Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Best of 2006

The most widely linked and viewed blog post for the year 2006 was the July 15th post on "What is Progressive Faith?" that recorded comments I made to the Progressive Faith Blog Conference in Montclaire, New Jersey. Here is a reprise of that blog:

What is Progressive Faith?

I think progressive faith to has at least ten characteristics. It is conscientious, chastened, hopeful, strong, humble, growing, questioning, dialogical, active and interdependent.

1. First, and foremost, a progressive faith is a conscientious faith.

I understand conscience to be an exercise of human understanding or imagination that involves three steps.

The first step is an act of intellectual (mental) distantiation that produces self-consciousness -- it is the ability to step outside yourself (whatever "self" is) and look back at yourself (as though you were looking at yourself in a mirror).

The second step is an act of sympathetic imagination by which you look at the world from the perspective of another.

We often hear this described by the phrase, "Walk a mile in my shoes." My good friend Foy Valentine, now deceased, once told me jokingly that doing this had proven highly profitable for him. He said that, whenever he did it he got a new pair of shoes and was a mile away before the poor guy he took them from knew what was happening. That's one of the reasons why I think conscience formation requires a third step.

It requires an act of reflexive self-consciousness. In simplest terms, this is the ability to put yourself in the place of others and to look at yourself through the eyes of others.

Essentially, this defines progressive faith as a faith that practices the Golden Rule.

Jesus of Nazareth gave the rule a positive formulation when he said "Do to others as you would have them do to you," (Luke 6:31 (NIV)) but the Golden Rule is not unique to Christianity.

Judaism teaches, "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man." (Hillel, Shabbath 31a.)

Islam teaches, "No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself." (Hidith)

Even Buddhists, some whom deny the existence of any God, teach, "Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." (Udana-Varga)

Some formulation of the Golden Rule or some principle of respect for other persons seems common to all religions and philosophies.

2. Second, a progressive faith is a chastened faith.

It is a faith that sorrowfully acknowledges the pain, suffering and injustice that its own community has inflicted on others.

Chastening occurs when persons of faith look at themselves and their faith through the eyes of people of different faiths.

Christians need to look at themselves through the eyes of Jews -- particularly, through the eyes of those who were herded into boxcars and slaughtered like cattle in the holocaust.

Jews need to look at themselves through the eyes of Muslims -- particularly, through the eyes of those who were displaced from their homes in Palestine.

Muslims need to look at themselves through the eyes of Bahai's.

We all need to look at ourselves through the eyes of the hungry and the homeless, the impoverished and the imprisoned.

All of us need to summon the courage to honestly look at ourselves through the eyes of others who are strange and foreign to us and/or who have been injured and ignored by us.

If we do that, I believe that we will begin to view things the way that God views them.

3. Third, a progressive faith is a hopeful faith.

It is a faith that exercises a sympathetic and creative imagination to transcend the past and present realities of self, family, community, and nation to envision a world with a more benevolent, loving and hopeful future.

Guilt, shame and sorrow all summon us to search for forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, regeneration, renewal, recreation, transformation, a new birth, -- i.e., some better way of living.

If life is just an endless cycle of violence, conflict and strife, then there is not much reason for a hopeful future.

4. Fourth, a progressive faith is a strong faith.

It is a faith that is strong enough to demand both equal rights in civil life and genuine respect in social life for those who have other convictions and different worldviews -- while remaining firmly committed to its own convictions and worldview.

Fundamentalist faiths can achieve power, but they can never be strong. All fundamentalisms are weak faiths that compensate for their inadequacies by scapegoating those who differ from them.

Fundamentalists fear differences and social change and the "other." They react to their fears by fight or by flight. Whenever they fight, they demonize and destroy whatever makes them afraid and insecure.

Faith can never become strong until it overcomes its fears and insecurities and begins to respect the integrity of conscientious difference.

5. Fifth, a progressive faith is a humble faith.

It is a faith that acknowledges the finitude and fallibility of all humanity. It recognizes that all forms of interpersonal communication and understanding fall short of perfect comprehensibility.

Different faiths privilege different expressions of faith as conveyed by different texts, practices, and rituals. Some make absolute claims for the authority of their competing texts, practices, and rituals.

Generally, it is not necessary to directly challenge the authority of these differing truth claims. It should be enough for all to acknowledge that no matter how sacred, perfect and privileged these texts, practices and rituals are believed to be, all historical faiths are subject to differing interpretations and understandings by adherents within their own faith tradition. Humility, therefore, is proper for people of all faiths.

No system of communication is adequate to fully express the meaning of the Divine. No language is perfectly transparent.

While some interpreters of religious traditions may be considered authoritative, infallibility is an attribute that is best reserved for the Divine.

6. Sixth, a progressive faith is a growing faith.

It is a faith that is growing, expanding, striving for depth and never satisfied with its progress. It is a faith that is incomplete, unfinished, and has never arrived.

Progressive faith does not lay claim to human perfectibility in this life.

7. Seventh, a progressive is a questioning faith.

It is a faith that is undaunted by critical thought. It is not a blind faith that expects adherents to surrender their intellect.

Instead, it practices what Paul Ricouer calls the "hermeneutics of suspicion" because it desires to be more than a projection of human wishes and desires, more than an opiate for the masses, and more than merely a slave revolt by which the weak seek to gain power over the strong.

Progressive faith welcomes doubt and raises questions because it knows they are necessary for the extension of understanding, for spurts of growth and for the testing and strengthening of genuine faith.

8. Eighth, a progressive faith is a dialogical faith.

It extends itself both by random acts of kindness and by deliberate acts of compassion and mercy.

It refuses to extend itself by force of law or arms.

Whenever it seeks to convert others, it seeks to do so by persuasion and example shared in moments of genuine dialogue.

9. Ninth, a progressive faith is an active faith.

It gives more than lip service to love.

It puts love in action by waging peace and working for justice.

It is faith with the courage to put itself at risk by publicly opposing injustice and by actively resisting it by non-violent means.

10. Finally, a progressive faith is an interdependent faith.

It recognizes both the value and the interdependence of all life on this planet.

It is a faith that affirms and honors the claim that future generations have on the present by responsibly stewarding the resources that make life possible on this planet.

Friday, December 29, 2006

On the Blood Lust of the Christian Right

Robert Parham has written an insightful essay about the futility of connecting evangelism with military crusades. Here's a quote:

For several years, some readers of EthicsDaily.com have voiced the crusade mentality, contending that the ultimate solution in Iraq is Christian conversion.

