Friday, March 26, 2010

State of Belief Interview

Welton Gaddy was in Oklahoma City for an Interfaith Alliance forum this week. While he was here he interviewed me about the work of the Religious Right in Oklahoma for his State of Belief radio program.

That interview will air this weekend. Here's a link for further information and (eventually) a podcast.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Netanyahu Spits in Obama's Eye

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Obama today in what was supposed to have been an effort to repair the breach in relations between the U.S. and Israel over the Israeli government's continuing support for the creation of settlements on Palestinian land. Netanyahu, however, made it clear from the start that the conference would not be productive and would be another futile exercise. He did that by simultaneously releasing news that more settlements in East Jerusalem have been approved.

Eitan Cabel, an Israeli legislator in Netanyahu's own labor party, contends that, "Netanyahu decided to spit into Obama's eye, this time from up close. He and his pyromaniac ministers insist on setting the Middle East ablaze."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Southern Baptists Leaders Lying About Health Care Legislation

Anyone who sought out sources other than Fox News and Baptist Press should know by now that the Health Care bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Sunday night does not fund elective abortions.

For those who want a record of the documented falsehoods told by Richard Land and other Southern Baptist leaders regarding health care legislation, Brian Kaylor has an excellent essay about this on Ethics Daily.

For those who are firmly convinced that foetal life is more valuable than maternal life whenever complications arise in pregnancy, head on back to Fox News and Baptist Press.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Podcast: Ryan Valentine Interview


Podcast (28MB Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 3-21-10 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Ryan Valentine, Deputy Director of the Texas Freedom Network. We talk about the Texas State Board of Education and recent revisions to the curriculum standards for public school textbooks.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Stand Up to the Texas State Board of Education


Working Assets has made it easy for people to communicate their displeasure with the revisionist history being adopted by the Texas State Board of Education. Textbooks for Texas have oversized influence on public school textbooks around the country.

Here's a link where you can send an e-mail to public school textbook publishers protesting the actions of the Texas State Board of Education.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Texas: American Headquarters for Revisionist History

Robert Parham has posted an outstanding essay entitled, "Texas Becomes Ground Zero for Revisionist History." He cites three examples that have recently been in the news. Dick Army's assertion that Jamestown colony was a socialist venture, Karl Rove's denial that the Bush administration expected Iraqi oil to pay for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the Texas Board of Education's vote to promote radical right ideology in public school texbooks.

Here are a couple more longstanding examples of historical revisionism in Texas. Texas is home to David Barton and his Wallbuilders organization which works tirelessly to rewrite the history of the U.S. Constitution and promote the mythology of Christian Nationalism. An ally in this cause is Gary North, son-in-law of the late Rousas Rushdoony, who promotes a more radical Christian Reconstructionist agenda.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Oklahoma Legislature Making Life Hard for Catholics

Evidence is mounting that the GOP dominated Oklahoma state legislature has an agenda to officially establish a conservative, evangelical form of Christianity by force of law.

The religious right has had an active and vocal presence in politics since the 1970's when Oklahoma became the first state to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment. Now, nearly a generation later, the religious right in Oklahoma has the political clout in the legislature to pass any legislation that they want.

What kind of legislation have they passed?

Last year they passed some of the most stringent anti-immigrant legislation in the country. Since most of the undocumented aliens in Oklahoma have been Roman Catholics, they managed both to retard the growth of Catholic churches and reduce their attendance as immigrants left the state.

Also last year they passed legislation to erect a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the State Capitol. That monument has yet to be erected, but when it is unveiled it will most certainly chisel the Protestant Christian numbering of the commandments onto granite.

This year they are pushing legislation that will promote the teaching of a fundamentalist Protestant interpretation of the Bible as part of the public school curriculum. Senate Bill 1338 as submitted proposed allowing an objective and academic study of the Bible and made provision for teachers to be trained to follow constitutional safeguards regarding religious instruction within the public schools. Those provisions were stripped from the bill and replaced by a requirement that teachers use "the Christian Bible" and a curriculum prepared by the right-wing evangelical National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS). The NCBCPS curriculum was considered unconstitutional in the case of Gibson v. Lee County School Board. It was declared unconstitutional because, among many other things, it openly belittles Catholic theology. The NCBCPS curriculum also uses the King James Version of the Bible that omits the Apocryphal books that are included in Catholic versions of the Bible.

