Daily Archives: December 29, 2007

Religion and Ethics Weekly: A Look Ahead to the Likely Major Religion Stories of 2008

[BOB] ABERNETHY: One of the things that will certainly be going on in the New Year is more and more of something that we’ve already seen, which is this closer relationship between religious organizations in the United States and those in other countries. Rachel, you’ve been writing a lot about this.

Ms. [RACHEL] ZOLL: The growth or explosion, really, of Christianity overseas is having an impact within the United States. As just one example, the United Methodist Church, which is considered and is and always has been very much of a middle class American church, if the current growth trends continue will become a majority African church within the next couple of decades. They’re already dealing with the fact that there are Methodists from the Philippines and from Korea who are planting churches within the United States as well, and they’re trying to figure out the relationship there. Another impact of it is that a lot of very entrepreneurial, very evangelical-minded or evangelically minded African pastors are coming over here to plant churches in the United States. Now, for people who don’t watch these things closely, they are puzzled. Why does, in a very religious country, does anyone need to plant more churches? But these are very fervent believers, and they think that the American church has lost its spirit and has become co-opted so much by the culture that they’re here to save us.

ABERNETHY: Meanwhile, some U.S. Episcopalians are separating themselves from the main Episcopal Church and putting themselves under the authority of Nigerians or others in Africa or South America. Bring us up to date on that.

Ms. ZOLL: Sure. The Christians overseas tend to have a very theologically conservative view on the moral issues that we’re grappling with here, and what’s happening is that theological conservatives in the United States are making common cause with like-minded conservatives overseas. The Episcopal Church is not cracking up. It’s a very small comparative number of churches that have actually left the Episcopal Church, about 55 as of this date out of more than 7,000 congregations in the United States. But it’s not just the numbers. It’s the — a lot of those churches are some of the most vibrant churches within the Episcopal Church, and just recently an entire diocese voted to leave.

ABERNETHY: But do you expect more of that separating?

Ms. ZOLL: It’s not clear how many more will happen, but what we know that what will happen next year is a lot of litigation, and that is going to be very difficult for the Episcopal Church and for people who are trying to leave. It’s going to be expensive. It’s going to be ugly, and it’s going to take a long time to play out.

Read it all but do not fall into the trap of thinking that only whole parishes by voting action to depart from TEC measures the degree of the problem.

As I noted earlier:

You can see what is going on, [the TEC leadership is] … playing games with numbers and categories. “Few” leaving actually means “congregations,” and congregations means congregations defined as a whole. This is collapsing all four categories into a very narrow and misleading picture of group number 2.

People know that in reality it is very difficult to get whole parishes or dioceses to take significant decisions about ANYTHING, much less something as important as this. Given the degree of opposition and hostility faced in numerous quarters from diocesan and national leadership, and given how many Anglican reasserters (such as your blog convenor) have been advocating a stay and be opposed but be faithful stance, it is actually surprising that the numbers from the four categories are this large.

The key point is, taken together the four groups illustrate a VERY SERIOUS problem. Good leadership owns the actual situation and then tries to deal with it, it does not try to redefine it narrowly and pretend it is less than it is


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, Episcopal Church (TEC), Global South Churches & Primates, Law & Legal Issues, Media, Religion & Culture, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), TEC Conflicts

Paul Steinberg on the Danger of Binge Drinking

New Year’s Eve tends to be the day of the year with the most binge drinking (based on drunken driving fatalities), followed closely by Super Bowl Sunday. Likewise, colleges have come to expect that the most alcohol-filled day of their students’ lives is their 21st birthday. So, some words of caution for those who continue to binge and even for those who have stopped: just as the news is not so great for former cigarette smokers, there is equally bad news for recovering binge-drinkers who have achieved a sobriety that has lasted years. The more we have binged ”” and the younger we have started to binge ”” the more we experience significant, though often subtle, effects on the brain and cognition.

Much of the evidence for the impact of frequent binge-drinking comes from some simple but elegant studies done on lab rats by Fulton T. Crews and his former student Jennifer Obernier. Dr. Crews, the director of the University of North Carolina Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, and Dr. Obernier have shown that after a longstanding abstinence following heavy binge-drinking, adult rats can learn effectively ”” but they cannot relearn.

When put into a tub of water and forced to continue swimming until they find a platform on which to stand, the sober former binge-drinking rats and the normal control rats (who had never been exposed to alcohol) learned how to find the platform equally well. But when the experimenters abruptly moved the platform, the two groups of rats had remarkably different performances. The rats without previous exposure to alcohol, after some brief circling, were able to find the new location. The former binge-drinking rats, however, were unable to find the new platform; they became confused and kept circling the site of the old platform.

