural) death in America.

This brings us to Roe’s utter indefensibility as a matter of constitutional law. If the U.S. Constitution actually protected such an extreme personal legal right to kill the human fetus, that would be troubling enough, but the trouble would be with the content of the Constitution. The further problem with Roe is that it has absolutely no basis in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution. No rule or principle of law fairly traceable to the text, discernible from its structure, or fairly derived from evidence of intention or historical understanding of an authoritative decision of the people, remotely supports the result reached in Roe. In terms of fair principles of constitutional interpretation, Roe is perhaps the least defensible major constitutional decision in the Supreme Court’s history.

LAZINESS & STUPIDITY: Belching Up More Abortion Cliches.

Milbank didn’t interview a single person for his piece. Having never been to the March for Life, he has no plans to do so now. It’s a mistake to announce that you are canceling your subscription to a liberal paper, because that allows someone like Milbank to puff himself up with false virtue and bogus, self-aggrandizing courage — oh, those crazy right-wingers just don’t like truth-to-power journalists.

The problem isn’t bias as much as criminal, sinful incuriousness. It’s laziness and stupidity.

BAD BUSINESS: The Business of Religion vs. Jesus.

It sounds good and aspirational, but it can also be horribly arrogant. It makes very clear who gets it and who doesn’t, elevating “us” over “you people.” And doing that has always given us a good feeling. In fact, it was exactly what the Pharisees were about.

ACCORDING TO 46% OF CHURCHGOERS, YES: The Church Has No Effect On Your Life?

As a sociologist, however, I think the claims by these 46% are pretty dubious. One quintessential claim of sociology is that the socialization we receive is not only powerful and consuming, but is also subtle, often leaving us unaware of the forces that have shaped us. Of course, the fact that these 46% believe their church to have no impact on their lives is certainly an interesting fact, and tells us something important about their relationship with their church (and is likely correlated with their frequency of church attendance). But I would say that it is their belief that is the interesting finding here, not a reality that church actually has no effect on people. Does this reflect a special inability of religious organizations to affect change in the lives of believers, or is it merely another example of the difficulty we have noticing and acknowledging the social forces that shape us?

RELATED: Why Even Go to Church?

So, back to the people whose church attendance hasn’t really impacted their lives, but have nonetheless, had personal experiences with God while attending church. Would they have been able to have those same experiences (at least in intensity) if they had never attended church? Maybe that’s the value of attending church (or synagogue, or Friday prayers, etc.), to “hang out” with others who have the same or similar beliefs, and who are also searching for the same sorts of connections. I could be wrong but it seems to me that the power of religion isn’t in the (mythical) individual experience rather, it is in its inherent social nature.

NOT FUNNY, BUT TRUE: Comedian Stephen Colbert on the Gift of Suffering.

“She [Colbert’s mother] taught me to be grateful for my life regardless of what that entailed, and that’s directly related to the image of Christ on the cross and the example of sacrifice that he gave us. What she taught me is that the deliverance God offers you from pain is not no pain— it’s that the pain is actually a gift. What’s the option? God doesn’t really give you another choice.”

JUST PLAIN WRONG: Five founders who were skeptical of organized Christianity and couldn’t be elected today. Riiiggghhhttt. Let’s count the ways this goes wrong. (1) Washington was a latitudinarian Anglican, not an evangelical Christian. But his constant appeals to Providence (always capitalized) and conventional practice of Christianity (think Eisenhower) would not have lost him any votes among evangelicals. They would’ve driven atheists up a wall, however. (2) Adams was not an evangelical, but he was a devout Unitarian. In other words, he attended church, prayed, and read his Bible. His public religious language was conventional, and he expressed his theological doubts in more private venues (e.g., letters). In 1800, he was the Federalist candidate, who compared him favorably to Thomas Jefferson, whom they accused of atheism. He lost that election, but not because of his religion. (3) In that same 1800 election, Jefferson’s Federalist opponents made much of his heterodoxy. However, southern Baptists (among other free-church types) loved his stances on political issues. So, here we have a heterodox candidate supported by one group of Christians on political grounds against another group of Christians, whose accusations were theological. Jefferson won. My guess is that the same would happen today. (4) Baptists similarly supported Madison because of his political views. (5) Thomas Paine probably would’ve lost because The Age of Reason made fun of the beliefs of the very people (Baptists) whose votes he needed. (Even Jefferson kept his heterodox views largely private.) He also would’ve lost because of his rabid support of the French Revolution. Scorecard: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison all won their elections, in cases where religion was a campaign issue. The last two won because of the support of one group of Christians over against another group of Christians. So, this author is just plain wrong.

