Daily Archives: January 7, 2008

Noah Feldman: What Is It About Mormonism?

Our post-denominational age should be the perfect time for a Mormon to become president, or at least the Republican nominee. Mormons share nearly all the conservative commitments so beloved of the evangelicals who wield disproportionate influence in primary elections. Mormons also embody, in their efficient organizational style, the managerial competence that the party’s pro-business wing considers attractive. For the last half-century, Mormons have been so committed to the Republican Party that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints once felt the need to clarify that Republican affiliation is not an actual condition of church membership.

Yet the Mormons’ political loyalty is not fully reciprocated by their fellow Republicans. Twenty-nine percent of Republicans told the Harris Poll last year that they probably or definitely would not vote for a Mormon for president. Among evangelicals, some of the discomfort is narrowly religious: Mormon theology is sometimes understood as non-Christian and heretical. Elsewhere, the reasons for the aversion to Mormons are harder to pin down ”” bigotry can be funny that way ”” but they are certainly not theological. A majority of Americans have no idea what Mormons believe.

Mormonism’s political problem arises, in large part, from the disconcerting split between its public and private faces. The church’s most inviting public symbols ”” pairs of clean-cut missionaries in well-pressed white shirts ”” evoke the wholesome success of an all-American denomination with an idealistic commitment to clean living. Yet at the same time, secret, sacred temple rites and garments call to mind the church’s murky past, including its embrace of polygamy, which has not been the doctrine or practice of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS, for a century. Mormonism, it seems, is extreme in both respects: in its exaggerated normalcy and its exaggerated oddity. The marriage of these opposites leaves outsiders uncomfortable, wondering what Mormonism really is.

Read the whole article (it is from the NY Times Magazine and is not short).

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

Mark I. Pinsky: The gospel of money

“The love of money,” the New Testament teaches in I Timothy 6:10, “is the root of all evil.” But what about some televangelists’ fondness for major bling ”” such as multiple, multimillion dollar estates, luxury cars, vacation homes, exotic trips and private jets? Does that make them, in the words of one author, “pimps in the pulpit?”

Many outside the evangelical movement are puzzled by the apparent lack of outrage following reports of high-living, tax-exempt religious broadcasters. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has been looking into six megachurch pastors and broadcast ministries, requesting financial records. Richard Roberts has stepped down as president of Oral Roberts University following charges that he used the school’s resources for family perks, such as a trip to the Bahamas for his daughter.

These charges come as no surprise to those within the evangelical world. Such tales of excess and profligacy have been an open secret for years.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Evangelicals, Other Churches, Religion & Culture

Andrew Carey: The main Priority for the Anglican Communion

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus prays ”˜That they may be one’. The reason for this prayer is simple, ”˜that the world may believe’. The priority of unity is therefore no added extra. We should not be content to see churches and denominations proliferate. On the other hand, the goal of full visible unity in the organic sense looks mpossible, but we should at least be working towards recognising each other’s ministry and as far as possible guaranteeing an interchangeable ministry to the world.

One of the greatest seductions of our time for the church is to serve consumerism by offering Christianity up as an option in the religious market place. This eduction creeps upon us in two main ways.

Firstly, we offer the proliferation of churches, styles of worshipping and our disagreements as a conduit for evangelism. In other words we make excuses for our disunity and pretend that our division serves the gospel. Everyone can find what they want in the religious market place, we suggest. Surely this contradicts the Pentecost vision of a church of all languages, cultures, generations?
Secondly, we pretend that Christianity itself is one option among many, that other faiths serve God through differing cultures. The prevailing wisdom of our age is that no one vision of God can possibly be universal. This is the greatest lie and deceit the Church currently faces.

The universality of faith is at stake in the contemporary Anglican crisis far more than the vexed subject of homosexuality. This is partly because if the Bible has no purchase in the area of personal morality, how can it possibly be said to have any relevance to other areas? But also because the two questions are related to the lordship of Christ in each of our lives.

Our heart rightly tells us that God loves all and judges no one, because we fear that judgement, but our reading of the text tells us that these decisions are entirely out of our hands.

So if unity is a priority for evangelism, then surely evangelicals, for whom Matthew 28 has meant more than most, should recognise this dearly. Yet a false dichotomy is constantly established between truth and unity ”” as though the two are divisible. And evangelicals have stood primarily for fissiparousness and acrimony rather than going the extra mile for the sake of a Gospel which prioritises unity, and describes the church as the body of Christ.

Disunity is akin to amputation. Undoubtedly it is something which is sometimes necessary for the whole body’s health, but only to be embarked upon as the last resort.

So what do we learn about the priority of unity as far as the current dispute in the Anglican Communion is concerned? Well, it’s not over till it’s over. In other words, whether or not Gene Robinson is there or not, the Lambeth Conference is an absolute priority for Anglican Bishops if they truly want to serve unity and truth.

