Daily Archives: February 26, 2015

(Time) America’s Pain Killer Problem is Growing, Federal Data Shows

New data shows America’s use of opioids hasn’t declined.

New federal data released Wednesday reveals the state of America’s pain killer use.

According to the numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the percentage of adults age 20 and over using prescription pain killers remains significantly higher than in the past, with people also taking stronger painkillers than before. Between 2011”“2012, nearly 7% of adults reported using a prescription opioid analgesic in the past 30 days, compared to 5% in 2003-2006.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Drugs/Drug Addiction, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Theology

(Reuters) Austria passes “Law on Islam” banning foreign money for Muslim groups

Austria’s Parliament passed a law Wednesday (Feb. 25) that seeks to regulate how Islam is administered, singling out its large Muslim minority for treatment not applied to any other religious group.

The “Law on Islam” bans foreign funding for Islamic organizations and requires any group claiming to represent Austrian Muslims to submit and use a standardized German translation of the Quran.

The law met with little opposition from the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic population, was backed by Austria’s Catholic bishops, and was grudgingly accepted by the main Muslim organization. But it upset Turkey’s state religious establishment.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Austria, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Other Faiths, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

(Denver Catholic) George Weigel–World Christianity by the numbers

This year’s survey works from a baseline of 1900 A.D., and makes projections out to 2050. Within that century and a half there’s some good news about the global human condition that ought to be kept in mind when remembering the bad news of the 20th century and the early 21st. For example: in 1900, 27.6 percent of adults in a world population of 1.6 billion were literate. In 2015, 81 percent of the adults in a global population of 7.3 billion are literate, and the projection is that, by 2050, 88 percent of the adults in a world of 9.5 billion people will be literate””a remarkable accomplishment.

Of the 7.3 billion human beings on Planet Earth today, 89 percent are religious believers, while 1.8 percent are professed atheists and another 9 percent are agnostics: which suggests that Chief Poobah of the New Atheists Richard Dawkins and his friends are not exactly winning the day, although their “market share” is up from 1900.

There were some 267 million Catholics in the world in 1900; today, the world Church counts 1.2 billion members, with a projected growth to 1.6 billion by the middle of the century. Yet in the last quarter of the 20th century Catholicism was displaced by Islam as the world’s largest religious community, as the global Muslim population grew from 571 million in 1970 to today’s 1.7 billion.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Globalization, History, Religion & Culture, Sociology

[BBC] Barnabas Fund director Patrick Sookhdeo guilty of sex assault

The head of a Wiltshire-based Christian charity has been found guilty of sexually assaulting a female member of staff.

Patrick Sookhdeo, from the Pewsey-based Barnabas Fund, was also found to have intimidated two employees who were due to give evidence against him.

The jury at Swindon Crown Court found the 67-year-old guilty on all counts.

Read it all and there is a report from the Western Daily Press

Posted in * Religion News & Commentary

(Wired) Why 40-Year-Old Tech Is Still Running America’s Air Traffic Control

At any given time, around 7,000 aircraft are flying over the United States. For the past 40 years, the same computer system has controlled all that high-altitude traffic””a relic of the 1970s known as Host. The core system predates the advent of the Global Positioning System, so Host uses point-to-point, ground-based radar. Every day, thousands of travelers switch their GPS-enabled smartphones to airplane mode while their flights are guided by technology that predates the Speak & Spell. If you’re reading this at 30,000 feet, relax””Host is still safe, in terms of getting planes from point A to point B. But it’s unbelievably inefficient. It can handle a limited amount of traffic, and controllers can’t see anything outside of their own airspace””when they hand off a plane to a contiguous airspace, it vanishes from their radar.

The FAA knows all that. For 11 years the agency has been limping toward a collection of upgrades called NextGen. At its core is a new computer system that will replace Host and allow any controller, anywhere, to see any plane in US airspace. In theory, this would enable one air traffic control center to take over for another with the flip of a switch, as Howard seemed to believe was already possible. NextGen isn’t vaporware; that core system was live in Chicago and the four adjacent centers when Howard attacked, and this spring it’ll go online in all 20 US centers. But implementation has been a mess, with a cascade of delays, revisions, and unforeseen problems. Air traffic control can’t do anything as sophisticated as Howard thought, and unless something changes about the way the FAA is managing NextGen, it probably never will.

This technology is complicated and novel, but that isn’t the problem. The problem is that NextGen is a project of the FAA.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Science & Technology, The U.S. Government, Theology, Travel

Thursday Morning Encouragement–A Movie Theater With a Mission: Employing the Disabled

Only 20 percent of disabled people work, compared to 68 percent of those who aren’t disabled, according to September 2014 numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

[Valeria] Jensen saved the playhouse from demolition and founded the four-theater commercial movie house, a nonprofit, in historic Ridgefield. Most of the more than 80 theater employees are disabled. But they weren’t there just because they have a disability, Jensen said.