The problem with this view is American Christians themselves. In America everyone knows about the birth of Jesus Christ and the accompanying message of peace on Earth. That knowledge is escapable, especially at Christmas. But that knowledge hasn't changed the bloodlust of the Christian Right, who see America as the Christian nation that it is not and violence as a missionary strategy that it isn't.

The knowledge of Jesus Christ hasn't turned fundamentalists, evangelicals, Catholics, mainline Protestants and quasi-church attendees from their self-righteous commitment to holy war.

No, Christian conversion hasn't converted America's pro-crusade churchmen.

Why do some American Christians think that converting others to Christianity would do for non-Christians what it hasn't done for them?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

On Moon's Mouthpiece for the Political Right

Robert Parry has published an enlightening essay about the influence of Sung Myung Moon's Washington Times under the title "The GOP's $3 Billion Propaganda Organ."

It leaves little doubt that Moon is the most influential cult leader in American history.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Where are the Mainstream Christians?

William Fisher at Truthout has posted an outstanding essay entitled "Where are the Christians?" He is concerned about the silent complicity of Christians in the media in response to Rep. Virgil Goode's outrageous remarks concerning Congressman Keith Ellison's desire to take his oath of affirmation on the Qur'an.

Here's a quote from Fisher:

But the silent Christians seem to have forgotten to ask, "What Would Christ Do?"

One wouldn't expect the likes of Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, or Pat Robertson to be caught dead defending a Muslim's right to be a Muslim. They've already made the denigration of this religion a cottage industry for the far right in Christendom.

So have senior military officers like Gen. Jerry Boykin, who has inveighed in uniform that his God is better than their God.

But there are tens of millions of other Christians out there. They ought to know that love of all God's creatures is at the core of their religion. They ought also to know that an attack against one religion is an attack against all religions. Next week, it could be Jews. Next month, it could be Christian fundamentalists or evangelicals.
Mainstream Baptists have not been silent. Here's a link to a blog about Baptist Historian Walter Shurden's response to Goode's statement.

Carter's Bottom Line for Middle East Peace

Ethics Daily has posted a story about reactions to former president Jimmy Carter's controversial new book "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid."

I have not had opportunity to read the book yet, but I certainly agree with Carter's bottom line:

"The bottom line is this," Carter wrote. "Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law, with the Roadmap for Peace, with official American policy, with the wishes of a majority of its own citizens--and honor its own previous commitments--by accepting its legal borders. All Arab neighbors must pledge to honor Israel's right to live in peace under these conditions. The United States is squandering international prestige and goodwill and intensifying global anti-American terrorism by unofficially condoning or abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Top Ten Religious Talk Podcasts

Here's a list of the top ten downloads from the Religious Talk radio program's Podcast Archives:

  1. Peak Oil Interviews with Bob Stephenson

    Our most popular podcasts are a couple interviews in which Oklahoma Petroleum Geologist Bob Stephenson discusses peak oil and some ways to address it. Here are links to the July 2005 interview and the August 2005 interview.

  2. Muhammed Cetin Interview

    Here's a link to the 1-29-06 radio interview with Muhammed Cetin, Visiting Scholar at the University of Houston and President of the Institute for Interfaith Dialog. We talk about the work of the Institute for Interfaith Dialog, Muslim-Christian relations, and the trips to Turkey that he leads for IID.

  3. Fred Clarkson Interview

    The radio interview with Frederick Clarkson, author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy is in two parts. Here's a link to the first half and here's a link to the second half of the interview. Clarkson is an expert on the radical right.

  4. Sally and Terry Jackson Interview

    The 4-3-05 interview with Sally and Terry Jackson was about the Terri Schiavo case and end of life issues. Sally Jackson is a nurse practitioner who specializes in Alzheimers disease and neuro degenerative diseases at the VA Medical Center in OK City. She has also served on the hospital's ethics committee. Her first husband was in a vegitative state prior to his death. Terry Jackson is a Baptist minister who serves as a hospice chaplain.

  5. Randall Balmer Interview

    The 8-20-2006 interview with Dr. Randall Balmer came as part of a dialogue between Balmer and myself that was posted on the Faith in Public Life website. Balmer is professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University and visiting professor at the Yale University Divinity School. He was also an expert witness against Roy Moore's Ten Commandments monument in Alabama. We discuss his new book Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical's Lament -- How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America.

  6. Michelle Goldberg Interview

    My 8-13-06 radio interview was with Michelle Goldberg. We talk about Michelle's widely acclaimed book "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism."

  7. Charles Kimball Interview

    The 11-24-02 interview of Dr. Charles Kimball comes in two parts. Dr. Kimball is the Chair of the Department of Religion at Wake Forest University and author of the best selling book, When Religion Becomes Evil. Here's a link to part 1 and a link to part 2 of the interview.

  8. David Berliner Interview

    The 11-30-03 interview of Dr. David Berliner comes in two parts. Dr. Berliner is professor of Education at the University of Arizona and author of The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud and the Attack on America's Public Schools. Here's a link to part 1 and a link to part 2 of the interview.

  9. And Justice for All

    On the 9-10-06, the day before the fifth anniversary of 9-11, I gave a reprise of my February 2003 speech to the Oklahoma Conference of Churches at the House Chamber in the Oklahoma State Capitol. The speech was a lot more controversial then than it is now.

  10. Barbara McGraw Interview

    The 1-11-04 interview of Dr. Barbara McGraw comes in two parts. Dr. McGraw is author of Rediscovering America's Sacred Ground. Here's a link to part 1 and a link to part 2 of the interview.

    Rising Stars in the Archive:

  11. OU Students Discuss Turkey Trip

  12. Jan Linn Interview

  13. Hollyn Hollman Interview

  14. Jonathan Hutson Interview

  15. Michael Korenbilt Interview

Saturday, December 23, 2006

On Finding Room for Arab Christians

Thanks to Thabet Swaiss for calling my attention to an essay by Rowan Williams entitled "Pray for the Little Town of Bethlehem" that is published in today's Times Online. Here's an excerpt:

Speaking up for and befriending the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East is good for them and for Muslims too; it's a reminder of the healthier and saner relationship between the faiths that existed in many parts of the Middle East for long tracts of its complicated history.

It comes home most poignantly in the Holy Land itself. I have spent the past two days with fellow Christian leaders in Bethlehem, its Christian population down to barely a quarter. There are some disturbing signs of Muslim anti-Christian feeling, despite the consistent traditions of coexistence. But their plight is made still more intolerable by the tragic conditions created by the "security fence" that almost chokes the shrinking town -- the dramatic poverty, soaring unemployment and sheer practical hardship of travelling to school, work or hospital. The sense of desperate isolation is felt by Christians more acutely than most.

