We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Sunday, October 27, 2013


There’s nothing more dangerous than an inspired football team.

Team member  Brock Vereen's comment on
the Minnesota Gophers' 34-23 defeat of Nebraska, 10/26/13

The team is thriving, rallying around Kill’s spirit and is inspired to carry on in his absence.

From:  Minnesota 'thriving' sans its leader",
commenting on Coach Jerry Kill's leave of absence to deal with medical issues

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fighting Over a Name (Round Two)

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
The debate over use of American Indian names or references in sports has come up again in a big way with regards to the name of the Washington, D.C. football team.  The "R word" is clearly a racial slur although there are those (including some Indians) who say that it isn't.  The owner of the team has vowed not to change the name, which he sees as an embodiment of its rich football heritage, but one wonders how long he will be able to hold out against mounting pressure for a change.  It has only made matters harder for him that President Obama has spoken in favor of a new name.

The reason I bring this up is because of a posting on the Minneapolis Star Tribune website reporting (here) that representatives of the American Indian Movement have petitioned the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to prevent any display of the the Washington team's name or logo in an upcoming game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis.  AIM has threatened legal action if the MSFA ignores or denies its petition.  It is this kind of pressure that is going to make it harder and harder for the team to resist a change.

In an August 2011 posting reflecting on the dispute over University of North Dakota's use of the name "Fighting Sioux" (here), I wrote, "What is most important about the controversy surrounding the use of Indian names and mascots in sports is the controversy itself. It encourages us to be more self-conscious in our attitudes towards Indians and the injustices they continue to suffer. The debate over names is a small step forward in our search for a just, equitable society and thus a good thing...Political correctness in both society generally and the church in particular is a mixed bag at best, but in this case it is important and helpful."  In the case of the Washington football team's name, however, I would argue that the name itself is as important as the larger issue.  It is offensive.  It reflects an ugly side of our history and our nations' unjust, racist treatment of American Indians right down to the present.  It is time for a change.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Giant & the Toothpick: A Case of Corporate Overkill?

Khun Damrong of "Starbung Coffee")
There is a street vendor in Bangkok, Thailand who sells coffee.  He has one cart and sells at one location.  His income can't be more than a few dollars or tens of dollars a day, at most.  His name is Damrong Maslae, and he has become the target for a lawsuit by Starbucks, a corporation that last year generated over $18 billion in revenue.  In Thailand alone, Starbucks has over 170 outlets across the nation.  Khun Damrong's sin?  He calls his stand "Starbung Coffee" (กาแฟสตาร์บัง), and his logo is one that looks a lot like that of Starbucks.

According to stories coming out of Thailand (see here), Khun Damrong intends to fight the lawsuit and is even willing to go to jail if he loses.  He is Muslim, and he claims that the idea and design for his Starbung logo came from his religion and not from Starbucks.  The, ah, similarities between the two seem a little too close to be a coincidence, and it appears that the corporation has every right to sue for copyright infringement.  Khun Damrong is quoted in an article entitled,"'Starbung' Coffee Street Vendor Opens Up about Starbucks Copyright Dispute," as saying in defense of himself,
Sure, my logo may look like theirs, but I don’t see it as being totally the same. I haven’t copied them. My logo has its own identity. And it’s green because the color has always had a special significance for Muslims like me. I’m dejected that a huge multi-national company should choose to take this action. They are like a giant treading on a tiny toothpick—what would happen if the toothpick stood up and stabbed the sole of their foot? It might backfire and some people might turn away from Starbucks. It’s normal for me to feel tired of vending, but on top of that now I have all this trouble that just seems nonsensical to me.
 Starbucks may have a legal case, but it feels, however, like corporate overkill.  One street vendor?  If anything, this use of a Starbucks-like logo promotes Starbucks more than it harms it, and Khun Damrong certainly can't take enough business away from the corporation's outlets in Thailand to make any financial difference—assuming he even takes away any business at all, which is unlikely.  It seems petty.  One even wonders if it might not generate a backlash that will cost Starbucks some money because people sympathize with the tootpick-sized underdog and decide to boycott the giant.  For sure, Starbucks will spend more money taking Khun Damrong to court than he will cost it otherwise.

