Sunday, January 30, 2011

Podcast: Brian Kaylor Interview

Podcast (27MB Mp3) of my 1-30-2011 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Dr. Brian T. Kaylor, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at James Madison University. We talk about Brian's new book Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On Avoiding the Clash of Civilizations

Quote for the Day:

Our situation at the beginning of the twenty-first century is like that of Europe at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Then as now, the landscape was littered with the debris of religious conflict, the result of the Reformation and the end of an era in which Europe was dominated by a single overarching power. It is fair to say that religion did not distinguish itself at that time. It was then that honest, thoughtful men and women began to say to themselves: if people of faith cannot live in peace, dispite their differences, then for the sake of the future we must find another way. The secularization of Europe, first in the sciences, then in the arts, then in politics and the structure of society, grew directly out of the failure of religion to meet the challenge of change. As one who deeply believes in the humanizing power of faith, and the stark urgency of coexistence at a time when weapons of mass destruction are accessible to extremist groups, I do no think we can afford to fail again. Time and again in recent years we have been reminded that religion is not what the European Enlightenment thought it would become: mute, marginal, and mild. It is fire -- and like fire, it warms but it also burns. And we are the guardians of the flame.
Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations, pp. 10-11.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Regarding Foreign Policy in the Middle East

Quote for the day:

An attempt to transform Muslim societies through regime change is likely to dramatically increase the threat we face. The root cause of suicide terrorism is foreign occupation and the threat that foreign military presence poses to the local community's way of life. Hence, any policy that seeks to conquer Muslim societies in order, deliberately, to transform their culture is folly. Even if our intentions are good, anti-American terrorism would likely grow, and grow rapidly.
Robert A Pape, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (2005).

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Podcast: Francie Moss and Ariel Rose Henderson Interview

Podcast (20MB mp3) of my 1-23-2011 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Francie Moss, Director of the Upward Bound Program for Oklahoma State University in OK City, and Ariel Rose Henderson, Senior Class President at Western Heights High School in OK City and the 2011 Miss Oklahoma City Teen. We talk about the Upward Bound program and the Stand for the Silent project to put an end to bullying in public schools.

Pictured in the photo are Francie, Ariel, Kirk Smalley, and another member of the Stand for the Silent project.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Billy Graham and the Rise of the Religious Right (revised)

Christianity Today recently interviewed Billy Graham and asked him, "If you could, would you go back and do anything differently?" Graham responded:
I also would have steered clear of politics. I'm grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn't do that now.
Few people realize the significant role that Graham has played in the rise of the Religious Right in America. Graham was instrumental in creating the Christian Right as a political force while, at the same time, distancing himself from it publicly. He was a participant in meetings where the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention was organized as a means to influence secular politics. In 1985, Graham sent Charles Stanley a telegram endorsing his re-election as President of the SBC in the most contested election during the fundamentalist takeover of the denomination. Most revealing, as he had done in the takeover of the SBC, he could be counted on to lend support to the Religious Right candidate in a tight political election:

Two days before the 2000 election, Graham went a step further and declared his support for a Bush victory. The setting for what can only be called Graham's endorsement of Bush was Jacksonville, Florida, located in a state where the evangelist was wrapping up a three-day crusade and where Bush had staked his electoral prospects. . . . On Sunday, November 5, Graham met with George and Laura Bush for a private prayer breakfast. The gathering took place after Bush had attended a worship service with prominent Florida evangelicals and before he commenced a whirlwind final tour of the state. Jeb Bush made sure to mention the breakfast on the Sunday morning news show Face the Nation. . . . After the prayer meeting, Graham (accompanied by his son, Franklin) posed with the Bushes for photographs and talked with reporters. "I don't endorse candidates. But I've come as close to it, I guess, now as any time in my life, because I think it is extremely important," said the aging evangelist. . . . "I believe in the integrity of this man," Graham told reporters, insinuating that he had cast his absentee ballot for the Republican candidate. "I'll just let you guess who I voted for," he added, making sure (as he had during the Nixon years) to reiterate his status as a registered Democrat.
[Stephen P. Miller, Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), pp. 215-216.]

