Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On the Dangers of Credulity

Thanks to Dr. James McGrath at the Exploring our Matrix weblog for calling attention to W. K. Clifford's essay, "The Ethics of Belief." I read this essay years ago and read it again to refresh my memory.

In light of the daily news about our misinformed electorate, Clifford's paragraphs about the dangers of credulity are especially timely:
The harm which is done by credulity in a man is not confined to the fostering of a credulous character in others, and consequent support of false beliefs. Habitual want of care about what I believe leads to habitual want of care in others about the truth of what is told to me. Men speak the truth to one another when each reveres the truth in his own mind and in the other’s mind; but how shall my friend revere the truth in my mind when I myself am careless about it, when I believe things because I want to believe them, and because they are comforting and pleasant? Will he not learn to cry, "Peace," to me, when there is no peace? By such a course I shall surround myself with a thick atmosphere of falsehood and fraud, and in that I must live. It may matter little to me, in my cloud-castle of sweet illusions and darling lies; but it matters much to Man that I have made my neighbours ready to deceive. The credulous man is father to the liar and the cheat; he lives in the bosom of this his family, and it is no marvel if he should become even as they are. So closely are our duties knit together, that whoso shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it — the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Feeling for Haskell County

I got an e-mail today taking me to task for labeling the people of Haskell County as "simpleminded" in my July 28th blog "Christian Nationalism Costs Haskell County". The e-mail said,
I would like to point out, though, that quite a few residents were not "simpleminded" enough to swallow Barton's mythology "hook, line and sinker." They simply were not involved in the matter, thought they had no choice in the matter, or felt they were being tolerant of someone else's religious beliefs and that the whole thing was harmless. Thinking it was harmless was their mistake, but a lot of people make mistakes. . . .

Have you spent much time in Haskell County, other than observing the shenanigans on the court house lawn? Many, if not most of the residents of Haskell County, are too busy for this nonsense. This is a desperately poor county, and many are simply trying to keep their lives scotch-taped together in spite of unemployment, underemployment, food insecurity, no health insurance, drug problems, cuts to schools, and so on. Haskell County has many failings. . . . But it is also full of kind, loving, hardworking, generous and yes, very intelligent people. Not simple minded people. I would say it is wrong for you to characterize the folks of Haskell County as the "poor residents of Haskell County." This was the doing of a handful of people -- some of them good, some not so good, some bull-headed, some arrogant, some simply ignorant of the consequences of their choices, but not all simple-minded.

I responded in a couple e-mails to clarify that I did not use the word "simpleminded" to describe the people of Haskell County and did not mean to leave that impression. In speaking of the "poor residents of Haskell County," I intended to convey the thought that I feel that the people of Haskell County have been victimized. I feel for them and I fear they may not fully realize what forces led to their victimization. In another e-mail to this respondent I spoke about those forces:

I did not mean to paint everyone in Haskell County with the same broad brush. I have several friends in Stigler and know that they did not support the monument on the courthouse lawn, but were overwhelmed by the popular sentiment in support of it.

I doubt that the civic culture in Haskell County differs very much from that in Noble, Moore, Yukon, or Mustang. In such places the most trusted source for news is the "Fair and Balanced" reporting they see on Fox News -- which promotes a Christian Nationalist agenda. Watching religious programming dominated by TV evangelists pushing a Christian Nationalist and/or Christian Reconstructionist agenda, consumes a lot of the time that many retirees spend within their homes. Religious radio, dominated by radio evangelists and talk-show hosts pushing a Christian Nationalist and/or Christian Reconstructionist agenda, fills a lot of the time for many Christians when they are in their automobiles.

It is difficult to find alternative voices and perspectives on local radio, television or on the editorial pages of the newspaper in Oklahoma City. I doubt that it is any easier in Haskell County.

What I meant to communicate, albeit poorly, is that the culture in Oklahoma and throughout the South has been misleading Americans about our nation's history and constitution. The people in Haskell Country were encouraged by their religious culture and by bad legal advice (the Alliance Defense Fund) to step into the frontlines of a culture war being waged by Christian Nationalists and Christian Reconstructionists. The people of Haskell County are now casualties of that war.

