Friday, June 15, 2007

Moving Day!

Not physically, but electronically...

As much as I have enjoyed my Blogger experience, I've discovered the World of WordPress. This blog will be continuing at:

There, I will also be adding more details about how to stay in touch, what I'm currently teaching, etc.

You can also find my blog about following Christ in America, This Land, at a new (old) address:

Friday, May 25, 2007

Breaking News: All Religions Are Not the Same

Recently, many mainstream secular writers have made the simple mistake of assuming that all religions - and all religious believers - are essentially the same.

Listen to Michael Kinsey summarize Christopher Hitchens' arguments from "God is Not Great":
How could Christ have died for our sins, when supposedly he also did not die at all? Did the Jews not know that murder and adultery were wrong before they received the Ten Commandments, and if they did know, why was this such a wonderful gift? On a more somber note, how can the “argument from design” (that only some kind of “intelligence” could have designed anything as perfect as a human being) be reconciled with the religious practice of female genital mutilation, which posits that women, at least, as nature creates them, are not so perfect after all? Whether sallies like these give pause to the believer is a question I can’t answer.
Robert T. Miller of First Things does a great job of analyzing this book review. Miller doesn't waste time breaking down Kinsey's and Hitchens' mistakes about religion, but I will. Let's take two. There is one religion that argues that Christ died for our sins - Christianity. There is another that claims that Christ did not die - Islam. Have neither Kinsey nor Hitchens ever noticed that Christians and Muslims disagree with one another? Let's take another - that the "argument from design" (which Kinsey conflates with Intelligent Design) is apparently inconsistent because of religious leaders' support of female genital mutilation. Huh? Have Philip Johnson or William Dembski become African animists without anyone noticing?

On a less serious note, the same kind of ignorance is found in Max Brook's World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Way, a bestselling science fiction novel by the son of Mel Brooks. The novel is set ten years after "the zombie war" in which, yes, the living dead nearly took over the world, and it's structured as a series of interviews with survivors, war vets, political leaders, etc. Overall, it tries to give a "realistic" version of what might happen. Brooks takes into account regional and cultural differences as he imagines how different countries - the US, South Africa, China, North Korea, Israel - would react to the catastrophe. As sucker for post-apocalyptic science fiction, I was massively entertained.

But Brooks stumbles big time when he tries to write about conservative Christians. They are referenced a couple of times - dismissively called "Fundies" by a few characters - and they are mocked for their belief that zombies signal the end of the world, their panicked reactions, and, most curiously, an apparent wave of suicide cults formed by Christians.

First, if the dead begin to walk as reanimated zombies, "The End Is Near!" becomes a reasonable belief for everyone, not just Christians. Second, I know a lot about religious history, and I cannot think of a single suicide cult formed by theologically conservative Christians - or Christians of any kind, for that matter. Even Christian groups that sincerely believed that the world is going to end on a specific date. When that date comes, those Christians - well, they usually realize their mistake and move on. Mass suicides like Heaven's Gate or Jonestown were conducted by fringe, cult groups whose beliefs had almost nothing in common with traditional Christianity. Brooks seems to have made the same leap as Hitchens and Kinsey above - he knows that some religions have sanctioned mass suicide, so therefore it must be a common feature of any religion.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Living in the Dark Ages

I have been following the Hitchens - Wilson debate on with great interest. Overall, I think Douglas Wilson has been doing very well against a brilliant, vicious, and thoroughly unrelenting opponent. Hitchens' role in this world, I believe, is to bludgeon out hypocrisy, poor thinking, and overall stupidity. I am grateful when he turns his pen against things that I, too, dislike. However, he is not much of a spokesperson for his own "you don't need religion to be be good" argument. I love reading Hitchens' articles on I have a hard time imagining spending more than two minutes in a room with him without jumping out a window. Douglas Wilson, on the other hand, I knew only through the classical Christian school movement. It's satisfying to see that he seems to be a good foil for Hitchens.