OBAMA LOSES THE VOTE OF A LIBERAL DEMOCRAT CATHOLIC: J’ACCUSE! Why Obama is wrong on the HHS conscience regulations.

But, yesterday, as soon as I learned of this decision, I knew instantly that I also could not, in good conscience, ever vote for Mr. Obama again. I once had great faith in Mr. Obama’s judgment and leadership. I do not retract a single word I have written supporting him on issues like health care reform, or bringing the troops home from Iraq, or taking aggressive steps to halt the recession and turn the economy around. I will continue to advocate for those policies. But, I can never convince myself that a person capable of making such a dreadful decision is worthy of my respect or my vote.

DERANGED AND MORALLY REPUGNANT ASSERTION: Jewish paper’s column catches Secret Service’s eye.

[Jewish Telegraphic Agency] also quoted Opher Aviran, the Israeli consul-general in Atlanta as saying he was “appalled at this deranged and morally repugnant assertion. We condemn such calls in the strongest possible terms.”

LESSONS LEARNED: The Travesty of the Texas Evangelical Summit: And Four Lessons It Teaches.

  1. 1.       If you jump into the middle of a food-fight, you’re going to get slimed…
  2. 2.       The older generation of evangelical activists don’t have the influence they once did…
  3. 3.       The older generation of evangelical activists are victims of their own success…
  4. 4.       The younger generation of evangelical leaders are not feeling the same anti-Romney hysteria as their elders…

FORGIVENESS? YES. BUT THE PRESIDENCY? Why Gingrich’s ‘open marriage’ allegation may not scare off evangelicals.

Still, even before this week’s allegation from his ex-wife, Gingrich’s personal baggage had given many evangelicals pause.

“Forgiveness is not the issue here, trust is the issue,” Land said. “Redemption is something that’s in our code as evangelicals, but trusting someone with the presidency is something entirely different.”

WAR OR SOCIAL VALUES? Evangelicals, Ron Paul, and War.

Is supporting war more important for evangelicals than their social values? Isn’t Ron Paul a social conservative? He opposes abortion, gay marriage and promiscuous sex, he has never been divorced and certainly supports family values, but he believes in limited government. Two of his brothers are ministers. Why then are evangelical leaders now opting for Santorum, and before him Gingrich? The one big area of disagreement with Ron Paul is war; foreign wars and the domestic one against drugs. For this they oppose him. Santorum supports unending war in Afghanistan, backing Israel without limit and a new war against Iran.


In other words, had evangelicals voted like non-evangelicals, Romney would have won the primary, 38 percent to 33 percent. But since fully 65 percent of GOP primary voters counted themselves as evangelical, he lost, 28 percent to 40 percent. And lest anyone think that Gingrich, the Catholic convert, can’t be the Huckabee of 2012, be it noted that Newt actually did a point better among evangelicals in the Palmetto State than Mike did in 2008

WEALTH & HAPPINESS? Upside of the Downturn.

We all know the bad news. But is there anything good that can be extracted from all this misery? I certainly don’t celebrate our economic suffering, nor do I wish it to continue, but I do think there are potential benefits. They come from two sources: a reduced focus on material success as the measure of all things (because material success has become less likely), and reduced expectations. Why are these benefits? There has been a research boom in recent years on the determinants of well-being, and it shows that material wealth contributes too little to well-being, once incomes are above subsistence, to justify people’s efforts. And it shows us that lowered expectations may enable us to derive satisfaction from life events that would have left us disappointed in the boom years.