Meanwhile, the Alliance Defense Fund and the TV Evangelists and radio personalities who make a living working to undermine the First Amendment are sending out appeals for money and profiting handsomely from the losses of the people in Haskell County.

I wonder how many people in Haskell County realize how they have been used by James Dobson, David Barton, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, Jerry Falwell, Jr and others? I suspect most of them are mad at the courts more than they are at the Alliance Defense Fund and the TV preachers who misled them.

Someone from Haskell County needs to take the Alliance Defense Fund to task -- openly and with much publicity -- for giving your county commissioners a lot of bad legal advice. Some people from Haskell County need to read the legal transcripts themselves, face the facts, and admit that they were deceived by the voices speaking for religion that they trusted.

Until that happens, more good-hearted, well-intentioned people in other counties will make similar mistakes and find themselves sacrificed like the people in Haskell County.

Please don't misunderstand my intentions. I am not opposed to religion. I am a Baptist minister very much interested in proclaiming and sharing my faith. I am just opposed to doing it in ways that are impersonal, arrogant, demeaning and coercive toward those who need to hear and respond to the message of the gospel the most.

What Does West Virginia Owe to Kazakhstan

Hint: It's golden and delicious.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Seen a "Flock of Dodo's" ?

I have agreed to serve on a panel discussion in September after a viewing of the independent film "Flock of Dodos." Judging from the trailer below, I think I am going to enjoy this.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Money Behind the Tea Party Movement

New Yorker Magazine has published a story entitled "Covert Operations: the billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama." The brothers are David and Charles Koch of Koch Industries in Kansas.

The article provides an eye-opening explanation for the surge of incendiary, irate, and irrational political activism over the last eighteen months. The title, however, is too restrictive. The war being waged is against more than a single politician. It is a war against a just and equitable society.

Religious Liberty an Immutable Right

The Editors at the Christian Century magazine have posted an outstanding editorial about the "Immutable Right" to religious liberty in their September 7 issue. They call attention to the role of Baptists in securing that right in this country:
Back in the early 1800s it was the Baptists who felt harassed by the majority religion. They worried that their liberties were regarded by the majority—the Congregationalists—as favors that could be taken away at any time rather than as an immutable right. In a letter to President Thomas Jefferson, a group of Connecticut Baptists sought support for their conviction "that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions" and "that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbors."

It took years for the nation to sort out the meaning of religious freedom, but it eventually endorsed the vision of liberty that those early Baptists expressed.
They also deftly critique the contra-constitutional opinions of Sarah Palin, Richard Land and particularly Newt Gingrich. Gingrich contends that "there should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia." The Christian Century counters:
Gingrich expressed precisely the view that those early Baptists feared. He treats religious freedom as something that the majority can give or withhold as it sees fit—as a political bargaining chip, not an immutable right.

Gingrich misunderstands the constitutional order he thinks he is defending. The right of U.S. citizens to build a mosque has nothing to do with what Saudi Arabia chooses to do. It is a right guaranteed in the First Amendment. And in the Jeffersonian tradition, it is a right ultimately based in the freedom that God gives to all humans.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How "The Family" Made Uganda the Frontline Against Homosexuals

Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family, interviewed David Bahati, a member of the Parliament in Uganda, who says he wants "to kill every last gay person" and introduced legislation to eradicate homosexuality in Uganda.

In an interview on NPR's Fresh Air, Sharlet comments on the direct links between Bahati and the politically influential Religious Right Fellowship known as "The Family" in Washington, D.C.:
"I discovered ... that there was this very direct relationship," Sharlet says. "And [the Fellowship members] are emphatic and saying: 'We haven't killed any gay people in Uganda. This isn't what we had in mind. We didn't pull the trigger.' And that's true. They didn't pull the trigger. But there's a sense in which they built the gun, which was this institutional idea of government being decided by small groups of elite leaders like Bahati, getting together and trying to conform government to their idea of Biblical law. And this is what their American benefactors wanted them to do."

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Triumph of "Biting" Interest

As new regulation on the finance industry became effective this weekend, news reports are indicating that the average interest rate on credit cards is 14.7%. The highest level of average interest in 9 years and 11.45% above the prime interest rate (the largest gap in 22 years).