“They’re here because they are a really, really valuable employee,” she said.

“We are ‘The Prospector’ after all,” she noted. “And as prospectors I work with my prospects to find out what their sparkle is.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Charities/Non-Profit Organizations, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Movies & Television, Pastoral Theology, Rural/Town Life, Theology

(CSM) Artificial intelligence can learn Atari games from scratch, say scientists

Is a robot uprising coming in 2015?

Maybe ”“ but only to show you up at the arcade.

Led by researchers Demis Hassabis and Volodymyr Mnih, Google-owned DeepMind Technologies has created an artificial intelligence capable of playing simple video games with minimal training. They described their breakthrough today in Nature.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Science & Technology, Theology

(FT's The World) William Wallis –Five dangerous weeks for Nigeria

An interim government would be “alien to the constitution” says Mohammed Bello Adoke, the attorney-general. Mr Jonathan told the FT such a government could only emerge from a military coup. However, he could theoretically push back the polls and extend his tenure on a rolling six month basis by declaring the nation at war with Boko Haram insurgents. This would require the ”” unlikely ”” endorsement of two-thirds of the National Assembly. Alternatively if for whatever reason no winner emerges by May 29, the senate president, former army colonel David Mark, would stand in with 60 days to organise elections.

The fear is that without popular legitimacy, any government ”” military or civilian ”” will struggle to repair the fissures that will appear should Gen Buhari’s followers in the north believe him to have been cheated of victory. The same applies to a lesser degree to Mr Jonathan’s supporters, with former warlords in the oil-producing Niger delta threatening to take up arms again should he be bullied out of office. In such a febrile environment, there is a risk of ethnic killing especially in the north ”” as happened in 1965 in the run up to the Biafran civil war.

Nigeria has withdrawn from the brink on a number of occasions since. This time the army, potentially divided and already pinned down by Boko Haram, might have difficulty containing violence across many fronts, and the country’s future as one nation would be at stake. “These next five weeks are among the most dangerous in Nigeria’s history,” says Nasir el-Rufai, a former government minister contesting the Kaduna state governorship.

Read it all (emphasis mine).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Africa, Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Nigeria, Other Faiths, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Theology, Violence

Thursday Food For Thought–What do you do when your church structure is killing you?

Many times we are working with church structures of a different time. I have seen churches with 50 people attending on Sunday morning, and they maintain 12 committees.

There may have been a lot of retirees in the church, so we have committees who meet in the day.

Or there might have been a lot of people without children, so everyone meets at night””on a different night, to ensure that the pastor is at every meeting.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Eschatology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Ministry of the Laity, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Care, Psychology, Theology

Michael Nazir-Ali reviews 'Longing for Community: Church, Ummah, or Somewhere in Between?'

Given that the connection of Islam to Muslim-majority cultures is particularly strong, does there not need to be, nevertheless, a proper distinction between religion and culture? Should not this be so, even if many cultural practices and values are derived from a particular religious tradition? The problem with identifying culture entirely with religion is that contextualization can begin to look very much like capitulation. The issue becomes sharply focused in the debate about “insiders,” or followers of Jesus within Muslim communities who maintain their Muslim identity. To what extent has there been conversion if people continue to participate in the salat (ritual prayer), make the shahada (the Muslim profession of faith), derive their knowledge of Jesus and devotion to him mainly from the Qur’an and the Hadith, and so on? Other questions concern the relation of communities of such followers (if they are in communities) to other local churches and the worldwide church. Also, how are persons and cultures to be transformed by the Gospel if the status quo ante is largely maintained? There remain serious questions about whether such communities or persons will be allowed to survive within the Dar al-Islam (House of Islam).

We must remember that evangelists and missionaries stand within the apostolic tradition and are not semidetached from it or outside it altogether. This means, for instance, not making up elements of contextualization but using the rich and varied sources of Christian tradition””for example, in patterns of worship, liturgy, the public reading of the Scriptures, and forms of private devotion. In Islamic contexts, we are particularly fortunate that so much has been taken from Eastern Christian traditions and can be reappropriated without violence to the integrity of the Gospel. The problem sometimes is that Western Christian missionaries, and even Westernized indigenous Christians, are unaware of this rich heritage waiting on their doorstep or are suspicious of it. In some places, Islam is an import into an existing Christian culture; elsewhere, both Christianity and Islam have come from outside. Whatever the case, rich resources for inculturation are available because of the historic interaction between Muslims and Christians. Let us use them!