More largely, this feels like a case in point of the principle that what is legal (or illegal) and what is fair (or wrong) are not the same thing.  It is really, really hard to feel any sympathy with the big bucks corporation and not hard at all to feel a bit sorry for the little guy trying to make a tiny bit better living on the hot, hot streets of Bangkok.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Both Divine Justice & Karma

Liberals may despise Cruz, but in one of those ironies common in politics, they know that right now he’s big government’s best friend. Democrats won’t utter the words out loud, but in their hearts they’re chanting, “Go, Ted, Go!” And in quiet moments, as they count their unearned blessings, they dare to dream their secret ally might be the next Republican nominee for president. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Kingdom We Work For

In a posting entitled, "What the Ruling Class Does Not Comprehend," conservative columnist Eric Cox engages in a postmortem of the recent government shutdown.  Reflecting what seems to be the growing sentiment on the Right and taking the long view of things, he is heartened rather than discouraged by the apparent defeat of conservatism this time around.  True conservatives, he argues, stand on the side of liberty and they will prevail.  He concludes, "Although a minor loss we did suffer, we will not have to endure many more, for liberty and the human spirit will not allow it."

There is another sentence in his posting, however, that is especially revealing of the fundamental tension that lies at the heart of the great debate taking place in America today over nature of our society.  Cox states, "Conservative values revolve around the concept of individual liberty."  On the face of it, that sounds benign enough, but as is true of every principle and value the devil is in the details.  For tens of millions of individuals one man's liberty is another woman's chains.  That is to say that individual liberty is fine so long as everyone shares in it, so long as everyone is free.  In fact, there is not a nation on the Earth in which everyone enjoys the same liberties as everyone else.  Only in the Kingdom will we all be free.

It is for these reasons that liberals have a different take on liberty.  Liberal values revolve around the concept of social justice.  Where there is no justice, there is no liberty.  Where there is only individual liberty without the constraints of social justice, some will always be deprived of liberty, which means ultimately we all are so deprived.

Now, of course, our conservative friends will respond, "Yes, but..." and make the point that social justice has ways of morphing into imposing unwarranted, oppressive constraints on individuals.  That is at least part of the reason why they fear Big Government so intensely, and they are not entirely wrong or unjustified in their concerns.  The point is that whether our values are centrally concerned with the individual or with society more largely the devil is still in the details.

What would be best is if we all could understand that individual liberty and social justice are two sides of the same coin.  The Big Government that the "individualists" fear and the "socialists" rely on is the one that has made it possible for an increasing number of people of color to find a better, safer, and more just in American society.  It has expanded the scope of individual liberty because it has (however imperfectly) been an agent for a more just American society.  The Affordable Care Act that is so deeply hated by the Right has as its ultimate aim the goal of expanding access to health care, that is expand the scope of individual and social well-being.  You can't have individual liberty without social justice just as society is only truly just when its individuals are truly free.

That is the Kingdom of God that we work for: a world that is free and fair.  Such a simple thing, such a seemingly impossible thing!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Listen to Your Life

Listen to your life.  See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.  In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life (1992), p. 2

Friday, October 18, 2013

Reflections on "Five Myths About Jesus"

Reza Aslan has become a "known quantity" in American religious circles, partly for his book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth and partly because of his infamous interview on Fox News.  Recently, he wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post entitled, "Five myths about Jesus," which comments on what Aslan seems to consider to be some of the more questionable beliefs Christians hold about Jesus.  The title is provocative, but the actual "myths" are only myths mostly in the sense that they are not factual—according to Aslan.  These myths, so-called, include:
  1. Jesus was born in Bethlehem;
  2. Jesus was an only child (this one is for Catholic readers);
  3. Jesus had only twelve disciples;
  4. Jesus was actually tried by Pontius Pilate; and
  5. Jesus was buried in a tomb.
Number Three seems innocent enough.  The Twelve were not Jesus' only disciples, a fact that is clear from the gospels.  Aslan, unfortunately, does not explain why this otherwise minor point is actually rather important, which is that Jesus numbered women among his disciples.  Women followers "sat at his feet" as only disciples did, and they travelled with him as did the male disciples.  Thus, the fact that Jesus had more than twelve disciples is controversial only because of who some of those disciples were.

Number Four is controversial only for Catholics.  We Protestants have no trouble with the idea that Jesus had at least four brothers and some number of sisters.