This information makes it clear that the finance industry’s well paid lobbyists were very effective on Capitol Hill. Not long ago, profit margins and interest rates like this would have been considered “biting” interest.

Ancient Israel had a lot stronger regulation on loans than we do. The Mosaic law prohibited charging “your brother” interest and all the tribes of Abraham were blood brothers. For Hebrews it was only permissible to charge interest to “a foreigner.” (Deut. 23:19-20)

The early Christians, considering each other brothers and sisters in Christ, extended the Deuteronomic prohibition against usury to all who shared their faith. Charging interest to even those outside the faith was viewed as a form of theft and harmful. Throughout the first millennia of Christian history, the opinion of Ambrose (c. 337-397 A.D.) prevailed:
He fights without a weapon who demands usury: he who revenges himself upon an enemy, who is an interest collector from his foe, fights without a sword. Therefore, where there is a right of war, there also is the right of usury.
During the time of the Crusades, the Popes began to chafe at the interest they had to pay on the loans that they obtained from Jewish moneylenders (who could charge interest in good faith) to finance their wars to reclaim the Holy Land. Then Christian theologians started questioning the right of anyone to charge interest and began noticing the admonition in Christ’s sermon on the plain:
Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:35 emphasis added)
Ultimately, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) summarized the Roman Church’s new found emphasis on the brotherhood of all men in his Summa Theologica:
The Jews were forbidden to take usury from their brethren, i.e., from other Jews. By this we are given to understand that to take usury from any man is simply evil, because we ought to treat every man as our neighbor and brother, especially in the state of the Gospel, whereunto all are called. (Emphasis added)
As Benjamin Nelson recounts in his book, The Idea of Usury: From Tribal Brotherhood to Universal Otherhood (1949), Aquinas’ view of the universal brotherhood of mankind held sway until the age of the Reformation. After writing forcefully against the idea of usury, Luther sided with the territorial princes who put down the peasants revolting against monopoly prices on rent contracts and exorbitant interest rates on loans (as high as 60%). Luther and Melanchthon began denouncing legalistic pronouncements about usury and announced that the Christian is free to lend his money and charge as much interest as conscience would permit (for Luther, no more than 5%).

In Nelson’s view, John Calvin inaugurated a “transvaluation of values” by replacing both the Hebrew tribal brotherhood and Aquinas’ universal brotherhood with the idea of a “Universal Otherhood, where all become “brothers” in being equally “others.” He made it permissible to charge interest even to a brother.

Calvin interpreted scriptures to forbid only “biting” usury – interest taken from the defenseless poor. “If we wholly condemn usury,” he said, “we impose tighter fetters on the conscience than God himself.” Realizing that putting an end to usuries was impractical, Calvin said “we must make concession to the common utility” and concluded that:
Usury is not now unlawful, except in so far as it contravenes equity and brotherly union. Let each one, then, place himself before God’s judgment seat, and not do to his neighbor what he would not have done to himself, from whence a sure and infallible decision may be come to. To exercise the trade of usury, since heathen writers counted it amongst disgraceful and base modes of gain, is much less tolerable among the children of God; but in what cases, and how far it may be lawful to receive usury upon loans, the law of equity will better prescribe than any lengthened discussions.
Calvin and his fellow ministers fixed the maximum rate of usury at 5%. Those who charged more risked losing their principal plus a fine.

Calvin’s idea of “universal otherhood” has clearly become the predominant economic viewpoint of the modern world. It is equally clear that the boundaries within which Luther, Calvin and their contemporaries hoped to confine the practice of usury have been themselves been “transvalued.”

Today, the “defenseless poor” are forced to pay the highest interest rates. “Biting” usury is not only commonplace, it is considered to be among the best business practices of our strongest and largest lenders.

If the poorest Americans can obtain a credit card at all, they will be required to pay an interest rate of more than 20%. Military personnel can be charged up to 36% interest for a payday loan. Other low income Americans have legally been charged up to 400% interest by payday lenders.

It is time for another “transvaluation of values.” If modern society cannot exist with credit and credit cannot exist without interest, then something must be done to make sure that the poorest among us have access to credit at a reasonable rate of interest.