Not long ago the NCBCPS curriculum was used in a Texas school district. It was subsequently challenged and then removed because of its unconstitutionality. That version of the NCBCPS characterized Roman Catholic beliefs in the transformation of communion bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ as "warped" thinking brought on by "mysticism." It also disputed the validity of the Apocryphal books of the Bible.

Clearly there is an agenda at the Oklahoma state capitol. It looks more and more like our elected leaders are determined to create the impression that persons of the Catholic faith, as well as all other persons of minority faith, are second class citizens.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Texas Republicans Repudiate Thomas Jefferson

The Texas Freedom Network ran a live blog of the Texas Board of Education's revision of Social Studies textbook standards last week. The Religious Right majority decided to banish Thomas Jefferson from public school text books.

They replaced him with the study of Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone.

According to board member Cynthia Dunbar Jefferson was demoted because his ideas were "based on other political philosophers."

Obviously, the Republican members of Texas Board of Education have little appreciation for the political and intellectual achievements of Thomas Jefferson. Their ideology clearly has more affinity with the Roman and Genevan theocracies that were championed by Aquinas and Calvin than for the American political union separating church and state that Jefferson championed.

On the Reemergence of Ralph Reed

Sarah Posner has posted an insightful story at Religion Dispatches about Ralph Reed's new Faith and Freedom Coalition (FFC) which will attempt to unite the Religious Right with the Tea Partiers. James Robison and Richard Land have been lending their weight to his efforts.

Posner says efforts to organize FFC affiliates are "already underway in Florida, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, California, Virginia, and Tennessee."

Hmmm, no mention of organizing in Oklahoma and Texas. I'll keep an eye out in Oklahoma.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Make Up Your Mind Al Mohler (revised)

Al Mohler has posted a blog praising the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for affirming the constitutionality of using the phrase "under God" in the pledge of allegiance and "In God We Trust" on our coinage. He writes,
This decision is good news, and comes as something of a relief -- especially considering the fact that the Ninth Circuit is involved. There is no substance to the claim that these two phrases violate the Constitution. Furthermore, they represent only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to such questions. This kind of language pervades official discourse - extending even to the phrase "the year of our Lord" in the dating of many government documents.
Mohler then notes that the court determined that the phrases have "no theological significance:"
The court has ruled, in effect, that the language of these contested phrases represents what is rightly called "civil religion." In essence, civil religion is the mass religion that serves the purposes of the state and the culture as a unifying force -- a rather bland and diffused religiosity -- an innocuous theology with little specificity.

Christians must never confuse civil religion with the real thing. When our fellow citizens recite the pledge, it is not to be taken as a statement of personal faith in God. In that sense, Christians are rightly concerned that we make clear what authentic faith in God requires and means. Confusing civil religion with Christianity is deadly dangerous.

On the other hand, Christians are well aware of the constant danger of idolatry, and no entity rivals a powerful government in terms of the idolatrous temptation. In that sense, it is healthy and good that we employ language that relativizes the power and authority of the state. It is both important and healthy that our motto places trust in God, and not in the state. And the knowledge that the nation exists "under God" is no small matter.
Mohler is obviously obfuscating here. Civil religion is deadly and dangerous. Civil religion fashions a god that is subservient to the State and uses religion to bolster an idolatrous form of nationalism. Mohler clearly perceives that this is what the Supreme Court has done in this ruling, yet he praises it as "good news."

This decision is not good news, it is bad news for people of genuine faith and conviction. It makes Christians not only complicit but active promoters of a sin for which God warns he will not hold us guiltless.

Only a false prophet eager to accomodate the itching ears of an idolatrous people could find anthing commendable in news that one of the highest courts in the land has officially declared that the name of God has no theological meaning.

The 9th Circuit, following the U.S. Supreme Court, has legalized what the third command of the Ten Commandments expressly prohibits: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain."

Mohler also managed to write a book on the Ten Commandments, Words From the Fire, that failed to comprehend and address the Supreme Court's violation of the the third commandment in its 1984 Lynch vs. Donnelly decision.