Numbers Five and Six, on the other hand, clearly contradict statements in the gospels that Jesus was tried by Pontius Pilate (see Luke 23:1-25) and that he was buried in a tomb (Luke 23:50-56).  In both cases, Aslan reasons that Jesus did not have a trial and was not buried in a tomb because that was not the way things were done in those days.  Pilate would not have wasted his time on a Jewish criminal-traitor, and part of the shame of crucifixion was that the crucified were denied a proper burial.  This, frankly, is the kind of reasoning that drives historians nuts.  If there is one thing that the study of the past proves, it is that very frequently things do not happen the way they should have.  There are always extenuating circumstances, exceptions, and unexpected events—were that not the case, no underdog would ever win and most football games would not have to be played.  To say that it is unlikely or even highly unlikely that these two events could have taken place says exactly nothing because the actual study of the past depends on documentary evidence not suppositions.  I'm not saying that Aslan is wrong.  Maybe there was no trial and no burial.  But maybe there was.  Historians hate to truck in maybes because they get us nowhere when it comes to knowing what actually did happen.  Aslan himself admits that it is remotely possible that Pilate met Jesus and that Jesus might have been buried in a tomb.  He just doesn't think either event was likely.  He apparently has not heard of the concept of a "black swan event."

So, this leaves us with Number One.  Jesus wasn't born in Bethlehem.  Aslan is probably correct, and this is hardly something new.  Mainstream biblical scholars have long held that "the birth narratives" do not recount actual historical events and were written, among other things, to prove that Jesus was indeed the messiah.  Now, again, we have to say that in a strict historical sense Jesus could well have been born in Bethlehem.  Lacking sufficient documentation, we do not know one way or the other.  If I had to bet the farm, however, I would bet that he wasn't.  One reason is the silence of Mark and John on the point.  Another is the point that Aslan makes, which is the birth narratives really do read as if they were crafted to prove that Jesus was the messiah.  A third reason is that they also function to introduce the main themes of the two gospels that contain those narratives, Matthew and Luke.  Still, lacking the documentation to demonstrate where Jesus was born, all we can trade in is probabilities.  And, again, actual events have a way of ignoring probabilities.

This article, frankly, carries little weight.  It is mundane at points, overly speculative at others, and offers nothing that is new more generally.  If it had been the Rev. John or Joan Doe who submitted it, it is hard to believe that the Washington Post would have published it.  One wonders who the audience was for this piece.  "True believers" are not likely to see it in the Post, which a part of the "liberal lamestream media."  More progressive Christians are not going to be shocked.  Non-religious, non-theistic "nones" may take some comfort in it, but at best it only confirms what they already think—namely, that religion is mostly a bunch of myths.  Aslan can do better than this—and has.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Democracy Works—Again

In his appraisal of the "winners and losers" of the U. S. government shut down and fiscal cliff crisis that was resolved last night, political columnist Chris Cillizza lists "our system of government" as one of the losers. He writes, "Does anyone think this is how our government should work? Does anyone think we won’t be right back in this mess early next year? The government has proven over and over in the last few years that it is simply incapable of doing big things or, if we are being honest, even medium things. Ugh."  Given all that happened, most of us sympathize with Cillizza's observations.  No, this is not how the government should work.  Yes, come January and February we will be right back in it again.  No, the federal government doesn't seem to be getting much accomplished to the detriment of the whole nation.

And, yet, Cillizza is only partially correct.  One of the most important aspects of a functioning democracy is that it manages conflict between contending political agendas and ideologies.  We are in a unique and dangerous time in American history.  In a nation where racism remains a potent reality, we have elected an African American president.  In a nation whose roots are culturally northern European and white, we are becoming an ever-increasingly brown nation in which Spanish cultures are rising stars and Asian cultures not far behind.  This is a massive change, and it is creating massive amounts of anxiety and anger.  The tea party is a product of the change and it is fueled by the anxiety and anger, which is both its power and its downfall all at the same time.

The tea party threatens to be a revolutionary movement.  We need to be clear on this score.  The behavior of its representatives in Congress demonstrates that this movement is tired of "politics as usual," fearful of the federal government, and very angry.  It has the makings of a revolutionary movement.  The tea party representatives in Congress deliberately set out to shut down the government, and they  apparently never did believe that the threatened default is a big deal.  The tea party is a powerful voice for significant change.  It is, however, also a minority voice no matter how loud or strong, and the large majority of Americans do not want the changes it is proposing.

In a single-party government, the government would necessarily have to suppress the tea party—jail some of its leaders, intimidate the others, and deny the movement a voice.  Short-term that would be a relief, and long-term it would be a disaster.  The rest of us have to let the tea party have its voice, and we have to suffer through its machinations.  We have to give it its due in a democratic society.  We have to.  Not to do so would be still more dangerous to us all.