Luther and Calvin put a cap on interest at 5%. Why can’t we negotiate a range somewhere between that and the 14.7% average that we see on credit cards today?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Baptists and the Rise of the Religious Right

Ethics Daily is featuring a story today that recounts the transformation in American politics that came at the Religious Roundtable's National Affairs Briefing in 1980. By nearly all accounts, that event marks the emergence of the Religious Right as a political force. Brian Kaylor provides a Who's Who list of SBC takeover leaders who spoke at the event:
Southern Baptists joining Reagan in speaking at the event included W. A. Criswell, Adrian Rogers, then Southern Baptist Convention President Bailey Smith, Charles Stanley, James Robison and Ed McAteer.
The backstory that led up to that moment in Dallas is little known. Among the key early organizers of the Religious Right were Bill Bright, a Presbyterian, and Billy Graham, a Baptist.

In 1974 and 1975 Bill Bright convened a series of secret meetings with 20-25 key Christian Right leaders. They formed Third Century Publishers to publish books and study guides to link their political agenda with conservative Christianity. They needed a tax-exempt foundation to receive donations to help them with the for-profit Third Century Publishers. Bright with the help of Richard DeVoss, president of Amway Corp., and Art DeMoss, board chairman of National Liberty Insurance Co., took over the financially troubled Christian Freedom Foundation to solicit funds for their publishing company. They hired Ed McAteer to run it. DeMoss later publicly stated that the purpose of CFF was to elect Christian conservatives to Congress in 1976:
"The vision is to rebuild the foundations of the Republic as it was when first founded--a 'Christian Republic.' We must return to the faith of our fathers." [John Saloma, Ominous Politics: The New Consevative Labrynth(pp. 53-54).
McAteer, a Baptist layman at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis where Adrian Rogers was pastor, later founded the Religious Roundtable (1979). Both the SBC takeover movement (begun in 1979) and the Religious Roundtable gained impetus from a meeting that Bill Bright, along with evangelist Billy Graham, called at a hotel in Dallas. Among them were Adrian Rogers, Charles Stanley, Jimmy Draper, Pat Robertson, Rex Humbard, Clayton Bell (Billy Graham's brother-in-law), and James Robison.

James Robison's account of the meeting is recorded in William Martin's With God on our Side, (pp. 206-07):
"Billy Graham said, 'I believe God has shown me that unless we have a change in America, we have a thousand days as a free nation . . . three years.' Bill Bright said, 'I know. . . . I do not believe we'll survive more than three years as a free nation. It's that serious.' And Pat Robertson said, 'I believe the same thing.' Charles Stanley was standing there and I can just remember so well, he put his hand down on the table with resolve and said, 'I'll give my life to stop this. I'll give everything I've got to turn this country.' And I said, 'Me too. I'll die to turn this country. Whatever it takes. We can't lose the country.' And each man around the room said, 'we're going to get involved.' Except Rex Humbard. He said, 'I'm uncomfortable politically. I really am very uncomfortable.' And Dr. Graham said, 'I cannot publicly be involved. I can only pray. I've been burned so badly with the public relationships I've had. I can't afford it, but I care so much.'"
Shortly after that meeting, Charles Stanley fulfilled the pledge he made at the gathering by inviting scores of Georgia preachers to meet at his church for a "Campaign Training Conference" where Paul Weyrich, the key organizer of the political right, told them how to get their congregations involved without jeopardizing their churches' tax exemption. Weyrich has fond memories of that meeting:
"I had [newspaper columnist] Bob Novak with me and he was absolutely in a state of shock. It was at that moment, he told me, that he decided Carter was going to lose, because minister after minister stood up and said, 'I was part of Carter's team in 1976. I delivered my congregation for Carter. I urged them to vote for Carter because I thought he was a moral individual. I found out otherwise, and I'm angry.' This was months before the election, and Novak said, 'I decided at that point that Jimmy Carter's goose was cooked because I saw the intensity of those people.'"
What could have prompted such hostility to Jimmy Carter?