The World Wide Religious Web for Friday, January 20, 2012


I would disagree, however, with Sessions and others who point to Hosanna-Tabor and say that it proves all is well with religious liberty here. Concerns about religious liberty in America are not hysterical. To demonstrate this, all you have to do is look at the radical position taken by the Obama Department of Justice in Hosanna-Tabor. Normally, lawyers before the Supreme Court lean heavily on precedent, but the DOJ in Hosanna-Tabor argued for a sharp departure from precedent. The DOJ recommended that the court abandon the notion of a “ministerial exception” entirely, or that they restrict it to employees whose duties are “exclusively religious.” Under that rule, Cheryl Perich would not have counted as a ministerial employee, even though she was called to her position by the congregation, she prayed daily with students, and she taught religion, among other subjects. Indeed, the DOJ was setting a standard almost no religious employee would meet—even pastors and rabbis have to take care of mundane tasks like paying the bills!

FREEDOM OF RELIGION = POSSIBILITY OF OFFENSE. Polish pop singer found guilty of insulting Bible. The polish criminal code states: “Whoever offends the religious feelings of other persons by outraging in public an object of religious worship or space for the public performance of religious rites, shall be subject to a fine, restriction of liberty or imprisonment for 2 years.” Look, I think the pop singer’s remarks were dumb, but freedom of religion means both freedom to practice or not practice religion, to affirm or critique it. I cannot—in good conscience or logical consistency—complain when a Muslim nation restricts the right of minority Christians to practice their faith, and then remain silent when a Catholic nation restricts the right of non-believers to vocalize their disbelief. Can you?

OUR ENEMY, THE STATE: When the State Took Away My Life: North Carolina Grapples with Sterilization Practice.

According to the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation website, “Between 1929 and 1974, an estimated 7,600 people were sterilized by choice, force or coercion under the authority of the N.C. Eugenics Board program.” Those targeted for sterilization in hopes of ridding the population of “inferior” genes included people who were sick, epileptic, “feeble-minded,” or otherwise disabled. At least 33 states had involuntary sterilization programs, but North Carolina was the only state that gave social workers the power to petition for the sterilization of members of the public, subject to approval by the state’s Eugenics Board. Over 70 percent of North Carolina’s victims were sterilized after 1945, when most other programs waned, and as of 2010, 2,944 victims were estimated to be living. Surviving victims will receive the reparation payment if the taskforce’s recommendation is approved by the state legislature.

“SEISMIC CULTURAL SHIFT”: A Spanish Service Is Not Enough: It’s Time to Feed the ‘Hellenized Latinos.’

While the overwhelming majority of U.S.-born English-dominant Latinos are still Latinos at heart, many embrace values and attributes of the dominant group in the United States, culturally alienating their foreign-born parents and grandparents. In the midst of this seismic cultural shift, it is possible to teach and equip the Hispanic evangelical church to fulfill its God-given mission in a way that strengthens Hispanic families and communities across the country.

Here is the main challenge: Conventional Spanish-speaking ministry models are unintentionally designed to preserve the language and cultural preferences of foreign-born Latinos.

RELATED: Will Immigration Slowdown Prompt a Bilingual Ministry Bust?

BUT IS IT GOOD TEACHING? Is There Enough Teaching in the Church?

I understand that our century is much different from the early centuries of the church’s history. Back then few people could read. People were used to listening to speeches. There were no Bibles in every home, no sermons on their iPods, Amazon to deliver boxes of books whenever you want. I don’t expect us to go recreate the world that called for these instructions in the Didache. But surely there are some lessons for us from Paul, from the early church, and from the Reformers. What would it look like for people and preachers to have this kind of hunger for the public exposition of the word?

FALSE DICHOTOMY: Who’s Despicable? Gingrich or the Media?