The book represents a brave attempt at assessing the many opportunities and problems for Christian witness in Muslim contexts. I hope it is only the beginning and that some of the issues raised in this review essay will be tackled at the next conference and in any publications that result from it.

Read it all (requires free registration).

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Books, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Evangelism and Church Growth, Inter-Faith Relations, Islam, Missions, Muslim-Christian relations, Other Faiths, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Theology

Lovely vivid colours from Lincoln Cathedral

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * General Interest, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), Parish Ministry, Photos/Photography

(Washington Post) 3 Brooklyn men-not US citizens, arrested, charged with trying to aid ISIS

Three men from Brooklyn have been arrested and charged with trying to help the Islamic State, according to a criminal complaint unsealed in federal court on Wednesday.

They had also discussed harming President Obama and carrying out attacks in the United States if they were unable to travel overseas. One of the three men was arrested while trying to fly to Turkey, where authorities say he planned to head to the border with Syria to meet with representatives from the Islamic State. Another of the men planned to follow him there next month, while the third man was helping finance some of these travel efforts.

These are the latest in a string of similar arrests, episodes that have highlighted the concerns of federal officials who have publicly worried that young people in the United States could be lured to join the militant group in Syria.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Blogging & the Internet, Globalization, Law & Legal Issues, Middle East, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Syria, Terrorism, Violence, Young Adults

(Time Magazine Cover Story) Researchers inching toward the seemingly impossible cure for aging?

“When I got into the field, the notion that you could actually do something about the aging process was viewed as a crackpot idea,” says Richard Miller, director of the Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at the University of Michigan. “The argument that one can slow aging, and diseases of aging along with it, used to be fantasy, but now we see it like a scientific strategy.”

Nobody is talking about living forever. But as these experts see it, aging is the single most powerful factor in the diseases that are most likely to cut our lives short: cancer, heart problems, immune disorders and degenerative brain conditions like Alzheimer’s. “Everybody knows that the main risk factors for heart disease are high cholesterol, obesity and high blood pressure,” says Dr. Felipe Sierra, director of the division of aging biology at the National Institute on Aging (NIA). “But even stronger than those factors is just being 70 years old.”

And that’s why staving off aging”“or at least slowing it”“has become such a central focus of research. “We’re going at aging itself,” says David Sinclair, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School. “We might take someone who is showing signs of aging and be able to do something about it, to treat that as a disease. That’s something I didn’t expect to be seeing in my lifetime.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, History, Psychology, Science & Technology, Theology

(Spectator) Anne Applebaum–How Vladimir Putin is waging war on the West ”“ and winning

Last month, the speaker of the Russian parliament solemnly instructed his foreign affairs committee to launch a historical investigation: was West Germany’s ”˜annexation’ of East Germany really legal? Should it be condemned? Ought it to be reversed? Last week, the Russian foreign minister, speaking at a security conference in Munich, hinted that he might have similar doubts. ”˜Germany’s reunification was conducted without any referendum,’ he declared, ominously.

At this, the normally staid audience burst out laughing. The Germans in the room found the Russian statements particularly hilarious. Undo German unification? Why, that would require undoing the whole post-Cold War settlement!

Which is indeed a very amusing notion ”” unless you think that this is exactly what the Russian speaker, the Russian foreign minister, and indeed the Russian President, a man who once called the collapse of the Soviet Union ”˜the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century’, are in fact trying to achieve.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Defense, National Security, Military, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Foreign Relations, Politics in General, Russia, Theology, Ukraine, Violence

A Prayer to Begin the Day from James Ferguson

Almighty and eternal God, who has so made us of body, soul and spirit, that we live not by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from thee: Make us to hunger for the spiritual food of thy Word; and as we trust thee for our daily bread, may we also trust thee to give us day by day the inward nourishment of that living truth which thou hast revealed to us in thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Lent, Spirituality/Prayer

The Latest Issue of the Diocese of South Carolina Newspaper

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * South Carolina, Media, Parish Ministry, Theology

From the Morning Scripture Readings

So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God’s rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his.

–Hebrews 4:10-11

Posted in Theology, Theology: Scripture

(NPR) Supreme Court Leans Toward Religious Protection In Headscarf Case

At the U.S. Supreme Court, you know that it’s going to be a hot argument when the usually straight-faced Justice Samuel Alito begins a question this way: “Let’s say four people show up for a job interview … this is going to sound like a joke, but it’s not.”

The issue before the court on Wednesday was whether retailer Abercrombie & Fitch violated the federal law banning religious discrimination when it rejected a highly rated job applicant because she wore a Muslim headscarf.

