Daily Archives: February 23, 2010

S.T. Karnick in Books and Culture–The Fate of Secularism

Secularism is and has always been a concerted effort by a relatively small group of people to increase their power and enrich themselves by declaring the great majority of their neighbors to be dangerously intolerant and deluded. [Hunter] Baker’s suggested alternative to secularism is simple: pluralism. “In a pluralistic environment,” he writes, “we simply enter the public square and say who we are and what we believe.” Whereas secularists require “that individuals with religious reasons pretend to think and act on some other basis,” we should recognize that everybody has motives and none has a right to claim hegemony over the discussion: “The focus should be on the wisdom and justice of particular policies, not on the motives for the policies.”

That sounds wonderful, but it’s difficult to imagine why secularists would want to go along with it. Baker does not say, nor does he explain the book’s title. I’ll take a stab at it. Perhaps the “end” to which Baker refers is not a finish but instead a goal””as in a political end. Perhaps it does not matter if secularists refuse to accept a social contract of pluralism. Maybe clarifying that the end of secularism is the enrichment and empowerment of secularists will embolden the great majority of American society, the most religious economically advanced nation in the world, to insist that choices be made on the basis of “the wisdom and justice of particular policies” instead of who offers them and why.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Books, History, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Secularism

Anglican church congregation in Leicester considers converting to Catholicism

The congregation at one of the oldest Anglican churches in Leicester is considering converting to Catholicism.

About 50 members of St Mary de Castro’s congregation met Catholic leaders yesterday to discuss the move.

It followed the Pope’s invitation last year to disaffected Anglicans, who feel their Church has become too liberal, to convert to Roman Catholicism.

Pope Benedict XVI’s decree would allow traditionalist Anglicans to accept all Roman Catholic doctrine and teachings while maintaining aspects of the Anglican tradition.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), Ecumenical Relations, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Pope Benedict XVI, Roman Catholic

Notable and Quotable (II)

Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice from heaven, saying, “Be strong, and show thyself a man, O Polycarp!” No one saw who it was that spoke to him; but those of our brethren who were present heard the voice. And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, [the proconsul] sought to persuade him to deny [Christ], saying, “Have respect to thy old age,” and other similar things, according to their custom, [such as], “Swear by the fortune of Cæsar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists.” But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, “Away with the Atheists.” Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, “Swear, and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ;” Polycarp declared, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”

–From the Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp, whose Feast Day we celebrate today

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Church History, Death / Burial / Funerals, Parish Ministry

The Washington Times with more on the Diocese of Virginia Council Meeting

Diocesan officials also addressed a $4 million line of credit ”” of which $3.5 million has been spent to date ”” that it has taken out to fund a three-year lawsuit against 11 conservative churches that left the diocese in 2006 and early 2007. When market conditions approve, the diocese will sell parcels of unconsecrated land to help pay the $3.5 million.

The diocese seeks to win back millions of dollars of property taken by the departing churches, which left over liberal trends in the denomination. After the conservatives won the lawsuit at trial, the diocese appealed. The case will go before the Virginia Supreme Court this year.

The departure of the conservatives, which reduced the diocese’s membership by about 10,000, was referred to several times Saturday as causing much “pain” to the remaining Episcopalians. However, a last-minute amendment to form a “reconciliation task force” between Episcopalians and former Episcopalians failed for lack of time to consider it adequately.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Episcopal Church (TEC), Law & Legal Issues, Parish Ministry, Stewardship, TEC Conflicts, TEC Conflicts: Virginia, TEC Departing Parishes, TEC Diocesan Conventions/Diocesan Councils

Diocesan statistics for the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s figures, Vermont has grown in population from 608,827 in 2000 to 621,760 in 2009. This represents a population growth of approximately 2.1%.

According to Episcopal Church statistics, the Diocese of Vermont went from Average Sunday Attendance (or ASA) of 3,280 in 1998 to 2,765 in 2008. This represents an ASA decline of about 16% over this ten year period.

A pictorial chart of some Vermont diocesan statistics may be found here.

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

Albert Mohler–Tiger Woods’ Buddhist Confession

From an Evangelical perspective, the statement by Tiger Woods points to the radical distinction between Christianity and Buddhism — between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the dharma of the Buddha.

Christianity speaks honestly of desire and affirms that wrongful desires can and do lead to sin, destruction, and death. Nevertheless, Christianity does not teach that all desire is wrong. Indeed, the Bible affirms that God made us to desire Him. Even in our sinful state, something within us cries out for our need — and desire — for divine forgiveness and redemption.

Christianity does not teach that we should (or could) empty ourselves of all desire, but rather that we should desire the salvation that Christ alone has accomplished for us — the salvation that leads to divine forgiveness and the restoration of relationship we should surely desire. Once we know that salvation, our desire for God is only increased and pointed to eternity.

Read it all.

Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Anthropology, Buddhism, Evangelicals, Other Churches, Other Faiths, Soteriology, Theology

An Interview with Bishop Ken Clarke on His Appointment as Mothers' Union Central Chaplain

PH: What is the role of Central Chaplain to the Mothers’ Union and how did it come about?