Lenten Devotion

Psalm 99 (New American Standard Bible)

The LORD reigns, let the peoples tremble;
He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake!

The LORD is great in Zion,
And He is exalted above all the peoples.

Let them praise Your great and awesome name;
Holy is He.

The strength of the King loves justice;
You have established equity;
You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.

Exalt the LORD our God
And worship at His footstool;
Holy is He.

Moses and Aaron were among His priests,
And Samuel was among those who called on His name;
They called upon the LORD and He answered them.

He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;
They kept His testimonies
And the statute that He gave them.

O LORD our God, You answered them;
You were a forgiving God to them,
And yet an avenger of their evil deeds.

Exalt the LORD our God
And worship at His holy hill,
For holy is the LORD our God.

Reflection

We live at a time when conflict characterizes much family life; when extremist rhetoric and violence haunt religious life; when an “each man for himself” philosophy prevails in civic life; when unrestrained greed dominates economic life; when miserly wealth and self-interested power controls political life; and when perpetual war defines international relations. It would not be hard to make the case that we are living in the worst of times.

The Psalmist, no doubt, could have made the same case for his time. We live in a fallen world. If we are going to face life with confidence and hope, we are going to have to do it as the Psalmist did -- by faith and not by sight.

Those with faith to see by the light of eternity know that all nations have reason to tremble. We can see that God is still on his throne, that God is still holy, and that God still loves justice. Trembling is in order because we know we live at a time and place that God judges to be unwilling to extend equal justice for all, wanting in compassion for the poor, giving mere lip service to love for neighbor, and reluctant to show hospitality to the stranger. A time is coming when all who have created and/or benefitted from the inequities and injustices of the social systems of this world will have to face the Lord of the universe. Trembling is in order because, whether we like it or not, we are part of this unjust social system and we are among its beneficiaries.

Those who have eyes to see by the light of eternity also know that we have good reason to rejoice, praise God, and worship God. God still answers those who call on his name and God is still forgiving.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, may every Christian tremble until all mankind knows about your love and grace. Amen.

This devotion was prepared for NorthHaven Church's book of Lenten Devotions for 2010.

Lenten Prayer of Humility

Psalm 25:6-10 (New American Standard Bible)

Remember, O LORD, Your compassion and Your lovingkindnesses,
For they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
According to Your lovingkindness remember me,
For Your goodness' sake, O LORD.
Good and upright is the LORD;
Therefore He instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in justice,
And He teaches the humble His way.
All the paths of the LORD are lovingkindness and truth
To those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.


Prayer of Humility


Our most gracious heavenly father,

We come to you with humble and contrite hearts this evening.

We know that our ways are not your ways. We all want our own way -- and that gets in the way of what you want to do in our lives, our homes, our church, and our community. We confess that even after you have instructed us in your way -- each of us has gone our own way. Forgive us, Lord.

May your grace and mercy blot out the memory of our sins and shortcomings and restore a clean heart within us. Thank-you for loving us more than we deserve. Help us to learn to love others the way that you have loved us.

Let this Lenten season become time for a reflection and renewal and let it become a fresh opportunity to commit ourselves to showing the kind of humility that you revealed to us in the incarnation of your Son.

Deliver us from the desire for approval by others, for praise from others, and for preference over others.

Give us courage to accept whatever ridicule, rejection and rebuke we must face for walking in your ways -– even when this comes from your followers.

Grant us the grace to see more in others than they see in us, to give others more than we receive from them, and to love others more than they love us.

We ask this in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen.

This prayer was given at NorthHaven Church's 2010 Ash Wednesday service.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

On Zealotry in Law

Thirty-eight years ago I was working on an undergraduate degree in criminology and corrections. The course I took on Constitutional Law was taught by a prominent local criminal defense lawyer. Many of the students in the class were police officers and some of them had actually been involved in cases that the professor had litigated.

I will never forget the day when the professor decided to discuss the right of every person to have "zealous representation" in court. One of the seasoned police officers in the room objected to some of the "zealotry" that he had been subjected to by the professor while the professor was defending a client. The officer graphically described a sequence of questions that he considered to have been inappropriate, unwarranted, and demeaning to his personal integrity. The professor tried to elevate the discussion above the level of subjectivity toward more objective and abstract legal considerations. Soon another police office chimed in with his own experience of what he considered to be "overly zealous representation" in court. One after another, the police officers in the class raised their objections. Collectively, they rode him about this for more than an hour without let up. No one else in the class could get a word in edge wise. I felt sorry for the professor. I could not understand the vehemence and the mob mentality that was on display in the room that day.

