Category : Consumer/consumer spending

(NC Register) Dwight Longenecker–What’s Wrong With a Drive-Thru Parish?

In our town, for instance, we have one church that offers traditional liturgy influenced heavily by the Anglican tradition. They enjoy a beautiful building, excellent servers, fine music. Then we have the Franciscan parish with gospel music, a strong emphasis on peace and justice, lively preaching and involvement with the poor.

Across town we have a couple of typical American suburban parishes — easygoing contemporary music, large and active congregations, busy youth work, Life Teen Mass, a huge CCD program. On the other side of town a parish offers the Extraordinary Form every week — indeed, every day. The parish school is thriving and a busy, enthusiastic traditionalist crowd fills the pews.

So people church-shop.

It is a reality.

Church-shopping has its strengths and weaknesses. The downside is that we lose the natural diversity of a natural local community that has been part of Church understanding for eons. People are scattered and it’s hard to get them together. On the other hand, if people church-shop they are more likely to end up in a church they like and more likely to be committed to that congregation and ministry. Or so the theory goes. In fact, I have noticed something else creeping in which makes my job as a pastor even more difficult.

The church-shopping has started to disintegrate. Not only do people church-shop in order to find a church community to which they want to belong, but they church-shop from week to week.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Consumer/consumer spending, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

(Atlantic) Alexis Madrigal–Facebook believes too strongly in the goodness of people

In an unusually revealing moment for Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg told Recode’s Kara Swisher on Wednesday that he didn’t support taking down content about Holocaust denial on Facebook. Zuckerberg is Jewish, and he finds such denials “deeply offensive,” he said. But Holocaust deniers were not “intentionally getting it wrong.”

When Swisher followed up that “in the case of Holocaust deniers, they might be,” Zuckerberg retreated to a stance he’s never quite made explicit before. “It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent,” he said.

In place of “understanding” the intent, this statement makes clear that Facebook takes a default stance of assuming users act in good faith—or without intention, at least. Zuckerberg and Facebook have been repeatedly criticized, and accepted the criticism as largely true, that they have been too willing to ignore the potential negative ways the platform can be used. And yet here, one of the basic principles of how they moderate speech is to be so optimistic as to give Holocaust deniers the benefit of the doubt.

Zuckerberg seems to be imagining a circumstance where somebody watched a YouTube video that makes a case against the (real, documented, horrifying) Holocaust and ignorantly posts it to Facebook. Under the rules the platform has established, there is no penalty for that (in countries where Holocaust denial is not illegal)….

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Germany, History, Judaism, Theology, Violence

(FT) How business is capitalising on the millennial Instagram obsession

The tables at the Tsubaki Salon are slightly wobbly. No more than a couple of millimetres off kilter, but enough to be noticeable.

This is puzzling because, in all other respects, this highest of high-end pancake houses, nestling among the haute-couture flagships of Tokyo’s Ginza district and fitted out in bracingly minimalist decor, is perfection. The plates and cups are the definition of Japanese ceramic elegance. The spindly handled spoons and forks have been created by one of the country’s most famous designers to fit the pinnacle of pancake Epicureanism. When it comes to the edible stars of the show — made using a complex technique — they too, in the view of the pancake cognoscenti, are flawless.

But what about that wobble? “It’s deliberate,” says Yukari Mori, nudging the table a little to demonstrate that even this imperfection is perfection. “They were designed this way to show off what makes these pancakes so good.”

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Dieting/Food/Nutrition, Economy, Japan, Photos/Photography, Science & Technology, Young Adults

(Local Paper front page) A SC funeral home left a body to rot for years in ‘corrupt’ system that protects homes

The funeral board, which oversees discipline, is dominated by people who work in the funeral business. By law, nine of its 11 members must be licensed funeral directors and embalmers. The remaining two slots are reserved for public representatives, but those seats often sit vacant. On at least one occasion, a part-time funeral worker served as the public’s voice on the panel.

This guild of peers includes members and former leaders of South Carolina’s funeral industry associations. It rarely revokes or suspends a license, preferring to levy reprimands and light fines that keep problem operators in business. Even when licenses are pulled, no one checks to make sure those disciplined are abiding by the rules unless someone files a formal complaint.

What’s more, nearly 40 percent of the 600 complaints filed against funeral homes and their operators were dismissed between 2006 and 2017 with no action taken, according to labor department records.

That doesn’t surprise Joshua Slocum, who leads the national Funeral Consumer Alliance, a Vermont-based nonprofit that fights for transparency and funeral affordability. He said most states have models similar to South Carolina’s, with funeral boards dominated by funeral professionals. It’s an opaque system rigged to benefit the death industry, concealing misdeeds and leaving consumers in the dark, he said.