Some observers have rightly noted that we are not electing a moralist or a husband-in-chief but a commander-in-chief, and it is entirely possible a person with flaws would still make a great president. But the issue again here is not just that Gingrich appears to have behaved in a swinish fashion to both of his first two wives but the level of his public hypocrisy about it. He clearly thought and obviously still thinks those who espouse morality and indeed, seek to hold others accountable for their failings as he did President Clinton, need not necessarily practice what they preach.

WHAT OUR CHOICES REVEAL ABOUT OUR POLITICAL JUDGMENT: Better to be an adulterer than a Mormon? Evangelicals, Gingrich, and Romney.

This is why I am not at all surprised–as my fellow Patheos blogger, David French, reports–that a group of Evangelical leaders who met privately to discuss which presidential candidate to endorse did not even consider Mitt Romney. Apparently it was a contest exclusively between Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, with the former Pennsylvania Senator receiving the nod with an 85-29 vote. Amazingly, Gingrich was in the running, despite the former Speaker’s propensity to engage in questionable conduct when in the pursuit of political power. It seems, then, that a Mormon Newt without the history of moral foibles occasioned by political ambition would have received the same lack of consideration these Evangelical leaders gave Governor Romney.

IN RE RON PAUL: One evangelical asks, Christian, why Ron Paul? Another responds, Christians and Ron Paul: A counterpoint.

GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER: Faith as Small as a Peanut: What One Black Christian Scientist Taught Me About My Work.

This stands against two particular images we have about religion and science during Carver’s time. Among white conservative Christians, the Scopes Monkey trial had been a legal victory but a massive public loss, marking them as uneducated and hostile to scientific endeavors. Not surprisingly scientists at faith-based colleges and universities were circumscribed on what they could teach and research given the intervening efforts of religious activists in the communities that funded these schools.

Dr. Carver seems to have been protected from these battles at Tuskegee Institute and perhaps it is part of the experience that African American Christian scientists faced: his concerns for the plight of African American farmers were not on the radar of white Christians and their concerns over the teaching of evolution were not on his radar (after all, which African American Christian children were attending the schools at the center of this battle?). And yet the work before him, in solving the problems of black agrarian workers kept him busy enough it seems.

FAITH & (SOCIAL) SCIENCE: Same-Sex Science.

As the late theologian Don Browning noted, psychology “cannot avoid a metaphysical and ethical horizon.” Meaningful consideration of the nature of personhood always involves moving beyond the analysis of human life to the broader valuation of this or that characteristic, this or that phenomenon, this or that outcome. The social sciences do not contain within themselves adequate resources to adjudicate among conflicting ways of understanding the good. Individual scientists, stepping beyond their professional bounds, may declare homosexual orientation positive, normal, and legitimate, but such science cannot make this judgment. Such judgments are the domain of religion, theology, and philosophy. The twin claims that science conclusively establishes that sexual orientation grounds human identity and that psychology as a science establishes the legitimacy of such a claim are too far a reach.


America has never been a classless society. From the beginning, rich and poor have usually lived in different parts of town, gone to different churches, and had somewhat different manners and mores. It is not the existence of classes that is new, but the emergence of classes that diverge on core behaviors and values—classes that barely recognize their underlying American kinship.

DRISCOLL IS CHAUVINISTIC, AND EGOTISTICAL TO BOOT: Driscoll & Brierley on Women in Leadership.

Let’s grant for the sake of argument that [Mark] Driscoll’s views on gender roles in the church are correct. Does the growth of Driscoll’s church follow from the premise that there is a man’s man in the pulpit (that just happens to be him)? That seems to be the assumption behind his statement about “the variable that’s most obvious” that makes a difference between his megachurch in Seattle and a fledgling congregation in Britain.  Being a Calvinist, I would think he would attribute his church’s growth to God’s sovereignty in salvation. No matter what your views on gender roles are, this is a bizarrely pragmatic and ironically literal “man-centered” view of the church that no one should accept. After all, didn’t New Testament writers like Paul “feminize” the church, calling her Christ’s bride? If young men can’t handle that, then so much the worse for them.