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Paul Ricouer on Biblical Interpretation

At the first annual board meeting for the Oklahoma Institute for Biblical Literacy this week I suggested that the group invite someone to speak who applies some of Paul Ricoeur’s insights on biblical interpretation. Some of the members of the group were not familiar with Paul Ricoeur, so I promised to suggest a brief introduction to his thought for them.

After skimming through my books on Ricouer, I think the best place to start is still Lewis Mudge’s essay “Paul Ricoeur on Biblical Interpretation” which is the introduction to Paul Ricouer’s Essays on Biblical Interpretation, ed. by Lewis Mudge. The best source for applications of Ricouer’s hermeneutic to biblical texts will be found in Thinking Biblically: Exegetical and Hermeneutical Studies by Andre LaCocque and Paul Ricoeur.

In 1980, Lewis Mudge offered a succinct explanation for why he thought Paul Ricoeur’s philosophy would become influential, as indeed it has, in the sphere of biblical interpretation:

Ricouer’s work approximates positions often seen poles apart. With biblical “conservatives” he shares reverence for the sense of the given text, the “last” text. He is not concerned to draw inferences from the text to its underlying history, to the circumstances of writing, to the spiritual state of the authors, or even to the existential encounter between Jesus and his followers. Indeed, Ricouer, in his own way, takes the New Testament for what it claims to be: “testimony” to the transforming power of the Resurrection. Moreover, all the literary genres of the Bible, not just certain passages of special theological import, are media for this “revelation.”

On the other hand, Ricouer attracts “liberals.” With them, he opposes every form of “dogmatic mythology,” political or ecclesiastical authoritarianism, intellectual obscurantism or false consciousness. Moreover, he shares the liberal concern that interpreters of the Bible should be in dialogue with all that has gone on in “the great romance of culture” and all that is happening in contemporary experience. In Ricoeur’s hands interpretation is always confronted with the perspective of “counter-disciplines”: physiology, psychoanalysis, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, the history of philosophy. The sense of the text is taken seriously in the midst of the other constructions of the human condition that enter into dialogue with it.
Essays on Biblical Interpretation

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Is the Patriot Act Incompatible with Christian Missions?

I used to consider warnings about the erosion of civil liberties like those in a recent essay by Colleen Rowley, former FBI agent and whistleblower, as more alarmist than necessary. After talking with Robin Meyers, pastor of Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City, I'm not so sure.

Mayflower sponsors an extensive medical missions ministry to deaf children in Nicaragua. When I spoke with Dr. Meyers Monday morning he mentioned that his medical mission ministry was being investigated and the church was preparing for a visit from the Department of Homeland Security to audit their financial records.

Today, when I read warnings like Rowley's below, I pay more attention.

--In the course of arguing the Holder v Humanitarian Law Project case in the Supreme Court, Georgetown Law Professor David Cole warned that the federal law against providing “material support” to U.S.-designated terrorist groups could be used to improperly target and prosecute a whole range of humanitarian, human rights and peace advocacy groups based on protected exercise of speech and other First Amendment rights.

However Cole failed in his arguments to overturn a few words in the Patriot Act that broadened this "material support” concept to encompass "expert advice and assistance" to "foreign terrorist organizations” as designated by the Secretary of State. (For more explanation, see: How Easy Is It for Peaceful People to Violate the Patriot Act?)

Last June’s Supreme Court decision, which essentially makes advocacy of peace and humanitarian issues illegal with respect to the 40 or so designated groups, was likely not something Congress intended when it hastily passed hundreds of pages of “Patriot Act” revisions.

All kinds of missionaries, fair-election proponents and humanitarian workers could be placed in jeopardy.

People like Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson could be in trouble since he has had to meet with a variety of foreign country nationals in war zones to successfully formulate consensus to build schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

So could former President Jimmy Carter who engages in pro-democracy efforts to monitor election fraud in many places in the world.