“It’s an outrage against public policy and a clear, no-gray-area conflict of interest,” he said. “The system may be legal, but it’s inherently corrupt.”

South Carolina’s funeral board is ensconced in the state’s labor and licensing agency, one of some 40 professional boards that oversee more than 400,000 licenses for everything from architects and accountants to foot doctors. Most of these boards also are dominated by insiders from their respective industries.

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Posted in * South Carolina, Consumer/consumer spending, Death / Burial / Funerals

(WSJ) Jack Philips on the Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision–The Supreme Court Let Me Live My Faith Again

Religion isn’t something I pick up on Sunday mornings only to put away during the rest of the week. My entire life belongs to Jesus, and I believe that everything I do should honor him. As the Bible says, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).

This means that when I operate my business, I am always mindful of whether God is pleased with what I create. That’s why even though I serve all people, I can’t design cakes that celebrate events or express messages that conflict with my faith. It’s also why I’ve declined requests to create cakes that celebrate Halloween or memorialize a divorce.

My beliefs about marriage come from my reading of the Bible. Describing marriage, Jesus said, “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Mark 10:7-8). This shows clearly that God intends marriage to be a union between a husband and a wife.

On the day I declined to create a wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage, I was simply living out the truth that I—along with millions of other Christians—have found in the Bible. The men who sued me say I discriminated against them. That’s not true. Declining to design something because of what it celebrates isn’t the same as refusing to serve people because of who they are. Those men are welcome in my shop today, just as they were in 2012. But I can’t create a cake that celebrates a view of marriage at odds with my Christian beliefs.

Read it all.

Posted in Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Supreme Court

(1st Things) Hadles Arkes on the Supreme Court Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision–Conservative Jurisprudence Resorts To Relativism

For Kennedy, this diatribe against the religious was reprehensible in the same measure: “To describe a man’s faith as ‘one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use’ is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical—something insubstantial and even insincere.”

Yes, but so what? Kennedy did not challenge the law itself as a violation of Phillips’s religious freedom. Why should it matter that commissioners, enforcing the law, allowed their conviction of its rightness to express itself in some gratuitous sneering at a man Justice Kennedy and the Court were still willing to treat as a wrongdoer? What this situation seemed to violate, for Kennedy, was the “State’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint.” For years it was understood that the law need not be at all “neutral” between religion and irreligion, that there were compelling reasons, for the public good, to encourage the religious life. But now the claim is reduced simply to an obligation not to be indecorously nasty while the law refuses to respect religious convictions.

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Posted in Anthropology, Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture, State Government, Supreme Court

Masterpiece Cakeshop Analysis (II): Douglas Laycock and Thomas Berg–Scotus Decision not as narrow as may first appear

The Supreme Court has announced a powerful ideal. Even when a law has no explicit exceptions, hostile enforcement is unconstitutional. Single-issue agencies that enforce state civil-rights laws must approach claims to religious exemptions with tolerance and respect. And this is apparently an absolute rule; the court does not consider whether hostility might be justified by some state interest, compelling or otherwise.

But a requirement of tolerance and respect, or even the avoidance of hostility, is difficult to enforce. The opponents of religious exemptions will now start doing the sorts of things done by many other government officials resisting constitutional mandates. They will seek doctrinal and rhetorical manipulations to cloak their hostility to the constitutional right, and their unequal treatment of objectors they agree with and objectors they don’t.

Those manipulations began in the state’s briefs and in the concurring and dissenting opinions. Kagan and Breyer said that the state’s discrimination could easily have been justified with a different explanation: The protected bakers would not have sold an anti-gay cake to anybody, but Phillips would sell wedding cakes to opposite-sex couples.

As Justice Neil Gorsuch explained, this reaches the preordained result by manipulating the level of generality. An “anti-gay” cake is distinguished only by what it displays on the outer surface. So the category is not cakes, or wedding cakes, but cakes with particular messages. If a same-sex couple wants a cake with two grooms, two brides, a rainbow, or any other indication of approval of same-sex marriage, that is a cake that Phillips would not sell to anybody. If they want a cake that could just as appropriately be used for an opposite-sex wedding, then at the surface, Kagan’s rationalization holds — but it is still a rationalization. Everyone would still know what is really going on: The commission agrees with the protected bakers and disagrees with Jack Phillips.