Paul Weyrich provides an explicit explanation:
What galvanized the Christian community was not abortion, school prayer, or the ERA. I am living witness to that because I was trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed. What changed their mind was Jimmy Carter's intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation." Weyrich explained that while Christians were troubled about abortion, school prayer, and the ERA, they felt able to deal with those on a private basis. They could avoid having abortions, put their children in Christian schools, and run their families the way they wanted to, all without having to be concerned about public policy. But the IRS threat, "enraged the Christian community and they looked upon it as interference from government, and suddenly it dawned on them that they were not going to be able to be left alone to teach their children as they pleased. It was at that moment that conservatives made the linkage between their opposition to government interference and the interests of the evangelical movement, which now saw itself on the defensive and under attack by the government. That was what brought those people into the political process. It was not the other things." (With God on Our Side, p. 173)
It might be helpful to remember Weyrich's explanation as you watch the video below and Robinson talks about the "principles" of the people that Reagan was talking to that day.

Baptists and the Rise of the Religious Right from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.

Reagan stayed true to their "principles." Carter's administration had opposed Bob Jones University's policy of racial discrimination. Reagan's administration sided with Bob Jones University's attempt to maintain its tax-exempt non-profit status while discriminating on the basis of race. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled against Bob Jones.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Google Books and Early Baptist Literature

Baptists are about to run out of excuses for being uninformed about the beliefs of the earliest Baptists. Books long out-of-print and inaccessible are now available for download by Google Books. Books can be downloaded free of charge in adobe acrobat (PDF) format or in EPUB format for anyone who has access to a computer.

Here are some of the classic texts of early Baptists that are available:

The True Story of John Smyth, the Se-Baptist: as told by himself and his Contemporaries by Henry Martin Dexter (1881)

The Early English Dissenters in the Light of Recent Research (1550-1641) Vol. 1 by Champlin Burrage (1912)

The Bloody Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience by Roger Williams (1644)

An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day by Isaac Backus (1773)

A History of New-England with Particular Reference to Baptists Vol. 1 by Isaac Backus (1777)

Church History of New England from 1620-1804 by Isaac Backus (1844)

The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland (1845)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Is Justice for Sale in America?

A report on "The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2000-2009: Decade of Change" published by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law highlights five alarming trends:
➜➜The explosion in judicial campaign spending, much of it poured in by “super spender” organizations seeking to sway the courts;

➜➜ The parallel surge of nasty and costly TV ads as a prerequisite to gaining a state Supreme Court seat;

➜➜ The emergence of secretive state and national campaigns to tilt state Supreme Court elections;

➜➜ Litigation about judicial campaigns, some of which could boost special-interest pressure on judges;

➜➜ Growing public concern about the threat to fair and impartial justice—and support for meaningful reforms.
In the forward to the report (120 pages .pdf) former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor writes:
We all expect judges to be accountable to the law rather than political supporters or special interests. But elected judges in many states are compelled to solicit money for their election campaigns, sometimes from lawyers and parties appearing before them. Whether or not those contributions actually tilt the scales of justice, three out of four Americans believe that campaign contributions affect courtroom decisions.

This crisis of confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary is real and growing. If left unaddressed, the perception that justice is for sale will undermine the rule of law that courts are supposed to uphold.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reinhold Niebuhr’s Critique of Freud: No Room for Prophets

Reinhold Niehbur, the great American theologian who has been labelled a "prophet to politicians" and was identified by Barak Obama as his favorite philosopher, wrote an essay about "Creativity and Self Concern in Freud" that was published in a book of essays in honor of the centennary celebration of Freud's birth.  While recently reading this essay I was struck by how many of Niebuhr's criticisms are centered on a lack of space for prophets in Freud's philosophy.