OK, it was sloppy and scary, but what just happened in Washington is that our democratic institutions showed again that they can subvert a potentially violent revolutionary movement by including it in the process.  The process is reducing the power of the tea party not by suppressing it but by forcing it to play politics as usual and in the process exposing itself to the public for what it is.  It is just for times such as these that we have what remains a functioning democracy.  It is sloppy and scary.  It also works, at least so far.  It is exactly what we keep saying it is: the worst form of government ever devised by the human race—except for all of the rest.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

If the Lord Redeems Atheists...

In response to Pope Francis' apparent statement that atheists can go to heaven, Stephen Colbert observes,

If the Lord redeems atheists all bets are off. What’s next? The Lord redeems Lutherans? It’s madness! I feel like a chump. … I’m just so glad Jesus didn’t live to see this.

Stephen Colbert

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Families Are Forever"

"Families are Forever" (trailer) is a video produced by the Family Acceptance Project of San Francisco University.  It tells the story of a Mormon family that has had to deal with the fact that a member of the family is gay.  As good Mormons, the parents had been anti-gay, and it came as a shock to their faith to discover their son was what they and their church so strongly rejected.

The trailer link above (and here) is worth the two minutes it takes to watch it.  If you become interested, the project press release and an AP news release provide further details about the video and the family.  When love wins out over prejudice and ideology, we sense the quiet Presence of the Holy Spirit gently, firmly working toward the Kingdom.  Amen.

Monday, October 14, 2013

What is it We Want to Preserve?

An Isle Royale gray wolf
Source:  blog.nature.org
In a posting entitled, "Should We Let the Wolves of Isle Royale Disappear?" science writer Matt Miller raises some difficult philosophical issues concerning the wolves of Isle Royale National Park.  Isle Royale is, of course, an island located in Lake Superior.  For decades, naturalists have studied the pack of gray wolves that inhabit the island, but now that pack is in danger of dying off.  The question is, what to do?

Saving the pack would seem like a no-brainer for conservationists, but things are not that easy.  Evidently, the wolves arrived on the island only in the 1940s.  They are not indigenous.  The island, furthermore, is changing, and it is an open question whether or not it will be able to sustain its wolf population naturally in the future.  The deeper question is how to define the "natural state" of Isle Royale.  What state is it exactly that needs to be protected and even reclaimed?  Some of the most important older inhabitants of the island—caribou, coyotes and lynx—are gone.  Perhaps the wolves and moose, another Johnny come lately species on the island, should be allowed to die off and the older species reintroduced.  The posting makes the point that islands are tricker than mainland ecologies because they are limited in size and resources. Miller's solution to these difficult questions is to,
Let Isle Royale’s fauna continue to come and go as it has for thousands and thousands of years. And let’s continue studying this national park, learning how fauna and flora adapt, change, survive and disappear over time. And who knows? Maybe wolves will find a way there on their own. Or maybe lynxes will return. Or a new animal. Let’s just see what natural forces bring, on at least this one island. Around the world, conservationists will face choices like this. There often won’t be easy answers. It may not be comforting to let a population of charismatic animals disappear, but sometimes it may be the right choice. (emphasis in original)
Most readers of this blog would agree that we want to conserve and where possible restore our natural environment to the greatest extent possible.  But what does that mean?  Global warming is radically altering those environments, and there is no going back.  Evidently, the North Country of New York is going to become the new North Carolina within several decades.  What then do we want to preserve?  We can't go back to the "natural environment" of the so-called Little Ice Age, which was the pre-Invasion natural state of North America, even if we wanted to do so.  Should we be protecting species whose environments are undergoing significant change?  Or should we just reduce pollution as much as possible and let the species fend for themselves "naturally"?  The answers to these questions is evidently contextual and subject to revision as events and trends develop.  What we require is not just data and knowledge.  We also need wisdom.  Amen.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Shining Gem

Minnesota sports fans continue to face a generally grim landscape.  The Twins have for the last three years proven themselves to be among the weakest teams in major league baseball.  The NFL Vikings have stumbled out of the gate in their first four games.  The collegiate Golden Gophers football team seems likely to remain one of Big Ten's premier bottom-feeders for at least another year, and there is little expectation that the basketball Gophers will accomplish much in their upcoming season.  The NBA Timberwolves appear to be a much improved team (last year they improved from pathetic to pedestrian, a minor triumph) and are generating some buzz, but this is Minnesota so don't hold your breath.  One bright spot has been the dominant Gopher's women's hockey team, which in its last season was undefeated—a singular achievement.