Masterpiece states an important ideal. But the Supreme Court has not been good over the years at identifying government bias or hostility that is the least bit shrouded. In a case without smoking-gun expressions of hostility, objectors will need evidence of inconsistent treatment of tester cases.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Supreme Court, Theology

Ryan Anderson–Supreme Court Upholds Baker’s Right to Disagree With Same-Sex Marriage in Marketplace

…as Justice Neil Gorsuch notes (in a concurring opinion joined by Justice Samuel Alito), either all four bakers violated the Colorado anti-discrimination law, or none did. Gorsuch writes:

[T]here’s no indication the bakers actually intended to refuse service because of a customer’s protected characteristic. We know this because all of the bakers explained without contradiction that they would not sell the requested cakes to anyone, while they would sell other cakes to members of the protected class (as well as to anyone else).

As I argue in the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy, “Disagreement is not always discrimination.” And this is true when it comes to disagreements about same-sex marriage.

Phillips didn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation when he refused to design and bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. He didn’t take his customer’s sexual orientation into consideration at all. He declined to use his artistic abili­ties to create a custom cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding because he objected to same-sex marriage, based on the common Christian belief that such partnerships (along with many other relationships—sexual and not, dyadic and larger, same-sex and opposite-sex) aren’t marital.

Nowhere need Phillips’ reasoning have even referred to the partners’ sexual orientation, much less any ideas or attitudes about gay people as a class (good or bad, explicit or not).

It wasn’t his customer’s identity that motivated Phillips at all. It is even clearer that Phillips’ reason for refusing to bake the wedding cake was not the invidious discrimination of avoiding contact with others on equal terms. As Phillips said to the same-sex couple, “I’ll make you birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies and brownies, I just don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings.” He sought only to avoid complicity in what he considered one distortion of marriage among oth­ers—as shown by his refusal to create divorce cakes as well.

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Posted in --Civil Unions & Partnerships, America/U.S.A., Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Supreme Court

Christianity Today Asks Several Religious Liberty Experts to Weigh in on the Implications of Yesterdays Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court Decision

Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at religious liberty firm Becket:

Becket urged the court to decide the case on the basis of the free exercise clause, and that is what the court did. And because of that, this case has broad implications for other religious liberty conflicts, involving not just wedding vendors, but many other religious people too.

The decision breaks new doctrinal ground in a couple of places … For example, Justice Kennedy adopts the two-Justice part of Lukumi and turns it into newly binding precedent in this passage: “Factors relevant to the assessment of governmental neutrality include ‘the historical background of the decision under challenge, the specific series of events leading to the enactment or official policy in question, and the legislative or administrative history, including contemporaneous statements made by members of the decisionmaking body.”

What this means as a practical matter is that in a variety of situations it will matter much more what the legislators, adjudicators, and government officials say about the religious beliefs and practices in question, and much less what those same officials think about whether those religious beliefs and practices offend someone. The court used a fairly broad definition of what constitutes hostility toward religion, so referring to “hateful beliefs” could get an anti-discrimination law invalidated. And saying that someone was offended will be no justification for a law.

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Posted in --Civil Unions & Partnerships, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Supreme Court

([London) Times) Google dreams up future of manipulating everyone

Google has imagined a future where it uses enormous quantities of data it collects on individuals to manipulate their behaviour and achieve “desired results” for the whole species.

In a leaked video from the company’s secretive X research division, the narrator cites Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene and depicts Google’s data as a “selfish ledger” which treats users as “transient carriers” or “survival mechanisms” for valuable data.

He says that the ledger could move beyond a passive record to actively influence people’s actions, in line with Google’s “values”. If Google didn’t have enough data on a particular user its algorithms would identify a suitable “smart” product to sell him or her to gather that data.

Google dismissed the video as a “thought experiment” unrelated to any present or future plans. However, analysts said that the dystopian future it painted was plausible. Similar ideas can be found in some of the firm’s patent applications, including one for “detecting and correcting potential errors in user behaviour”.

Read it all (requires subscription).

Posted in Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Psychology, Science & Technology

(Axios) 40% in U.S. can’t afford middle-class basics

Posted in America/U.S.A., Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Personal Finance

[The (Bergen County, N.J.) Record] Cremation gaining in popularity fast as burial costs rise

Fred and Margaret, of Clifton, N.J., died one month apart during the winter.

The couple, whose last name their children asked not to divulge, met in high school and were married for 69 years. They were inseparable.

Death was not about to change that.

They made arrangements years ago: Margaret, 87, would take the last grave in the family’s plot at St. Nicholas Cemetery in Lodi, N.J. Fred, 88, a devout Catholic who was born some 30 years before the Vatican lifted its ban on cremation in 1963, decided his ashes would be buried by her head.

Perhaps, if there were space, Fred would not have chosen to be cremated, his daughter Donna said. But there was room for only one.