A few weeks later, the semester ended and I began a summer internship with the Albuquerque office of the state of New Mexico's Department of Probation and Parole. One of my first assignments was to go to the courthouse to observe and report back on sentences that were given to people who had previously been convicted of criminal offenses. The department had submitted pre-sentence reports on each of those convicted.

To my surprise, I discovered that one of the convicts was being represented by my constitutional law professor. I knew that the criminal he represented, the son of a prominent businessman, had been convicted of selling heroin to grade school children -– eleven and twelve year olds. In his case, the pre-sentence report was perfunctory because the sentence was not in doubt. New Mexico law at that time required that every person convicted of selling drugs would serve time in prison. Legally, there was no possibility that this person could be placed on probation.

When the time came for my professor's client to be sentenced, the professor contended that this was his client's first felony conviction. For convictions as an adult, that was true. The professor had a convenient lapse of memory about his previous felony convictions as a juvenile. The professor then told the judge that since it was the first felony conviction and the client only sold drugs to support his own drug habit, the judge could put him on probation. At that point, the prosecuting attorney objected and insisted that the law required that the convict spend time in prison. The newly elected judge clearly was not conversant with the requirements of this law. She agreed with my professor and declared that the convict should be placed on probation. My professor and his client made a quick exit from the courtroom.

The prosecutor raced down a hallway to retrieve a copy of the state statute, brought it to the judge and she quietly reversed her previous ruling. Then the police were summoned to track down the missing convict, re-arrest him, and see that he began serving time at the state prison.

I knew that my professor was lying to the judge about the requirements of the state statute regarding drug dealers. He was also my professor for a course on criminal law. That law was a topic of extensive discussion in that course.

In the brief span of one hour, on the day of my very first exposure to the courts, I began to comprehend what had previously been incomprehensible -– the reason for the rage of the police officers in my constitutional law class. I had also become an eye-witness to the huge disparity between the law as it exists in theory and the law as it is practiced.

Both in theory and in practice every person should have the right to vigorous and effective legal counsel. Ken Starr and others are right to challenge Liz Cheney and others who have attacked the patriotism of the Department of Justice lawyers who represented Guantanamo detainees.

Vigorous representation, however, does not mean transgressing the spirit and intent of our constitution and system of law. Nor does effective counsel mean attorneys should be free to succeed by contrivances that manufacture deceptive artifices, spin half-truths into plausible alibis, and negate the truth.

All lawyers are "officers of the court." They have a duty to uphold the rule of law, to preserve the integrity of our system of justice, and to serve the common good by working to improve our system of justice. Zealotry on the part of either the prosecution or the defense within our legal system tends toward excesses that serve to undermine confidence in the courts.

More than anything else, we need lawyers with the intelligence to know the legal limits and the integrity to observe the ethical limits of what they should do in their profession.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Podcast: Rabbi Russell Fox Interview


Podcast (34MB wav) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 3-7-10 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Rabbi Russell Fox. We talk about Jewish identity, Jews for Jesus, and the work of the Lammed Institute.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Regarding High School Bible Courses

Dalen Jackson, academic dean and professor of biblical studies at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, recently had an Op-Ed published in the Lexington Herald-Leader warning the Christians that they might be disappointed with the outcome of that state's Bible literacy bill. Here are some of the things that should be of concern to Christians:
Court rulings have established that any Bible class in public schools must be taught in an objective, academic manner.

But academic scholarship on the Bible exposes it to scrutiny that many Christians will find objectionable, such as subjecting its narratives to questions about their historicity.

The stories of the patriarchs, the fall of Jericho, and the resurrection of Jesus are just a few of the stories that many scholars consider not to correspond to actual historical events on the basis of a variety of critical methodologies, from archeology to anthropology to the analysis of the rhetorical intentions of the writers.

On the other hand, most Kentuckians hold understandings of the biblical characters and narratives that are shaped by and passed along within their communities of faith, in contexts of religious belief and practice.