The World Wide Religious Web for Thursday, January 19, 2012

MEGARICH MEGAPASTORS? Best Paid Pastors Make Hundreds Of Thousands To Millions Of Dollars Annually. Check out today’s Daily Word devotional, which addresses the theme of pastoral compensation: Appropriate, but Potentially Dangerous. I’m not happy Rick Warren was included on this list. Yes, The Purpose Driven Lifemade beaucoup bucks, but he and Kaye live simply and reverse tithe. They also don’t take a salary from Saddleback. That matters, doesn’t it?

FAITH & POLITICS: Why Religion Should Matter When We Vote.

To people of faith, religious belief profoundly influences our professional lives. If it does not, it is only a shadowy outline of what faith should be. As voters, we should not pretend otherwise, and with overtly Christian candidates we should support those who reflect prayerfully, live with integrity, and whose faith guides them to positions we support.

CAN CONSERVATIVES SUPPORT AN ADULTERER? CAN LIBERALS (AFTER CLINTON) OPPOSE ONE?  Exclusive: Gingrich Lacks Moral Character to Be President, Ex-Wife Says.

Newt Gingrich lacks the moral character to serve as President, his second ex-wife Marianne told ABC News, saying his campaign positions on the sanctity of marriage and the importance of family values do not square with what she saw during their 18 years of marriage.

WITHER THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT? The Passing of the Evangelical Old Guard.

The standard argument goes something like this: the culture war is either over or increasingly irrelevant to younger generations of evangelicals, who respond to a much broader array of appeals than to the old ‘hot button” issues.  They care about social justice and about climate change, not just abortion and same-sex marriage.

David French doesn’t quite go down this path.  Rather, he argues that once there’s broad agreement on a particular stance toward social issues (as there is among the GOP presidential aspirants), evangelicals ask a different array of questions.

NOT OBVIOUSLY. Is LDS polygamy history relevant to 2012 campaign? Try these two statements out for size: From a conservative perspective, Mitt Romney is no more tainted by LDS polygamy than Rick Santorum is tainted by the Crusades. From a liberal perspective, polygamy can’t be wrong as long as partners enter it willingly and without coercion. The only way polygamy could be relevant is if Romney adovocated it, which he doesn’t, or if liberals thought marriage is the only moral sexual arrangement, which they don’t.

SEX-SELECTIVE ABORTION & INFANTICIDE: The Three Deadliest Words: “It’s a Girl.”

UPON THIS ROCK…IN ANTIOCH? The Other Successors of Peter: The Patriarchs of Antioch.

Gregory III Laham, the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, has joked that if the Apostle Peter had just stayed put, he himself would be the earthly head of the Catholic Church today. For tradition has it that St. Peter headed the Church of Antioch, where “the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26), for seven years before sojourning on to Rome. The Patriarchs of Antioch, therefore, have from the beginning considered themselves to be successors of Peter, albeit without the universal prerogatives of the apostle’s ultimate successor in Rome.

COMPARISON IS NOT GOOD FOR THE SOUL: A Problem with Today’s Widespread Celebrity Culture.

The problem arises when we compare ourselves against celebrities. If they are among the best at something, then we’re making quite an uphill comparison, and it’s difficult not to become discouraged. Even if we think we could be as good as the celebrity, their having tens of thousands of people watching them makes them just seem more important than us.


The candidate who can speak with that kind of moral clarity to the American people about the decisions we face is the candidate who should take the presidential oath of office on Jan. 20, 2013.

GOOD FOR HIM! U.S., The “American Pope’s” super diet

The Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, has sought the help of a medical “guru” in order to lode weight. “I am not doing this because I was appointed cardinal, but in order to serve the Lord better”

GET ‘EM AT REDBOX: The Most Redeeming Films of 2011.