In his Advent letter, Dr Rowan Williams stated quite bluntly about his original invitations that refusal to meet could constitute a refusal of the cross. “I have repeatedly said that an invitation to Lambeth does not constitute a certificate of orthodoxy but simply a challenge to pray seriously together and to seek a resolution that will be as widely owned as may be…We are being asked to see our handling of conflict and potential division as part of our maturing both as pastors and as disciples.”

–This article appeared in the Church of England Newspaper, December 28 2007/January 4 2008 edition, page 14

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, - Anglican: Analysis, Ecclesiology, Theology

Washington Times: Bishops to protest Anglican liberal tilt

A coalition of conservative Anglican and Episcopal bishops has announced an eight-day conference in Jerusalem in mid-June to register their disenchantment with the liberal direction of the Anglican Communion.

It will be six weeks before the once-per-decade Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops, scheduled for July 20-Aug. 3 at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England. Although more than 800 bishops are invited to Lambeth, up to one-third may boycott it to protest the 2003 consecration of the openly homosexual New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson.

Bishop Robinson has not been invited to the Lambeth gathering, but the 18 active bishops who helped consecrate him in November 2003 were invited, sparking furious reactions from Anglican conservatives, who declared they would not attend the same conference.

“The idea is to provide pastoral support for bishops and their wives, who would have normally been expected to go to Lambeth for that, but for reasons of conscience cannot,” said Canon Chris Sugden, one of the Jerusalem organizers and executive director of the Oxford-based Anglican Mainstream.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Global South Churches & Primates

Dorothy Rabinowitz: McCain's Promise

Almost as in the old days, he’s begun to get plenty of respect from the media. Though the word “old” keeps showing up in regular, not always innocent and invariably hammy tributes–as when his name is attached to terms like “the old warrior” or simply “old soldier.” There’s indeed something suitable in the word as regards Mr. McCain, but it is nothing having to do with his age.

That ingrained pride of his that forbids pandering for political gain–that would be shamed by lying about his deeply held views–is what is old about him. Old in the sense that honor of this kind is sufficiently rare, now, that it’s a subject of wonderment to people when they find it in someone, as they have in John McCain.

The rarity of such standards–the lack of consciousness, even, among political contenders, that limitless pandering might actually be wrong, and say something damning about the character and judgment of the candidate–has never seemed more evident than in the current primary race. Who can forget Mitt Romney listening in seeming amazement, a few weeks ago, as Tim Russert pressed him to explain certain extraordinary (if politically convenient) turnabout stands he’d taken on gay marriage, the right to life and other hot social issues?

A model of self-assurance, Mr. Romney expressed his astonishment at the questions, at the idea that a man couldn’t develop new positions. And what kind of a leader, he wanted to know, would he be if he never changed his mind about anything, etc., etc. What one remembered most about this scene, which had all the makings of one of Hollywood’s cruder Washington satires, was Mr. Romney’s easy aplomb–the air of a man who, it was quite conceivable, had come to believe in the fantastic rationales he’d offered up for all the flip-flopping.

Mr. McCain’s views on immigration and perhaps a number of other issues may never win the approval of some of his strongest supporters. But to those who have watched him these many years, that can’t in the end matter. They know who he is.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, US Presidential Election 2008

Pentagon specialist on Islamic Law Stephen Coughlin sacked

Stephen Coughlin, the Pentagon specialist on Islamic law and Islamist extremism, has been fired from his position on the military’s Joint Staff. The action followed a report in this space last week revealing opposition to his work for the military by pro-Muslim officials within the office of Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England.

Mr. Coughlin was notified this week that his contract with the Joint Staff will end in March, effectively halting the career of one of the U.S. government’s most important figures in analyzing the nature of extremism and ultimately preparing to wage ideological war against it.

He had run afoul of a key aide to Mr. England, Hasham Islam, who confronted Mr. Coughlin during a meeting several weeks ago when Mr. Islam sought to have Mr. Coughlin soften his views on Islamist extremism.

Read it all and there is more there.

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

U.S. Considers New Covert Push Within Pakistan

President Bush’s senior national security advisers are debating whether to expand the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military to conduct far more aggressive covert operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

The debate is a response to intelligence reports that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are intensifying efforts there to destabilize the Pakistani government, several senior administration officials said.

Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a number of President Bush’s top national security advisers met Friday at the White House to discuss the proposal, which is part of a broad reassessment of American strategy after the assassination 10 days ago of the Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. There was also talk of how to handle the period from now to the Feb. 18 elections, and the aftermath of those elections.

Several of the participants in the meeting argued that the threat to the government of President Pervez Musharraf was now so grave that both Mr. Musharraf and Pakistan’s new military leadership were likely to give the United States more latitude, officials said. But no decisions were made, said the officials, who declined to speak for attribution because of the highly delicate nature of the discussions.