Once heavily represented among the professional classes, many feel they have no choice but to leave. One Christian Palestinian friend said to me: "I never imagined that people like us would find ourselves hungry, unemployed, facing daily violence." Some of the people who would be most helpful in making Palestinian society stronger and more democratic feel they have no future in the Holy Land: to the zealots on one side they are potential terrorists, to the zealots on the other they may be seen as infidels. And unfortunately it's the zealots who make the running.

Presidential Library No Plum for SMU

The faculty and staff at Southern Methodist University and Progressive Methodists around the country are fiercely opposed to efforts to house George W. Bush's presidential library at SMU.

Here's a quote from a letter to the editor of the United Methodist Reporter by my fellow blogger Dr. Andrew Weaver and from Ret. District Superintendent Fred Kandeler that strenuously rejects Methodists giving any appearance of condoning this administration's policies that approved the use of torture:

After crossing the Delaware River and winning his first battle at Trenton, New Jersey, on Christmas Day, 1776, George Washington ordered his troops to give refuge to hundreds of surrendering foreign mercenaries. "Treat them with humanity," Washington instructed his troops. "Let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British army."

Contrast this with the Sept. 15, 2006, Washington Post lead editorial titled "The president goes to Capitol Hill to lobby for torture." "President Bush rarely visits Congress. So it was a measure of his painfully skewed priorities that Mr. Bush made the unaccustomed trip yesterday to seek legislative permission for the CIA to make people disappear into secret prisons and have information extracted from them by means he dare not describe publicly."

If the Bush Library and think tank are placed at SMU, the United Methodist Church should withdraw its association from the University and demand that the good name of Methodism be removed from the name of the school. If the United Methodist Church cannot take a stand against the use of torture and those who employ it, including President Bush, what does it stand for?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Will the New Year See an Escalation of War in the Middle East?

Robert Parry at Consortium News has written a foreboding essay entitled "A Very Dangerous New Year." Here are the opening paragraphs:

The first two or three months of 2007 represent a dangerous opening for an escalation of war in the Middle East, as George W. Bush will be tempted to "double-down" his gamble in Iraq by joining with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair to strike at Syria and Iran, intelligence sources say.

President Bush's goal would be to transcend the bloody quagmire bogging down U.S. forces in Iraq by achieving "regime change" in Syria and by destroying nuclear facilities in Iran, two blows intended to weaken Islamic militants in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

The Israeli army and air force would carry the brunt of any new fighting albeit with the support of beefed-up U.S. ground and naval forces in the Middle East, the sources said. Bush is now considering a "surge" in U.S. troop levels in Iraq from about 140,000 to as many as 170,000. He also has dispatched a second aircraft carrier group to the coast of Iran.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

No Way Forward

Sydney Blumenthal, former assistant and advisor to Bill Clinton, has written an alarming essay for Salon Magazine on "Behind Bush's "new way forward." Here's a quote:

The opening section of the ISG report is a lengthy analysis of the dire situation in Iraq. But Bush has frantically brushed that analysis away just as he has rejected every objective assessment that had reached him before. He has assimilated no analysis whatsoever of what's gone wrong. For him, there's no past, especially his own. There's only the present. The war is detached from strategic purposes, the history of Iraq and the region, and political and social dynamics, and instead is grasped as a test of character. Ultimately, what's at stake is his willpower.

Repudiated in the midterm elections, Bush has elevated himself above politics, and repeatedly says, "I am the commander in chief." With the crash of Rove's game plan for using his presidency as an instrument to leverage a permanent Republican majority, Bush is abandoning the role of political leader. He can't disengage militarily from Iraq because that would abolish his identity as a military leader, his default identity and now his only one.

Unlike the political leader, the commander in chief doesn't require persuasion; he rules through orders, deference and the obedience of those beneath him. By discarding the ISG report, Bush has rejected doubt, introspection, ambivalence and responsibility. By embracing the AEI manifesto, he asserts the warrior virtues of will, perseverance and resolve. The contest in Iraq is a struggle between will and doubt. Every day his defiance proves his superiority over lesser mortals. Even the Joint Chiefs have betrayed the martial virtues that he presumes to embody. He views those lacking his will with rising disdain. The more he stands up against those who tell him to change, the more virtuous he becomes. His ability to realize those qualities surpasses anyone else's and passes the character test.

The mere suggestion of doubt is fatally compromising. Any admission of doubt means complete loss, impotence and disgrace. Bush cannot entertain doubt and still function. He cannot keep two ideas in his head at the same time. Powell misunderstood when he said that the current war strategy lacks a clear mission. The war is Bush's mission.

Controversy Erupts Again In Segregated Bus

Thanks to Robert Cunningham for calling my attention to Brian Whitaker's blog about a recent tumult in a gender segregated bus.

The spirit of Rosa Parks lives on in the most unlikely places.

On the Long History of Baptist Worship Wars

Pam Durso, Associate Executive Director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, has written a brief essay on the long history of Baptist worship wars. Posted on Ethics Daily, it provides a valuable resource for putting controversies over changing styles of worship and music in perspective. Here's a quote:
Another Baptist pastor in England, Benjamin Keach, had a very different understanding of singing in worship and the use of hymns, and he helped English Baptists to see the value of congregational singing.

In 1673, he persuaded his church to sing a hymn at the close of the Lord's Supper, allowing those who opposed this to leave before the singing began. Six years later, his church agreed to sing a hymn on public days of thanksgiving, and fourteen years after that, his church agreed to sing a hymn as part of worship every Sunday.

In all, it took 20 years for him to convince his congregation that singing hymns was a worthwhile addition to worship services. Even so, 22 of his members left when the hymn singing was instituted, and they joined a non-singing church.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Peter Berger on Extremism

Thanks to Melissa Rogers for calling attention to sociologist Peter Berger's essay on "Going to Extremes: Between Relativism and Fundamentalism." Here's Berger's introduction:

Contemporary culture (and by no means only in America) appears to be in the grip of two seemingly contradictory forces. One pushes the culture toward relativism, the view that there are no absolutes whatever, that moral or philosophical truth is inaccessible if not illusory. The other pushes toward a militant and uncompromising affirmation of this or that (alleged) absolute truth. There are idiomatic formulas for both relativism and what is commonly called fundamentalism: "Let us agree to disagree" as against "You just don't get it."

