Monday, January 31, 2005

Bene Diction for a Missing Blog

The Bene Diction blog has posted excerpts from a blog that Real Live Preacher removed from his weblog.

From the excerpts, it's hard to see what caused such heated comments that RLP felt he needed to remove the blog.

The truth is, there are a lot of evangelical Christians who think God called them to annoy and harass anyone whose God is bigger and better than the one that televangelists worship.

Clueless about the First Amendment

Associated Press is reporting that American Students think the "First Amendment is no big deal."

Reportedly, "It was also clear that many students do not understand what is protected by the bedrock of the Bill of Rights."

Anyone who has spent any time talking with people about First Amendment issues knows that students are not the only ones who are uninformed and apathetic about the First Amendment. Many evangelical Christians are downright hostile toward it.

Some of the blame for this belongs to Baptists for not teaching their children about the Baptist history of advocacy for religious liberty and separation of church and state. Baptists, however, are not alone. Public school educational policies that over-emphasized proficiency in mathematics and science to the detriment of civics and history have not helped.

Theocrats filled a void with their mythology about America being a "Christian Nation" and now, for the foreseeable future, they will be running the committees that set standards for education and textbooks. No one else cares.

Education and democracy are linked. When one fails, the other is endangered.

Depleted Uranium Stories Reaching Mainstream News

Stories linking the U.S. military's use of depleted uranium in bullets, missiles and bombs to "Gulf War Syndrome" and other illnesses plaguing U.S. veterans have been circulating on the internet for quite a while. Bob Nichols, an independent journalist in Oklahoma City, has done considerable research and writing in this area.

Recently, one of Bob's stories was posted by the Axis of Logic website. If even half of what Bob has been saying about depleted uranium is accurate, then our government has a problem on it's hands that will dwarf the scandal associated with the use of Agent Orange in Viet Nam.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

On Chemical Sector Security

Truth Out has published a story about allegations in former EPA Executive Christie Whitman's new book, It's My Party Too. Whitman is reported to have charged the chemical industry, along with key Republican lawmakers, of gutting new security regulations for chemical plants that are needed after the 9/11 attacks.

Whitman says she grew so frustrated that she formally asked the White House to "relieve EPA of its lead responsibility for reducing the vulnerability of the chemical sector to attack."

American Chemistry Council spokeswoman Kate McGloon said she was "surprised by the tone of her comments" and said the council supported federal security regulations but expressed grave "concern about putting the responsibility for those kinds of decisions in not-expert hands."

Having lived for twelve years near several chemical plants in Houston, I know from grievous experience to take industry statements about concerns for safety and security with a ton of salt. There were multiple explosions at chemical plants during that time. The largest explosion buffeted my car while I was driving it about a mile away from the plant. I attended a funeral for one of the many victims of that blast -- the father of a child in my church's private school. The subsequent investigation traced the cause of the explosion to a "contract" worker who turned the wrong valve as the plant was finishing a process.

It seems the company was cutting corners to avoid paying union wages (-- many people think union members are overpaid and needless sticklers over safety procedures). Instead of using the company's own highly skilled union employees for certain processes, the company out-sourced some jobs to "more efficient" private contractors. The only training these "efficient" private contractors had for a plant emergency -- like turning the wrong valve -- was instructions to literally "run." Unfortunately, many plant employees had other responsibilities that didn't give them time to either figure out which valve needed to be set right or to run.

I'm sure the people in Pasadena, Texas will be relieved to learn that responsibility for decisions about the safety and security of the chemical industry resides entirely in the expert hands of the industrialists.

Friday, January 28, 2005

On the Church's Response to Torture

Thanks to Camassia for her discussion on ecumenicism and torture and for providing the link to Diana Ortiz's article on Zero Tolerance for Torture.

Ortiz's story is heartbreaking -- a Roman Catholic Nun teaching poverty stricken children who was abducted and tortured in Guatemala. Two things she said moved me:

My ministry today is focused on preventing torture, and I find it painful, as do other survivors, that the church has been so silent on this issue.
When I first heard people were advocating for the legalization and use of torture in this country, I was very angry. It was almost like what we had experienced was irrelevant and that they were saying it was OK for us to have been tortured.
None who read her story will have an excuse for apathy on this issue.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

SpongeBob Confesses !!!