Here's Niebuhr's critique of the Freudian super-ego:
If the id is too closely identified with the ego, the super-ego is on the other hand not sufficiently identified with the structure of selfhood. For the super-ego represents the demands of the community upon the self. This social interpretation of conscience makes the ability of the self to defy the community inexplicable, whether it does so in its own interests or in the name of a higher value than that which the community embodies. Since Freud’s system is a consistently naturalistic one, it cannot, despite the subtleties of its analyses of the intricacies of human selfhood, do full justice to the transcendent freedom of spirit of which the self is capable and it cannot survey the creative and destructive possibilities of that freedom. For the capacity of transcending every social situation and its own self bears within it all the possibilities of creativity. It enables the self to make a critical survey of its own actions and of its culture, and to project a different end and goal from the traditionally established one.
Here's some of Nieburh's critique of the Freudian understanding of civilization:
Organized comunities have one similarity with individuals.  They have an organ of will, insofar as they have an organ of government.  They are different from individuals because they have no sharply defined organ of self-transcendence.  No one in the nation is destined to view the total situation and to place the national interest in some coherent scheme of values.  This function is performed by all reflective individuals and groups of individuals who have the ability to survey a larger scene and a more inclusive system of values than those dictated by the survival impulse or the collective pride of the community.  But the very fact that these expressions of freedom are not as coherent or organized as the nation's will, makes it inevitable that the collective will should always prove more potent than the freedom, which expresses the conscience of the nation.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Southern Baptists in Intellectual cul-de-sac

Al Mohler's blog today is entitled "The Inerrancy of Scripture: The Fifty Years' War . . . and Counting."   Mohler is still fighting to keep Southern Baptists in what has aptly been called an "intellectual cul-de-sac."

For more than a decade Mainstream Baptists have had a simple online test to help people decide for themselves whether or not the doctrine of inerrancy is a dead end.

Here's a link to our "Inerrancy Test."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

On Tax Exempt Politics

If Paul Blair and other Christians want to endorse political candidates, they need to give up their non-profit status and operate under the same rules as any other political action committee.

It is inherently unfair, unequal and illegal for partisan and politically active religious groups to expect a tax deduction for their contributions while all other partisan and politically active groups are denied tax deductions for similar contributions.

Friday, August 13, 2010

After Antibiotics

Are you ready for a world without antibiotics?

Ken Starr: Absentee Baptist

One of the Native American tribes in Oklahoma is the "Absentee Shawnee" tribe.   They were absent from the Northwest Indian wars that followed the revolutionary war.

Among the Baptist tribes there are members in every church who could be called "Absentee Baptists."  No one can remember the last time they saw them at church.

Most  "Absentee Baptists" at least blessed the church with their presence when they joined the church.  Ken Starr, however, appears to have begun a new trend.  When elected as President of Baylor University he promised to join a Baptist church.  Today Ethics Daily is reporting that Starr fulfilled that promise in abstentia.

It has long been apparent that Starr was a member of the "absentee" tribe of church members.  Starr's previous church membership was in McLean Bible Church in Washington, D.C.  For the past six years he has been living in California.  He just never got around to moving his church membership.

I distinctly remember Ken Hall and members of the Board of Regents at Baylor using superlatives to describe the fine Christian character and witness of the man they were making President of the University. 

I'm sure many of the students will find his example worthy of emulation.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

W. A. Criswell vs. W.A. Criswell on Separation of Church and State

In 1960, when John Kennedy was running for President, W. A. Criswell, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, had a firm grasp of the Baptist principle of religious liberty that insisted on separation of church and state.  Criswell wrote an essay on "Religious Freedom and the Presidency" that appeared in the September 1960 issue of United Evangelical Action, the newsletter of the National Association of Evangelicals.  As Randall Balmer notes in his book "God in the White House:  A History:"
Another Southern Baptist, W. A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, persisted in his crusade against Kennedy.  "It is written in our country's constitution that church and state must be, in this nation, forever separate and free," Criswell wrote in a publication called United Evangelical Action.  Religious faith, the redoubtable fundamentalist declared, must be voluntary, and "in the very nature of the case, there can be no proper union of church and state."
On August 24, 1980, when Ronald Reagan was running for President, W.A. Criswell said during the Republican National Convention:
"I believe this notion of the separation of church and state was the figment of some infidel's imagination."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