Beware of concluding too quickly that both can be legitimate components of civil discourse: Imagine the first being the response to an interlocutor who favors pedophile rape, the second uttered by someone who favors the mass murder of infidels. Rather, both formulas make civil discourse impossible, because both (albeit for opposite reasons) preclude a common and reasoned quest for moral or philosophical agreement.

For reasons that may not be immediately obvious, relativism and fundamentalism as cultural forces are closely interlinked. This is not only because one can morph and, more often than may be appreciated does morph, into the other: In every relativist there is a fundamentalist about to be born, and in every fundamentalist there is a relativist waiting to be liberated. More basically, it is because both relativism and fundamentalism are products of the same process of modernization; indeed, both are intrinsically modern phenomena, and both pose a serious challenge to any modern society that intends to be civil. Relativism is bad for civility because it precludes the moral condemnation of virtually anything at all. Fundamentalism is bad for civility because it produces irresolvable conflict with those who do not share its beliefs. And both are bad for any hope of arriving at valid normative conclusions by means of rational discourse, the relativism because there is no will to such a discourse, and fundamentalism because there is no way to it. Consequently, it is important for both political and intellectual reasons to stake out a middle ground between the two extremes. What follows is an attempt, by means of a sociological analysis, to show how the two phenomena are related.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

On Preparing for War with Iran

CBS News is reporting that the defense department is preparing to deploy a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf.

Pentagon spokemen say no attack on Iran is imminent.

As I read this, a thought keeps recurring in my mind. It is the conclusion of James Galloway's essay on the Bush administration's reaction to the Iraq Study Group report a few days ago:

Did you notice that at every stop on the President's information --gathering tour this week, there was a very familiar face looming over his shoulder? There was Vice President Dick Cheney, looking as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

Should the president suddenly have an original thought or seem to be going wobbly, Cheney will be right there to squelch it or to set him straight.

It can be argued that George W. Bush understood little about war and peace and diplomacy and honesty in government. Cheney understood all of it, and he bears much of the responsibility for what's gone on in Washington, D.C. and in Iraq for the last six years. Keep a sharp eye on him. Desperate men do desperate things.

On Rooting for War with Iran

Bill Berkowitz has posted an alarming essay about right-wing "Holy Warriors Set Sights on Iran." He quotes best-selling Christian Zionist author Joel Rosenberg as saying:

"If President Bush believes Iran needs to be neutralised (and I believe he does), and he is convinced that military action is the only way (I don't believe he is there right now), then the U.S. should take the lead."

After all, wrote Rosenberg, "If anyone is going to stop Iran from threatening the world with nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, it has to be soon, perhaps no later than the end of 2007. After all, 2008 is an American election year. 2009 will be the start of a new administration. By then it may be too late. The thermonuclear genie may be out of the bottle."
Berkowtiz reveals that Rosenberg has quite a following in Washington, D.C.:
In one recent [television] appearance, Rosenberg said that he had made several visits to "speak at a White House Bible study" and had conversations with "a number of congressional leaders and Homeland Security, Pentagon [officials] about my novels, which are based on Bible prophecy."
Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, co-founder of JewsOnFirst and the rabbi of Beth Shalom Temple in Whittier, California gave an astute analysis of Rosenberg's work:

"Rooting for war with Iran and lobbying for world destruction using Israel, as catalytic agent, is no longer 'entertainment' -- it is obscene."

Administration Neo-Cons Blaming Israel for their Defeat in Iraq

Jim Lobe has written an enlightening essay about "Neo-Cons Wanted Israel to Attack Syria" that is posted on the Common Dreams website.

The article quotes Meyrav Wurmser, director of the Centre for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute. She describes a cabal around Vice President Cheney that, in essence, was attempting to divert attention from this administration's failures in Iraq by pushing Israel to attack Syria last summer. Here's a quote:

Indeed, Wurmser, who is herself an Israeli closely identified with the Likud Party, expressed a sense of imminent defeat. Noting last week's departure of former UN Amb. John Bolton, a key neo-conservative ally, she said, "[T]here are others who are about to leave."

"This administration is in its twilight days," she said. "Everyone is now looking for work, looking to make money... We all feel beaten after the past five years..."

While she blamed Rumsfeld, the military, and the State Department for the failure to achieve neo-conservative goals in Iraq and the wider region, she also attacked Israel's conduct of last summer's war, insisting that it provoked "a lot of anger" in Washington, presumably in her husband's office, among other places.

"The final outcome is that Israel did not do it [attack Syria]. It fought the wrong war and lost... [i]nstead of a strategic war that would serve Israel's objectives, as well as the U.S. objectives in Iraq."

Public School Classrooms are not the Place for Evangelism

The New York Times has published a story about the public classroom evangelistic efforts of a school teacher in Kearney, New Jersey.

Public school classrooms are no place for evangelism.

Religious education should be done under the supervision of the children's parents -- preferably in the home or a house of worship.

Monday, December 18, 2006

On Oaths of Affirmation -- on the Qu'ran

Walter Shurden, Executive Director of the Center for Baptist Studies at Mercer University, has written an exceptionally good essay on "Should We Swear Congressman Ellison in on the Qu'ran" for the December 2006 issue of the Baptist Studies Bulletin. Here's a quote:

Of all people -- OF ALL PEOPLE -- we Baptists ought to understand and endorse Ellison's call for free expression of religion! Our ancestors went to jail for that kind of freedom! Our ancestors suffered idiotic indignities for that kind of freedom. Our ancestors struggled for a century and a half in this country for that kind of freedom!! Some of our ancestors suffered physical abuse for that kind of freedom.

Do we Baptists not remember any of our history at all? Have we really forgotten the sorry saga of Roger Williams being chased out of Massachusetts by Christian zealots and his subsequent heroic founding of Rhode Island where religious freedom could flourish? Have we forgotten the sad tale of Baptist fathers John Clarke, Obadiah Holmes, and John Crandall being jailed for conducting a worship service in a blind man's house in Lynn, MA? Have we forgotten Obadiah Holmes' bloody whipping on the streets of Boston? Do we not remember that long list of jailed Baptist ministers in eighteenth century Virginia?

But even if we were not Christians and even if we were not Baptists, if we were only good citizens of this republic with no religious faith at all, we ought to understand that call for religious freedom that Congressman Ellison wants. Article VI of The Constitution of the United States says, "The Senators and Representatives . . . shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States (bold mine)."

Is the Golden Rule Communist Ideology?

Sufragan Bishop Ira Combs, a frequent spokesman for Walmart corporation, insinuated on CNBC that businesses that practice the Golden Rule follow communist ideology.

