Category : Politics in General

(CT) The State of the Puerto Rican Church, One Year After Maria

During those first few days, we pastors were in shock. What would happen with our families? What would happen with the communities of faith we ministered in? We helped elderly people and small children flee the island for the mainland, unsure if we would ever see them again. The devastation across church facilities and congregants’ houses was enough to stir further panic. How were we going to rebuild? Where would we find the finances and the labor to work through this?

On a deeper level, we were forced to restate the purpose of our ministries: How were we going to minister to our communities during this time of utmost need? After decades of prosperity gospel teaching flooding our Christian churches and networks, we knew the majority of Puerto Ricans were not spiritually prepared to deal with a dream-shattering disaster like this.

But God, who loves us and works everything for our good, used these trying times to refocus the spiritual mindset of congregations everywhere, reshaping our understanding of the Christian life as it was intended to be since the beginning of the church in Acts: a group of chosen and saved people living in true community, loving God, loving their spiritual brothers and sisters, and loving the lost souls.

A few days after the hurricane, local congregations started to meet—no programs, no liturgies, no buildings in some cases. They read the Psalms, sang, and prayed. Without jobs and with no utility services at home, a sense of shared community kicked in, and everyone started to look for opportunities to serve the most pressing needs.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Natural Disasters: Earthquakes, Tornadoes, Hurricanes, etc., Parish Ministry, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, The U.S. Government

(Bloomberg) The Poorest Americans Risk the Most in Hopes of Striking it Rich

Americans spend tens of billions of dollars on government-run lotteries each year. But as income inequality widens, low-earning households spend a disproportionate amount of money on lottery tickets, according to a new study.

The lowest-income households in the U.S. on average spend $412 annually on lottery tickets, which is nearly four times the $105 a year spent by the highest-earning households, according to a study released on Wednesday by Bankrate.com. And almost 3 in 10 Americans in the lowest income bracket play the lottery once a week, compared with nearly 2 in 10 who earn more than that.

The Bankrate.com study was conducted by research firm GfK, which surveyed a national sample of 1,000 American adults on Aug. 17-19.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Gambling, Poverty, State Government, Theology

(WSJ) Nonbelievers Seek Political Power to Match Their Growing Numbers

As November’s midterm election approaches, nonbelievers in the U.S. are trying to build something that has long eluded them: political power.

The portion of U.S. adults who don’t identify with any religious group rose to 24% of the population in 2016 from 14% in 2000, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. But their political influence has lagged behind: Just 15% of voters in 2016 identified as not belonging to a religious group, according to exit polls.

A coalition of secular organizations is now determined to close that gap. This summer, they kicked off a nationwide voter registration drive, which will culminate with a get-out-the-secular-vote campaign in the fall. Their goal is also to politically galvanize nonbelievers around issues like separation of church and state and access to abortion.

There’s just one catch: How to unite a group of people whose common denominator is what they don’t believe? And even on that point, they are heterogeneous: 16% of religiously unaffiliated Americans still describe themselves as a “a religious person,” according to PRRI.

“We don’t meet every week. That’s an issue,” said Ron Millar, PAC coordinator for the Center for Freethought Equality, a nonprofit group dedicated to boosting secularists’ political power.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Atheism, Other Faiths, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(NPR) Bobi Wine Is Willing ‘To Die Trying’ To Win Freedom For Uganda

“I’m supposed to be a dead man,” says Bobi Wine, a Ugandan musician turned politician.

His driver Yasin Kawuma was shot dead on Aug. 13. Wine tweeted a graphic picture he said was of the man’s dead body. Wine says police were the ones who shot Kawuma, but Wine says he was their real target.

Bobi Wine’s real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu. He rose to fame as a musician — first with love songs and dance songs, but more recently turned to political themes in his music. His 2017 song “Freedom” has become a rallying cry for the country’s opposition.

In the same year, Wine was elected to the country’s Parliament as an independent.

He’s become a leader in opposing the country’s longtime President Yoweri Museveni — in power since 1986. Museveni is known for violently crushing dissent. Human Rights Watch says the government “continues to violate free association, expression, and assembly rights.”