As well as he is doing, I wish that Wilson had made more of Hitchens' use of this quote from Heinrich Heine, advocating atheism in this modern age:
In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind old men as
This plays on a central pillar of the Great Scientific Mythology. Following the fall of Rome, this mythology says, the Western world was trapped in the "Dark Ages," when virtually all important knowledge was lost and Europe labored under the yoke of mysterious and fanatical Religion. Beginning with the Renaissance and fulfilled in the Enlightenment, the Light of Science rescued us from this horrific era. We can now cast off the blindfolds of faith, belief, etc., and see clearly into the bright and boundless future, etc., etc. It's a great story - except that it's not true.

Heine died in 1856, so we have the advantage of historical perspective that he may have lacked. Considering the state of the world during the past 100 years, in which psychopathic tyrants have repeatedly seized control of entire countries and, with the consent of their citizens, slaughtered millions of their fellow citizens, in which school children have taken to murdering their parents and teachers, in which the largest and "most advanced" countries of the world have decided from time to time that forced sterilizations, compulsory abortions, and medical experiments on less-than-voluntary human subjects are sound public policy....

Can we really say that "daylight" has come? If religion is the best guide for "dark ages," then perhaps religion is exactly what we need.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

True Love

There is an amazing story from the NY Times this week about a couple adopting a little girl from China. Here's just a sample, from the moment after she's been handed her new daughter for the first time:
Despite the high heat and humidity, her caretakers had dressed her in two layers, and when I peeled back her sweaty clothes I found the worst diaper rash I’d ever seen, and a two-inch scar at the base of her spine cutting through the red bumps and peeling skin.
(HT: Steven Levitt at Freakonomics.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Lou Dobbs vs. Jesus

I have not paid attention to Lou Dobbs in a long time, but this commentary on caught my eye. Dobbs claims that religious leaders are "encroaching" on politics, particularly when it comes to illegal immigration, Dobbs' pet topic. Dobbs feels that it's inappropriate for religious leaders to criticize government policies regarding immigration, but at least he includes this great quote:
The Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine put it this way: "If given the choice on this issue between Jesus and Lou Dobbs, I choose my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ."

I don't often agree with Jim Wallis, but here I say, "Go, Jim!"

Then Dobbs kind of goes off the deep end. He counters Wallis by citing Romans 13:
But before the faithful acquiesce in the false choice offered by the good Reverend, perhaps he and his faithful should consult Romans 13, where it is written: "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established..."

Um, Mr. Dobbs, I hate to break this to you, but the last time I checked, you aren't a governing authority.

Monday, May 7, 2007

If Everyone is Family...

A remarkable passage from Larissa MacFarguhar's profile of Barack Obama:

When Obama, as a young man, went to Kenya for the first time and learned how his father's life had turned out - how he had destroyed his career by imagining that old tribalisms were just pettiness, with the arrogant idea that he could rise above the past and change his society by sheer force of belief - Obama's aunt told him that his father had never understood that, as she put it, "if everyone is family, no one is family." Obama found this striking enough so that he repeated it later on, in italics: If everyone is family, no one is family. Universalism is a delusion. Freedom is really just abandonment. You might start by throwing off religion, then your parents, your town, your people and your way of life, and when, later one, you end up leaving your wife or husband and your child, too, it seems only a natural progression.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

America's Pasttime

There is a good review at the NY Times today about "Reel Baseball," a DVD collection of early baseball films. It includes this remarkable plot summary for "His Last Game," a movie from 1909:

[T]he story is unusually pointed: a Choctaw Indian, the star pitcher of his local (integrated!) baseball team, is plied with drink by a pair of gamblers who want him to throw the game; in an argument he kills one of them and is immediately sentenced to death by firing squad.

But as he is digging his own grave, the townspeople show up and press him into service for a game. He pitches, wins for the home team and then returns to the open grave, where he is summarily executed.