Appearing on CNBC's "On The Money" on behalf of Walmart to discuss a pastoral letter and television ad that challenged the world's largest retailer to be a "Golden Rule" company, Combs said:
"So Wal-Mart really has become a target because it is successful at mastering the tenets of free-market capitalism, free enterprise, and they have boomed globally and grown in the system of globalization that so many unions and socialists and communists are against."
Combs was not responding to a union representative, or a socialist, or a communist. He was responding to Dr. Robert Parham, a Baptist minister and Executive Director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

Last week, Parham wrote a pastoral letter to Walmart CEO H. Lee Scott asking Walmart to use the Golden Rule -- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" -- as the standard by which it treats both its employees and its customers.

Apparently, Combs equates the Golden Rule with unionism, socialism and communism. Here's the best part of Parham's response to Combs:
Parham said he was "disappointed" that a minister would "abandon the Golden Rule and have another standard by which we evaluate the moral performance of a company."

"He knows full well that Wal-Mart has a lot of children that go without health-care coverage, that either have no insurance or they are dependent upon public assistance," Parham said. "We think the company should strive toward achieving the Golden Rule. That's a noble cause, and I think all people of faith affirm the value of the Golden Rule. And we think that the Wal-Mart company should strive to be a Golden Rule company, not follow secondary standards and seek only profit for a few, but try to be a Golden Rule company. That's what Jesus would want Wal-Mart to do."
Here's a link to Ethics Daily's report about this discussion.

Here's a link to a video of the exchange.

There is No War on Christmas

Ethics Daily has posted an outstanding essay by James Browning, Assistant Professor of Religion at Pikeville College, entitled "No, Virginia, There is No War on Christmas." It addresses the now annual crusade by right-wing zealots to reduce the Prince of Peace to a tribal warlord in their culture war. Here's an excerpt from Browning's essay:

Virginia, our reality check reveals that the "War" turns out to be mostly hot air and overheated anxiety, with a few incidents of ill-conceived political correctness. If I were inclined to be frightened, I would be concerned about the underlying message of all this rhetoric. Evidently, some of the huge majority of complacent, cultural Christians feel threatened by small minorities of atheists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians and Neo-Pagans.

In the Land of False, Forced Options created by the prophets of culture warfare, no one can be inclusive or sensitive to others who are different. You are either for Christmas, or you are besieging it.

I had a dream that Jesus was born in the United States this Christmas. Mary gave birth in the county hospital because Joseph didn't have health insurance. The wise men couldn't visit the baby Jesus. They were denied visas because they were religious leaders from Iran. No one noticed that Jesus was born because they were too busy shopping and arguing over how to celebrate Christmas.

No, Virginia, there is no War on Christmas. Go back to sleep. Christmas will come as always in this land of religious liberty for all.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Podcast: Eric Elnes Interview


Dr. Bruce Prescott's 12-17-06 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Dr. Eric Elnes (28 MB mp3), Senior Pastor at Scottsdale Congregational United Church of Christ in Scottsdale, Arizona and co-president of CrossWalk America. We talk about his walk across America last summer and his book The Phoenix Affirmations: A New Vision for the Future of Christianity.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Madness Against Malaria



Become a member of the HisNets "DreamTeam" in the Madness Against Malaria Tournament!
To make the team:

1. Click on the DreamTeam page at this link.

2. Click on the "Sponsor us Now" button to make a donation of $5.00 (or more!) as a member of the "DreamTeam--His Nets"

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Scientists Oppose Political Interference

BBC is reporting that more than 10,000 scientists and researchers, including 52 Nobel Laureates, are demanding scientific integrity in government policy. They say data is being misrepresented for political purposes. Here's a quote:

The Union has released an "A to Z" guide that it says documents dozens of recent allegations involving censorship and political interference in federal science, covering issues ranging from global warming to sex education.

Campaigners say that in recent years the White House has been able to censor the work of agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration because a Republican congress has been loath to stand up for scientific integrity.
Here's a link to the Union of Concerned Scientist's "A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science".

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Walmart Urged to be Good Corporate Citizen

Robert Parham and a large group of Baptist pastors have sent a letter to the CEO of Walmart challenging the corporation to become a "Golden Rule" company and stop shirking its responsibility as a corporate citizen. Here's a quote from Parham's letter:

"We believe that much is required of and demanded from Wal-Mart in terms of its responsibility to working families. That responsibility necessitates that Wal-Mart treat well its employees with such things as:

--Fair-living wages, not poverty-level wages.
--Generous health care benefits, not eliminating low-deductible health care plans.
--Decent places to work that treat women with dignity and equality.
--Respectful schedules for children in school.
--Good benefits for sound retirements.

"A company with the wealth of Wal-Mart has the responsibility to advance the common good for a better society, not seek only personal gain," the letter continued. "Wal-Mart's leaders need to recognize their moral obligations to be good stewards of what the corporation has been given and entrusted, not simply through acts of charity but with justice for working-family employees who have built but not necessarily benefited from Wal-Mart's vast earnings."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Executives Call for an End to Dependence on Foreign Oil

The New York Times published a story today about "Executives Urge Action to Cut Dependence on Foreign Oil." Here's the introduction:

More than a dozen prominent business executives and retired military officers, including the chairman of FedEx and a former commandant of the Marine Corps, are lobbying Congress and the White House to undertake a comprehensive campaign to reduce reliance on imported oil.

Frederick W. Smith, the founder and chief executive of FedEx, is part of a group that wants much tougher fuel economy standards for vehicles. The group, which includes top executives from the chemical, trucking and airline industries, wants much tougher fuel economy standards, not only on cars and sport utility vehicles, but also on heavy trucks, which some of the companies use. They want increased drilling offshore and within the United States, a much harder push for ethanol and other biofuels, and other changes that would permanently reduce the importance of oil as a strategic commodity and an economic force.

While the group, called the Energy Security Leadership Council, has embraced no startling new ideas, it hopes that evidence of broad support from business and military leaders will add the weight needed to get its proposals adopted.
It is about time that some leaders with national prominence step up to the plate on this issue. Energy experts and petroleum geologists have been warning for some time that we have reached the level of peak oil production and that world supplies are dwindling.

Here are links to a couple podcasts in which Oklahoma Petroleum Geologist Bob Stephenson discusses peak oil and some ways to address it. July 2005 interview and August 2005 interview.