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Military / Armed Forces, Music, Politics in General, Psychology, Uganda

(NBC) Montana had the highest suicide rate in the country. Then budget cuts hit.

Libby is in Lincoln County, which has a population of nearly 20,000 but just one behavioral health employee, Amy Fantozzi, a graduate student who oversees the county’s contracts with medical providers who do mental health assessments.

The town had a clinic run by the nonprofit Western Montana Mental Health Center, the largest service provider in the region, which had 12 clinics serving 15,000 clients across 15 counties. But after the cuts were announced last year, the center laid off more than 60 case managers and shut down three clinics, including the one in Libby. That left hundreds of patients without access to therapy, medication and a case manager to check on them.

Now, when those patients are in crisis, their only option is the emergency room at Lincoln County’s lone hospital. Once they check in, Fantozzi gets a call, and she must decide whether to spend $100 of her $18,500 annual budget on a mental health assessment. Depending on the results, she could then spend an additional $300 to have the patient evaluated and involuntarily committed at the nearest mental institution 90 miles away.

There have yet to be any publicly reported deaths by suicide as a result of the local clinic’s closure, but county officials fear the current system of mental health triage won’t hold up…

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, State Government, Suicide, Theology

(Guardian) Kwame Anthony Appiah–Can we choose our own identity?

“What I want to do is to widen the bandwidth of gender,” says Alex Drummond, the Cardiff psychologist and author and a trans woman, who decided to keep her beard, while also forgoing surgery or hormones. Drummond, who identifies as lesbian, told BuzzFeed: “If all you ever see is trans women who completely pass and are completely convincing as natal females, then those of us who just don’t have that kind of luck won’t have the confidence to come out.” (Most trans women have not had genital surgery, according to a recent survey by the American National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.) Her project of “gender queering” hasn’t met universal acceptance; one trans woman writer has likened her to “the older, oversized bully” who “throws himself into the toddlers’ sandpit and kicks everyone else out”. Did I mention quakes and tremors?

But a conversation – a negotiation – has begun, gloriously. Every day, men negotiate with one another about what masculinity means. And not just men. “Man” and “woman” are part of a system of interacting identities. Nor, for that matter, can black and white and Asian and brown racial identities be negotiated separately by black and white and Asian and brown people. That’s why we have to resist the liberal fantasy in which identities are merely chosen, so we are all free to be what we choose to be. In truth, identities without demands would be lifeless. Identities work only because, once they get their grip on us, they command us, speaking to us as an inner voice; and because others, seeing who they think we are, call on us, too. If you do not care for the shapes your identities have taken, you have to work with others inside and outside the labelled group in order to reframe them so they fit you better; and you can do that collective work only if you recognise that the results must serve others as well.

Read it all.

I will take comments on this submitted by email only to KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Sexuality

(Economist) Francis Fukuyama and Kwame Anthony Appiah take on identity politics

Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. By Francis Fukuyama. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 240 pages; $26. To be published in Britain by Profile Books in October; £16.99.

The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity. By Kwame Anthony Appiah. Liveright; 256 pages; $27.95. Profile Books; £14.99.

One of the most remarkable recent developments in Anglo-American politics is the reification of the white working class. Google Trends, a website that tracks how often particular words or phrases are typed into the search engine, shows a huge spike in interest in that group when Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016. Interest has never quite subsided since. What is more, the white working class has gone from being mostly ignored to being assumed to have a consistent set of views, even a political agenda.

Many of the books published after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and Mr Trump’s election tried to explain why this group in particular had turned on the political establishment. For example, “Us vs Them” by Ian Bremmer and “WTF” by Robert Peston found the answer in the travails of former industrial towns and the arrogance and selfishness of elites. Now come two more reflective takes. “Identity” and “The Lies That Bind” suggest that Western countries not only have deep economic and social problems, but philosophical ones too. People are looking at themselves and others in the wrong ways.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Politics in General, Theology

(1st Things) Hadley Arkes–Recasting Religious Freedom

The truth that dare not speak its name is that even many friends of religious freedom have been content to argue for that freedom on terms that accept this reduction of religion to “beliefs” untested by reason. They do so because they don’t wish to put themselves in the position of speaking the uncomfortable truth: that not everything that calls itself religion in this country may be regarded as a legitimate religion. And so we try to vindicate a “ministerial exception” to the laws on employment. We insist that churches must be free to determine who counts as a minister according to their own criteria and teaching. But does that freedom from the intrusion of the government apply as well to the ministers appointed under the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or even worse, does it apply to Satanists claiming the standing of a religion?