Read the whole article.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Asia, Military / Armed Forces, Pakistan

GM Researching Driverless Cars

Cars that drive themselves””even parking at their destination””could be ready for sale within a decade, General Motors Corp. executives say.
GM, parts suppliers, university engineers and other automakers all are working on vehicles that could revolutionize short- and long-distance travel. And Tuesday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner will devote part of his speech to the driverless vehicles.

“This is not science fiction,” Larry Burns, GM’s vice president for research and development, said in a recent interview.

The most significant obstacles facing the vehicles could be human rather than technical: government regulation, liability laws, privacy concerns and people’s passion for the automobile and the control it gives them

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Science & Technology

Nominees for the 8th Episcopal Bishop of Rochester, New York

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Bishops

Newsweek Cover Story on Obama

Read it all. In the intrade New Hampshire trade, Obama is 79 and Hilary is 16.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, US Presidential Election 2008

A Doctor fights to give Preemies a chance

Watch it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Health & Medicine

Andrew Sullivan: Obama emerges as a liberal Reagan who can reunite America

Bobby Kennedy is more apposite: a mix of inner steel and an evolving moral candidacy. Just as a vote for RFK in 1968 was seen by many as a form of collective self-absolution for Vietnam, so Obama resonates among many Americans who do not recognise what their country has become these past few years.

The analogy that worries Republicans the most is a more recent one. Could Obama be a potential liberal version of Ronald Reagan? Could he do for the Democrats what Reagan did for the Republicans a quarter century ago?

It’s increasingly possible. Reagan was the cutting edge of the last realignment in American politics. With a good-natured, civil appeal to Democrats who felt abandoned by their own party under Jimmy Carter, Reagan revolutionised the reach of his own party.

He didn’t aim for a mere plurality, as Bill Clinton did. Nor did he try for a polarising 51% strategy, as George W Bush has done. He ran as a national candidate, in search of a national mandate, a proud Republican who nonetheless wanted Democrats to vote for him.

He came out of a period in which Americans had become sickened by the incompetence of their own government. Reagan shocked America’s elites by pivoting that discontent into a victory in 1980. And by his second term, he won 49 out of 50 states.

You can see the same potential in Obama. What has long been remarkable to me is how this liberal politician fails to alienate conservatives. In fact, many like him a great deal. His calm and reasoned demeanour, his crisp style, his refusal to engage in racial identity politics: these appeal to disaffected Republicans.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, US Presidential Election 2008

Bill Gates: The hi-tech future is now

Gannon and Gage Swanston are already pioneers of the 21st-century media era at the tender ages of seven and four. When they visit friends’ homes, they don’t understand why SpongeBob SquarePants can’t be put on hold while they go to the bathroom or get a glass of milk from the kitchen. In their house, as in a quarter of American homes, programmes are managed by TiVo, a device that allows the brothers to pause, replay or store shows at the push of a button. “They will never know a time when TV was one way,” says their father, Matthew, the director of business analysis at the Consumer Electronics Association. “This will be the first analogue-free generation. They’ll be intolerant of their content being trapped or delayed.”

One happy consequence is that when the weather is fine, the boys prefer to play outdoors, knowing that their favourite programmes will be waiting for them later. It’s a far cry from the mid 1960s, when I was their age, and a delayed trip home from Grandma’s meant that I missed Thunderbirds and my parents endured an unexpected back-seat tantrum. In those days, television had only two channels, and if you missed something, it evaporated in the ether. The telephone, with a proper dial, sat on a table in the hallway. Music was a collection of scratchy 78rpm classical records. Clocks and watches had to be wound up ”“ every day.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Science & Technology

Family values shine in Tinseltown ”” Hollywood has a cross to bear

Dr Baehr, in Australia for a family wedding, spoke to Christian media and filmmakers in Melbourne and Sydney at the weekend. “Who controls the media controls the culture,” he says.

Dr Baehr’s message to the studios is simple: sex and violence don’t pay, but affirming positive values does.

The average family-values blockbuster ”” limited violence and sex plus a positive message ”” earns $US200 million ($A228 million) at the box office in the US, whereas big releases pushing atheism ”” he nominates The Golden Compass and There Will Be Blood ”” average only $US16 million, he says.

The Golden Compass ”” the $US200 million screen adaptation of Philip Pullman’s anti-religion children’s novel, released in Australia on Boxing Day ”” flopped in the US, while There Will Be Blood offers vicious anti-Christian stereotypes, Dr Baehr says.

“One of the big things we’ve done is dispel the myth that sex, violence and profanity is what people want. The figures show it’s not,” he says, arguing that 151 million people are in church in the US every Sunday, while 28 million are at the cinema.

Read the whole piece.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Movies & Television, Religion & Culture

You Have Got to be Kidding Me

Take a look.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Science & Technology