John Calvin's Method for Dealing with Moral Change

I'm not much of a fan for the theology of John Calvin, but I'll give credit where credit is due.  It is widely believed that Calvin was the first noteworthy theologian to permit lending money at interest (usury).  That's one of the reasons why Max Weber credited Calvin's theology as foundational to the capitalist system of economics.  As John Noonan notes, the tradition of the church before Calvin was uniformly against the practice of usury:
Once upon a time, certainly from at least 1150 to 1550, seeking, receiving, or hoping for anything beyond one's principal - in other words, looking for profit - on a loan constituted the mortal sin of usury. The doctrine was enunciated by popes, expressed by three ecumenical councils, proclaimed by bishops, and taught unanimously by theologians. The doctrine was not some obscure, hole-in-the-corner affection, but stood astride the European credit markets, at least as much as the parallel Islamic ban of usury governs Muslim countries today...The great central moral fact was that usury, understood as profit on a loan, was forbidden as contrary to the natural law, as contrary to the law of the church, and as contrary to the law of the gospel. 
(John T. Noonan, Jr., "Development in Moral Doctrine' in James F. Keenan S.J. & Thomas A. Shannon (eds), The Context of Casuistry (Georgetown University Press, 1995), p.188.)
Calvin addressed the issue of usury in a private letter to Claude de Sachin in 1545.  There he wrote, "For if we should totally prohibit the practice of usury, we would restrain consciences more rigidly than God himself" and argued that  "we ought not to judge usury according to a few passages of scripture, but in accordance with the principle of equity."

At this time of changing gender and marital roles, Calvin's method for opposing traditional biblical exegesis on usury is worthy of careful examination.  A valuable and enlightening examination of John Calvin's methodological and hermeneutical approach has been provided by Rev. Dr. Andrew Goddard, tutor in ethics at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.   Here's a link to his essay on "Semper Reformanda in a Changing World:  Calvin, Usury and Evangelical Moral Theology" that was originally published in Sung Wook Chung's book Alister E. McGrath and Evangelical Theology: A Dynamic Engagement.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Defining evangelical

William Brackney has an outstanding essay on the Ethics Daily website that asks "Are you Evangelical? Or Just evangelical?" Count me out of the puffed-up right wing political movement that capitalizes their "E," I'm a little "e" evangelical. I'm also one of those genuine "evangelicals" who are embarrassed by "Evangelical" labels:
Strange that, as one interprets the re-emergence of "evangelical," it is marked mostly by cultural manifestations rather than by its doctrinal or religiously experiential identities. A whole new phenomenon has arisen in political evangelicalism that is identified with anti-abortion, opposition to same sex unions, anti-big government, anti-socialism, anti-Islam, racial profiling as well as pro-individualism, pro-capitalism and various degrees of neo-nationalism.

Some genuine "evangelicals" are embarrassed by some or all of these labels.
I'm also one of those "evangelicals" who can agree with Simon Critchley in finding a measure of faith among non-christians that is more genuine than the faith of some "E"vangelicals:
The New Testament Greek for "gospel" is euaggelion, which can mean good tidings, but can also be thought of as the act of proclamation or pledging. On this view, faith is a proclamation or pledge that brings the inward subject of faith into being over against an external everydayness. Such a proclamation is as true for the non-Christian as for the Christian. Indeed, it is arguably more true for the non-Christian, because their faith is not supported by the supposed guarantee of baptism, creedal dogma, regular church attendance or some notion that virtue will be rewarded with happiness if not here on earth, then in the afterlife. Thus, paradoxically, non-Christian faith might be said to reveal the true nature of the faith that Christ sought to proclaim. Even — and indeed especially — those who are denominationally faithless can have an experience of faith. If faith needs to be underpinned by some sort of doctrinal security, then inwardness becomes externalized and the strenuous rigor of faith evaporates.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Remembering the Dallas Heat Wave of 1980

Today's Dallas Morning News has a story about the record breaking 42 day string of 100+ degree temperatures in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 1980. Two of those days -- June 26 and 27 -- the temperature reached 113 degrees.

I remember those twin 113 degree days very well. At that time I was a Security Manager for J.C. Penneys and I was assigned to conduct surveillance outside an affiliate of the Penney company in South Dallas. The Corporate office had received information that the store manager of the affiliate was loading unpurchased merchandise into his truck at the loading dock. Another security manager and I were positioned in a field behind the store with cameras and telephoto lenses to record activity at the loading dock and, if necessary, to follow the offender to his residence and take photos of the merchandise being unloaded. Our surveillance began on June 26th and concluded several days later.