The World Wide Religious Web for Wednesday, January 18, 2012

NO. Is the Era of Big Religion Over?

We might best describe the state of American religion today as “robust but confusing.” Relative youths are having a harder time navigating it than past generations. Pew tells us that “Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.”

They may continue to go without religion, as the Greg Pauls of this world confidently predict. But the safer bet is that as they marry and have children at least some of these secular Americans will be calling on the assistance of a higher power.

THE STRANGENESS OF OUR AGE: Justice without Foundations?

What is so strange about our age is that demands for respecting human rights and human dignity are increasing even as the foundations for those demands are disappearing. In particular, beliefs in man as a creature made in the image of God, or an animal with a rational soul, are being replaced by a scientific materialism that undermines what is noble and special about man, and by doctrines of relativism that deny the objective morality required to undergird human dignity. How do we account for the widening gap between metaphysics and morals today? How do we explain “justice without foundations” — a virtue that seems to exist like a table without legs, suspended in mid-air? What is holding up the central moral beliefs of our times?

RELATED: God Matters: Ethical Theory and Divine Law.


The upshot of all this is that perhaps it is time for Republican candidates to stop using Christianity as a club to beat up democratic opponents, or latte-sipping, environmentalist and feminist college professors like me, and start using it as a rigorous task master of their own behavior. And that it is also time for serious Christians to ask themselves if the public displays of their religion by politicians actually further its public presence—or make Christianity’s spiritual demands seem trivial to non-existent.

INTERESTING. BUT DOES THEOLOGY MATTER FOR POLITICS? The Theological Differences Behind Evangelical Unease With Romney.

Mormons consider themselves Christians — as denoted in the church’s name, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yet the theological differences between Mormonism and traditional Christianity are so fundamental, experts in both say, that they encompass the very understanding of God and Jesus, what counts as Scripture and what happens when people die.

GOOD QUESTION: How Many Evangelicals Actually Lead?

But beyond the politics, this is an unusual opportunity to see whether the people the media reports usually describe as “conservative Christian leaders” are actual leaders. No question that some of the attendees at the weekend event were well-known spokesmen. And that they get quoted plenty.

But how many people do they actually lead?

RELATED: “Why Last Saturday’s Conclave of Evangelical Leaders Was Dangerous.”

AMERICA IS A “MORAL ENTERPRISE,” BUT WHOSE MORALITY? Obama and Santorum: A Clarifying Contrast.

This is why I think a general election contest between Obama and Santorum, though it appears increasingly unlikely at this point in the primary season, would be good for the country. Yes, it would probably exacerbate the culture wars, but it could also provide a wonderful forum for debate and conversation about what it means for the United States, or any nation for that matter, to be a “moral enterprise.”

CREATED EQUAL: America the Biblical.

The Bible tells a very different story.  Here, too, humans are created out of clay; but the cosmology is radically different.  In the Bible, ordinary men and women are not created to labor for the benefit of others.  From every fruit-bearing tree and seed-bearing herb, God provides food to all of his children, telling them to be fruitful and multiply and giving them dominion over the earth.  God gives possession of the world directly to people in general; not to a king, aristocracy, or temple.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: Counterterrorism Laws Hamper Humanitarian Aid.

Under counterterrorism laws introduced after the September 11 terrorist attacks, humanitarian groups cannot provide aid that supports or gives resources to terrorists. But in places like Gaza, where the United States has classified local leaders as terrorists, most forms of aid will benefit these leaders. Thus humanitarian NGOS working in such places face the possibility of losing funding or even being labeled as criminals.

A REALIST REPLY TO NOMINALISM: About “judging God’s morality.”

I said everyone judges God’s morality—unless they are a nominalist. I don’t really know what to say to a nominalist except that I don’t really know how you can believe a being, even the supreme being of the universe, is worshipful just for existing. It seems to me that is to baptize naked power as worshipful.

What I get from the Bible is that God is worshipful because he is good. Yes, also because he is all powerful and holy.  But it’s a package deal. Take away goodness and he wouldn’t be worshipful. That’s how I understand Psalm 106 and Psalm 118.

