Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Another Gem from Oklahoma's Ignoramus in the U.S. Senate

Jim Inhofe, a real estate developer with a B.A. degree, pontificates about the lack of evidence for global warming on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Watch him grin like an idiot as he demands that those concerned about climate change need to explain the recent late spring snowstorm to people in Oklahoma.

No one needs to explain it to me. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand how ice melting in the Arctic and rising sea levels could have an effect on the climate in Oklahoma.

Inhofe's ignorance is deliberate. The world's premier school of meteorology and the National Weather Center are in his district. There are plenty of experts around who could explain the evidence for global warming to him. Inhofe doesn't care to listen to experts who disagree with him.

He also has enough power to influence the careers of those who either agree or disagree with him.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Podcast: Bill Leonard Interview

Podcast (6.94MB Mp3) or Dr. Bruce Prescott's 3-29-09 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Dr. Bill Leonard, Dean of the School of Divinity at Wake Forest University. We talk about Wake Forest's Divinity School, about the New Baptist Covenant Southeast Region Meeting that will be held on April 24-25, and about trends and developments within American Christianity.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Non-Profit Sector in Decline

Robert Parham at Ethics Daily has posted a story about "America's Nonprofits Running Out of Cash." Parham says a seismic shift is taking place in America's non-profits:
Key findings from a survey of over 950 nonprofit leaders show that 31 percent of nonprofits lack enough operating cash to cover expenses for more than one month. Another 31 percent can't cover even three months. A whopping 93 percent of "lifeline" organizations -- nonprofit agencies that provide food and other basic services to the vulnerable -- anticipate increasing demand this year with decreasing funding. These startling numbers spell a seismic shift in the nonprofit world.
In the 1990's, when the safety net we created to meet these emergencies was dismantled, John Ashcroft (the architect) and Bill Clinton (the promoter) called the system that replaced it "charitable choice."

Now it looks like those choices are going to be severely limited.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Shadow Economy Measured at $684 Trillion

David Corn, Chief of the Washington Bureau for Mother Jones Magazine, says he is "officially scared."

If the $684 trillion figure for over-the-counter derivatives recorded by the Bank for International Settlements is accurate, we all have reason to be scared.

Now I know why Nobel Prize Economist Paul Krugman says he is in despair over the Obama administration's bank rescue plan and the European Union President says the bailout plan is "the road to hell."

More than anyone else, we can thank former Texas Senator Phil Gramm for assuring that these derivatives were unregulated.

Obama and Politics on the Web

The Tulsa World has published a story about how "Obama turns to Web to bypass news media." This is a development that is sure to infuriate the Rupert Murdochs of the world who have been manipulating and monopolizing the way that issues are framed for public consumption. Here's a quote from the Tulsa World:

In a way, it's part campaign-style politics and part "American Idol," said political strategist Simon Rosenberg.

"Barack Obama is going to reinvent the presidency the way he reinvented electoral politics," said Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network and a veteran of presidential campaigns. "He is allowing everyday people to participate in a way that would've been impossible in the old media world."

Obama's campaign allowed supporters to organize themselves to go door-to-door and raise money. Because of that, many felt an ownership of the campaign and devoted countless hours to giving Obama the Democratic Party's nomination and then the presidency.

Obama's aides are taking that step forward, incorporating tools that let visitors to the White House Web site pick the questions Obama will answer, turning the president's Thursday event into a democratic press conference.

"Average people get to shape the outcome, like 'American Idol,'" Rosenberg said. "This is not a couch-potato age. Average people are expecting to be part of the process."
Here's a link to the White House website. Log on and ask a question or vote on a question for the President to answer. The internet press conference begins in 10 minutes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

OK State Legislator Investigating OU's Invitation to Richard Dawkins

Greg Lukianoff, in an entry at the Huffington Post, reveals that Oklahoma State Representative Rebecca Hamilton has demanded that University of Oklahoma President David Boren provide her with an exhaustive list of information about the invitation to speak at the University that was extended to Dr. Richard Dawkins.

This is the same State Representative who has laundered more than $100,000 dollars of state money to support select politically active churches in her district.

It should be no surprise to learn that someone actively engaged in subverting both the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of Oklahoma would also be opposed to free speech and academic freedom.

Someone with some legal authority needs to demand an equally exhaustive list of information from Representative Hamilton about the state money that she has been diverting from legitimate public purposes to fill the coffers of churches.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Podcast: Kathryn Joyce Interview

Podcast (7 MB Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 3-22-09 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Kathryn Joyce, author of "Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement." This movement, with strong ties to the homeschool movement and to Christian Reconstructionism, takes a spectrum of extreme positions on patriarchal authority within the family and the subjugation of women in society. We talk about their opposition to contraception and touch on the influence this thought wields within the Southern Baptist Convention.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Baptists and Muslims in Jordan and Beyond

Ethics Daily has a report about Baptists and Muslims meeting in Jordan to discuss the opening and dedication of a Baptism Center in Bethany beyond the Jordan. They have also posted a story about a Baptist Church in Columbia, Tennessee that spoke out and took up a love offering to help a small Muslim community when their Mosque was firebombed.