“I think he just wanted to be with my mom and that’s what he had to do in order for him to be with her,” she said.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Consumer/consumer spending, Death / Burial / Funerals, Eschatology, Religion & Culture, Secularism

Fuller Seminary President Dr. Mark Labberton’s recent Address at the Wheaton Gathering–The Crisis of Evangelicalism

Only the Spirit “who is in the world to convict us of sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8) can bring us to clarity about the crisis we face.  As I have sought that conviction, here is what I have come to believe: The central crisis facing us is that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been betrayed and shamed by an evangelicalism that has violated its own moral and spiritual integrity.

This is not a crisis imposed from outside the household of faith, but from within.  The core of the crisis is not specifically about Trump, or Hillary, or Obama, or the electoral college, or Comey, or Mueller, or abortion, or LGBTQIA+ debates, or Supreme Court appointees. Instead the crisis is caused by the way a toxic evangelicalism has engaged with these issues in such a way as to turn the gospel into Good News that is fake. Now on public display is an indisputable collusion between prominent evangelicalism and many forms of insidious racist, misogynistic, materialistic, and political power. The wind and the rain and the floods have come, and, as Jesus said, they will reveal our foundation.  In this moment for evangelicalism, what the storms have exposed is a foundation not of solid rock but of sand.

This is not a crisis taking place at the level of language. This is not about who owns or defines the term “evangelical,” and whether one does—or does not—choose to identify as such.  It is legitimate and important to debate if and how the term “evangelical” can currently be used in the United States to mean anything more than white, theologically and politically conservative. But that is not itself the crisis. The crisis is not at the level of our lexicon, but of our lives and a failure to embody the gospel we preach.  We may debate whether the word “evangelical” can or should be redeemed. But what we must deal with is the current bankruptcy many associate with evangelical life.

This is not a crisis unfolding at the level of group allegiance, denomination, or affiliation.  The varied reality that is American evangelicalism is evidenced in this room.  We have no formal hierarchy, leadership, or structure and form no single organization, but are sorted and divided today as we have been—for better and worse—for much of our history.  Some might wish for a clearer distinction between those who call themselves fundamentalist and those who call themselves evangelical. We might look to varying traditions or geographies to explain our division. These distinctions matter but can easily devolve into scapegoating or blaming, diverting us from our vocation as witness to God’s love for a multifaceted world.

This is not a recent crisis but a historic one.  We face a haunting specter with a shadow that reaches back further than the 2016 election—a history that helps define the depth of the sorrow, fear, anger, anxiety, and injustice around us. Today’s egregious collusion between evangelicals and worldly power is problematic enough: more painful and revealing is that such collusion has been our historic habit. Today’s collusion bears astonishing—and tragic—continuity with the past.

Right alongside the rich history of gospel faithfulness that evangelicalism has affirmed, there lies a destructive complicity with dominant cultural and racial power. Despite deep gospel confidence and rhetoric, evangelicalism has been long-wedded to a devastating social self-interest that defends the dominant culture over and against that of the gospel’s command to love the “other” as ourselves.  We are not naïve in our doctrine of sin that prefers self over all, but we have failed to recognize our own guilt in it.

Read it carefully and read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Church History, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Evangelicals, Religion & Culture, Theology

(Mercury News) Legal Marijuana on pace to match U.S. soda sales by 2030

Pot may be on its way to beating pop. (Editor’s note: Yes, we know it’s called “soda” out here on the West Coast, but we didn’t want to mess with this writer’s lead.)

The U.S. legal cannabis industry is expected to reach $75 billion in sales by 2030, according to research firm Cowen & Co. That’s almost as large as the North American carbonated soft drink market in 2017.

With the industries’ diverging trajectories, weed may be poised to take the mantle as the larger industry. Cannabis is growing rapidly as more states legalize the plant. Nine states and Washington, D.C. now allow for recreational pot use. That means more than one in five American adults can smoke, vape, eat or drink it however they please. Cowen previously predicted that the market, assuming federal legalization, would reach $50 billion by 2026. That seems small now, according to analyst Vivien Azer.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Consumer/consumer spending, Drugs/Drug Addiction, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, State Government, Theology

(Marketwatch) Sticker shock: Why people spend $10,000 on funerals

Planning for a funeral is one of the most emotionally strained financial decisions a consumer will make in his or her life, and some funeral providers appear to be profiting from a lack of transparency in the industry.

Very few funeral homes advertise price information on their websites, according to a new report from the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America, which advocates for a “meaningful, dignified and affordable” funeral. Of 193 funeral homes with websites the report surveyed, only 30 (16%) posted the price information that the Federal Trade Commission’s “funeral rule” requires them to hand to customers who ask.

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Posted in Consumer/consumer spending, Death / Burial / Funerals, Religion & Culture