The paradox is that true non-government affiliated efforts aimed at furthering education, humanitarian assistance, free elections and non-violent conflict resolution in other parts of the world are widely recognized as more effective and beneficial than efforts controlled by the U.S. military and the U.S. State Department

Stephen Colbert on Disintegration

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Warm Welcome at Southwestern Seminary?

Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas has given Tarrant Baptist Association six months to vacate their facilities. The Seminary says it needs the facilities for a welcome center.

The seminary admittedly has no real intention of extending a warm welcome. There are certain people and certain Baptist churches that it is determined to shut out. The trustees at Southwestern are miffed that the association of Baptists in Tarrant County Texas has not booted Broadway Baptist Church out of the association.

Broadway Baptist is a welcoming church. They minister to people regardless of their occupation (or lack of employment), race, gender or sexual orientation.

If Jesus rode into town to have dinner with prostitutes and tax collectors, I don't think it is difficult to know where he would find the warmest welcome.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Podcast: Graham Fuller Interview

Podcast (20MB Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 1-16-2011 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Graham Fuller, former Vice Chair of the National Intelligence Council and author of A World Without Islam and The Future of Political Islam. We talk about the tensions that arose between the West and the Middle East before the rise of Islam and discuss the role of political Islam in the future.

Friday, January 14, 2011

On Al Mohler's Blinkered Worldview

Race horses and carriage ponies often have blinkers beside their eyes to restrict their range of vision. Blinkers keep the horses focused on what is immediately in front of them and help keep them from being distracted by whatever is around them.

Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, could be likened to a firmly blinkered race horse who has devoted his life to seeing that all the other ponies in the Southern Baptist stable wear equally firm theological blinkers.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the Winter 2011 issue of the seminary's magazine where Mohler closes his eyes to the mountains of scientific evidence confirming the veracity of evolution theory and, once again, reaffirms his faith in the inerrancy of his literal interpretation of the Bible. He seems to be increasingly threatened by the theistic understanding of evolution espoused by some Mainstream Baptists and other unblinkered Christians who place their faith in God, rather than a book, and interpret the early chapters of Genesis as metaphor, symbol and poetry.

Mohler warns his stable mates to keep their blinkers on with breathless exclamations like, "The Bible's account of the Fall, and its consequences, is utterly incompatible with evolutionary theory" and "We now face the undeniable truth that the most basic and fundamental questions of biblical authority and Gospel integrity are at stake."

Despite Mohler's exclamations, evolutionary theory is not "utterly incompatible" with the Bible, the Gospel, or the Christian understanding of humanity. It is incompatible with a blinkered worldview that focuses solely on presuppositions about the inerrancy of literal interpretations of the Bible.

Take the blinders off Baptists! Mohler's theology will only lead you off theological track and keep you running around in circles.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Obama's Worst Appointment

Reading the commentary about Obama's recent appointment of William Daley to be his chief of staff is more than depressing. Simon Johnson's blog about "The Bill Daley Problem" offers the most sobering analysis of what this portends for the future. Here are a few excerpts:

This is not a critique from the left or from the right. The Bill Daley Problem is completely bipartisan -– it shows us the White House fails to understand that, at the heart of our economy, we have a huge time bomb.

Until this week, Bill Daley was on the top operating committee at JP Morgan Chase. His bank – along with the other largest U.S. banks – have far too little equity and far too much debt relative to that thin level of equity; this makes them highly dangerous from a social point of view. These banks have captured the hearts and minds of top regulators and most of the political class (across the spectrum), most recently with completely specious arguments about why banks cannot be compelled to operate more safely. Top bankers, like Mr. Daley’s former colleagues, are intent of becoming more global – despite the fact that (or perhaps because) we cannot handle the failure of massive global banks.

. . .

Top bankers, including Bill Daley, have pulled off a complete snow job -– including since the crisis broke in fall 2008. They have put forward their special interests while claiming to represent the general interest. Business and other groups, of course, do this all the time. But the difference here is the scale of the too big to subsidy – measured in terms of its likely future impact on our citizenship and our fiscal solvency, this will be devastating.