When reading of an anointed leader foretold by the prophet Isaiah, many Christians associate that character immediately with Jesus.

Within a Jewish faith community, however, the same reference calls up vastly different associations.

While some mainline churches accept scholarly study of the Bible and adapt their faith understandings to its insights, many Christian traditions explicitly reject this approach to understanding the Bible.

Many more are blissfully unaware of the scholarly challenges to their ways of interpreting the Bible.

Thus well-meaning teachers who have read the Bible all their lives might seem qualified to teach Bible courses but, without intentional training in the academic study of the Bible, they would simply pass along the understandings of the biblical characters and narratives shaped by their faith traditions.
Oklahoma has found an interesting way to bypass the concerns that Jackson has raised. The Oklahoma state senate recently passed its own version of a bible class bill. Originally the bill apears to have had language similar to the bill in Kentucky. Oklahoma state senators, however, stripped the constitutional safeguards, academic standards and teacher training requirements from the bill and replaced them with a requirement that the National Council on Bible Curriculum for Public Schools (NCBCPS) curriculum be used.

Courts have already ruled that NCBCPS curriculum is unconstitutional.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Bad Form in New Jersey


Police asked a family in New Jersey to clothe their snow sculpture after their neighbors complained that it was too risque.

Bad form.

I agree with Ms Gonzalez. It's much worse with the bikini top and sarong.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Neo-Cons Attack Fethullah Gulen

Soner Cagaptay, a Senior Fellow at one of America's most prestigious neo-conservative think tanks, published a couple essays today (here and here) defaming the Turkish Islamic philosopher and scholar Fethullah Gulen and the movement of moderate Sufi Muslims who are inspired by him. He labels Gulen and his followers as "ultraconservative," allies them with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, and contends that the AKP "has become increasingly authoritarian."

I would differ with Cagaptay on two points. First, my study of Gulen's teachings and my experience with those who are inspired by him indicates that their views are relatively progressive, tolerant and enlightened within the world of Islamic faith. Labeling them "ultraconservative" is a gross distortion. Second, while allegations of illegal wiretapping is a matter of great concern and should not be swept under the carpet, similar allegations have been made against the government in our own country almost on a daily basis since 9-11. There is no doubt in my mind that the current AKP administration is far less "authoritarian" than the administrations set up by no less than three military coup d'etat's since 1960.

Turkey suffers under a French model of church-state relations known as laicism which deprives the citizenry of liberty of conscience and uses the power of government to enforce secularity. The Turkish people would be much better served by the American model of church-state relations which both disestablishes religion and ensures the free exercise of religion.

For Americans to comprehend the situation in Turkey, they need only imagine what would happen if the military threatened to overthrow the government every time the first lady, in accord with her private religious convictions, wore a cross on her necklace in public.

For more detailed refutations of Cagaptay's allegations, check here and here.

Supreme Court Affirms 10 Commandments Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied Haskell County's request that it review and overturn the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision that declared unconstitutional the 10 Commandments monument at the courthouse in Stigler.

Oklahoma's Monument to American theocracy has officially been declared unconstitutional.

Congratulations to Jim Green and the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

On Racism and Religion in America

USC News has published a story about the results of a USC study published in the February issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review. The study conducted a meta-analysis of 55 independent studies carried out in the United States with more than 20,000 mostly Christian participants. It found that members of religious congregations tend to harbor prejudiced views of other races. Here are some of the study's alarming conclusions as related by Professor Wendy Wood, one of the study's authors:
"People who were religious because of their respect for tradition and social convention were especially likely to be racist," Wood said, though adding that the strength of the correlation declined somewhat as racism became less socially acceptable.

"The effect stays significant even in recent years. For people who are religious for conservative reasons [respect for tradition, social conventionalism], they have become less racist in recent years as racism has become less socially acceptable. But even they are still significantly racist, just that the effect has reduced in magnitude," Wood explained.

Wood and her co-authors also found little difference in racist attitudes between religious fundamentalists and more moderate Christians. The second group tended to pay lip service to racial equality but harbored the same prejudices.

"What we found with that group of people was really no different from everyone else," Wood said.
Hat tip to Robert Cunningham for calling my attention to this article.