This circling occurs, Dr. Crews says, because the former binge-drinking rats continued to show neurotoxicity in the hippocampus long after (in rat years) becoming sober. On a microscopic level, Dr. Crews has shown that heavy binge-drinking in rats diminishes the genesis of nerve cells, shrinks the development of the branchlike connections between brain cells and contributes to neuronal cell death. The binges activate an inflammatory response in rat brains rather than a pure regrowth of normal neuronal cells. Even after longstanding sobriety this inflammatory response translates into a tendency to stay the course, a diminished capacity for relearning and maladaptive decision-making.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Teens / Youth, Young Adults

The Latest from the 2008 Presidential Election Futures Market

The Clinton contracts traded up substantially this week, while the price of the Obama contracts fell. The Clinton contracts last traded at 45.0 vs 39.1 on 21-Dec, while the Obama contracts are currently trading at 13.5 vs 16.2 a week ago. The Giuliani contracts last traded at 12.3 vs 11.8 last week. The McCain contracts continue to gain ground, now at 8.9 vs 8.0 a week ago on decent weekly volume. The Romney contracts are trading at 9.2, Huckabee at 4.2, and Paul at 4.3. The rest of the candidate contracts were little changed on the week. In the Republican nomination contracts, the McCain contracts continue their assault in price terms on the Romney and Giuliani contracts. While the Giuliani contracts are unchanged at 29.0 and the Romney contracts slipped to 22.4, the McCain contracts are now trading at 18.1 vs 16.4 last week. The Huckabee contracts last traded at 15.3. In the Democratic nomination contracts, Clinton has increased her lead over Obama, last trading at 67.0 vs 63.3 on 21-Dec, while Obama traded down to 24.2 vs 30.6 a week ago.

Check out the Intrade website for more.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, US Presidential Election 2008

Bhutto’s Rival Blames Death on Government

A former prime minister of Pakistan came and laid a wreath Saturday on the grave of his former political rival.

But just before he did it, Nawaz Sharif blamed the military government of Pervez Musharraf for pulling Pakistan into the “grave crisis” that resulted in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. His words were terse, his eyes dry.

“His policies are responsible,” Mr. Sharif said in an interview on a specially chartered propeller plane that took him to Ms. Bhutto’s ancestral village. “Whether he is responsible or not, an independent commission will have to investigate. No commission can be independent if Musharraf is in charge of this government.”

Mr. Sharif’s antipathy to Mr. Musharraf runs deep. The former general ousted Mr. Sharif in a 1999 coup, which Mr. Sharif tried to prevent by blocking the landing of Mr. Musharraf’s plane in Karachi. Mr. Sharif was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for that, though the sentence was later modified to exile in Saudi Arabia, from which he returned last month.

On Saturday, Mr. Sharif flew to an airstrip in Mohenjo-Daro, where South Asian civilization was born some 5,000 years ago, and from there to the ancestral village of Ms. Bhutto, Naudero, where senior leaders of both their parties met briefly to give their sympathies and discuss the way forward. Mr. Sharif has already said his party would boycott the polls, scheduled for Jan. 8.

He said on his way to Naudero that he hoped Ms. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party would join the boycott. “With Musharraf, Pakistan doesn’t have a future,” he said in the interview.

Read it all.

Posted in * International News & Commentary, Asia, Pakistan

Daily Mail: Pope's exorcist squads will wage war on Satan

The Pope has ordered his bishops to set up exorcism squads to tackle the rise of Satanism.

Vatican chiefs are concerned at what they see as an increased interest in the occult.

They have introduced courses for priests to combat what they call the most extreme form of “Godlessness.”

Each bishop is to be told to have in his diocese a number of priests trained to fight demonic possession.

Read it all.

Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Other Churches, Pope Benedict XVI, Roman Catholic

William McKeachie: The ABC's Advent Letter and the Upcoming South Carolina Consecration

“If only the good were clever,
And only the clever were good,
This world would be so much better,
Than ever we thought it could.
But the good are seldom clever,
And the clever are hardly good;
The good are so rude to the clever,
And the clever so harsh to the good.”

”“ Anonymous

“The peace of God, it is no peace,
But strife closed in the sod.
Yet, brothers, pray but for one thing ”“
The marvelous peace of God.”