WHAT ABOUT HIS THEOLOGY? Learning from John Wesley. Kevin DeYoung is a Calvinist, so it’s good to see him saying anything about John Wesley.

The World Wide Religious Web for Monday, January 16, 2012

HAPPY MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY!In honor of King, please make sure to read the following:


MLK VS. JOHN RAWLS? “MLK’s Philosophical and Theological Legacy.” He was a Rev. Dr. after all.

MLK VS. CONSERVATIVES? “Conservatives still don’t get Martin Luther King.”

MLK VS. CONTEMPORARY PROGRESSIVES? “Martin Luther King’s Conservative Principles.”

The World Wide Religious Web for Friday, January 13, 2012

HAPPY FRIDAY THE 13TH! Do you suffer friggatriskaidekaphobia (aka, paraskevidekatriaphobia)?

LAW OR GOSPEL? Why the Bible Is Not a Book of Laws.

But I don’t believe the Bible is fundamentally a moral power tool. The Bible is not a law book as much as it is a gift book, not so much about living right as about being right with God because of what he has done for us in Jesus Christ.


So, again: Jefferson Bethke is on to something good and right. But we are on to something good and right to make the right distinctions, lest we put ourselves in the Pharisaical place of saying “I thank you God I’m not like those religious people.”

AN OPEN LETTER: Marriage and Religious Freedom: Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together.

In short, the refusal of these religious organizations to treat a same-sex sexual relationship as if it were a marriage marked them and their members as bigots, subjecting them to the full arsenal of government punishments and pressures reserved for racists. These punishments will only grow more frequent and more severe if civil “marriage” is redefined in additional jurisdictions. For then, government will compel special recognition of relationships that we the undersigned religious leaders and the communities of faith that we represent cannot, in conscience, affirm. Because law and government not only coerce and incentivize but also teach, these sanctions would lend greater moral legitimacy to private efforts to punish those who defend marriage.

Therefore, we encourage all people of good will to protect marriage as the union between one man and one woman, and to consider carefully the far-reaching consequences for the religious freedom of all Americans if marriage is redefined. We especially urge those entrusted with the public good to support laws that uphold the time-honored definition of marriage, and so avoid threatening the religious freedom of countless institutions and citizens

WHERE TO BEGIN… The Trouble with Ed Young’s Rooftop Sexperiment.

Such “over the top” moments—and was there ever a more apt time for the description?—are troubling indicators of our woefully deficient discipleship patterns on matters of marriage and sexuality. The problems that the Youngs are trying to address are, alas, very real. Yet as is often the case, their solution is at best incomplete.

THOUGHTS ABOUT HAITI RELIEF: When “Effectiveness” Is Not Effective.

As the months and years wind on, we must continue this work of love and care, work that often seems—earthly-speaking—to accomplish too little. Perhaps now more than ever, we must remain faithful to our work there; now that the news cameras have left and the initial wave of relief teams has gone home. We must continue working hard to bring effective and efficient solutions to the problems Haitians face—designing effective programs, monitoring them well, and holding ourselves accountable to bringing results that are in our power to bring, and praying fervently for this troubled country. And we must also be willing to be reckless in offering the eternal things of love, gratitude, and kindness.

Meanwhile, why not give to Convoy of Hope?

SCARY, BUT TRUE: Justin Bieber’s Ecce Home.

It is entirely possible that Justin has more of an influence in the young-person-you-love’s life than any clergyperson — living or dead — does. That sounds scandalous, I know, but it’s true.

FAITH & POLITICS: “An Awakening of Conservative Christians”: Rick Santorum on Faith and Politics.

FORTY PERCENT: Conservatives Remain the Largest Ideological Group in U.S.

FINALLY: Kardashians no longer sought-after celebrities, insiders say.

HEH: My Faulty Moral Standards (Which I’d Like to Think are Better than Yours).

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