Most smart people in the nonfinancial world understand that the big banks have become profoundly damaging to the rest of the private sector. The idea that the president needed to bring a top banker into his inner circle in order to build bridges with business is beyond ludicrous.

Bill Daley now controls how information is presented to and decisions are made by the president. Daley’s former boss, Jamie Dimon, is the most dangerous banker in America – presumably he now gets even greater access to the Oval Office. Daley is on the record as opposing strong consumer protection for financial products; Elizabeth Warren faces an even steeper uphill battle. Important regulatory appointments, such as the succession to Sheila Bair at the FDIC, are less likely to go to sensible people. And in all our interactions with other countries, for example around the G20 but also on a bilateral basis, we will pursue the resolutely pro-big finance views of the second Clinton administration.

. . .

Let's be honest. With the appointment of Bill Daley, the big banks have won completely this round of boom-bust-bailout. The risk inherent to our financial system is now higher than it was in the early/mid-2000s. We are set up for another illusory financial expansion and another debilitating crisis.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Exemplary Civil Discourse on the Abortion Issue

On Speech That Promotes Civil Society

Amidst all the talk about "hate speech" and the "rhetoric of violence" in the aftermath of the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, here are some of my thoughts concerning the kinds of speech that could promote civil society.


Testimony is talk that tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It offers an open and honest account of understanding and experience. Honest speech promotes trust and good will within society. It treats all others with dignity and respect and thereby preserves the peace and tranquility of society.

Recognizing that all humans are fallible and that all experience is perspectival, honest speakers will welcome sincere efforts to correct, verify and/or seek corroboration for the veracity of their testimony.


Critique is the voice of convicted civility. It promotes civility by confronting error conscientiously and preserves society by refusing to remain silent in the face of injustice.

Conscientious, constructive critique is correction that is offered discretely, with humility, and without impugning the dignity and integrity of the other. It gives others the benefit of a doubt, is reticent to ascribe unworthy motives to others, and is careful to examine one’s own self and perspective through the eyes of the other.


Genuine teaching is speech that opens the mind. Teachers speak with the authority of wisdom and experience. They continually search for deeper forms of analysis, broader perspectives and a more complete understanding of truth. They seek to instill within the student a passion to search for truth and understanding. Teachers share the skills and abilities necessary to analyze experience, to evaluate or correlate alternate viewpoints, and to develop new forms of speech and expression.

This form of speech promotes civility by increasing understanding and tolerance within society. It preserves peace within society by encouraging respect for the stranger and opening lines of communication to the foreigner.


Dialogue is open, honest and respectful conversation between two or more persons. It is talk with an other listening. It is talk that genuinely listens to others.

Dialogue is essential to democratic societies. Governing by naked power and force is tyrannical. Power is controlled by dialogue and open discussion in democratic societies. Open discussion requires those in authority to declare their positions and debate alternatives openly. The "common good" of society emerges as the "general will" of the people is formed by the dialectic of opinions and ideas that are produced by respectful dialogue and open discussion.

The "general will" of the majority must also be exercised with humility. Pluralistic democracy protects the rights of minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Foremost among the rights protecting minorities are those associated with liberty of conscience – the rights to religious liberty, freedom of speech, press, peaceful assembly, and petition to the government. These rights of conscience assure that civil dialogue and discussion will always contain the element of critique that can promote advances toward a more equitable, just and humane society.

We need more testimony, critique, teaching and dialogue -- a lot more.

Monday, January 10, 2011

On Speech That Destroys Civil Society

There is much on the internet, in the newspapers and over the airwaves today discussing the uncivil rhetorical climate that preceeded the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' life. Here are some of my thoughts about the types of speech that destroy civil society.


Speaking takes place within a community. Communities are comprised of persons who relate to one another on the basis of mutual trust. The level of trust within a community depends upon the degree to which persons talk to one another honestly, openly and respectfully. Slander, gossip, lies, half-truths and all forms of deceitful speech reduce the level of trust and increase the level of suspicion within a community.