There is much labor to build bridges and find common ground between Baptists and Muslims -- if you know where to look. Thanks to Ethics Daily for keeping us current on efforts like this.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On Being a Brother to a Heretic Dog

Miguel De La Torre has written a response to his critics (of which I am one) of his column about Jesus and the Canaanite woman. De La Torre uses the word heretic both in its etymological sense (in Greek hairesis means "to choose") and in the modern sense (to go against tradition) in an essay entitled "Why I am a heretic." In his response, he clearly demonstrates that he has a keen imagination, a sense of humor, and a willingness to receive constructive criticism with humility.

Miguel chose to interpret the passage about Jesus and the Canaanite woman literally. Literalism is the predominant hermeneutical tradition for most Southern Baptists. They apply it to nearly every passage of scripture except their understanding of the meaning of Christ's body in the Lord's Supper. Paradoxically, De La Torre received much of his harshest criticism from those who are most adamant about the requirement that scriptures be interpreted literally.

One the other hand, moderate Baptists like myself (not all moderate Baptists are like me), while not inclined to discard the literal meaning of scripture, do expect to find deeper meanings and higher levels of significance than surface readings achieve. Miguel got his share of criticism from us, but I hope he felt that we intended for it to be constructive.

De La Torre concludes with some sound advice and a question. He writes:

The good news is that Jesus is not afraid of our honest inquiry. He is also patient when we get it wrong (and we all do). The real question here today is if you are willing to be the sister or brother in Christ of a heretic dog like me?
Let there be no doubt that I consider Miguel my brother in Christ and I'm happy to find a place for him in the doghouse for Southern Baptist heretics. There are a lot of us in here already, but the Lord seems to add a room everytime another dog arrives.

Lawrence Wilkerson Critiques Dick Cheney

Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, has posted a sharp critique of former Vice President Dick Cheney's recent interview with John King. Wilkerson, a retired Army Colonel, doesn't pull any punches:

Recently, in an attempt to mask some of these failings and to exacerbate and make even more difficult the challenge to the new Obama administration, former Vice President Cheney gave an interview from his home in McLean, Virginia. The interview was almost mystifying in its twisted logic and terrifying in its fear-mongering.

As to twisted logic: "Cheney said at least 61 of the inmates who were released from Guantanamo (sic) during the Bush administration...have gone back into the business of being terrorists." So, the fact that the Bush administration was so incompetent that it released 61 terrorists, is a valid criticism of the Obama administration? Or was this supposed to be an indication of what percentage of the still-detained men would likely turn to terrorism if released in future? Or was this a revelation that men kept in detention such as those at GITMO -- even innocent men -- would become terrorists if released because of the harsh treatment meted out to them at GITMO? Seven years in jail as an innocent man might do that for me. Hard to tell.

As for the fear-mongering: "When we get people who are more interested in reading the rights to an Al Qaeda (sic) terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry," Cheney said. Who in the Obama administration has insisted on reading any al-Qa'ida terrorist his rights? More to the point, who in that administration is not interested in protecting the United States -- a clear implication of Cheney's remarks.

But far worse is the unmistakable stoking of the 20 million listeners of Rush Limbaugh, half of whom we could label, judiciously, as half-baked nuts. Such remarks as those of the former vice president's are like waving a red flag in front of an incensed bull. And Cheney of course knows that.

Cheney went on to say in his McLean interview that "Protecting the country's security is a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business. These are evil people and we are not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek." I have to agree but the other way around. Cheney and his like are the evil people and we certainly are not going to prevail in the struggle with radical religion if we listen to people such as he.
The way I read this, Wilkerson is saying that we have more to fear from people like Cheney than we do from radical Muslims. I agree. It is encouraging to find someone who was inside W's administration saying so publicly.

What is Obama Stimulating?

The Center for American Progress has posted an "Infographic" that shows where the money from Obama's economic stimulus plan is going and when the money will be distributed.

Frankly, I would have rather seen less money going to tax cuts and more money going to green investments and help for those in need.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Who is Bearing the Burden of Taxes in Oklahoma?

The Oklahoma Policy Institute recently updated their report about "Oklahoma's Fiscal Outlook."