SpongeBob has confessed to being a Hermaphrodite!

Link here for details.

Apologies to James Dobson.

Thanks to Bob Gifford at the "I am a Christian Too" weblog for setting the record straight.

Turning Up the Heat

I missed a speech on global warming at OU yesterday, so I'll have to depend on whatever I can learn from the web for information.

Here's a link to a story that says the threat of global warming is twice as bad as previously predicted.

If sea levels are going to rise by 20 feet, I'm glad I left Houston for Oklahoma City. If the tipping point comes in my life time, I think I'd rather be somplace with a climate like the Sahara Desert than to be submerged in a place like the lost city of Atlantis.

Christians Write Congress about Morality of Budget

The Center for American Progress has posted a letter to congress that was signed by dozens of progressive religious leaders advising congress that we view the budget as a "moral document."

In other words, budgets reflect priorities and priorities reflect our nation's moral values. It is time the leaders of our government stop giving lip service to moral values and start putting our money where their mouth is.

We also give notice that:

When the budget is released, we will assess its provisions concerning health care, education, housing, the environment, foreign policy, national security and other issues. If the budget falls short in these areas, we will work to transform it into a document that reflects America's best moral values and who we are as children of God.

Unholy Unions Lead to Unholy Wars

Christianity Today has an interesting review of a couple books that highlight the dangers of uniting church and state.

It is worth a read. Here's a link.

Unfortunately, the article's author, Stan Guthrie, seems to prefer some form of domestic partnership between church and state. He says,
Clearly there are efforts under way in the courts and elsewhere to marginalize the influence of Christians in an irony-laden attempt at enforcing "tolerance." Many Christians, claiming that America is or was a Christian nation, are on the offensive, rightly fighting such creeping secularization in the courts of law and public opinion.

To me, there doesn't seem to be any less danger of "unholy" wars with domestic partneships than with fully established marriages. The bride of Christ is still sleeping in the wrong bed.

Influential Left-wing Writers on the Net

Canadian based Peace, Earth and Justice News has published a list of the "Ten Best Writers on the Net."

It is a list that is definitely way to the left of the Mainstream, but I suspect the list might help people identify some of the most influential thinkers on the web from the opposite end of the spectrum than the one we are usually dealing with on this weblog.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Justice Dept. Breaches Trust with Troops

Thanks to Rob's Blog for writing a blog that highlights how the Justice Department has undermined a lawsuit against Iraq filed by 17 American former POW's and 37 POW families from the first Gulf War.

Now that U.S. government is implicated in a policy condoning torture, there is no interest in letting Americans who were tortured by Saddam Hussein use international courts to address their grievances.

Rhetoric about the U.S. securing justice and freedom for people around the world rings especially hollow when we vigorously deny it to the people who sacrifice the most for our country.

On Spiritual Map Reading

Associated Baptist Press is reporting that Southern Baptist author, Henry Blackaby, indicated he could recognize "God's hand of judgment in the tsunami after he saw a map published by Voice of the Martyrs showing areas of intense persecution of Christians worldwide." He said many of the areas highlighted on that map "match to a T" the tsunami's impact."

Many Mainstream Baptists cannot help but remember a map that was circulating after Florida suffered through four hurricanes. That map showed the trajectory of the hurricanes by-passing democratic counties and going through counties that voted for President Bush in the 2000 elections. A caption asked whether God was judging Florida.

We laughed at the map charting hurricanes through Florida and never gave it credibility for an instant. Perhaps someone should track down that map again and ask Henry to read it. At that time we didn't know that God gave some people the gift of spiritual map reading.

"I Want My F.B.I."

Thanks to Joe Larson at Daily Kos for a post that called attention to an interview that mentioned Faith-based Initiatives (F.B.I.) that I missed when it was current.

As Faith-based Liaisons were teaching people of all faiths to sing I want my F.B.I., it looks like there was money for Moonies and Christians but no one else was getting dollars for free.

Ester Kaplan, author of With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy, and Democracy in George W. Bush's White House, in an October interview with Buzz Flash said:

Bush's faith-based initiative also privileges Christianity above all other religions. After sifting through every grant announcement I could get my hands on from Bush's faith-based offices, I couldn't find a single grant issued to a religious charity that wasn't Christian -- no Jewish charities, no Muslim charities, nothing. And when I spoke with Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, he confirmed that no direct federal grants from his program had gone to a non-Christian religious group. This kind of religious favoritism is exactly what the Constitution's establishment clause was put in place to prevent.

