Daily Archives: December 22, 2009
On the first day of her introductory religion class at Merrimack College just north of Boston, professor Rebecca Sachs Norris put her students to work at having some fun.
She assigned teams of three or four students to play some of the many religious board games that fill her office shelves. Weeks later, they had to present their classmates with what they gleaned from each game.
As one team discussed BuddhaWheel, a game that teaches about Buddhism, Norris, chair of Merrimack’s religious and theological studies department, asked, “Can you win this game?
“One of them said, `Well, yes, but it takes a very, very long time! You just keep getting born over and over and over again.’
“I said, `Exactly, that’s it!’, and they learned it in a way that is very different.”
“If you can’t find the Word in the text, it’s your fault, not the text’s. Go back and read it again.”
–Markus Barth (1915-1994), as quoted by John M. Buchanan in Christian Century, the December 29, 2009 edition, page 3
It’s fitting that James Cameron’s “Avatar” arrived in theaters at Christmastime. Like the holiday season itself, the science fiction epic is a crass embodiment of capitalistic excess wrapped around a deeply felt religious message. It’s at once the blockbuster to end all blockbusters, and the Gospel According to James.
But not the Christian Gospel. Instead, “Avatar” is Cameron’s long apologia for pantheism — a faith that equates God with Nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world.
In Cameron’s sci-fi universe, this communion is embodied by the blue-skinned, enviably slender Na’Vi, an alien race whose idyllic existence on the planet Pandora is threatened by rapacious human invaders. The Na’Vi are saved by the movie’s hero, a turncoat Marine, but they’re also saved by their faith in Eywa, the “All Mother,” described variously as a network of energy and the sum total of every living thing.
If this narrative arc sounds familiar, that’s because pantheism has been Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now. It’s the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It’s the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas.” And it’s the dogma of George Lucas’s Jedi, whose mystical Force “surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”
It’s another Sunday morning at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Southern California. But some congregants are holding more than just the printed page, thanks to their iPhones. That’s because they have access to the entire Bible on the device.
Technology is producing a new form of religious interaction. There are over two dozen Bible apps for smart phones. And beyond Scripture, people are using gadgets for devotional purposes.
Dave and Jackie Brown had been reciting the rosary in their daughter Isabella’s hospital room. But her cancer treatment made her sensitive to light.
The best modern parable of progress was, aptly, ahead of its time. In 1861 Imre Madach published “The Tragedy of Man”, a “Paradise Lost” for the industrial age. The verse drama, still a cornerstone of Hungarian literature, describes how Adam is cast out of the Garden with Eve, renounces God and determines to recreate Eden through his own efforts. “My God is me,” he boasts, “whatever I regain is mine by right. This is the source of all my strength and pride.”
Adam gets the chance to see how much of Eden he will “regain”. He starts in Ancient Egypt and travels in time through 11 tableaux, ending in the icebound twilight of humanity. It is a cautionary tale. Adam glories in the Egyptian pyramids, but he discovers that they are built on the misery of slaves. So he rejects slavery and instead advances to Greek democracy. But when the Athenians condemn a hero, much as they condemned Socrates, Adam forsakes democracy and moves on to harmless, worldly pleasure. Sated and miserable in hedonistic Rome, he looks to the chivalry of the knights crusader. Yet each new reforming principle crumbles before him. Adam replaces 17th-century Prague’s courtly hypocrisy with the rights of man. When equality curdles into Terror under Robespierre, he embraces individual liberty””which is in turn corrupted on the money-grabbing streets of Georgian London. In the future a scientific Utopia has Michelangelo making chair-legs and Plato herding cows, because art and philosophy have no utility. At the end of time, having encountered the savage man who has no guiding principle except violence, Adam is downcast””and understandably so. Suicidal, he pleads with Lucifer: “Let me see no more of my harsh fate: this useless struggle.”
Things today are not quite that bad. But Madach’s 19th-century verse contains an insight that belongs slap bang in the 21st. In the rich world the idea of progress has become impoverished. Through complacency and bitter experience, the scope of progress has narrowed.
The manager’s amendment is light years removed from the Stupak-Pitts Amendment that was approved by the House of Representatives on November 8 by a bipartisan vote of 240-194. The new abortion language solves none of the fundamental abortion-related problems with the Senate bill, and it actually creates some new abortion-related problems.
NRLC will score the upcoming roll call votes on cloture on the Reid manager’s amendment, and on the underlying bill, as votes in favor of legislation to allow the federal government to subsidize private insurance plans that cover abortion on demand, to oversee multi-state plans that cover elective abortions, and to empower federal officials to mandate that private health plans cover abortions even if they do not accept subsidized enrollees, among other problems.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Anglican Covenant is now in its “final” form, and it has been distributed to the Provinces of the Communion for their consideration. It is not greatly different from the third draft that we saw several months ago. I believe that the first three sections are an excellent – truly excellent – summary of what Anglicans believe and have in common. The full text is available at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/commission/covenant/final/text.cfm
Section four is in a sense what the whole exercise has been about. The drafting of this Covenant was first proposed in the 2004 Windsor Report which was produced in response to the Primates’ concerns over the election and consecration of an openly non-celibate gay man as Bishop of New Hampshire.
It has been a lengthy process, and it will not be concluded soon. But section four of the Covenant outlines a process by which the majority of the Communion might be able to declare that a given action on the part of one of its member Churches (such as the consecration of an openly non-celibate homosexual bishop) is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant” and there might then be “relational consequences.”