”“ W. A. Percy (1885-1942)

That most prolific of authors, Anonymous, nailed the human condition as it so often expresses itself amidst the dreaming spires of Oxford in the UK, and Sewanee in the US, where his (or her?) ditty about the good and the clever has been passed down from generation to generation.

In Sewanee’s case, the more profound expression of the perspective of the cross on the same truth is regularly sung in the University Chapel as penned by the late William Alexander Percy (one of Sewanee’s sons) and as found in the hymnal of The Episcopal Church. Both texts could surely be adapted and applied to the “crisis” (as the Archbishop of Canterbury has called it) afflicting the Anglican Communion. It is a crisis in which human polarisation has led to the present stand-off, but the cross provides a way forward.

In the months since the all-but-unanimous re-election of the Very Reverend Mark Lawrence as Bishop-designate of South Carolina, polarization has continued apace. But Dr Williams’s Advent Letter now points us towards resurrection.

The arcane and process-oriented rules of our ecclesiastical game can give the impression that, whatever the ups and downs and however convoluted the circling and turning and posturing, there never seems to emerge anything but a “déjà vu all over again” lack of consensus. Now at last, however, Dr Williams has laid out terms on which Lambeth 2008 might address and even answer the perennial questions about Anglicanism: What is it? Can it be saved? Is it worth it?

Among recently shifting fortunes in the state of play, Mark Lawrence’s home diocese, San Joaquin, has voted overwhelmingly to make its own shift from The Episcopal Church in the US to the Southern Cone of America, a shift welcomed and facilitated by the Southern Cone itself.

While this institutional migration of San Joaquin is certainly an anomaly, it is just as certainly but one among many anomalies in the world of contemporary Anglicanism.

For that matter, anomalousness as such might ironically be called the genius ”“ or daimon? ”“ of the Anglican Way, dating not just from the Elizabethan Settlement but from the immemorial mists of that long-ago encounter between Celtic and Roman Christianity.

Whereas the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US and her litigious Chancellor seem to have staked their claim ”“ indeed their exercise of hegemony ”“ on a kind of canonical fundamentalism, the Archbishop’s Advent Letter upholds a quite different ecclesiology.

Dr Williams writes: “The Communion is a voluntary association of provinces and dioceses; and so its unity depends not on a canon law that can be enforced but on the ability of each part of the family to recognise that other local churches have received the same faith from the apostles and are faithfully holding to it in loyalty to the One Lord incarnate who speaks in Scripture and bestows his grace in the sacraments. To put it in slightly different terms, local churches acknowledge the same ”˜constitutive elements’ in one another. This means in turn that each local church receives from others and recognises in others the same good news and the same structure of ministry, and seeks to engage in mutual service for the sake of our common mission.”

It is not, I hope, egotism on my part to read in Dr Williams’s words an echo of words of my own in the pages of The Church of England Newspaper last August: “Whether the Diocese of South Carolina is or is not part of The Episcopal Church is a matter of ecclesiological inconsequentiality. Anglicanism is re-aligning itself around relationships of gospel witness, catholic order, and apostolic faithfulness among and between bishops and dioceses whose defining identity is not that of denominations ”“ which, like all human institutions, wax and wane ”“ but, rather, that of the divinely constituted One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ.”

When and where does push come to shove? Can the Archbishop of Canterbury see to it that those who come to Lambeth 2008 really address the question “whether or how far we can recognise the same Gospel and ministry” in one another? For with these words, Dr Williams, perhaps almost against his own inclination, has at last identified the biblical and doctrinal bottom line.

My own hope would be that the Primates and Provinces of the Global South will, on this basis, overcome their understandable scepticism (not least about “professionally facilitated conversations”!) and show up for Lambeth en masse. For it is now clear that even the pathetically uncertain trumpet of the New Orleans Statement by the US House of Bishops is too much for many, if not most, American dioceses to heed. At a truly Communion-wide Lambeth, what the Reverend Dr Paul Zahl has called the “ersatz Christianity” of the leadership of the US Church would surely be exposed for what it is: a false gospel.

Notwithstanding the element of capriciousness about likely attendance or otherwise, Lambeth 2008 may provide the only opportunity available for the bishops of the Communion to commit to that “mutual recognisability” of faith and ministry which Dr Williams rightly claims as a sine qua non of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

It is on the basis of such mutual recognisability that the Diocese of South Carolina is moving ahead with the consecration of Mark Lawrence ”“ a priest from the migratory Diocese of San Joaquin! ”“ at the hands of Windsor-compliant bishops of The Episcopal Church, the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Global South, and the Common Cause Partnership.