They provide a valuable chart on page 52 that reveals the percentage of total income that families of differing income levels are paying for state and local taxes in Oklahoma. It show that families in the lowest income bracket (representing 20% of the state's population) pay 12% of their income in state and local taxes while families in the highest income bracket (representing 1% of the state's population) only pay 8% of their income in state and local taxes.

Sooner or later, the poorest among us are going to realize that almost all of the tax cuts that have been enacted have gone to the wealthiest among us.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Karen Armstrong on Sympathetic Imagination

On Bill Moyer's Journal last week Karen Armstrong gave one of the best explanations of a historian's use of sympathetic imagination that I've ever heard. Here's what she said:

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I learned a vicious form of rhetoric from my religious superiors. and also, from my teachers at Oxford. You know? And people used to say to me, "I would really hate to be your enemy," because I have this very sharp tongue that I knew how to use it. And I get in first before someone put me down. That kind of thing.

I found that, in my studies I had to practice, what I found called in a footnote the "science of compassion." There was a phrase coined by great Islamist, Louis Massignon. Science, not in the sense of physics or chemistry but in the sense of knowledge, scientia, the Latin word for knowledge.

And Latin--the knowledge acquired by compassion. Feeling with the other. Putting yourself in the position of the other. And this footnote said that a religious historian, like myself, must not approach the spiritualities of the past from the vantage point of post enlightenment rationalism. You mustn't look on this in a superior way and look at the author of "The Cloud of Unknowing," a 14th century text as, poor soul. You know?

And you had to recreate in a scholarly fashion, all the circumstances which had resulted in this spirituality or this teaching and not leave it, or certainly not write about it, until you can imagine yourself putting yourself in that position. Imagine yourself feeling the same. So when I wrote about Muhammad, for example, I had to put myself in the position of a man living in the hell of seventh century Arabia, who sincerely believed he had been touched by God.

And unless I did that, I would miss Muhammad. I had to put clever Karen, edgy Oxford educated Karen on the back burner. And go out of myself and enter into the mind of the other. And I found, much to my astonishment, it started changing me. I couldn't any longer be quite as vicious as I was or dismissive as I was in the kind of clever conversations-

BILL MOYERS: Why? This is the first time I've heard of a born again experience beginning with a footnote. Was it your imagination that said, "I have to see this world the way Muhammad saw it and experienced it?"

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I said that this footnote is right. If I go on writing, as I had been doing up to this point for saying, "This is all rubbish." You know, I know it all. These poor benighted souls in the past didn't know what they were talking about. I was not fulfilling my job as a historian.

It was my job to go in and recreate it, enter into that spirit. Leave myself behind and enter into the mind and society and outlook of the other. It's a form of what the Greeks called ekstasis. Ecstasy. That doesn't mean you go into a trance or have a vision. It means-- ekstasis means standing outside yourself. Putting yourself behind. And it is self, it's ego that hold us back from what we call God.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Why Stock Markets are Worse than Casinos

Jim Cramer, host of CNBC's Mad Money, explains how hedge fund operators (like himself) manipulate the stock market. For him it's a game. For the rest of us, it was supposed to be a retirement income.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where wall street tycoons manipulate the markets. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destoys, and tycoons have no markets to manipulate; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Matthew 6:19-21 -- 21st Century Paraphrase.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Full Quiver Theology Examined

Buzz Flash has posted an interview with Kathryn Joyce, author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. Here's a quote:

I think also there's a milder version of this [Christian patriarchy] that often raises a few eyebrows but doesn't seem as too dangerous within the broader Christian community. They sometimes call themselves complementarians, and they speak about submission and headship, but, really, it is more in their speech than in actual practice. I think there's really a continuum. It's not that they're not taking those ideas seriously, but they use gentler language among people who are promoting it, in a more mainstream sense -- more mainstream being like the Southern Baptist Convention, which is very mainstream in numbers, but they speak explicitly about the need for wives to submit to husbands.

And this is getting some very prominent play. Mike Huckabee signed on to their 1998 doctrinal statement that women need to submit to their husbands, so this is something that's very much a part of mainstream faith. But it's tied much more closely than people acknowledge with these much more extreme elements.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On the Hazards of 401(k)s

The warning sign speaks for itself.

Here's a link to the related article at the Economic Policy Institute.

Podcast: Joe Trull Interview

Podcast (28 MB Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 3-8-09 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Joe Trull, Editor of Christian Ethics Today. We talk about the work of the Christian Ethics Today Foundation, about the work of the T.B. Maston Foundation, and about the influence of T.B. Maston.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

On Dawkins in Oklahoma

Bob Stephenson and I went to hear Richard Dawkins last night. The crowd was larger than we expected which made it hard to find a seat with a view of the screen for his powerpoint presentation.