And the other gem of Minnesota sports is the Lynx, who last evening won their second WNBA championship in three years.  After their third outstanding season in succession, the Lynx won seven straight games in the postseason without a loss, itself a notable achievement in professional sports of all kinds, to nail down their second WNBA title.  Until three years ago, the Lynx had been a piece with the rest of the Minnesota sports scene, but no more. The word dynasty is being bandied about more and more, and that is possible.  Their five starters and top reserve are all excellent players, and there is no reason for 2014 to be any different from 2013—except, well, we better take this one season at a time because, after all, it is Minnesota sports.  In the meantime, it is fun to win big for a change.  Thank you, Lynx!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Warfare & the Rise of Civilization

In a research paper entitled, "War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies," a team of researchers led by Dr. Peter Turchin of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, reports the findings of its research into the causes of the spread of ancient complex societies.  It employed a computer model, which predicted with 65% accuracy where ancient civilizations actually arose.  While climate, geography, and the presence of agriculture are important contributing factors in the model, the team found that the primary factor for the emergence and growth of complex societies was warfare.    The report states, "We have argued here that this pattern was due to the emergence and spread of technologies enabling more intense forms of warfare that, in turn, created selection pressures for the cultural evolution of norms and institutions, making possible cooperating groups numbering in the millions."

If correct, people of faith have to ask some hard, unsettling questions about "the way God works" in the world.  It is one thing to see in war an example of human brokenness, but it is quite another to claim that warfare is a primary carrier of civilization.  That claim is counterintuitive in a seriously uncomfortable way.  How is it that a God of love built the hurt and horror of war into our creation?  This question is, of course, but a variation of the whole question of the relationship of God to evil.

For those of us who are people of faith, then, we stand somewhere between two realities.  One is evil.  The other one is the equally or still more compelling realities of love, beauty, and the way in which the universe is constructed to be hospitable to life on Earth.  We have witnessed and felt the power of a deeper spiritual reality, and without pretending that there are any easy answers to the other reality of evil our intuition as Christians is that God's will as we see it in Christ is ultimately not crucifixion but Resurrection.

It is a statement of faith when one says, "The reality of evil is so compelling I cannot believe in God."  There is no proving that a-theism is correct.  The same is true when one says, "The reality of love is so compelling that I must believe in God."  There is no proving that a theistic faith in God is correct.  That's why it is faith.  And any person of a theistic faith who is not uncomfortable with the provisional nature of faith is not paying attention to the real world that is the arena of our faith.  Once we get comfortable with our faith in God it turns into an idolatrous ideology.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Spirit of Dialogue

Pope Francis I  continues to say things that progressive and moderate American Catholics must find gratifying and exciting.  He and his views are certainly not what was expected from the next pope when Benedict announced his retirement.  In a recent interview that Francis gave to the Italian newspaper, La Republica, as reported in a Huffington Post posting (here), he is quoted as saying,
Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.
There could hardly be a better description of the spirit of dialogue, which is a process of listening, reflecting, sharing, and listening again aimed at closing the gap between individuals, classes, parties, and ultimately nations.  It lies at the heart of the political art of compromise and international diplomacy at their best.  The absence of this spirit of dialogue can have devastating consequences, as we are seeing now in Congress' abject failure to listen, reflect, share, and listen again.  On the other hand, a pope dedicated to dialogue is good news and is likely to have positive consequences for as long as Francis is pope—and beyond.  Amen.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Mainline Success (of sorts)

We have become so used to the story of mainline decline and the failure of mainline churches to attract significant numbers of new members that even a modest success comes as a surprise.  The PPRI's 2013 Hispanic Values Survey, however, provides us with just such a surprise. According to the findings of the survey, a measurable number of Hispanics who were born Catholic have become mainline Protestants.  While only 9% of American Hispanics were born mainline Protestants, 12% of the survey's sample reported themselves to belong (as adults) to mainline churches.  That rate of conversion lags behind evangelicals, who went from 7% of Hispanics born evangelical to 13% of Hispanic adults being evangelicals.  Those who considered themselves "unaffiliated" rose from 5% to 12%.

It is not unusual for mainline churches to have at least some members who were formerly Catholics, but it is a little surprising to find quite a number of Hispanics moving from Catholicism into mainline churches.  Our general image is of a mass migration from Catholicism into evangelicalism, and that appears to be a misapprehension of what is actually taking place.  The "nones" are increasing more rapidly than the evangelicals, and for once even the mainliners are attracting adherents from a segment of the American population—an unexpected segment at that.

