Thursday, June 30, 2011

Forget about the Music of the Spheres

A BBC nature story about the music of Micronecta scholtzi surely demonstrates that God must have a sense of humor.

Forget about the music of the spheres.  Nature prefers the music of the phallii.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Unrepentant CEO's Ought to be Ashamed

An essay by Michael Winship about how "The Rich are Different" has been posted on the Counter Punch weblog.  The essay discusses "the evolution of executive grandeur" and the already enormous and growing disparity between executive pay and the pay of average corporate employees.  It concludes with a description of how CEO's have been working to  repeal provisions of the Frank-Dodd financial reform legislation that cast light on their featherbedding:
The annual "Executive Excess" survey from the progressive Institute for Policy Studies last September found that back in the seventies, only a handful of top American executives earned more than thirty times what their workers made. In 2009, "CEO's of major US corporations averaged 263 times the average compensation of American workers." And a USA Today analysis earlier this year found that while median CEO pay jumped 27% last year, workers in private industry saw their salaries grow by just 2.1 percent.

So how are many of those corporations addressing this gross inequity? By trying to cover it up.

Last year's Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation requires publicly traded companies to report the median of annual total compensation for workers, the total compensation of the CEO, and the ratio between the two. Big business has lobbied loudly against the reporting requirement, and on Wednesday, the House Financial Services Committee voted 33-21 to repeal it.

The bill to repeal is sponsored by rookie Congresswoman Nan Hayworth (R-NY), whose official biography cites "reducing regulatory burdens on businesses" as one of her top priorities. Among her leading 2010 campaign contributors: leveraged buyout specialists Vestar Capital Partners, distressed debt investors Elliott Management and financial services giant Credit Suisse. Not to mention the anti-taxation Club for Growth.

Ernest Hemingway claimed that when F. Scott Fitzgerald once said to him, "The rich are different from you and me," he archly replied, "Yes, they have more money." Whether it's true or not, the Hemingway in the story got it wrong. The rich not only have more money, they have more power, more clout -- and more to hide.
Our CEO's ought to be ashamed. Clearly, they are unrepentant.

Monday, June 27, 2011

On Neurons and Free Will

Jonathan Turley has posted a guest blog by Mark Esposito that addresses a scientific and legal question with revolutionary implications for society as well as for theological and philosophical thought. 

It appears that for every advance in our understanding of genetic biology and neuroscience there is a corresponding reduction in the space for free will in decision making.  If "his neurons made him do it," how do we hold a criminal accountable for his actions? 

If science can determine that certain persons are born with a "genetic predisposition" toward violent anti-social behavior, would it be right to take preventive action to protect society?  Should we lock them up before they can do harm to others or could we try to modify their behavior with drugs and/or genetic modifications?  Or, should we continue to wait until they commit a violent crime before locking them up and/or trying to correct their genetic and/or neuronal propensities?

I used to think the way most Americans would answer such questions was  self-evident.  That was before we launched a pre-emptive war in Iraq, turned a blind eye to torture at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and approved the suspension of civil rights at home.  Now I wonder whether or not most Americans would willingly trade their souls for anything that offers them the hope for a subsistence that is safe and secure.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Red Churches and Blue Churches?

The Baptist Standard has published an edited version of an essay that I wrote about keeping the gospel inclusionary at a time when society is being divided between red churches and blue churches as well as between red states and blue states.  Below is the complete question that I addressed along with the complete response:

Not only do we have “red states” and “blue states,” but also “red churches” and “blue churches.”  This exclusionary theme seems to be taking hold in our own church.  How can Christians help maintain an inclusionary gospel that provides the driving energy for our congregation?

For several decades, a variety of forces within society, the church and the American political system have fueled the development of factions within our communities. 

Not all factions are exclusionary.  Some factions are inclusive.  Inclusive factions distinguish themselves by minimizing differences while magnifying what we have in common.  Inclusive factions seek to unite the community – usually around a common purpose.