From the beginning of the Covenant drafting process the Archbishop of Canterbury has been clear that he hoped we would create a Covenant that each member Province could voluntarily decide to “opt into” or not. He has envisioned a “two tier” or “two track” Communion in which those Provinces that choose to “opt into” the Covenant remain in “constituent membership” in the Communion, and those Provinces that “opt out” of the Covenant move into “associate membership” – something which he has compared to the status of the Methodist Church: it has an Anglican heritage, but it is really a separate denomination.
The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council has said that the earliest time in which TEC as a whole can officially consider the Covenant is the General Convention of 2012. But, in his response to my inquiry on behalf of our Diocesan Board, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said that dioceses are certainly free to “affirm” the Covenant if and when they choose to do so.
The Covenant has created a procedure by which those Provinces that “opt into” it can take action on behalf of the Communion as a whole to declare that certain actions are outside the bounds of our corporate life, and while the “relational consequences” are not spelled out in the Covenant itself, they clearly are foreshadowed by those Provinces which have declared “impaired” or “broken” communion with The Episcopal Church over the consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire.
Both our Diocesan Board and our Standing Committee have already affirmed the first three sections of the Covenant, and there is a Resolution to be considered by our 41st Convention next month to do likewise. Now that the fourth section has been finalized Fr. Eric Turner (who proposed the original Resolution) will offer a substitute Resolution that the Convention affirm the Covenant as a whole.
I have repeatedly said that I believe the only hope for the Anglican Communion is in following the Archbishop’s lead in drafting and adopting this Covenant. I now urge the delegates to Convention to study it and affirm it on January 30.
It remains my personal commitment to uphold the Covenant, and I give you my assurance, again, that I will never consent to the election of a bishop (or for that matter a priest or deacon) living in a relationship of sexual intimacy other than marriage as the Book of Common Prayer defines and understands it (one man and one woman, in Christ).
Warmest regards in our Lord,
–(The Rt. Rev.) John W. Howe is Bishop of Central Florida
Foreclosures already pocked Chicago’s poorer neighborhoods but the downtown still was booming as the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago convened its annual conference in May 2007.
The keynote speaker, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, assured the bankers and businessmen gathered at the Westin Hotel on Michigan Avenue that their prosperity was not threatened by the plight of borrowers struggling to repay high-cost subprime loans.
Bernanke, who was in charge of regulating the nation’s largest banks, told the audience that these firms were not at risk. He said most were not even involved in subprime lending. And the broader economy, he concluded, would be fine.
“Importantly, we see no serious broad spillover to banks or thrift institutions from the problems in the subprime market,” Bernanke said. “The troubled lenders, for the most part, have not been institutions with federally insured deposits.”
As we say farewell to a dreadful year and decade, this much we can agree upon: The person of the year is not Ben Bernanke, no matter how insistently Time magazine tries to hype him into its pantheon. The Fed chairman was just as big a schnook as every other magical thinker in Washington and on Wall Street who believed that housing prices would go up in perpetuity to support an economy leveraged past the hilt. Unlike most of the others, it was Bernanke’s job to be ahead of the curve. Yet as recently as June of last year he could be found minimizing the possibility of a substantial economic downturn. And now we’re supposed to applaud him for putting his finger in the dike after disaster struck? This is defining American leadership down.
If there’s been a consistent narrative to this year and every other in this decade, it’s that most of us, Bernanke included, have been so easily bamboozled. The men who played us for suckers, whether at Citigroup or Fannie Mae, at the White House or Ted Haggard’s megachurch, are the real movers and shakers of this century’s history so far. That’s why the obvious person of the year is Tiger Woods. His sham beatific image, questioned by almost no one until it collapsed, is nothing if not the farcical reductio ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams, from the cancerous (the subprime mortgage) to the inane (balloon boy).
I’ve long believed there are two basic strategies for dealing with climate change ”” the “Earth Day” strategy and the “Earth Race” strategy. This Copenhagen climate summit was based on the Earth Day strategy. It was not very impressive. This conference produced a series of limited, conditional, messy compromises, which it is not at all clear will get us any closer to mitigating climate change at the speed and scale we need….
Still, I am an Earth Race guy. I believe that averting catastrophic climate change is a huge scale issue. The only engine big enough to impact Mother Nature is Father Greed: the Market. Only a market, shaped by regulations and incentives to stimulate massive innovation in clean, emission-free power sources can make a dent in global warming. And no market can do that better than America’s.
Therefore, the goal of Earth Racers is to focus on getting the U.S. Senate to pass an energy bill, with a long-term price on carbon that will really stimulate America to become the world leader in clean-tech. If we lead by example, more people will follow us by emulation than by compulsion of some U.N. treaty.
In the cold war, we had the space race: who could be the first to put a man on the moon. Only two countries competed, and there could be only one winner. Today, we need the Earth Race: who can be the first to invent the most clean technologies so men and women can live safely here on Earth.
If the doorman at Bergdorf Goodman seems a little more cheerful than usual this holiday season, or a salesman at Prada or HermÃ¨s offers to find a pair of shoes in your size without rolling an eye, do not act so surprised. Retailers are being extra nice, and not just to the regulars.
“They’re offering a glass of Champagne as you enter David Yurman,” said Kate Kreindler, a suburban student, referring to the high-priced jewelry store on Madison Avenue. She noticed she was receiving more-attentive service while shopping on that luxury strip on Monday.
A few steps away at Dennis Basso, a fur store, Mr. Basso himself was greeting customers. “It can’t hurt,” he said. “Stores that don’t normally have great customer service are trying harder. They’re reaching out and giving that special treatment to the … ” and here, he paused for emphasis, “ … Christmas shopper.”