We can't make too much of these figures.  The mainline continues to decline in all of the key measures of viability.   But if the PPRI survey is accurate, that story is not the only story.  It is worth noting also that the "nones" are growing as rapidly among Hispanic Americans as they are among the population at large—and that the evangelicals are not making as great an inroad into Hispanic-American Catholicism as we might have thought.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Just Maybe "The System" Will Win

As we watch events on Capitol Hill with a mixture of disbelief and disgust, an important thing may be happening that is hopeful if tenuous.  From "out here" most of us can see that one key problem in Congress is the breakdown of a system of politics that basically works pretty well most of the time.  It is a process of give-and-take, deal-making, and compromise that is not perfect but still has served the republic reasonably well for a long time now.  Yes, it sometimes leads to corruption.  Important principles and values can get muddied.  On the other hand, it can also produce landmark legislation that changes and improves the lives of our citizens.  It is this process that has broken down in Washington, and while there are a number of factors at work and there is no such thing as an innocent politician, it is also clear that it is the take-no-prisoners intransigence of the tea party faction esp. in the House of Representatives that is driving the breakdown of "politics as usual" in Washington and other places in our nation.

In this context, a posting at Bloomberg.com entitled, "Tea Party’s Ross Says Debt Worth Yielding on Obamacare," could be important—at least one would hope so.  The posting quotes Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Florida) as admitting, "We’ve lost the CR [continuing resolution] battle...We need to move on and take whatever we can find in the debt limit."  Ross apparently still feels that there should be negotiations concerning the debt ceiling, which President Obama has said is not going to happen, but the change in his tone is what is important.  He has shifted from intransigence on the Affordable Care Act to what appears to be a more realistic position.  He is quoted as saying, "There are a whole lot of other issues that haunted us at the election other than Obamacare,” and, “I would hope there’s at least enough of us [Republicans] to constitute a majority of reasonable people that realize we need to give and take."

The tea party began just three years ago with the attitude that the time for compromise was at an end.  Washington had to be coerced into change.  The public at large, however, quickly grew sour on that approach to national politics, and we have already several times witnessed tea party politicians go down in flames because of their radical ideologically driven approach.  The reality of American politics with its many different perspectives, is forcing tea party politicians to learn that they can't get their way long-term unless they are willing to compromise with liberals, moderates, independents, and esp. other conservatives who aren't as right-wing as they are.  Ross apparently is learning that lesson even if others in his faction haven't yet done so.  That is hopeful, as far as it goes.  We desperately need a return to the politics practiced by "reasonable people."

Friday, October 4, 2013

Gun Control & Intimate Violence

When I was in high school in the early 1960s, a student shot and killed his best friends while hunting.  His friend, as I remember it, made a disparaging remark about his girl friend, and the hard words between them ended with a senseless death. A recent news posting entitled, "Do lax gun laws escalate domestic violence?" suggests that one of the greatest dangers widespread, all but uncontrolled gun ownership poses has nothing to do with crime or mental illness (See also the NY Times editorial, "Dangerous Gun Myths").  It has to do, rather, with intimate relationships within families and among friends.  Citing various reports and studies, the posting notes, for example, that "domestic assaults were as much as 12 times more likely to end in death if a gun was involved." One investigation into cases where a family membered murdered members of the family and then committed suicide found that in 92% of these cases a gun was involved.  In all, far, far more Americans die in incidents of domestic violence where guns are involved than on foreign battlefields.  The posting also makes the point that many more individuals die in cases of domestic gun violence who were nothing more than by-standers who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It is clear that we have lost the capacity as a nation to look on all of this dispassionately and make rational decisions about smart ways to limit access to firearms sufficiently to reduce all of this death while still allowing hunters and other sports folks the opportunity of gun ownership.  We have, for a time at least, fallen into the grip of fear and ideology, which have morphed into a deep-seated anger.  It is ironic.  The very very emotions of fear and anger that makes guns so dangerous are also the things that are preventing us from taking sensible steps to protect ourselves from the violence.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Against Biblical Literalism

If we are embarrassed by the humanity of the biblical writers, we are also probably embarrassed by the humanity of Jesus the Jew from Nazareth and by our own humanity.  Just as we are Docetists if we deny the full humanity of Jesus, so we are Docetists in our doctrine and interpretation of Scripture if we claim that the biblical witnesses were mere automations under the control of the Spirit of God.  If we affirm the full humanity of Jesus, we will also respect the humanity of the biblical witness.

Daniel L. Migliore,
Faith Seeking Understanding (2nd ed., 2004), 54