Exclusionary factions distinguish themselves by minimizing what we have in common while magnifying how we differ.   Exclusionary factions tend to polarize and divide the community – usually over differences in belief.

The question betrays a preference for the inclusionary faction as does this response.

Exclusionary factionalism cannot be ignored, it must be faced.   Turning a blind eye to those who vilify, exclude, and scapegoat others effectively empowers them.  It is a form of collusion.  Leaders who ignore differences or stifle conscientious dialogue, create a vacuum that exclusionary factions will fill. 

Polarized churches and communities can only be reconciled by an exercise of humility.  Special attention and more than lip service needs to be given to Paul’s teaching in Philippians 2:1-11.  Both sides need to look at themselves – with humility -- through the eyes of the other.   It would be helpful for everyone to consider the wisdom expressed in the title of Rabbi Brad Hirschfield’s book,  You don’t have to be wrong, for me to be right.”  Both factions also need to honestly entertain the possibility that they could be wrong.   Conscientiously opposed factions cannot be united without a willingness from both sides to exercise humility and forbearance in Christian love.

Reconciliation takes place best in face-to-face forums for open dialogue where people respect conscientious differences.   If Christians cannot discuss sincere political differences with humility within the church, there is no hope that discourse within society will be conducted with civility.

The Baptist distinctive emphasizing separation of church and state does not mean that discussion of politics and public policy has no place within the church.   Endorsing political candidates and political parties is out-of-place, but discussions of public policy issues are relevant.

The Baptist distinctive of religious liberty is based on the conviction that because we are all personally accountable to God, every conscience must be free to relate to God personally.  Our consciences are formed through prayer, bible study, and dialogue with other Christians.  The gospel is relevant to discussions of politics and public policy.

At times, consciences within the church will be collectively convicted about injustices within society.   Those are times when the church has a prophetic role to fulfill within society.  At the same time, dissenting consciences within the church must not be censored and excluded.  There are times when God’s prophets must stand against the consensus within their own communities.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Life Expectancy Falling Short in USA

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) issued a report today that indicates that "Life expectancy in most U.S. counties falls behind world's healthiest nations."  The report compares statistics from the year 1987 with statistics from the years 1997 and 2007 and finds that the U.S. is not only falling behind the advances being made in life expectancy in other countries but, in some U.S. counties, life expectancy is declining from advances made in previous decades.

The U.S. currently ranks 37th internationally in life expectancy for both men (75.6 years) and women (80.8) years.  When compared to the average life expectancy in the ten nations with the lowest mortality, average life expectancy for men and women in the United States is 3.2 years shorter than the average life expectancy for people in the ten nations with the lowest mortality.

IHME has made information about life expectancy available for every state and county in the United States.

I did some checking.  I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  In Bernalillo County, New Mexico average life expectancy for men was 71.5 in 1987, 74 in 1997, 74.8 in 2007.  For women, life expectancy was 79.2 in 1987, 80.5 in 1997, and 81.1 in 2007 -- at this rate of improvement it will take 15 years for Bernalillo County to catch up with the current average life expectancy in the top ten nations.

I went to seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.  In Tarrant County, Texas average life expectancy for men was 70.4 in 1987, 73.2 in 1997, and 75.3 in 2007.  For women, life expectancy was 77.9 in 1987, 79.0 in 1997, and 79.9 -- at this rate of improvement it will take 21 years for Tarrant County to catch up with the current average life expectancy in the top ten nations.

I pastored a church in Houston, Texas and my children grew up there.  In Harris County, Texas average life expectancy for men was 70.7 in 1987, 72.8 in 1997, and 75.8 in 2007.  For women, life expectancy was 77.8 in 1987, 78.8 in 1997, and 80.5 in 2007 -- at this rate of improvement it will take 18 years for Harris County to catch up with the current average life expectancy in the top ten nations.

I now reside in Norman, Oklahoma.  In Cleveland County, Oklahoma average life expectancy for men was 73.4 in 1987, 75.1 in 1997, and 75.0 in 2007.  For women, life expectancy was 78.9 in 1987, 79.8 in 1997, and 79.8 in 2007 -- at this rate of improvement it will take 22 years for Cleveland County to catch up with the current average life expectancy in the top ten nations.