Neither of us wanted to waste gas idling our cars to run an airconditioner, and at 113 degrees it was too hot to sit in the car with the windows down, so we dealt with the heat by sitting on the grass and tall weeds and prayed for a breeze.

We did that for exactly one day.

On day two of the surveillance we were both covered with chigger bites. For the remainder of the investigation, we remained inside a car and ran an air conditioner.

It took us about a week to get the photos needed to help make the case.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Christian Reconstructionists and Total Dependence on God

Sharon Angle, a Republican candidate for a Senate seat in Arizona, has been spouting Christian Reconstructionist ideas about Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and other governmental social programs being idolatrous:

"And these programs that you mentioned — that Obama has going with Reid and Pelosi pushing them forward — are all entitlement programs built to make government our God," she said told the TruNews interviewer. "And that's really what's happening in this country, is a violation of the First Commandment. We have become a country entrenched in idolatry, and that idolatry is the dependency upon our government. We're supposed to depend upon God for our protection and our provision and for our daily bread, not for our government."
You'll know that her convictions are sincere when she makes the same claim for our dependence on the military and homeland security for defense.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Can You Prove Scientifically that Prayer Heals the Sick?

An article in the U.K.'s Daily and Sunday Express says "PRAYERS REALLY CAN HELP TO CURE THE SICK." The proof offered in the article is anecdotal rather than scientific. Periodically, however, researchers have attempted to use scientific methods to prove the efficacy of prayer.

Here's a link to a speech on Science, Prayer and Healing that I gave a few years back that offers my thoughts concerning these attempts.

Defending the Constitution, RLUIPA and the NY Islamic Center

Melissa Rogers, Director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School, has posted an insightful essay entitled "Assessing Decisionmaking on the NY Islamic Center: Continuing Our Tradition of Religious Liberty" on the Brookings Institution's website.

Rogers briefly describes how the ongoing controversy over the NY Islamic Center violates the spirit and intent of the legal traditions of both the Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA):

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution bars the state from singling out certain religions for special disabilities. In 1993, for example, the United States Supreme Court said: “At a minimum, the protections of the Free Exercise Clause pertain if the law at issue discriminates against some or all religious beliefs . . . ." This includes discrimination that "is masked as well as overt."

Further, a federal law that specifically deals with religious institutions and land use regulation, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), plainly states: "No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation that discriminates against any assembly or institution on the basis of religion or religious denomination." Whether the entity is Muslim, Mormon, or Methodist, Congress recognized that faith-based discrimination by the government must not be tolerated.

Thus, if government officials were to reject or specially burden plans for mosques or other Islamic institutions because of their religious affiliation, it would violate both the Constitution and federal statutory law. This would be true whether the discrimination was plain to see or whether it lurked behind objections about things like traffic, aesthetics, and noise.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

On the Pseudo-Apologetics of Intelligent Design

I started reading Maurice Blondel's "Letter on Apologetics" (1896) yesterday while flying back to Norman from Washington, D.C. I could not help but think of the "Intelligent Design" school of apologetics as I came across this gem:
It does not matter that certain arguments seem demonstrative to certain untrained minds; we must resolutely refuse to employ them. It is a service which we owe to the truth to deprive it of all bogus supports and to show them for what they are. So much the worse for those who hanker after them. Those who have been satisfied by them will be saved from a certain philosophical presumption and may be reached instead by arguments of a very different kind which will not puff them up with empty learning. I hate the infatuation of people who are tough-minded with the tough-minded, who see too clearly to see properly, who are proud of their myopic certainty, who are foolishly indignant at the folly or intellectual perversity of unbelievers and who, with the bumptiousness of a faith which is bound up with reasons of a too human kind, have neither due respect for souls who are still seeking the light nor sense of the mysterious profundities of our destiny. It is undesirable that our apologists should be those who are most in need of conversion to the Christian spirit.
French Catholic thought would not remain more than a century ahead of Baptist thought if the fundamentalists who took over the SBC had not removed contemporary philosophers like Jeff Pool, Keith Putt and others from their teaching positions at Baptist seminaries. Pool and Putt are both students of the French Reformed Philosopher Paul Ricoeur who was strongly influenced by the apologetic method of Maurice Blondel.