These podcasts are still the most popular downloads from the archives of the "Religious Talk" radio program.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Walmart Sells Religious Warfare Instructional Video

A video game that Fred Clarkson, an expert on the Religious Right, describes as "an instructional video for religious warfare aimed at children" is being sold by more than 10,000 retailers in the United States. Walmart, one of the nation's biggest video game sellers, has no plans to pull the game from its shelves. Here's a comment from a spokesperson for Walmart:

"We look at the community to see where it will sell," said Tara Raddohl. "We have customers who are buying it and really haven't received a lot of complaints about it from our customers at this time."
Had the game had been produced by Muslims or militant atheists and targeted Christians for either conversion or annihilation, you can be certain that the religious right would be screaming about children being indoctrinated and trained to wage war on Christians. Since the game was produced by Christians and targets everyone who is not an Evangelical for either conversion or annihilation, the religious right thinks the Left Behind: Eternal Forces video game will make a wonderful Christmas present.

A reviewer for a publication affiliated with James Dobson's Focus on the Family says it is "the kind of game that Mom and Dad can actually play with Junior -- and use to raise some interesting questions along the way."

Some of the questions that Junior could ask are:

1) Why is this game set in New York City? Does God want me to shoot my fellow Americans?

2) Why are the forces of evil associated with the United Nations? Is God opposed to the United Nations?

3) Why do I have to kill everyone who will not convert to evangelical Christianity? Does God hate unbelievers?

4) Why do I hear "Praise the Lord" every time I kill someone? Does God want me to kill people?

5) Why do I lose "Spirit points" every time I come near a rock musician? Is rock music evil?

6) Does Jesus want me to love my enemies or blow them away?

7) Is Christianity a religion of peace or a religion of war?

8) What would Jesus do? Would he play this game?

Stem Cells Extend Six-Year Old's Life

A six-year old boy with Batten disease has received a life-extending proceedure that reversed the effects of his disease with a treatment from the stem cells from an aborted fetus. Here's a quote:

McGlynn said the injections Daniel received were "highly purified" stem cells selected for their ability to obey commands from the brain to replace damaged cells. McGlynn said previous transplants were crude by comparison because those researchers simply injected fetal brain tissue with little selectivity of needed cells.

Batten disease is caused when defective genes fail to make enzymes needed to dispose of waste made by brain cells. The waste piles up in the brain and kills healthy cells until the patient dies. Most victims die before they reach their teens.

The company's idea is to inject the sick kids with healthy, fetal neural stem cells that will "engraft" in the brain, which will direct the new cells to turn into cells able to produce the missing enzymes.

Podcast: Tim Simpson Interview

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 12-10-06 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Rev. Tim Simpson (28 MB mp3), President of the Christian Alliance for Progress. We talk about Tim's pilgrimage from being an Independent-Fundamental-Bible-believing-Premillenial Baptist to being a Progressive Presbyterian Minister. We also talk about the work of the Christian Alliance for Progress.

Garth Pybas Passes Away

Garth Pybas, the last remaining member of the committee that revised the Baptist Faith and Message in 1963, has passed away. He was 91 years old.

Baptist Press has taken his death as an opportunity to defend changes in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. It is not the first time that Southern Baptist leaders have used Pybas in such a way.

I have responded previously to the statements the elderly Pybas made about changes to the 2000 BF&M here and here.

It is truly sad that Baptist Press would view Pybas death as an opportunity to defend statements belittling Herschell Hobbs and the 1963 BF&M committee. The BGCT Seminary Committee Report quotes two of the Fundamentalist takeover Presidents of the SBC as saying "There was not a professional theologian among the 1963 BF&M committee. The closest thing they had to a professional theologian was Herschel Hobbs, and he was duped."

Baptist Press adds further corroboration for the statement of those past SBC Presidents from a Professor at Southern Seminary:

Greg Wills, professor of church history at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said most Southern Baptists, and perhaps even "most on the revision committee," did not understand the implications of the two revisions in the article on Scripture. "Conservatives understood them as consistent with the traditional view of inspiration. But progressives understood them to include the more neo-orthodox view of Scripture," Wills said.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Got Milk but No Free Market

The Washington Post has published an expose of the dairy industry lobby under the title "Dairy Industry Crushed Innovator Who Bested Price-Control System." Here's an introduction to the story:

In the summer of 2003, shoppers in Southern California began getting a break on the price of milk.

A maverick dairyman named Hein Hettinga started bottling his own milk and selling it for as much as 20 cents a gallon less than the competition, exercising his right to work outside the rigid system that has controlled U.S. milk production for almost 70 years. Soon the effects were rippling through the state, helping to hold down retail prices at supermarkets and warehouse stores.

That was when a coalition of giant milk companies and dairies, along with their congressional allies, decided to crush Hettinga's initiative. For three years, the milk lobby spent millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions and made deals with lawmakers, including incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Last March, Congress passed a law reshaping the Western milk market and essentially ending Hettinga's experiment -- all without a single congressional hearing.

"They wanted to make sure there would be no more Heins," said Mary Keough Ledman, a dairy economist who observed the battle.

Hettinga, who ran a big business and was no political innocent, fought back with his own lobbyists and alliances with lawmakers. But he found he was no match for the dairy lobby.

"I had an awakening," the 64-year-old Dutch-born dairyman said. "It's not totally free enterprise in the United States."

On Petro-Euros ?

Yesterday's Financial Times features an article entitled "Oil Producers Shun Dollar."

Eighteen months ago 70 percent of the assets of oil producing countries were in dollars. Three months ago that was down to 67 percent. Today it is 65 percent. The decrease comes at a time when oil prices are rising and the oil producers are amassing record account surpluses.

It looks like the petro-dollar is on its way to becoming a petro-euro. It is not going to happen all at once. Here's why:

Currency switches are likely to be progressive, subtle and discreet, as untoward attention could hit the dollar, lowering the value of depositors' remaining dollar-denominated assets.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

On Tax Dollars for Utilitarian Religion

Most people think of their faith as something uplifting, ennobling and fulfilling.

Increasingly, however, some evanglical Christians are viewing their faith as a means for social control. Such utilitarian religion underlies the rationale for the faith-based prison wing in Iowa. The federal courts have ruled that using tax dollars to fund religious indoctrination is unconstitutional. The case in on appeal. Today's New York Times has published an update on this story under the title "Religion for a Captive Audience, Paid for by Taxes." Here's a quote:

"The state has literally established an Evangelical Christian congregation within the walls of one of its penal institutions, giving the leaders of that congregation, i.e., InnerChange employees, authority to control the spiritual, emotional and physical lives of hundreds of Iowa inmates," Judge Pratt wrote. "There are no adequate safeguards present, nor could there be, to ensure that state funds are not being directly spent to indoctrinate Iowa inmates."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Blair on British Values

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is insisting that the success of multiculturalism in the United Kingdom depends on "Britons of all backgrounds respecting the nation's 'essential values'."