Alito’s hypothetical continued this way: The first of the four applicants to show up at Abercrombie is a Sikh man wearing a turban; the second is a Hasidic man wearing a hat; the third is a Muslim woman wearing a hijab; the fourth is a Catholic nun in a habit. Now, Alito asked Abercrombie’s lawyer: “Do you think that those people have to say, we just want to tell you, we’re dressed this way for a religious reason? We’re not just trying to make a fashion statement.” Or, might we reasonably conclude that Abercrombie knows why they are dressed that way?

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Theology

(Guardian) Henry VIII's evidence to support break with Rome turns up in Cornish library

A book which helped changed the course of English history, part of the evidence Henry VIII and his lawyers gathered in the 1530s to help win an annulment from Catherine of Aragon and ultimately to break with Rome, has turned up on the shelves of the magnificent library at Lanhydrock, a National Trust mansion in Cornwall.

The book, a summary of the theories of the medieval philosopher and theologian William of Ockham, has been newly identified by a US scholar and expert on the history of Henry’s library. The book was damaged but escaped destruction in a disastrous fire at the house in 1881, and crucially the fly-leaf survived. It still carries the number 282, written in black ink in the top right-hand corner, which Prof James Carley identified as corresponding with an inventory taken in 1542 of the most important of Henry’s books, five years before the king’s death.

Paul Holden, the house and collections manager at Lanhydrock, said: “It was an amazing moment. The old long gallery here is about the length of a football pitch, and the professor lapped it about six times when we found the book.”

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Books, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

Michael Bird-Paul Holloway Responds to Michael Bird about N.T. Wright and Sewanee University

Over at Faith Forward, Paul Holloway responds to my earlier post about his denunciation of Sewanee University for awarding N.T. Wright an honorary doctorate.

Thankfully Holloway’s response attempts some actual reasoning and tries to provide some kind of substance to his criticism of Wright rather than resorting to hyperbolic and vitriolic protest as he did previously. Let me say that there is nothing wrong with robust criticism of Wright, for case in point, see John Barclay’s critique of Paul and the Faithfulness of God. The problem is that Holloway’s initial complaint about Wright was filled with inaccuracies, pejorative anthems, and was transparently tribal.

Let me address some of his recent claims.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Episcopal Church (TEC), Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Seminary / Theological Education, TEC Conflicts, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(First Things) Richard Mouw–When Penthouse Magazine Came Calling

Narrating the details of my seventy-plus year pilgrimage would bore me almost as much as it would bore others. I do, however, remember a few events that might be interesting enough for public airing. One of them is the time that I turned down an invitation to appear in Penthouse magazine.

The phone call””it was the late 1970s, I think””came to our home in Grand Rapids late one afternoon. A pleasant woman asked me if I was willing to fly to New York City to serve on a panel of religious ethicists discussing “evangelicals and sexuality.” When I asked about the sponsorship of the panel, she immediately told me she would get to that topic after some other details, and then she reeled off the proposed date and the amount of a generous honorarium. I persisted: Who was sponsoring the panel? She answered: “I am calling on behalf of Bob Guccione of Penthouse magazine.”

“Oh, for crying out loud!” I exclaimed into the phone, and began to say that I would not do it. But she shot back, mentioning that a well-known professor from a university religion department had assured her that I was the right kind of person to appear in this published discussion. I got angry, urging her to tell the professor and Mr. Guccione what they were “full of.” And I hung up.

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

(Gallup) Americans' Views of U.S. Position in World Steady–37% satisfied, 61% dissatisfied

Thirty-seven percent of Americans are satisfied and 61% dissatisfied with the position of the U.S. in the world today. These views are unchanged from last year, even after a series of significant challenges for U.S. foreign policy. Americans’ satisfaction is a bit higher than at the end of the Bush administration and at the beginning of the Obama administration, but remains well below where it was in the early 2000s.

The results are from Gallup’s annual World Affairs survey, conducted Feb. 8-11. Americans’ satisfaction held steady in the past year, even as the U.S. was forced to deal with the rise of Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, a dispute with Russia over Ukrainian separatists in the eastern part of Ukraine, heightened tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians, and ongoing policy disagreements involving North Korea and Iran. The lack of change may be attributable to Americans’ already high level of dissatisfaction with the nation’s world position, with those events and the way the U.S. handled them serving to reinforce the dissatisfaction rather than to worsen or even improve it.

Americans have been more likely to be dissatisfied than satisfied with the position of the U.S. in the world since 2004, about the time it became clear that the U.S. military action in Iraq was running into problems that could — and did — lead to a prolonged U.S. commitment there. Satisfaction fell to a low of 30% in the final year of George W. Bush’s administration and remained low in the very early stages of Barack Obama’s presidency. Americans’ satisfaction is modestly higher now than at that point, but has leveled off.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Defense, National Security, Military, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Politics in General, Psychology, Sociology, The U.S. Government, Theology