Towey and Kaplan must view Sun Myung Moon as a Christian, because I've seen reports that an organization affiliated with Moon received a sizeable grant.

There is a tacit establishment of Christianity in the White House that is being made explicit in the distribution of federal dollars.

The same thing is going on with state money in states that have set up offices of faith-based liaison. Here's a link to a story about what happened in Oklahoma as the faith-based program was being set up. Here's a link to some eggregious examples of the faith-based office's endorsement of the Christian religion.

Since we printed these stories and publicized what was happening, the faith-based office has worked to get money for an initiative at a Jewish Synagogue. I don't believe money has been granted to any other minority faith group in Oklahoma.

Monday, January 24, 2005

On the Limits of Fear

Baptist Press is running a story by John Yeats, editor of a Southern Baptist newspaper in Oklahoma, lamenting a plateau in SBC baptismal statistics while the population keeps increasing. Yeats attributes the plateau to a decline in fear of a literal 'fire and brimstone' hell.

When they were leading cheers for the President and helping the administration use fear of terrorists to justify war in Iraq, Southern Baptists failed to realize that they were undermining the pious fear mongering they've often done to get people into the baptismal waters. Fear, in the bye-and-bye, of a God who loves us will never hold a candle to fear, in the here-and-now, of terrorists who hate us.

As I said in a speech a couple years ago, 'Few Americans fear divine retribution anymore. That fear has been replaced by fear of terrorists.'

Intolerant Christians

Reuters reported that a survey by Public Agenda sows that Church-going Americans are less tolerant than others.

The truth is, many Christians now think intolerance is virtuous. I suspect the source of this thinking is Rousas Rushdoony, the founder of Christian Reconstructionism and Dominion Theology. Here's a quote from his Institutes of Biblical Law:

In the name of toleration, the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and the adherents of other religions.
Those interested in learning more about this influential trend in American Christianity might consider attending a conference on "Examing The Real Agenda of the Religious Far Right" on April 29-30, 2005 at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan, NY.

Friday, January 21, 2005

A Fresh Start for Baylor

After eighteen months of non-stop controversy, Robert Sloan has agreed to step aside as President of Baylor University. Both Sloan and the Regents agreed that his stepping down would be best for Baylor.

No Mainstream Baptist that I know has been pleased to see internal divisions and dissension at one of our flagship institutions. Thanks to Dr. Sloan for humbly removing himself as one element of conflict.

Hopefully this will give the Board of Regents and the faculty a fresh start that will enable them to work together and move forward with the work of God's Kindgom.

Here are some links to news reports about this:

Ethics Daily
Baptist Standard
Associated Baptist Press
Waco Tribune (Updated)
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Houston Chronicle
Dallas Morning News
San Antonio Express
Abilene Reporter News

Baptist Press

Links to other reports will be posted here as they become available.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Dobson won't tolerate SpongeBob

Thanks to Rob's Blog for calling my attention to the story in the New York Times about James Dobson's tirade against a video depicting cartoon character SpongeBob promoting multicultural tolerance.

Though the video says nothing about sexual identity, Dobson thinks the video is "pro-homosexual." A spokesman with the Dobson organization says the video is "manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids."

Only a Fundamentalist demagogue who has made a career of "manipulating" and "brainwashing" people to read the Bible through medieval lenses could find cartoon characters teaching tolerance so threatening.

Baptist Ministers & Social Security

Nearly thirty years ago I discovered that Baptist ministers -- who for IRS purposes are self-employed -- have the ability to opt in or out of the Social Security system. To opt out a minister has to swear that he is opposed in principle (by religious scruple) to saving for retirement.

Few ministers that I know are truly opposed to saving for retirement. Some, however, claim to have such scruples when they discover that their self-employed status means they must pay the entire amount required for social security (-- most people get to split the payments with their employers).

It's a temptation made heavy by necessity. Few ministers make much money. Very few make much money when they are starting out in the ministry. In addition, their self-employed status also makes most Baptist ministers ineligible for group rates on insurance -- which means they must pay higher premiums for their health insurance. The result is that many Baptist ministers, especially those pastoring small churches, have often opted out of the social security system.