We cannot detach ourselves from judging Satanism, or radical evil, and in the same measure we cannot detach ourselves from the task of discriminating between religions that are more or less plausible, more or less legitimate, based on the substance of what they teach. No argument that seeks to explain a just regime of religious freedom—and a sweeping protection for anything that calls itself religion—could possibly offer a coherent moral account when it seeks to incorporate in its understanding a posture of indifference to radical evil. The canons of reason will ever be woven into the laws on religion—even in judging what is plausible or implausible in what is reported to us about the word of God.

Aristotle taught us that the mark of the polis, the political order, was the presence of law, and law springs distinctly from the nature of that creature who can give and understand reasons concerning matters of right and wrong. Aristotle expressed the classic understanding of the moral ground of the law in that way, and I would suggest that the freedom of religion will find firmer ground by insisting again on that connection between moral reasoning and the law—between the reasons that support our religious convictions and the religious freedom we would protect through the law. The beginning of the argument would be to remind people of that connection between the very logic of a moral judgment and the logic of law. In the strictest sense, a “moral” judgment moves beyond statements of merely personal taste or private belief; it speaks to the things that are right or wrong, just or unjust, generally or universally—for others as well as ourselves.

In a corresponding way, the law moves by overriding claims of mere private choice, personal freedom, subjective belief. It imposes a rule of justice that claims to hold for everyone who comes within its reach.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution

John McCain RIP

In 1993, Mr. McCain gave the commencement address at Annapolis: the sorcerer’s apprentice, class of 1954, home to inspire the midshipmen. He spoke of Navy aviators hurled from the decks of pitching aircraft carriers, of Navy gunners blazing into the silhouettes of onrushing kamikazes, of trapped Marines battling overwhelming Chinese hordes in a breakout from the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea.

“I have spent time in the company of heroes,” he said. “I have watched men suffer the anguish of imprisonment, defy appalling cruelty until further resistance is impossible, break for a moment, then recover inhuman strength to defy their enemies once more. All these things and more I have seen. And so will you. I will go to my grave in gratitude to my Creator for allowing me to stand witness to such courage and honor. And so will you.

“My time is slipping by. Yours is fast approaching. You will know where your duty lies. You will know.”

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in America/U.S.A., Children, Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Senate

(JE) David Jensen–Oxford’s Nigel Biggar: Anglicanism Sustains Democracy & Religious Freedom

In May, Professor Nigel Biggar spoke at the McDonald Centre’s annual conference and discussed the role of the Christian Church in developing and maintaining a politically liberal society. The McDonald Centre, which he leads, is a research institute connected to Oxford University. This year’s conference was titled “Is Religious Liberty under Threat? A Trans-Atlantic Dialogue.”

In his speech, Biggar argued that Christianity, particularly the Anglican Church, is an important part of a free and fair government. In America, we view the separation of church and state as a pillar of religious freedom, but in England, where Biggar teaches, the Anglican Church has been officially linked to the government for centuries. Biggar, who’s ordained in the Church of England, set out to demonstrate that this state sponsored religious establishment is “compatible with liberal rights to religious freedom and political equality.”

When Biggar referred to liberalism, he did not mean it in the way it is used in modern American politics where it is generally associated with big-government and progressive policies. Instead, he uses it to refer to classical liberalism, the political philosophy championed by John Locke, David Hume, Thomas Jefferson, and Adam Smith. Under classical liberalism, the government is restricted to protecting the natural rights of citizens. Economically, these rights are guarded by a free market where consumers are able to freely choose what they buy. This concept is tied to John Stuart Mill’s “marketplace of ideas,” where men are allowed to freely discuss their opinions, and the market will eventually decide what ideology is best.