Our hope is that his consecration, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s determination, will bear fruit at Lambeth 2008 in a clear and definitive affirmation, on the part of the vast majority of bishops present, that the Anglican Communion is (in the Archbishop’s words) “truly a gift of God to the wholeness of Christ’s Church.”

Only Lambeth can ensure that such an affirmation is based on more than mere consensus about where the “boundaries” of gospel truth and catholic ministry lie and “why they matter for our witness to the world as well as for our own integrity and mutual respect.”

—The Very Rev. William McKeachie is Dean of the Cathedral of Saint Luke and Saint Paul, Charleston, South Carolina

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * South Carolina, - Anglican: Commentary, Archbishop of Canterbury, Episcopal Church (TEC), Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), TEC Bishops, TEC Conflicts

What if a plane flight were networked and became a social experience with its own economy?

See what you think and don’t miss the picture.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Travel

US News and World Report Cover Story: A Return to Tradition

Worshipers come to St. Mary, Mother of God in downtown Washington, D.C., for various reasons, but many say that a big draw is the Tridentine Latin mass that is said here every Sunday. Soon, St. Mary may be less well known for that distinctive liturgical offering than for the number of big-name government and media types that occupy its pews. Now that Pope Benedict XVI has loosened the restrictions on churches that want to observe the pre-Vatican II rite, more parishes are availing themselves of the option. Call it part of a larger conservative shift within the church””one that includes a renewed emphasis on such practices as personal confession and reciting the rosary as well as a resurgent interest in traditional monastic and religious orders.

But this shift extends beyond the Roman Catholic Church. In Richardson, Texas, the congregation of Trinity Fellowship Church participates in something that would have been considered almost heretical in most evangelical Protestant churches five or 10 years ago: a weekly Communion service. An independent, nondenominational church of some 600 members, Trinity Fellowship is not the only evangelical congregation that is offering a weekly Eucharist, saying the Nicene or Apostles’ creeds, reading the early Church Fathers, or doing other things that seem downright Roman Catholic or at least high Episcopalian. Daniel Wallace, a professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, which trains pastors for interdenominational or nondenominational churches, says there is a growing appetite for something more than “worship that is a glorified Bible class in some ways.”

Something curious is happening in the wide world of faith, something that defies easy explanation or quantification. More substantial than a trend but less organized than a movement, it has to do more with how people practice their religion than with what they believe, though people caught up in this change often find that their beliefs are influenced, if not subtly altered, by the changes in their practice.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Religion & Culture

All Things Pakistan–Pakistan After Benazir: Choosing Our Future

More important to note is who the anger is not being directed at. I hope that the legacy of Benazir Bhutto’s untimely and tragic death is a legacy of a society that seizes this moment to reassert its demand for democracy and to recognize that extremist violence is our problem. This is not a mercenary war. This is Pakistan’s own battle. Right now the evidence suggests that society continues to tear at its own self. I fear that it will not change anytime soon. That things are likely to get worse before they become any better. But, I refuse to give up hope. At least, not yet.

Read it all and follow all the links.

Posted in * International News & Commentary, Asia, Pakistan

Hinduism: US website offends believers

The US-based online shopping place came under the attack from Hindu activists at Puri, one of the most hallowed destinations in India, following the misuse of Hindu gods and goddesses. The website sold undergarments embossed with the images of famous Hindu deities like Jagannath, Krishna, Rama, Siva, Mahalaxmi among others. A number of priests alongside some Hindu brigades poured into streets of Puri expressing their displeasure at the online shop.

Even though that website has put the images and slogans of other religions on undergarments, there was not any reaction from people of other communities here at Puri as the place is largely inhabited by Hindus.

But the Puri police slapped a case against the website based on a First Information Report (FIR) of Priyadarshan Pattnaik, the president of Jagannath Sena, a Puri-based religious outfit. Police also admitted that the website was found with selling undergarments emblazoned with the pictures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses through its online marketplace. “We registered a case under sections 295 (A) and 153 (A) of Indian Penal Code for maliciously hurting and damaging the religious sentiments and promoting enmity between classes, respectively. Though the crime has taken place somewhere else, we were bound to register a case looking at its sensitivity and link with the presiding god (Jagannath) at Jagannath temple. Investigation is on,” said Asheet Kumar Panigarhi, the superintendent of police (Puri). “This is a difficult case. We are facing such a case for the first time. We will see what we can do,” Panigarhi said.