Surely we can do better.  I suspect that one of the chief differences between the U.S. and countries at the top of the international standard is that the U.S. has "privatized medicine" and the top countries have some system of "socialized medicine."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Podcast: Linda Terrell Interview

Podcast (33MB Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 6-12-2011 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Linda Terrell, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA). We talk about the work of OICA, the Kids Count program, the teen pregnancy rate in Oklahoma, the cost of teen childbearing, and the need to develop and fund a program to reduce the number of teens bearing children in Oklahoma.

Tom Toles' Single Prayer Alternative

Friday, June 10, 2011

Civil Rights Champion Passes

Steve Gey, professor of law at Florida State University and member of the national board for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, passed away yesterday after a long and valiant struggle with ALS.

Gey was one of the most brilliant advocates for separation of church and state and civil rights in the country. He will be sorely missed.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

On Graduation Prayers

Bill Leonard, professor of church history at Wake Forest Divinity School, has written an outstanding OP-ED about the recent court decision permitting a Texas High School valedictorian to force fellow students and their families to pray at their graduation.  Here are some of his affirmations:

-- The faith of the valedictorian should be celebrated and taken seriously.
-- At state-based public forums even implicit compulsory prayer is problematic, since that is not what governments are about.

-- At its best, prayer like faith itself is freely chosen, not implicitly or explicitly compelled of anyone, especially under government auspices.

What if future valedictorians are Muslim, or even Wiccan in their faith commitment? Would others at the graduation join their prayers then? If next year’s valedictorian affirms a non- Judeo-Christian faith, and invites prayer from such a tradition, what might be the response? Given the expanse of American religious pluralism, that day is not simply to be imagined, it is already here. Today’s religious majority can readily become tomorrow’s minority, especially if it is “ineffective in its ministry” whether in 1953 or 2011.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Paved Surfaces Have Adverse Effect on Air Quality

Science Daily is reporting that recent research is indicating that the paved surfaces in large cities soaks up heat, reduces wind and has an adverse effect on air quality.  The research was done in Houston by an international team led by Fei Chen.  Chen suggests a few things that  could help to counter the adverse effects of paving:
"If you made the city greener and created lakes and ponds, then you probably would have less air pollution even if emissions stayed the same," Chen explains. "The nighttime temperatures over the city would be lower and winds would become stronger, blowing the pollution out to the Gulf of Mexico."

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

How Religion Can Contribute to Peace in Palestine

In his book, "The Fate of Zionism : A Secular Future for Israel & Palestine" Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg records the response he gave in th 1970's at a Harvard Divinity School conference addressing the question: "What can the religious traditions contribute to making peace between the Israelis and Palestinians?"  He recounts:
I gave a one-sentence speech.  Its text was "The greatest contribution that religion can make to peace between Jews and Arabs is to get out of the equation."  . . . Biblical religions are by their very nature absolute.  They cannot easily yield anything to each other.  Since peace can be made between Israelis and Palestinians only by compromise, it will happen only when men and women of religion are left outside the door and practical politicians make the necessary untidy deals.
 Hertzberg goes on to clarify what he meant that day:
I did not really tell the truth that day at Harvard, some thirty years ago.  I did not want, then or now, for biblical religion to absent itself from the strife between the Palestinians and the Israelis.  What I wanted was the insistence of hardliners on both sides to end.  Let neither side keep invoking its supposed right to attack the other in the delusion that each is doing God's work.  Let them hear the deepest teaching of the biblical faith that we are all God's children.  We are a family that must find ways of making peace.
I would give an "Amen" to both statements.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Podcast: Rabbi Brad Hirschfield Interview

Podcast (27MB Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 6-5-2011 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, President of The National Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL) and author of the book "You Don't Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism." We talk about his work with CLAL, about his book, about his experiences in an Israeli settlement at Hebron, and about the recent interchange between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

You Don't Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism