25 July 2014

Haming It Up

In other religious news . . .

Several news websites, including the Huffington Post, have posted articles representing--and misrepresenting--recent comments by Australian-born evangelist Ken Ham regarding our space program and the possibility of alien life.

Ken Ham

 First the misrepresentations.

They reported Ham saying that we should end much of our space exploration program because we will never find alien life.  In Ham's view, God created the earth as a special place for human life and as a stage for the drama of God's redemption of man. That implies that evolution cannot be true and that no life forms have emerged on any planets other than earth. In fact, according to Ham, the primary reason scientists explore space looking for extraterrestrial life is to prove the truth of evolution. Neither NASA nor any one working in an space observatory will find alien life forms, so it is a waste of time.

In fairness to Ham, he never said to stop exploration of the heavens. In fact, he encourages it. He says he remains confident that the expanding knowledge of worlds beyond our own will prove his point that no intelligent life exists beyond earth.

Now the representations.

These same web sites quote him asserting that another reason that extraterrestrial life does not exist  is because of the meaning of the gospel. Adam's fall from grace impacted the entire universe. That would include any extraterrestrial life. But Jesus offers salvation only to those who hear the gospel, repent, and believe. That would exclude aliens, implying their damnation to hell by God:

"And I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel. You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation. One day, the whole universe will be judged by fire, and there will be a new heavens and earth. God’s Son stepped into history to be Jesus Christ, the “Godman,” to be our relative, and to be the perfect sacrifice for sin—the Savior of mankind."

Now Ham subsequently denied the report that aliens go to hell. He says that because he does not believe in extraterrestrial life, then he obviously never made such a claim.

It appears in the above passage, however, that he made a counter factual argument (counter factual at least in his own mind) which suggests that conclusion. 

Ham spares readers the details--they know them already. Adam's sin made all men sinners, either through generation or imputation. Generation means inheritance of sin through genetics. Imputation means that Adam in some sense represented all humans who every lived and God imputed the guilt of his fall to all humans. In contrast, Jesus, the second Adam, obeyed God. His righteousness will be imputed to not all humans, but those who believe in him.

Christian dogma also holds that Adam's sin not only brought God's curse upon himself and his progeny, but also upon all creation.  The earth became a more inhospitable place and animals began eating each other. Readers may wonder why God would curse animals, who have no free will and cannot sin against God.  According to Christian dogma (or at least some of it) God cursed the animals and the natural world because God originally created them for man's use. 

Of course, because the Bible contains absolutely no notion of extraterrestrial life, its possibility reveals the incoherence of Christian dogma. If extraterrestrial beings exist, God must have created them. How can God hold them accountable for Adam's sin? And how can they avail themselves of salvation when they have never heard of Jesus.

The only answer is to deny extraterrestrial life exists. 

Mosaic, er, Sharia Law in Sudan

While Progressive Christians engage in extreme hermeneutical contortions to bring their first century New Testament Christian faith into conformity with the twenty first century Progressive political ideology, the Old Testament  in his pristine iron age glory thrives in the world of Islam.

CNN reports that Mariam Yehya Ibrahim  has been freed from Sudan and is now safe in Italy.

She has spent the last several months in Omdurman Women's Prison and later in the United States embassy.

She had been convicted of apostasy  and sentenced to death. Like Mosaic Law, Sudanese Sharia law forbids anyone to change their religion. While awaiting her execution, she gave birth to her second child. In fact, it was her pregnancy that delay her execution. A Sudanese court eventually overturned her sentence. When she tried to leave the country, however, Sudanese security officials refused to allow her to leave, citing irregularities in her passport. Since that time she sought sanctuary in the United States embassy.

According to Ibrahim, the  persecution stems largely from childhood circumstances over which she had not control. Ibrahim's father was a Muslim who married a Ethiopian Orthodox Christian woman. The father abandoned the family when she was a child. Her mother raised her as a Christian. So she claims that because she always professed Christianity, she cannot have committed apostasy.

Ibrahim's family tells a different story. Her three brothers are Muslim. They claim that her real name is Abar al-Hadi and that she, like them, was raised in Islam. As is fitting for Third World superstitious people, the family claims that Ibrahim's Christian husband "bewitched" her with a "potion." Moreover, they family complained that she committed adultary, because Sudan does not recognized mixed marriages. It is illegal for Muslims to marry "unbelievers."

Because of the barbaric culture and Islamic religion, exoneration by Somali courts gives no guarantee of Ibrahim's safety.  According to her brother:

"If she repents and returns to our Islamic faith and to the embrace of our family, then we are here family and she is ours. We are prepared to hold her dearly as the apple of our eyes. But if she refuses, she should be executed."

No doubt al-Hadi  and the rest of the family would relish the opportunity to take matters into their own hands and restore the "honor" of their family.

                                     Ibrahim meets the Pope in Italy

16 July 2014

Delusion and Death

While progressive Christians consider the opinions and actions of their fundamentalist brothers and sisters immoral, ignorant, and sometimes insane, they never risk even a brief side glance in the mirror . . .

A Progressive pastor's passion for social justice burned so intensely that he ignited into flames and died from spontaneous combustion.

Well, maybe not.

Last month the Reverend Charles Moore drove himself to a mall in Grand Saline, Texas, doused himself with gasoline, and set himself aflame.  Rescuers took him to Parkland Hospital where he died the following day.

According to friends and supporters, Moore apparently grew frustrated over attitude of his home town, the nation at large, and his United Methodist Church on issues such as race relations, LGBT issues, and the death  penalty.

Passages from the suicide note he left behind suggest he also believed in collective guilt that transcends individual people and time itself:

"I will soon be 80 years old, and my heart is broken over this. America, and Grand Saline... have never really repented for the atrocities of slavery and its aftermath. What my hometown needs to do is open its heart and its doors to black people as a sign of the rejection of past sins."
Unsuccessful at forcing others to adopt his religious beliefs, especially the social implications of those beliefs, Moore began deliberating on more drastic action. Revealing his "Jesus complex," he called this period his "Gethsemane." He finally made his decision:

"I would much prefer to go on living and enjoy my beloved wife and grandchildren and others, but I have come to believe that only my self-immolation will get the attention of anybody and perhaps inspire some to higher service."

He knew he would not live to see just how many people he would inspire, but he no doubt took vicarious pleasure as he made his preparations. In this small way he resembles those mass murders as they plan their horrendous crimes. They, too, know they will not live to see everyone talking about them and giving them the attention they believe they deserve but never receive.

Moore made one severe miscalculation. Unlike the mass murderers who actually do attract the post-mortem attention they crave, Moore received almost no attention. 

His friends and supporters now have come out to tell his story.

One such friend, the Reverend Jeff Moore told the Huffington Post: 

"Reverend Moore thought this was going to be a whole lot bigger of a deal than it turned out to be." He expected it to make national news."

It just goes to show that not everyone can be Jesus.

                                                                     Charles Moore

13 July 2014

Cool But Confused Christians

The on-going crisis at the border between the United States and Mexico has provided opportunities for Progressive Christians to outdo their fundamentalist counterparts in offering up clumsy and confused applications of their ancient religious tenets to contemporary events. This manifested itself most clearly in the protests in Murrieta, California over the transport of hundreds of illegal aliens to a federal processing center located in the city. Twice protests to the federal government by local elected officials resulted in cancellation of the plan. Local officials pointed out that the local facility serves a jail or detention center for illegal apprehended by border patrol agents. It is not suited for housing illegals for any extended period of time. City officials may have also mistakenly believe the border patrol would release the immigrants into the community after processing. When a third protest failed to stop the transfer, some local citizens took to the streets, blocking and turning back several busloads carrying illegal immigrants.

The scene of Americans protesting the arrival of illegal aliens offended Progressive Christians everywhere, especially where they reach their largest audience--the Huffington Post. The outstanding exemplar is Jim Wallis, spiritual adviser to President Barack Obama (after the ostracizing of the Reverend Jeremiah  Wright) and current of the face of Progressive Christianity. Read his homily here.

Wallis opens his morality play by casting "unaccompanied minors and mothers with children, all fleeing violence in Central America" against  "Big angry white men, holding signs the children couldn't read, with angry faces screaming at them in a language they didn't understand." How many liberal shibboleths can Wallis incorporate into one scene? He rolls bullying, the war on women, and racism into one tension filled confrontation. He overlooked only the global warming that occurred because protesters kept the buses idling while the drivers waited for a decision on what to do in the face of the protests and the lunch meat with which the protesters probably stuffed their sandwiches.

And is any of this true. Does Wallis know with certitude that "all" the immigrants came here to flee violence? Perhaps. Or perhaps may came here for an economically better future. And what about those "Big white men?"  Below a video shows several "big white women" involved:

And as for angry protesters, police arrested five people at Murrieta. All five arrived from outside Murrieta as counter-protesters. Police arrested one woman for pushing and slapping a Murrieta resident. Police arrested the other four when they attempted to remove the woman from police custody.

The Reverend is plainly mistaken in most of his assumptions about Murrieta; surely no one would suspect that the man of god was a liar.

Of course, in Wallis's view,  the intransigence of the Republicans in Congress intimately must take the blame for this unfortunate episode:

"Incredibly, some Republicans have used this tragic situation as an excuse for why they scuttled immigration reform -- when having a smart, fair, and humane immigration system in place would have helped avoid this crisis."

No immigration reform, no matter how smart, fair, or human, would have prevented this crisis. The underlying assumption is that our immigration system is broken. It is not. It was never designed to accommodate this many immigrants. And it never can be. 

The problem is that Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti, Nigeria, and dozens of other places are broken. A recent international poll by Gallup revealed that over 150 million people around the globe want to come to the United States. We cannot even begin to accommodate that many people. 

Wallis recalls a talk he had his son's school about immigration reform. When asked why the Congress has failed to enact immigration reforms, he told them they feared the children in his audience. He continues his account:

"Why would they be afraid of us?" the students asked, shocked. I had to tell them.
"They are afraid you are the future of America. They are afraid their country will someday look like this class -- that you represent what our nation is becoming."
"They are afraid this won't work," I said. "Does it work?"
The children looked at each other, then responded with many voices, saying, "Yeah.. .Sure... Of course it works... It works great... It's really cool!"
Together we decided that our job was to show the rest of the country that this new America coming into being is, in fact, really cool.
So now we can anticipate a vanguard of children confronting imagined racism with delusional coolness. I can hardly wait.
Of course, racism fails as an explanation of the opposition to illegal immigration in Murrieta or in Washington D.C. It only servers as an accusation. Murrieta is 25% Hispanic; it is hardly some backwater outpost of Hispanic hating whites. The objection to illegal immigrants rests upon the fact that they entered the country illegally.
The most essential attribute of any nation-state is the sense of national identity and the borders which separate people of one national identity from another. Borders indicate where sovereignty of one nation state ends and where that of another begins. And every national state has the right to determine who enters its borders. But borders inconvenience the activities of all kinds of groups. International corporations, the so-called "invisible church" (where there is "neither Jew nor Greek'), environmentalist groups,  and human rights or humanitarian organizations. (Doctors Without Borders).  These groups subvert the concept of borders when such a concept interferes with their activities and goals. 
It become all the worse when Christians impose their own version of morality on others in support of some politically progressive cause. For Wallis, from the perspective of his Christian faith, the failure of Congress to enact immigration reform is a moral failure. And putting on his hat as political scientist, Wallis demands that Congress not interfere with President Obama's Constitutional authority to issue executive orders to implement the kinds of immigration reforms Progressive Christians desire. And the passage below indicates just what kind of reform he desires: one that embraces the "ones we love" who Jesus has asked his followers to protect.
"This week, in a meeting with President Barack Obama, faith leaders asked the president to do everything he can, within his Constitutional authority, to "relieve the suffering" of all the families and children who will continue to be devastated. Let me say this very clearly: Those who have morally failed to fix this broken system must dare not now try to prevent executive orders to protect the people we love, who have become part of "us," and whom Christ asks us to protect. If Republicans continue to ignore and cause the suffering of all "the strangers" among us, they will have to answer to the faith community."
The students to whom Wallis spoke would be better served if they actually listened to someone who has studied illegal immigration:

10 July 2014

Progressive Pretensions of Piety

Periodically the Square looks at the strange practices and claims of fundamentalist Christianity, especially regarding the alleged influence of the Bible and Christianity on our Constitution and public policy.

Progressive Christians, however, fare no better in their attempts to make Christianity relevant to the challenges facing a 21st century commercial republic. They pretend that they bridge the gap between their religious faith that originated in some iron age tribe and the progressive political ideology with which they strive to keep in step.

A case in point is an article by Carol Howard Merritt at the Huffington Post. Merritt writes a blog at The Christian Century magazine. She also identifies herself as a pastor, though makes no mention of a church. She apparently is a pastor in the same sense as Jesse Jackson—an ordained minister without a formal appointment.

Entitling her article Why the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby Decision Upsets Christians, Merritt offers up several convoluted arguments against the decision. In fact, she never exactly explains why the decision upsets Christians. She reveals that she is upset and believes other Christians should agree with her. She shouts out her objections in five bold face subheadings.

Christians should always uphold human rights.

Merritt cites the passage from Matt. 9:20-22 which purportedly provides an account of Jesus healing a woman who has suffered from bleeding for over twelve years. According to Merritt, Jesus “taught us that women who demand healing ought to find that cure. Jesus restored her to health, even though the established religion deemed that she was unclean.”

That “established religion” to which she alludes was established by Yahweh himself. Like most Christians—liberal or conservative—she never attempts to explain the contradiction between the commands of the Mosaic Law and the actions of Jesus.

And if readers do not believe Jesus that women have a right to health care, they should know that he is backed by the United Nations, where “birth control is consider a basic human right.”

Christians should encourage life-saving science and medicine.

Merritt challenges the idea that some of the birth control measures opposed by the owners of Hobby Lobby work as abortificients. Although she notes that the National Institutes of Health and Mayo Clinic describe them as abortificients, the New York Times reports otherwise. She flippantly remarks that “we really should have a faith that is strong enough to endure an eighth grade sex education class.” She never establishes the connection between free birth control and saving lives.

Christians should care about the environment.

In support of this claim, Merritt appealed to the established religion of Yahweh that she denigrated in the previous section of her essay. “One of the very first commands in Genesis," she writes, "was when God told us to care for creation. We were to be stewards of the fish, birds, cattle, wild animals, and every creeping thing.”

She has learned to mimic the "bible-talk typical of evangelicals. The Bible, however, does not use the word stewardship. In Genesis Moses uses the word for dominion, which in Hebrew means to subjugate or trample down.

Moreover, the slaughter of ten of thousands of animals annually on an altar by the Levitical priesthood in order to satisfy the blood lust of their deity does not sound much like stewardship.

And Merritt is selective about the objects of our stewardship. She laments that “We frack the ground God gave us because we're hungry for more fuel.” She seems oblivious to the fact that if God gave us the land, he also gave us the oil beneath.

Finally, gets to her point: “Because of our overuse of resources, overpopulation can cause us to defy one of God's first instructions to us. Allowing for birth control helps us care for creation.”

Of course, as many pundit have noted already, Hobby Lobby allows birth control, or at least 16 of 20 types of birth control. Federal and state law allows birth control. Apparently “allowing for birth control” means mandating that someone else pay for it.

Christians believe that women and men are made in the image of God.

People are made in the image of God, not corporations. Because of that basic theological understanding, we know that corporations should not be considered over individuals.”

Unfortunately for Merritt, the Supreme Court follows United States law, not Mosaic Law. And according the United States law, corporations are treated like persons. Moreover, the decision about what kinds of birth control to offer employees in their insurance packages was not decided by some Board of Directors. The decision came down from the Green family who owns Hobby Lobby.

Merritt summarizes the theme of our essay, which does not follow from her title: “As a Christian, I am profoundly upset by the Supreme Court's decision. And I hope that other men and women of faith might stand with individuals, who are made in the image of God, and who have the right to access the medical care they need.”

The essay plainly demonstrates that she is upset, not Christians in general. Moreover, when she introduces each of her bullet points with the expression “Christians should . . . ,” Merritt only demands that other Christians agree with her.

And she has the nerve to complain about one kind of Christian (the Green family) imposing its religious views on another. 

06 July 2014

The Hobby of Regulation

Continuing the break from the ongoing project of blogging the bible . . . 

The Supreme Court issued their ruling  in the case of Burwell vs.Hobby Lobby. The Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, effectively excluding it from some of the contraception mandates contained in the PPACA.
The Court split 5-4 along political lines. For those with the patience, you can download and read the Court's decision here. Your can read the translation from legalese into standard English and analysis in several links here.

Outside of the legal world, pundits of every political persuasion have analyzed the case and the ruling from every conceivable angle:

*Religion of corporate directors vs. religion of employees

*Corporate rights vs. women's rights

* Birth control vs. abortifacients

*Rights of non-profits vs. rights of for profit corporations

*Government regulation vs. religious liberty

The court case, of course, centered on that last issue. It involved not only the first amendment constitutional protection of religion, but also the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. (To the dismay of Progressive opponents of Hobby Lobby, that law passed unanimously in the House of Representatives with only  three dissenting votes in the Senate (among the Jesse Helms), was introduced in the Senate by Charles Shumer, and enjoyed the support of such liberal "luminaries" as Kennedy and Kerry, Feinstein and Boxer, Metzenbaum, Biden, and Shumer, and was signed into law by President Clinton. The court ruled that PPACA imposed as substantial burden on the religious freedom of Hobby Lobby, in violation of the RFRA.

A memo to Progressives: if this case infuriates you, stop passing regulations that eventually end up at the Supreme Court anyway.

Conservatives should celebrate the victory by Hobby Lobby. The decision at least erects a small barrier to the ever expanding government intrusion and regulation generated by PPACA. (Indeed, regulation seems to be a hobby of sorts for the federal government these days--done as much for fun and fulfillment as for executive branch responsibility.)

It is also a reminder how broad the way remains for government regulation, especially through the PPACA. In Burwell vs Hobby Lobby, the Court sanctioned a narrow realm of liberty for those who profess belief in an abstract theoretical construct they call God. Meanwhile, those who oppose PPACA on the more substantive grounds of property rights and the rights of contract remain subject to its mandates.

In addition, the religious claims of Hobby Lobby involve other complexities outside the question of law. The Green family who owns Hobby Lobby no doubt are devout Christians. And one can argue for the morality of the marketplace--where humans both cooperate and compete in the exchange of goods, services, and idea for their betterment. But the market can have negative outcomes, even for Christians like the Greens. Hobby Lobby now has over 500 stores with  thousands of employees. It is one of the smaller "big box" retailers that have become so prevalent. Like the others, however, it must go to China for suppliers to remain competitive.  According to the United States Department of Lasbor, the average Chinese hourly wage in manufacturing is $1.74. And Chinese workers, of course, are not American workers.

04 July 2014

The Declaration of Independence and National Identity

While the Continental Congress approved a resolution declaring independence from Britain on 2 July,1776, it  approved Thomas Jefferson's document explaining the reasons that compelled Americans to declare their independence on 4 July 1776.

This is the reason we celebrate Independence Day on the fourth of July rather than on the second.

Jefferson's Declaration began as simply a political document announcing the separation from Britain and the birth of a new independent nation. It has become much more than that. It is now an American creed, assuming an almost religious significance about what we believe as Americans: liberty, equality, and republican government. And in the absence of traditional components of nationality, those ideas in the Declaration of Independence have become a substitute for those components. It is the ideas of the Declaration of Independence that to a large extent constitute our national identity.

Traditionally, any people's national identity rests upon geography, language, ethnicity, and religion. People groups generally identify with some geographic location where they have lived. Regardless of how well their land has provided material needs, they romanticize it as their homeland. They lay some claim to it based upon historical or mythological narratives about how they settled there. They are unified by a common language. Speakers of other languages are often seen as less civilized. Perhaps the linguistic group share some physical characteristics that encourage the development of some degree of ethnic consciousness. Finally, a shared religious tradition adds to their social cohesion and provides myths about origins and destiny Often their government provides legal and financial support to their historic faith.

These traditional elements of national identity only had shallow roots in the New World. Over the two centuries of our history as an independent nation, there roots have withered. First, America’s sense of place is not as deep rooted as that in other nations. Many of the first settlers, especially the wealthier leadership behind the colonization efforts never intended to make North America their permanent home. They hoped to strike it rich like Spanish conquistadors and return home to Britain to assume the life of country gentlemen. The few that achieved this goat were largely the sugar planters in the islands of the West Indies. Most of those who come, however, never became prosperous enough to make it back home to Britain. For others, the North American wilderness offered opportunities for the future, not a basis for a historic homeland rooted in the past.

Second, Americans do not have their own language. We speak a foreign language: English. Even the regions accents of American speakers of English derive from the different regions of England from which they originated.

Third, Americans does have a distinctive ethnicity identity, especially when considered from the perspective the physical appearance. Europeans, Africans, and Asians all differ in degrees regarding aspects of physical characteristics. And the people of many  nation-states to some extent exhibit the physical characteristics of the dominant ethnic background. We all have some general expectations of how persons form China, Nigeria, or Italy appear to us. Not so much with Americans. No one recently has expressed surprise and said, "Funny, you don't look American.".

America to a higher degree than most other nations is known for its ethnic diversity. Out diversity is hardly a recent development. Britain’s colonies from the beginning possessed a diverse population. Europeans from Britain, Sweden, Holland, Germany, and France established enclaves of settlement. Africans from that continent’s West Coast lived throughout the colonies, though chiefly in the Southern region. A general sense of Northern European identity that Americans shared gradually disappeared with the later arrival of Eastern and Southern Europeans, Asians, and in more recent times, Hispanics. Because of this immigration and ethnic diversity, Americans possess no distinct physical characteristics of an ethnic group.

Finally, America has no national, government supported religion. This circumstance, too, results from our long standing diversity. Anglicans, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Dutch Reformed, Baptists, Lutherans, Unitarians, and Deists populated the early colonies. Some colonies established a particular denomination as the government sanctioned faith. This resulted in some persecution of Quakers by Congregationalists in Massachusetts, and of Baptists in Virginia by Anglicans. Partly because of this religious diversity, the Constitutional Convention created no nationally established religious denomination. The Constitution of 1787 left the legal status of religion to the states. Gradually, however, even the state establishments disappeared. Americans shared a general sense of Protestantism (that accompanied their self-conception as ethnic Northern Europeans) for many decades. The immigration that brought new ethnic groups also brought new religious faiths. Adherents to Catholicism now outnumber any Protestant denomination and a wide range of non-western religious faith now dot the cultural landscape.

So what holds such diverse elements together? The ideas contained in the Declaration of Independence. The devotion to the ideas of liberty, equality, and republican government provides the cohesion that in many other diverse countries can only be achieved through authoritarian governments.

As historian Richard Hofstadter put it, "It has been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies, but to be one."

In other words, we are not Americans because of who we are geographically, linguistically, ethnically, or religiously. We are Americans because of what we believe.

Thomas Jefferson