He advised immigrants to stay away from the country if they are not prepared to "integrate" and accept the nation's tradition of tolerance of other faiths.

Blair defined Britain's "essential values" as "belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage".

By rule of law, Blair meant the rule of secular law -- law as defined by Parliament with the consent of the governed. He said, "There is no question of the UK allowing the introduction of religious law in the UK."

Those who dream of theocratic rule in this life will find no welcome from politicians in the UK.

Theocrats of the Christian faith who choose to immigrate to the United States, however, would likely find a warm reception with James Dobson, Pat Robertson, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell and the political leaders under their influence. Tolerance, multiculturalism, and secularism are still anathema to them.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Regarding Credibility on National Security

Paul Krugman has written an insightful essay about credibility on national security under the title "They Told You So." It provides a Who's Who of quotes from people whose advice was ignored and unreported during the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Here's a quote from one of them:

Barack Obama, now a United States senator, September 2002: "I don't oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Percentage Living in Poverty Increasing in Suburbs

Associated Press has called attention to a Brookings Institution report about Suburban Poverty that reveals how poverty has increased in the suburbs around 100 of America's largest cities.

The report shows that between 1999 and 2005 poverty in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area has increased by 2.0%, that poverty in the central city itself has increased by 3.9%, and that poverty in the suburbs around Oklahoma City has increased by 5.1%.

AP interviewed Alan Berube, a co-writer of the Brookings report, to learn some of the causes for the increase in poverty in American suburbs. Here's one of the causes he cited:

America's suburbs are becoming more diverse, racially and economically. "There's poverty really everywhere in metropolitan areas because there are low-wage jobs everywhere," Berube said.
It seems fairly obvious to me that the fastest way to address this as a cause for poverty is to increase the minimum wage.

To discover the rate at which poverty increased or decreased at a metropolitan area near you, you can download the report by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Michnik on Conscience and Humility

Christianity Today has posted an article with some extraordinarily insightful comments about conscience, humility, politics and religion. Entitled, "Why Adam Michnik is Afraid of Theocracy," it discusses the political situation in contemporary Poland and highlights some worrisome parallels between fundamentalist worldviews and the totalitarian mindset.

This article is valuable reading for Mainstream Baptists and church-state separationists.

Here's a quote:

"Moral absolutism, which rejects compromise, can be a virtue in extreme situations, but becomes a misfortune when government aspires to it. It is often a mask for hypocrisy, always the means of discriminating against others. . . . That is why the democrat-skeptic does not trust moral absolutes in politics. He prefers compromise. For him this is not moral relativism. It is an act of faith in compromise as democracy's daily bread."

And compromise needs a conscience. Michnik admits this as he remembers "the intellectual acrobatics of liberal friends" who rationalized their approval for dictatorial regimes. It was conscience, not compromise, that tore down the Berlin Wall.

Amid Michnik's on-the-one-hand-on-the-other, one group, mentioned only briefly, earns his unqualified respect -- and not a hint of skepticism. They are not rationalists, democrats, skeptics, compromise-seekers, or Catholics of any stripe. They're people with conscience, and with humility: "The democrat-skeptic bows his head before the memory of the evangelical churches in Westphalia, which confessed their participation in the Nazi crimes, admitting to cowardice and to preferring their own safety."

Perhaps there's a lesson here for evangelicals in a very different set of circumstances.

On Extending the War in Iraq

The Iraq Study Group has given its bi-partisan recommendations to Congress and President Bush. The bottom line is -- send more troops, ask Iran and Syria to help us, and leave Iraq by 2008.

I applaud Baker and Hamilton for their work. It is probably the best course of action possible when the goal is uniting Americans to keep on fighting in Iraq.

If the goal is to end the loss of American lives in Iraq, the recommendations are inadequate.

If the goal is to end the civil war in Iraq, the recommendations are a pipe dream.

My opinion about Iraq is that we broke it and we can't fix it. The sooner we get out of there and let Iran, Syria and other Arab states broker a deal between the militias to end the violence, the better it will be for most of the Iraqi people.

The Iraq Study Group's recommendation that Iran and Syria be enlisted in our efforts to end the civil war in Iraq is an admission that they now hold the trump cards in this contest.

On Praying Somewhere Else

I started to write a comment about the meeting in Arlington, Texas of 150 Southern Baptist pastors who opposed the SBC's mandate against private prayer languages, but Bruce Gourley at the Mainstream Baptists group weblog beat me to it.

Here's a quote from Gourley:

The SBC now polices who can pray and how. The message: "You can't talk to God unless we say you can, and then only if we approve your words and thoughts." Until recent years, Baptists would have considered this to be a violation of the priesthood of all believers. Yet just as they have tossed aside the Baptist heritage of separation of church and state, Southern Baptist leaders have jettisoned belief in the priesthood of all believers and muscled themselves in between God and His people.

Turkey Should Repeal "Insult to Turkishness" Law

Article 301 of Turkey's penal code makes it a crime to insult Turkishness. It is often used to harass Turkish novelists and journalists who mention Turkey's role in the 1915-1918 Armenian massacre.

Now, Christian missionaries are being accused of insulting Turkishness.

I pray that people of good will in Turkey will rise up and insist on putting an end to a law that restricts the conscientious exercise of free speech and religion.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Faith-based Initiative to be Investigated

The Boston Globe has posted a long overdue story about "Democrats Inspect Faith-based Initiative." Here's the lead paragraph:

Two leading Democrats on the House International Relations Committee said they want to investigate President Bush's faith-based initiative to determine whether taxpayer funds are being used to reward Bush's Christian conservative supporters and whether the faith-based groups are using the funds to help gain converts.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma's Democratic Governor is preparing to appoint his own person to head Oklahoma's office of faith-based initiatives. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services cut-off applications for the position yesterday.

Future headlines in Oklahoma could read: "Republicans Inspect Faith-based Intiative." The lead paragraph could read:

Two leading Oklahoma Republicans said they want to investigate Governor Henry's faith-based initiative to determine whether taxpayer funds are being used to reward Henry's progressive religious supporters and whether the faith-based groups are using the funds to help gain converts.
All faith-based initiatives are doing is setting up a revolving form of religious preferences and establishments. Using tax-payer money for religious purposes is unconstitutional no matter what party is distributing the funding.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Ode to a Melting Dollar

The Guardian has a sobering essay about "The Dollar Melts as Iraq Burns."