Perhaps that is why Baptist pulpits have been so silent about plans to make drastic changes to social security. Some Baptist preachers don't think they have a dog in this hunt. That is a mistake. Nearly every Baptist church has widows and widowers who are barely scraping by on a fixed income that consists entirely social security benefits. When social security is gone or some Wall Street tycoon absconds with the money they put in their private investment account, those people will be reduced to begging at the door of the church. Is your church prepared for that?

Telling the Truth about America

In an interview with CNN, President Bush admitted that the Iraq war helped extremists. He said, "I've made some very difficult decisions that made public diplomacy in (the) Muslim world difficult. One was obviously attacking Iraq."

If diplomacy in the Middle East were a game of chess, the President has just admitted that he gave his queen and both his rooks to Osama Ben Laden. All he's got left are his Religious Right bishops while Osama has only lost a few Muslim pawns.

Nevertheless, the president just thinks, "We're behind when it comes to selling our own story and telling people the truth about America."

What is the truth about America? The truth is, we invaded an oil laden country on the pretense that we were under imminent threat from its weapons of mass destruction. Now, we are extracting their oil, admitting that there were no WMD's, and telling them that "people will begin to see the wisdom of the policy" when we install a new government to oppress them.

Suppose that was happening at your family ranch down in Texas. Armed agents kick down your door, kill one of your kids and torture another, take control of your oil wells, and then they apologize for not finding a hidden stash of contraband weapons. Do you suppose you will see the "wisdom of the policy" when they move another family into your house?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Religious Studies and the First Amendment

Coleman at the Bending Faith blog has posted an insightful essay by Stephen Prothero about the religious illiteracy of Americans.

This essay is well worth reading as are the introductory comments by Coleman.

I would only disagree with one statement that Prothero makes. He says, "Because of misunderstandings about the 1st Amendment, religious studies are seldom taught in public schools."

My own experience tells me this excuse is simplistic. Having participated in a conference of ministers discussing teaching creation science at a small town public school in Oklahoma, I know that conservative preachers will drop their demand for public schools to teach creation science if that also means the schools will be teaching the creation accounts and religious beliefs of Native Americans and other religions.

Religion is all or nothing for conservative Christians. They don't want "teaching about religion" -- certainly not comparative religion -- they want the schools to indoctrinate students in their own brand of religion. If they can't have that, they don't want public schools teaching anything about religion at all.

The Wonder Working Power of Bribery

Max Blumenthal has written an interesting blog called "There is Wonder Working Power in Bribery."

It is absolutely unconscionable for our government to undermine the credibility of houses of prayer and worship with its faith-based bribery. When everyone concludes that the church has been turned into a "den of thieves," ministers will no longer have the moral authority to confront injustices in our society.

Nicolo Machiavelli and Friedrich Nietzsche must be smiling in their graves. It looks like their neo-conservative heirs will inherit the earth.

Celebrating Diversity

The Baptist Standard is reporting that Texas Baptist's governance committee is recommending that nearly a third of the membership of its Executive Board be non-Anglo. That would double the percentage of non-Anglo Executive Board members.

Kudos to BGCT's governance committee and the leaders of Texas Baptists. The days of Anglo dominance in Baptist life are ending. The future of Baptist life will be rich in diversity and inclusivity.

Those Baptists content to see token ethnic leaders spotlighted on occasions will find the Southern Baptist Convention a more comfortable home.

Our Guilty Stewardship

BBC News has reported that some scientists have determined that the sun seems to be 'dimming.' They have evidence that there has been a 22% drop in sunlight over the last five decades and believe that pollutants have been reflecting sunlight back into space that used to shine down on our planet.

Maybe this helps explain some of the unusual weather patterns around the world.

If concerns like this are true:

Even the most pessimistic forecasts of global warming may now have to be drastically revised upwards.

That means a temperature rise of 10 degrees Celsius by 2100 could be on the cards, giving the UK a climate like that of North Africa, and rendering many parts of the world uninhabitable.

We've done more damage to the ecosystem that we realized.

Monday, January 17, 2005

On Judicial Oaths

Tom Parker, a comrade of former Judge Roy Moore was recently sworn in as Supreme Court justice in Alabama. Moore swore him in at a symbolic ceremony. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas presided over his formal oath of office. The Birmingham News reports that:
Parker said Thomas told him a judge should be evaluated by whether he faithfully upholds his oath to God, not to the people, to the state or to the Constitution.

If this is true, and I suspect that it is, what Thomas said is ultimately true. Ultimately all persons will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Mortal Alabama justices, however, are not authorized to sit in that chair. Neither are U.S. Supreme Court justices. All earthly justices are authorized to do is to fulfill their oath to uphold the laws of the people as embodied in the statues of their state and the Constitution.

An interesting discussion of the propriety of Thomas' remarks is already under way at Sam Heldman's blog.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Is Bush Preparing for War in Iran?

Reuters is reporting that an article in New Yorker magazine says, "The civilians in the Pentagon want to go into Iran and destroy as much of the military infrastructure as possible" and that "The United States has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran to help identify potential nuclear, chemical and missile targets."

There is no doubt that our military is already being stretched to the limit in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now Bush is preparing for military action in Iran.

How many people still think this administration has made the world safer?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Gays a Threat to National Security ?

The Guardian is reporting that the "Military has discharged 26 Gay Linguists" for violating the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. 13 of them were Arabic translators -- a skill-set that has been in desperately short supply since before 9/11.

Obviously, homosexuals are more threatening to our national security than all the terrorists in Al Queda, all the insurgents in Iraq, and all the weapons of mass destruction that they desire to obtain.

Hmm. It is also seems apparent that key decision-makers have determined that Jesus' command to let the tares grow together with the wheat was ill-advised.

Textbook Disclaimers Ruled Unconstitutional

A Georgia District Court Judge as ruled that the textbook disclaimers against evolution in Cobb County's science textbooks violated the First Amendment of the Constitution. The court said:

The sticker sends "a message that the school board agrees with the beliefs of Christian fundamentalists and creationists."

"The school board has effectively improperly entangled itself with religion by appearing to take a position," Cooper wrote. "Therefore, the sticker must be removed from all of the textbooks into which it has been placed."

Contrary to what the Theocratic Televangelists will say, this was not a victory for "Atheists" and "secular humanists." It is a victory for the constitutional separation of church and state.

Theocrats need to stop trying to force their medieval scientific beliefs on public school children and start focusing on sharing the gospel with whoever they can get to voluntarily attend their churches.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Language and Fundamentalism

Thanks to Greg Horton at The Parish blog for calling my attention to this blog by Steve at the Harbinger blog. Steve has some very insightful things to say about the Fundamentalist's (Steve doesn't call them that, I do) understanding of language. Here's the core of what Steve has to say:

Whereas conservative evangelicals have staked their all on the existence of propositions, the fact of the matter is that human language is not grounded in abstract, non-linguistic, ghostly entities that exist only in the mind of god. Rather, human language is grounded in human social conventions and social practices. This scares conservative evangelicals, because they would like to appeal to something stable, fixed, unchanging and eternal, whereas social conventions and practices are imprecise and constantly changing. But conventions and practices do not need to be perfect, they just need to be stable enough to get the job done, and they are in fact that. We use language to accomplish specific goals, and our social conventions need only be good enough to assist us in our goal-oriented behavior.

For those willing to step into more than "pop" philosophy and theology, Steve has a lot of other good things to say on his blog.

Rigged Elections at Louisiana College ?

Fundamentalists may have rigged the election of the teacher of the year at Louisiana College in 2004. It looks like they were trying to boost the profile of a candidate for the college's presidency. Alumni and former faculty are considering filing a lawsuit challenging the college's search committee process that nominated the teacher as President.

Students have set up a website in an effort to save Louisiana College from the chokehold of Fundamentalism.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Pope and Richard Land

Thanks to Bob Allen for calling my attention to the article "Beyond Belief" in the current issue of Atlantic Monthly. In it Richard Land, head of a Southern Baptist Convention political action committee says,
'I've got more in common with Pope John Paul II than I do with Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton.' . . . 'We both say all human life is sacred, that marriage is between a man and a woman, that homosexual behavior is contrary to God's will.' All this is just 'more relevant' he says, 'than whether I'm Catholic or Protestant.'
Land forgot to mention that both he and the Pope believe in an earthly, autocratic, hierarchical religious authority that presumes infallibility when interpreting the Bible.