Read it all.

Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Hinduism, Other Faiths

From the CSM: Too much religion on campaign trail?

Presidential candidates of both parties have talked more openly about their religious beliefs this year than in elections past, lifting a window on some of the values that could shape their decisions in the Oval Office. But the political benefits of such candor are not always clear in a country where most Republicans and Democrats believe in separation of church and state.

A holiday campaign ad featuring Republican Mike Huckabee, in a red sweater by a Christmas tree as “Silent Night” tinkles in the background, may be the latest example. Though Mr. Huckabee’s courtship of conservative Christians has siphoned support from Mitt Romney and helped vault him to the top of the polls in Iowa in advance of the Jan. 3 caucuses, his overtly Christian ad has drawn fire from across the political spectrum. [Both men are profiled, along with other major presidential contenders, in the Monitor series “The Candidates: Faith & Values,” at right.]

In the 30-second commercial, Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, wished viewers “Merry Christmas” instead of an ecumenical “happy holidays” and said “it’s nice to pull aside” from politics and “just remember that what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ and being with our family and friends.”

To some, the spot was no more offensive or profound than a Hallmark card. But the former Arkansas governor found himself defending it against criticism that its mix of faith and politics went too far.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Religion & Culture, US Presidential Election 2008

Alan Jacobs: The Conscience of an Anglican

For some time now, people have been asking me why I haven’t written anything on the current””or, depending on your point of view, everlasting””crisis in the Anglican world. After all, I have been an Anglican for nearly twenty-five years, virtually all of my adult life; indeed, my experiences in other denominations, before I discovered Anglicanism, were so brief and tentative that I don’t even know how to be a Christian except as an Anglican. Nor do I wish to be a Christian in any other way. Surely I have some opinions on the mess the Anglican Communion is now in, on how it got this way, and how it might get out again?

Well, yes, I do have such opinions. But they are worthless. All such opinions amount to little more than the assignation of blame for past events and predictions of the future””the latter usually involving punishments to come for those blamed for the past””and neither of those activities interests me. There was a time when they did, but I have long since learned how futile such pursuits are, and (more important) how powerfully they distract from the core practices of the Christian life. This is the primary reason why, after too long a season scanning the Anglican blogs daily, I now check just one of them, and once a week, at most. This abstinence has calmed my spirit and removed, I think permanently, my taste for such things.

Moreover, I remind myself that the churches of the Anglican world are governed by bishops, and I am not a bishop. One of the chief reasons I have held firm to Anglicanism over the years is that I believe that the threefold order of ministry””bishop, priest, and deacon””is the model taught by the apostles, the governance particularly approved by God. In this model I, as a layman””even though I am also a member of the priesthood of all believers””have a highly circumscribed role. If my pastor asks me to teach, I teach; otherwise I shut up. In the unlikely (and unwelcome) event of a bishop of the Church asking for my thoughts I would share them; otherwise I keep them to myself, at least in public. The decisions that will shape the future of the Anglican Communion will be made by bishops, not by laypeople, nor even by priests; if I care about that Communion””and I do””I had best be praying for those bishops, and not repeating the error of Job in darkening counsel by words without knowledge.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, - Anglican: Analysis, Episcopal Church (TEC), Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), TEC Conflicts

A Solar Grand Plan

Read it all from the latest Scientific American.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Climate Change, Weather, Energy, Natural Resources, Science & Technology

Finding Alzheimer’s Before a Mind Fails

For a perfectly healthy woman, Dianne Kerley has had quite a few medical tests in recent years: M.R.I. and PET scans of her brain, two spinal taps and hours of memory and thinking tests.

Ms. Kerley, 52, has spent much of her life in the shadow of an illness that gradually destroys memory, personality and the ability to think, speak and live independently. Her mother, grandmother and a maternal great-aunt all developed Alzheimer’s disease. Her mother, 78, is in a nursing home in the advanced stages of dementia, helpless and barely responsive.

“She’s in her own private purgatory,” Ms. Kerley said.

Ms. Kerley is part of an ambitious new scientific effort to find ways to detect Alzheimer’s disease at the earliest possible moment. Although the disease may seem like a calamity that strikes suddenly in old age, scientists now think it begins long before the mind fails.

“Alzheimer’s disease may be a chronic condition in which changes begin in midlife or even earlier,” said Dr. John C. Morris, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Washington University in St. Louis, where Ms. Kerley volunteers for studies.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Health & Medicine