BC: My role is to work with the Mothers’ Union (MU) senior staff/leadership team as a link to the wider Anglican Communion, reflecting the Church’s thinking to the charity on relevant issues, such as marriage and family life, and to represent the MU to the wider church. I will be present as Chaplain at its major meetings and provide pastoral care through giving support and advice.

This is a three-year honorary appointment which came about by invitation from the Archbishop of Canterbury – it was a total surprise when I was asked to take it on in January but it is of course a privilege. I formally took up the office last Friday (12 February 2010) at the gathering of the Worldwide Council in Swanwick, Derbyshire, during a morning Eucharist Service when I was commissioned by the current Worldwide President of MU, Mrs Rosemary Kempsell (Church of Ireland members will recall that Lady Christine Eames formerly held this role). I understand that I am the first Irish Central Chaplain.

The role may involve occasional trips overseas in connection with the huge range of projects undertaken by MU across the globe; however, it will primarily involve attending meetings in England where I will lead worship and give support in any way I can. However, I suspect, as so often happens, there will be a few surprises along the way. In a new venture I always remember the wise advice I was once given, ”˜Expect everything to be different to what you expect!’

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, Church of Ireland

Toronto Anglicans join Archbishop to urge action on poverty in budget

As budget day approaches for Ontario, Anglicans are stepping up calls for the province to help those hardest hit by the recession.

In a brief called “Standing Together,” submitted to the Ontario government’s Pre-Budget Consultations, Archbishop Colin Johnson and the diocese’s Child Poverty Subcommittee urge the government to carry out the following steps to help people in poverty:

Ӣ A $100-per month Healthy Food Supplement for people receiving social assistance so they can afford a more healthy diet.
Ӣ Greater funding for affordable housing.
Ӣ Funding for a threatened child-care subsidy program for low-income families.

While agreeing that the government faces a major fiscal deficit, the brief notes society’s “colossal human deficit, of needless suffering, hardship and lost opportunity.” Foodbank usage soared by 19 per cent in Ontario in 2009, so that 374,000 Ontarians now use foodbanks.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anglican Church of Canada, Anglican Provinces, Politics in General, Poverty

Walter Russell Mead on The Episcopal Church's Bishops failure in their Ministry

In the mainline churches, which is what I know best, the political views leaders express are generally those of what could be called the ”˜foundation left’ ”” emotionally grounded in concern for the poor and development, historically linked to the ”˜new left’ mix of economic and social concerns as developed in the 1960’s, shaped by an atmosphere of privilege and entitlement that reflects the upper middle class background of the educated professionals who run these institutions. The social sins they deplore are those of the right: excessive focus on capitalism, too robust and unheeding a promotion of the American national and security interest abroad, insufficient care for the environment, failure to help the poor through government welfare programs, failure to support affirmative action, failure to celebrate and protect the unrestricted right of women to abort. I am of course speaking very generally here and there are lots of individual exceptions, but many of these folks are generally tolerant of theological differences and rigidly intolerant when it comes to political differences: they care nothing at all about doctrines like predestination but get very angry with people who disagree with them about issues like global warming or immigration reform. Theological heresy is a matter for courtesy and silence, but political heretics fill them with bile….

Let me nail some cyber-theses to the virtual door.

1. Nobody cares what you think while your tiny church is falling apart.

In a diocese not a thousand miles from my home in glamorous Queens, there once was a bishop whose long and public battle with alcoholism rendered him unable to carry out his duties. For years and years this diocese suffered under grievous mismanagement and its rotten condition was an open scandal widely discussed and lamented throughout the national church. Yet in the general shipwreck of his episcopacy, this bishop (or what remained of the diocesan machinery) somehow managed to get ”˜prophetic’ statements out on political causes of various kinds. So far as I know, none of these statements ever had any impact on anyone’s thinking anywhere on Planet Earth.

This poor bishop, now thankfully retired, was an extreme case, but why, exactly, would any sane person today pay attention to the political pronouncements of an Episcopal bishop? Episcopalians are a tiny minority of the population and the church long ago lost its social power and cachet. The Episcopal church today is in the worst condition it has been since the aftermath of the Revolution; its clergy has visibly failed to keep the church together or prevent its ongoing decline. I’m afraid that the penchant to make political pronouncements proceeds less from a true prophetic vocation than from a nostalgia for a time when it mattered what Episcopal bishops thought. In any case, there is nothing more ridiculous than a proprietor of a failing concern who officiously lectures everyone else on how to manage their affairs. Please, for the sake of what remains of the dignity of your office, give it a rest….

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Economics, Politics, Episcopal Church (TEC), Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelism and Church Growth, Parish Ministry, Politics in General, TEC Bishops, TEC Data, Theology

Notable and Quotable (I)

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

–C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Posted in Pastoral Theology, Theology

Boston Globe–Obama’s spiritual life takes more private turn

He named a best-selling book after a pastor’s sermon and was outspoken as a candidate about the value of faith in public life. He infused stump speeches with phrases like “I am my brother’s keeper,” and made his journey to Christianity a central theme of the life story he shared with voters.