Lies destroy both the community and the individual. Liars wound their victims by depriving them of mutual respect and injure themselves by destroying self-respect. They harm the community by undermining the foundation of mutual trust and personal respect on which civil society is built. Both the individual and the community are degraded.


Propaganda is more than lies frequently repeated. Propaganda consists of facts falsely interpreted and actions falsely attributed to unworthy intentions and motives. Propagandists always speak in tones of moral indignation. They reduce trust by identifying a group as a threat to community. They raise the level of suspicion by relentless verbal attacks designed to isolate the group and exclude it from community.

The more prolonged and passionate the rhetoric of the propaganda, the greater the likelihood of violence against the isolated group. Impressionable individuals will be incited to collective action against the perceived "enemy." Perniciously, the reproach of association with the isolated group discourages discerning members of the community from protesting about injustices against the group.


Indoctrination is talk that closes the mind. Indoctrinators speak with unquestioned certainty and unshakable conviction. They believe they possess the truth. They transmit a formula for faith, a uniform way of viewing the world, and a standard form of speech and expression to their pupils. Questioning the formula is not permitted, perceiving different points of view is not tolerated, and deviating from the standard form of speech and expression is not welcome.

This form of speech reduces trust to the small group of the indoctrinated. Suspicion of others can be so intense that adherents often feel threatened by any friendly and open conversation with those who do not accept their doctrine.


Monologue is a single speaker talking with no one listening. It is talking without listening. Monologue is the culmination and conclusion of speech that is uncivil. It is the talk of those so suspicious of others that they trust no one but themselves.

There is no community in monologue. It is the talk of those who have closed themselves off from others and are tormented by their isolation and loneliness. There is danger that those so tormented will forego speaking altogether and express themselves by acts of violence and rage against civil society.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Grassley's Senate Finance Committee Makes Goofy Recommendation

Senator Charles Grassley's investigation of several TV-ministries to determine whether they have abused their non-profit status has ended with a goofy recommendation. His committee is recommending that the ban on partisan political activity by non-profit groups be modified or ended.

Barry Lynn at Americans United for Separation of Church and State offered a succinct appraisal of Grassley's boneheaded suggestion:

"If these multi-million-dollar ministries are already misusing their donations for personal gain, imagine how much more dangerous they would be operating in the world of partisan politics," said Lynn. "I don't want to see Pat Robertson and other TV preachers using their tax-exempt empires to give backing to favored candidates, and I don't think most other Americans want that either."

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Will States Legalize Assaults on Hispanics

Miguel de La Torre offers a sobering testimony in an essay on Ethics Daily entitled "Anti-Hispanic Assault Shifts to State Governments:"

When I see the hatred motivating these laws and the harassment faced, I am afraid. I know all too well what it is like to be beaten up in my younger days while my assailants hurled racist epithets. I still carry the scars on my body. I honestly believed those days were behind me.

Now I fear they are our future.
Regretfuly, Oklahoma is one of the states in this latest assault on Hispanics.

The Other Side of Immigration

Available on Netflix.

Graphic Pictures of Change in America

More graphs here.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Most Popular Podcasts of 2010

Here are the five "Religious Talk" podcasts that proved most popular in 2010:

1. Obama's Faith-based Program
2. Chris Rodda Interview
3. Razi Hashmi Interview
4. Robert Parham Interview
5. John Esposito Interview

Here are the top ten "Religious Talk" podcasts overall:

1. Interviews with Bob Stephenson on Peak Oil 7-10-05, 8-7-05, 11-18-07, 6-1-08
2. Interview with Sally and Terry Jackson on End of Life Issues
3. Paul Weller Interview
4. David Berliner Interview Part 1, Part 2
5. Charles Kimball Interview Part 1, Part 2
6. Dr. Katherine Schiermann Interview
7. 9-11 and the Price of Freedom and Security
8. Oklahoma's Monument to American Theocracy
9. Mary Kinny Branson Interview
10. A Mainstream Perspective on Abortion Part 1, Part 2