Intelligent Design -- Another Concept that Closes the Mind

While wrestling with a persistent advocate of 'Intelligent Design' at a forum on Evolution and Creation, it occured to me that the mental mechanism of this idea is similar to that of inerrancy. It closes the mind and puts an end to inquiry. To modify a statement that I quoted in the previous blog:

To say creation is by 'Intelligent Design' is to put an end to questioning. It is the conclusion of one brand of human logic. It is the answer to the only question a fundamentalist cares to ask. Once this conclusion is drawn, inquiry is ended and nothing further needs to be discovered, discussed or explained. For those who put faith in this brand of logic, 'Intelligent Design' is an 'exhaustive' summary of the truth and meaning of science.
I happen to believe that an 'Intelligence' (God) created the universe and that it is 'well designed' (good). That, however, is a conclusion drawn by faith. It has nothing to do with the political wedge issue concocted by right-wing Christians in an attempt to force public schools to teach their brand of religion as science.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Inerrancy -- A Concept that Closes the Mind

Nothing seems to infuriate Fundamentalists more than to sense that people perceive them to be closed-minded. Whenever they get the slightest hint of such a perception, they add another latch to the deadbolt securing their intellect and complain that they are being persecuted.

I'm beginning to think that there are some ideas that serve as locks in the mind. Once installed, as long as the thinker throws away the key and/or refuses to open the mechanism to further scrutiny, that mind is hermeneutically sealed. That seems to be the goal of Fundamentalist indoctrination.

The idea of inerrancy appears to be one of the strongest deadbolts of the cognitive. It seems to be perfectly designed to put an end to the quest for deeper insights and broader understandings of scripture. As I said in a sermon years ago:
To say the Bible is 'inerrant' is to put an end to questioning. It is the conclusion of one brand of human logic. It is the answer to the only question a fundamentalist knows to ask. Once this conclusion is drawn, inquiry is ended and nothing further needs to be discovered, discussed or explained. For those who put faith in this brand of logic, 'inerrancy' is an 'exhaustive' summary of the Bible's truth and meaning.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Government Payrolls Education Propaganda

USA Today is reporting that the Department of Education paid a TV host nearly a quarter of a million dollars to promote the administration's "No Child Left Behind" initiative.

This initiative is so ill-conceived and poorly funded that there is no doubt that only propaganda could prop it up.

Anyone who has read David Berliner's The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools knows that "No Child Left Behind" is just one more nail in the coffin that right-wingers have been building for public education for a long time.

For those unfamiliar with Dr. Berliner's work, here's a link to some of his work that is published on the web. His essay, "Educational Psychology Meets the Christian Right" is my favorite. Here's a link to some bio on Dr. Berliner.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Conscience & "The Twilight Zone"

The New York Times ran an interesting article about "Scientists taking a Leap" in which several answered the question "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"

In my mind, the most thought-provoking answer was by Philip Zimbardo -- Psychologist, emeritus professor, Stanford; and author of "Shyness." Here's what he said:
I believe that the prison guards at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, who worked the night shift in Tier 1A, where prisoners were physically and psychologically abused, had surrendered their free will and personal responsibility during these episodes of mayhem.

But I could not prove it in a court of law. These eight Army reservists were trapped in a unique situation in which the behavioral context came to dominate individual dispositions, values and morality to such an extent that they were transformed into mindless actors alienated from their normal sense of personal accountability for their actions - at that time and place.

The "group mind" that developed among these soldiers was created by a set of known social psychological conditions, some of which are nicely featured in Golding's "Lord of the Flies." The same processes that I witnessed in my Stanford Prison Experiment were clearly operating in that remote place: deindividuation, dehumanization, boredom, groupthink, role-playing, rule control and more.

I have no problem believing that the prisoners at Abu Ghraib were in some kind of "Twilight Zone" where they were deprived of free-will. I have a lot of difficulty believing that the guards had "surrendered their free will and personal responsibility" and became "mindless actors."

Ask any one of those guards if they treated detainees the way they hope Americans would be treated if they became prisoners.

The Golden Rule may be too simplistic for Alberto Gonzales, Gen. Boykin and the bureaucrats who put the guards in control of the prison, but it's still a pretty good rule of thumb for anybody who lives with a conscience.