But since President Obama took office a year ago, his faith has largely receded from public view. He has attended church in the capital only four times, and worshiped half a dozen times at a secluded Camp David chapel. He prays privately, reads a “daily devotional” that aides send to his BlackBerry, and talks to pastors by phone, but seldom frames policies in spiritual terms.

The greater privacy reflects not a slackening of devotion, but a desire to shield his spirituality from the maw of politics and strike an inclusive tone at a time of competing national priorities and continuing partisan division, according to people close to the White House on faith issues.

“There are several ways that he is continuing to grow in his faith, all of them – or practically of all them – he’s trying to keep as private and personal as possible so they will not be politicized,” said Pastor Joel C. Hunter, who is part of an inner circle of pastors the president consults by phone for spiritual guidance.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, Religion & Culture

Cathy Young–The darker sides of Ayn Rand

…her radicalism went further, rejecting the age-old ethic of altruism and self-sacrifice. While she was hardly the first philosopher to advocate a morality of individualism and rational self-interest, she formulated it in a uniquely accessible way and a uniquely passionate one, not as a dry economic construct but as a bold vision of struggle, creative achievement and romanticism.

All this accounts for much of Ayn Rand’s appeal. But that appeal is severely limited by the flaws of her worldview.

One of those flaws is her unwillingness to consider the possibility that the values of the free market can coexist with other, non-individualistic and non-market-based virtues ”“ those of family and community, for example. Instead, Ms. Rand frames even human relations in terms of trade (our concern for loved ones is based on the positive things they bring to our lives) and offered at best lukewarm support for charitable aid. When charity is mentioned in her fiction, it is nearly always in a negative context. In Atlas Shrugged, a club providing shelter to needy young women is ridiculed for offering help to alcoholics, drug users and unwed mothers-to-be.

Family fares even worse in Ms. Rand’s universe. In her 1964 Playboy interview, she flatly declared that it was “immoral” to place family ties and friendship above productive work; in her fiction, family life is depicted as a stifling swamp.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Marriage & Family, Philosophy, Politics in General, Theology

Stanley Fish–Are There Secular Reasons–purely secular ones–for policy decisions ?

This picture is routinely challenged by those who contend that secular reasons and secular discourse in general don’t tell the whole story; they leave out too much of what we know to be important to human life.

No they don’t, is the reply; everything said to be left out can be accounted for by the vocabularies of science, empiricism and naturalism; secular reasons can do the whole job. And so the debate goes, as polemicists on both sides hurl accusations in an exchange that has become as predictable as it is over-heated.

But the debate takes another turn if one argues, as the professor of law Steven Smith does in his new book, “The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse,” that there are no secular reasons, at least not reasons of the kind that could justify a decision to take one course of action rather than another.

It is not, Smith tells us, that secular reason can’t do the job (of identifying ultimate meanings and values) we need religion to do; it’s worse; secular reason can’t do its own self-assigned job ”” of describing the world in ways that allow us to move forward in our projects ”” without importing, but not acknowledging, the very perspectives it pushes away in disdain.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Church/State Matters, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

David Brooks–The Power Elite

… here’s the funny thing. As we’ve made our institutions more meritocratic, their public standing has plummeted. We’ve increased the diversity and talent level of people at the top of society, yet trust in elites has never been lower.

It’s not even clear that society is better led. Fifty years ago, the financial world was dominated by well-connected blue bloods who drank at lunch and played golf in the afternoons. Now financial firms recruit from the cream of the Ivy League. In 2007, 47 percent of Harvard grads went into finance or consulting. Yet would we say that banks are performing more ably than they were a half-century ago?

Government used to be staffed by party hacks. Today, it is staffed by people from public policy schools. But does government work better than it did before?

Journalism used to be the preserve of working-class stiffs who filed stories and hit the bars. Now it is the preserve of cultured analysts who file stories and hit the water bottles. Is the media overall more reputable now than it was then?

The promise of the meritocracy has not been fulfilled. The talent level is higher, but the reputation is lower.

Why has this happened?

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Education, Politics in General

For Women, Redefining Marriage Material

Women have outpaced men in acquiring education for a few decades now, with 185 women earning college degrees at age 22 for every 100 men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And more women are now employed because men are more likely to work in industries that are declining or cyclical. An essay by Don Peck in The Atlantic reported that in November nearly a fifth of all men between the ages of 25 and 54 did not have jobs, the highest figure since 1948.

How might these changes affect decisions to marry? Should women alter their expectations of what a husband brings to a marriage?

* Betsey Stevenson, economist, University of Pennsylvania
* Stephanie Coontz, historian, Evergreen State College
* Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, Institute for American Values
* Helen Fisher, biological anthropologist, Rutgers University

Caught this one yesterday in the doctor’s office while waiting; see what you make of the four entries.

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