Dawkins clearly enjoyed the notoriety connected with the resolution against him at the Oklahoma State legislature. He used it as an opportunity to make a sizeable donation to Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE) and to encourage others to do the same. I support that organization and am a member of its board of governors.

Frankly, I was not very impressed with Dawkins. His explanation of evolution was succinct and acurate, but I've heard better presentations from members of the faculty at OU.

Whenever discussion digressed from science to religion, Dawkins was generally caustic and superficial. His response to religion is merely the flip side of the reaction of fundamentalists to evolution. Neither have any place for ground in the middle.

Most disconcerting to me was the image he displayed of a mushroom cloud along with an alarm about Muslims in possession of nuclear or biological weapons. In this respect, his fear of Islam is as indiscriminate as that of most Christian fundamentalists and Jewish neocons. Such stereotyping and fearmongering does nothing to promote understanding and reduce hostility among people of goodwill who hold different convictions.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Are We Bankrupt?

Forbes Magazine has published an essay by Nouriel Roubini that concludes that "The U.S. financial system is effectively insolvent."

Roubini, professor of economics as the Stern Business School at NYU and labeled "Dr. Doom" in 2006 for his prescient predictions of the current global meltdown, also says the debate over nationalizing banks is "surreal." Here's a quote:
In the meantime, the massacre in financial markets and among financial firms is continuing. The debate on "bank nationalization" is borderline surreal, with the U.S. government having already committed -- between guarantees, investment, recapitalization and liquidity provision -- about $9 trillion of government financial resources to the financial system (and having already spent $2 trillion of this staggering $9 trillion figure).

Thus, the U.S. financial system is de facto nationalized, as the Federal Reserve has become the lender of first and only resort rather than the lender of last resort, and the U.S. Treasury is the spender and guarantor of first and only resort. The only issue is whether banks and financial institutions should also be nationalized de jure.

On the Hoax in the Arctic

Richard Land, Director of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, thinks global warming is a "hoax" and a "scam" because sunspots are fading and the sun is going into a quiescent period. Instead of global warming, Land expects global cooling in the future.

Meanwhile, the Arctic ice keeps melting down and and sea water keeps absorbing more heat from Land's "quiescent" sun. Today, scientists in Quebec are predicting that the Arctic sea ice will be completely melted in the summer of 2013.

It doesn't look like it will take much longer to learn who it is that is perpetrating a hoax in their predictions of climate change.

Religious Right Weak on Social Justice

Ethics Daily has posted an outstanding essay by Jim Evans about the inconsistency of the religious right when addressing social issues.

This one should be read in its entirety. Here's a link:

Baptists Bet Casinos, not Taxes, are Moral Issue

Thursday, March 05, 2009

On Humorless Hermeneutics

I'm generally a fan of Miguel De La Torre, but his recent essay asking "Was Jesus a Racist?" appears to me to be an example of a hermeneutic that lacks imagination and a sense of humor.

Miguel's interpretation of Jesus' conversation with a Canaanite woman seeking healing for her daughter in Matthew 15:21-28 assumes that Jesus was gravely serious when talking to her. Jesus said "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It is not good to take the bread of the children and throw it to the dogs." Miguel views Jesus as both condoning and reflecting a Jewish prejudice that equated Canaanites with dogs.

Elton Trueblood in his book The Humor of Christ offers a significantly different interpretation of this encounter. Trueblood notes that humor rarely translates well cross-culturally and that the biblical writers fail to make note of vocal tone and facial expressions when recording conversations. That means that words that may well have been spoken with a smile on the face and a wink in the eye will appear harsh and cruel when written down. By its nature, the language of humor is ironic and not meant to be taken literally.

Trueblood makes much of the way the Canaanite woman reacted to Jesus. She did not take offense at what he said. Instead, her witty response, "Even the dogs feed on the crumbs from the Master's table" demonstrated both an ability to transcend racial stereotypes and a sense of humor. That Jesus was clearly delighted with her retort reveals that he also transcended racial stereotypes and had a sense of humor.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Second Baddest Bear

Doug Short at the dshort.com website updated his "Four Bad Bears" chart indicating the relative severity of bear markets since 1929.

It's not a pretty picture, but it makes it clear that we are in the second baddest bear market in U.S. history.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Podcast: Interview with Micheal Salem

Podcast (6.8 MB Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 3-1-09 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Micheal Salem, Oklahoma's leading constitutional lawyer. We discuss the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in the Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum case. That decision declared that all monuments on government property represent government speech.

We also discuss the relevance of this decision to the pending case before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the Ten Commandments monument on the courthouse lawn in Haskell County Oklahoma. We touch briefly on legislation before the legislature to erect a Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma state capitol.