Recurrent throughout this ode is the refrain that, on many fronts, the news is "not good news for the dollar."

That cannot be good news for Americans.

Marv Knox on Cooperating Christians

Marv Knox, editor of the Baptist Standard, has written an outstanding editorial in response to "conservative activists" who criticized Rick Warren for hosting an AIDS Conference at his church in which Barak Obama was invited to speak. Obama supports reproductive choice. Warren opposes abortion. Warren's critics contend that his association with Obama leaves the impression that he condones Obama's position.

Here's Knox's conclusion:

The activists' action is appalling, not because of their view of abortion, but because of their view of Christian cooperation. We should not be required to agree on every issue or pass a litmus test in order to work together to achieve a common good or eradicate a pandemic evil.

Where are the Christians whose faith is strong and resilient enough to labor alongside others who may be very much unlike them but who share a common concern? We need more Christians who possess generous spirits, thick skins, soft hearts, keen minds and entrepreneurial spirits. Christians who don't worry about being accused of associating with the wrong crowd as long as they're working on the right causes. We need them to help eradicate AIDS and eliminate abortions. We need them to mediate peaceful relationships between adversarial enemies. We need them to live winsome, reconciling lives in their communities.

They will do more to win the world to Christ and overcome the world's evils than all the anti-oriented Christians will accomplish in 490 lifetimes.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Podcast: Jonathan Hutson Interview


Dr. Bruce Prescott's 12-3-06 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Jonathan Hutson. Hutson is the Talk to Action writer who was the first blogger to expose the sub-Christian nature of the Left Behind: Eternal Forces video game.

Winning the game requires players to kill any character in the game that does not convert to fundamentalist Christianity. Advocates of church-state separation as well as Catholics, Jews, gays and Muslims are targeted for extermination.

Click here to download the interview (25MB mp3).

Were the Pyramids Made with Concrete?

Some scientists are saying that the Ancient Egyptians made the pyramids with concrete. Here's a quote:

They found "traces of a rapid chemical reaction which did not allow natural crystalisation . . . The reaction would be inexplicable if the stones were quarried, but perfectly comprehensible if one accepts that they were cast like concrete."

The pair believe that the concrete method was used only for the stones on the higher levels of the Pyramids. There are some 2.5 million stone blocks on the Cheops Pyramid. The 10-tonne granite blocks at their heart were also natural, they say. The professors agree with the "Davidovits theory" that soft limestone was quarried on the damp south side of the Giza Plateau. This was then dissolved in large, Nile-fed pools until it became a watery slurry.

Lime from fireplace ash and salt were mixed in with it. The water evaporated, leaving a moist, clay-like mixture. This wet "concrete" would have been carried to the site and packed into wooden moulds where it would set hard in a few days. Mr Davidovits and his team at the Geopolymer Institute at Saint-Quentin tested the method recently, producing a large block of concrete limestone in ten days.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

On Making the Good News Bad News

Thanks to Robert Cunningham for sending me the link to the Speigel story on "My Half-Year of Hell with Christian Fundamentalists." Polish exchange student Michael Gromek has some hair-raising tales to tell about the aggressive evangelism techniques of his host family. Here's a quote:

Things began to go wrong as soon as I arrived in my new home in Winston-Salem, where I was to spend my year abroad. For example, every Monday my host family would gather around the kitchen table to talk about sex. My host parents hadn't had sex for the last 17 years because -- so they told me -- they were devoting their lives to God. They also wanted to know whether I drank alcohol. I admitted that I liked beer and wine. They told me I had the devil in my heart.

My host parents treated me like a five-year-old. They gave me lollipops. They woke me every Sunday morning at 6:15 a.m., saying 'Michael, it's time to go to church.' I hated that sentence. When I didn't want to go to church one morning, because I had hardly slept, they didn't allow me to have any coffee.

One day I was talking to my host parents about my mother, who is separated from my father. They were appalled -- my mother's heart was just as possessed by the devil as mine, they exclaimed. God wanted her to stay with her husband, they said.
Someone needs to screen out people who think hosting foreign exchange students can be a method of evangelization. It's not hard to imagine what this host family would say if their child was a foreign exchange student being targeted for prosyletization to another faith.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Why Mainstream Baptists Should Boycott the Left Behind Game

Crosswalk America, the Christian Alliance for Progress, the Beatitudes Society, and the Center for Progressive Christianity are calling for a boycott of the Left Behind: Eternal Forces video game.

Winning the game requires players to either convert or kill any character in the game that does not convert to fundamentalist Christianity. Advocates of church-state separation as well as Catholics, Jews, gays and Muslims are targeted for extermination.

Sunday morning at 11:00 CST I will interview Jonathan Hutson on my "Religious Talk" radio program. Jonathan Hutson first discovered the violent, sub-Christian nature of this video game last May and exposed it in a series of blogs on the Talk to Action website. His expose led Rick Warren to disassociate himself from the project and two staff members to resign from his organization.

Below is a picture of the Nov. 28 press conference called by Crosswalk America. From left to right are Surani Joshua of the Center for Progressive Christianity, Craig Miller, a Presbyterian minister, Tim Simpson, President of the Christian Alliance for Progress, and Eric Elnes, Vice President of Crosswalk America.

Bush Family Values

Jim Hightower has written an informative essay about Bush family values under the title "Neil Bush Milks Cows."

No, the President's brother has not taken up farming. Why waste time with honest work when you can capitalize on the value of your family's name?

Neil Bush is promoting a business that sells Curriculum on Wheels (COWs). COWs appear to be intelligently designed to prove that this nation will never solve its problems with education just by throwing money at it.

Selling $3800.00 purple COWs that play jingles and show videos to school children has become a lucrative way for Neil Bush and other members of the Bush family dynasty to capitalize on this administration's "No Child Left Behind" legislation. Expensive high definition televisions with VCR's and/or DVD Players now cost less than a third of that price and good video projectors sell for about a quarter of that price, but none of them come with the imprimateur of America's first family.

Seven Inches

When the Pope visited the Blue Mosque, I was watching sleet, frozen rain and snow falling at my house. Two inches of rock solid ice covered by five inches of snow.

The picture above is my front yard. The picture below is my back yard.

Inside the Blue Mosque


News reports abound about the Pope's visit to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.

I've been there. It is magnificent.

Here are some pictures.