Newdow Fights Case Against 'Ceremonial Deism'

Michael Newdow has filed his case against the use of 'under God' in the pledge of allegiance again. CNN has clearly identified the legal argument holding sway in the Supreme Court:
Rehnquist wrote that the phrase "one nation under God" is more about ceremony and history than about religion. He likened the phrase to the motto "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency, and to the call that opens each session of the high court itself: "God save this honorable court."

Perhaps the Supreme Court could solve the problem by adding a couple words to the pledge of allegiance. School children could be instructed to say, "One Nation under a Deist God," then Newdow and all the right-wing Christians in the country would know that the Supreme Court is only making "ceremonial deism" the established religion of our country.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

On "Scotosis"

Thanks to Robert Cunningham for sending me a link to the essay, "'I Didn't See Any Anti-Semitism': Why Many Christians Don't Have a Problem with The Passion of the Christ" in the Spring 2004 issue of Cross Currents Magazine.

The article introduced me to a very useful word -- "scotosis." Mary C. Boys credits Bernard Lonergan with defining the term "scotosis" as "a hardening of the mind against unwanted wisdom through the repression of questions that might lead to a deeper insight into problematic readings of the Gospels."

I must confess that, before I read Boy's article, I missed discussions of this concept.

It summarizes a phenomenon that I observe every day on a massive scale among Southern Baptists -- but have never had a term to describe it. The only difference is that Southern Baptists are "scotosistic" regarding problematic readings of the entire biblical canon.

Defying Dobson

Kudos to Robert Parham at Ethics Daily for his essay "Dobson distorts faith, treatens Democrats."

Dobson and others in the Religious Right have been over-the-line separating church and state for a long time.

Mainstream Baptists are more than willing to let Fundamentalists use their strong-arm tactics in their own churches where people voluntarily cower into submission. Some of us refuse to cower when they employ the same tactics in the political life of our country.

It's time for more Christians to begin standing up to the bullies in the pulpits of America.

Brethren on Tap for Draft

The draft that Church of the Brethren leaders felt from their visit by the Selective Service has turned into a breeze.

Ethics Daily is reporting that the Selective Service has asked the Brethren to revive their "alternative service" programs in case the military draft is reinstated.

Mark my words -- the day this administration re-institutes a compulsory draft that could force my children to serve in its unjust, pre-emptive war in Iraq, will be the day that I begin devoting every free, waking moment to some form of peaceful, civil action.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Alberto Gonzales Called to Repentance

Church Folks for a Better America has issued an Open Letter to Alberto Gonzales encouraging him to repent and uphold human rights. The letter is signed by a list out of Who's Who in Religion in America -- minus the Religious Right.

There aren't any shades of gray for Christians about the use of torture. There's no doubt that Jesus stands with the victims of torture, not with the bystanders or the perpetrators.

Why have Richard Land, Al Mohler, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and D. James Kennedy been so silent about this issue?

Theodicy and Tsunami

Greg Horton on his The Parish blog has been wrestling with the inadequacies of tsunami theodicies. The most interesting theodicy that I've seen to date is by Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun Magazine posted at Public Theology.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Lies, Darn Lies and Southern Baptist Statistics

After reading Bob Allen's story at Ethics Daily about International Baptists disputing overseas Baptism claims, I'm beginning to wonder about some other creative ways the SBC might be using statistics.

Are they as creative at counting dollars as they are in counting souls? What happens to the funds that the SBC receives when it sells off assets that Southern Baptists acquired for the work of missions? For instance, when the SBC sells a university in a place like Hong Kong are the receipts reported as contributions to the Cooperative Program? In other words, are assets being sold to disguise a real, ongoing decline in contributions to the Cooperative Program?

Why are IMB missionaries being required to raise money from their home churches to support their ministries? Are those donations being counted as CP receipts? Under previous administrations soliciting funds directly from churches was forbidden because it could undermine funding for the entire Cooperative Program. Recently Morris Chapman complained about the BWA soliciting funds directly from SBC churches. Isn't the IMB doing the same thing?

Is the IMB getting the most bang for its buck? Several former missionaries have reported that the salaries of IMB administrators are exorbitant and their travel, lodging and conference expenses are extravagant.

When are Southern Baptists going to stop turning a blind eye to this kind of mismanagement?