Liberalism is closely tied to individualism and humanism which promote the ideas that every man is an equal being, worthy of respect and dignity. Biggar claimed that there is a clear link between Christian theology and the values of liberalism and individualism. He stated “the most important political contribution of England’s religious establishment lies in the Christian humanist worldview that it advocates. A world view that generates the virtues necessary for the survival of a liberal ethos.”

Read it all.

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Theology

(Psephizo) Ian Paul–The Church of England teaching document on sexuality

One of the great reliefs of the last sessions of General Synod in York (on July 6th to 10th) was the absence of any acrimonious debates about sexuality in the main chamber. The Business Committee had taken the bold and commendable decision that, in the light of the planned teaching document on sexuality, any private members’ or diocesan motions on related issues would not be taken until after the document was produced and discussed. The teaching document was announced after the ‘rebellion’ in February 2017 when Synod decided ‘not to take note’ of a report from the House of Bishops’ report on the state of play in discussions following the long and drawn out (and expensive!) process of ‘Shared Conversations‘.

There had already been an announcement that there was going to be a change in name for the document.

Living in Love and Faith: A new name for the Episcopal Teaching Document

As the work of the Episcopal Teaching Document has progressed it has become clearer that the word ‘document’ does not do justice to the emerging vision for the resources that the groups working on it envisage. Furthermore, ‘teaching’ does not reflect the working groups’ aspiration to produce teaching materials that will invite active engagement in mutual learning. So, after several months and the participation of many people, a new title for the project has been agreed by the Archbishops: Living in Love and Faith: Christian Teaching and Learning about Human Identity, Sexuality and Marriage.

This provided plenty of fuel for the suspicious, that there was a retreat from the idea that the Church of England might actually have a clear position on sexuality that needed ‘teaching’. But Justin Welby had said from the beginning that this was going to be a ‘mapping’ exercise, highlighting areas of agreement, the areas of disagreement and possible ways forward—which in itself suggests that this, another costly process, would not lead to any clear resolution. Personally, I was intrigued at the idea that ‘teaching’ on its on does not ‘invite active engagement in mutual learning’, but in fact in Higher Education it is common to talk about a ‘teaching and learning strategy’, recognising that the focus needs to be not simply on what is offered, but also on the effect that it has in enabling learning to take place.

So instead of any debate, the Saturday afternoon of Synod was given over to a series of workshops and seminars, some of which focussed on other topics (including digital evangelism) but which included presentations on the work of the different groups involved in the process (Bible, theology, biological and social sciences, history and a slightly separate Pastoral Advisory Group). I attended the ones on Bible, theology and science, and what emerged was a rather mixed picture of what we might expect from the process….

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), Theology

(PewR FactTank) Populist views in Europe: It’s not just the economy

Ethnocentrism also plays a role in this wave of populist views. About six-in-ten (61%) AfD supporters in Germany, a majority (56%) of National Front backers in France and nearly half (47%) of Party for Freedom (PVV) adherents in the Netherlands say their people’s culture is “superior to others.” This sense of national cultural pre-eminence is far less prevalent among the rest of the publics in their countries.

Another sentiment strongly expressed among those who support right-wing European populist parties is that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with their country’s culture and values: 75% of Germans with a positive view of AfD, 66% of Dutch PVV supporters and 63% of French National Front backers say Islam is “fundamentally incompatible with our culture and values.” About four-in-ten or fewer adults with unfavorable views of populist parties in these nations agree.

Old-fashioned nationalism is still evident in modern European right-wing populism, too.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Islam, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

(1st Things) John Waters–Choosing to refuse

Sometimes, digesting the latest news of the unhinging of the world, one is tempted to fall into despair. I experienced this feeling acutely recently, reading a report of a conservative commentator who had been questioned by the FBI because he posted a one-liner on Twitter mocking the Human Rights Campaign for seeking to persuade businesses to put rainbows in some visible place about their premises, presumably as an indicator of acquiescence in the LGBT agenda.

“That’s a nice business. Too bad if something happened to it,” tweeted Austin Ruse, president of the Center for Family and Human Rights. It was an obvious riff on Mafia-style protection methodologies, but you can count on social-justice-warrior types not to get jokes. Ruse was reported by the Human Rights Campaign and as a consequence received a visit and later a phone call from an FBI officer. Luckily, the officer knew a joke from a shakedown and that was the end of it.

Ruse subsequently observed that the HRC has made a habit of attacking Christians who defend traditional sexual morality. He elaborated:

It works like this: A local restaurant is owned by a faithful Catholic who objects to the gay agenda. … Gays notice he doesn’t have the gay rainbow affixed to his window. “Why don’t you have the rainbow on your window?,” they ask. “Are you homophobic? Do you really want the local community to know about you?” You can see it spooling out from there. He is targeted by the local bully boys who proceed to make his life miserable, perhaps harming and even shuttering his business.

This kind of thing is escalating at a rate that begins to be very ominous indeed. Not only do these people brook no dissent from their agendas, but they do not rest until anyone who questions them is badly burnt toast. And officialdom everywhere plays along and treats them like jolly pranksters….

Ruse’s experience brought to mind Vaclav Havel’s story, in his essay “The Power of the Powerless,” about the greengrocer who put the sign in the window with the slogan, “Workers of the World Unite.” Havel draws us into the mindset of the greengrocer, who places the sign essentially as a gesture of obedience. The sign might as easily read, “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient”—but this would cause the greengrocer to lose face. The “Workers of the World” sign serves both the needs of the greengrocer and the needs of the regime. So it is with rainbow stickers. The sign or sticker thus becomes another kind of sign: of the operation within a culture of an ideology. This is its true function.

Read it all and make sure to read the full article in Stream from which he is quoting.

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, The U.S. Government

(R+P) Gene Zubovich–The Christian Nationalism of Donald Trump

Without a clear stand on questions of nationalism, religious groups sway from one extreme to the other with the changing times, unable to offer much resistance to the general mood of the country and the machinations of politicians. That was certainly the case during the Cold War, as religious folks celebrated America and its war against godless communism. Many of the same churches changed their tune in the 1960s, when widespread protests took place against the Vietnam War.

The fight goes on even today. In thinking about Christian nationalism, I am reminded of a visit I made to a North Carolina church in 2006. It held about 500 people, and it had two large screens on either side of the pulpit. The service was just before the Fourth of July and sounded much like Trump did in his Independence Day address. The pastor reminded congregants that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Then the choir began singing:

“Off we go into the wild blue yonder / Climbing high into the sun / Here they come zooming to meet our thunder / At ‘em boys, Give ‘er the gun!”

It was the “U.S. Air Force” song and as it played, a veteran walked between the pews toward the pulpit waiving the Air Force flag and the two screens played footage of bombers dropping ordinance on Iraqi targets during Operation Desert Storm. The scene repeated for the Army, the Navy, the Marines, and finally the Coast Guard. After the nationalist display, the service ended with a few hymns, including, without any obvious irony, “Down by the Riverside” (“I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield down by the riverside / Ain’t gonna study war no more”).

I imagine that ten years later, in the age of Trump, the president enjoys widespread support at this church, since he enjoys broad appeal with white evangelicals across the country. And I imagine the minister would cheer the president’s militaristic rhetoric. In retrospect, it’s easy to see how the Christian nationalism I witnessed in 2006 paved the way for today’s politics.

Read it all.

I will take comments on this submitted by email only to KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Office of the President, Politics in General, President Donald Trump, Religion & Culture, Theology

(BBC) Chief rabbi: Labour should toughen up anti-Semitism code

The code does endorse the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism and includes behaviours it lists as likely to be regarded as anti-Semitic – but critics point out that it leaves out four examples from that definition:

Accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than their home country
Claiming that Israel’s existence as a state is a racist endeavour
Requiring higher standards of behaviour from Israel than other nations
Comparing contemporary Israeli policies to those of the Nazis

Chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis attacked the omission of these examples and said it was “astonishing that the Labour Party presumes it is more qualified” to define anti-Semitism than the Jewish community.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Politics in General, Religion & Culture