Category : America/U.S.A.

(First Things) Patrick Deneen–Moral Minority: A Look at Three recent Books on Christians in America

Thirty years later, the mood has changed. Three books have appeared almost simultaneously that assume the opposite of what Falwell believed: America is populated by an immoral majority. Not only is its leadership class dominated by progressive elites, but the American public more generally has been corrupted by constant saturation in a media of skepticism and irony, pervasive consumerism, unavoidable pornography, and incessant distraction fostered by entertainment centers in every person’s pocket. America has lost its faith, and so the faithful have begun to question their belief in America.

Published within months of each other—by a popular blogger and author who has journeyed from Protestantism to agnosticism to Catholicism to Orthodoxy, Rod Dreher; by one of America’s most prominent and intellectually accomplished Catholic bishops, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput; and by a Catholic professor of English at Providence College and renowned translator of Dante, Anthony Esolen—the books share the belief that traditional Christians are a moral minority. All three books were written in the midst of a political campaign that was expected to result in the election of Hillary Clinton. All three reflect the pessimism that accompanied that prospect.

The outcome of that election, surprising as it was, does not change the argument of these books: Politics will not save us. What is first of all necessary is to rebuild a culture in disarray. Compared with recovering the basic requirements of virtuous civilization—healthy communities, flourishing family life, sound education, a deep reservoir of cultural memory and practice, and formative religious faith—remaking the Supreme Court is a cinch. Philosophers who have described culture as the first requirement of a healthy civilization, from Plato to Burke to Tocqueville, have generally believed that the most one can consciously strive to achieve is preservation of a healthy culture, should one be fortunate enough to possess one. Once a culture is corrupted from within, however, they saw little hope of reversing its decay.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Religion & Culture

538–Americans’ Shift To The Suburbs Sped Up Last Year

The suburbanization of America marches on. Population growth in big cities slowed for the fifth-straight year in 2016,1 according to new census data, while population growth accelerated in the more sprawling counties that surround them.

The Census Bureau on Thursday released population estimates for every one of the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. I grouped those counties into six categories: urban centers of large metropolitan areas; their densely populated suburbs; their lightly populated suburbs; midsize metros; smaller metro areas; and rural counties, which are outside metro areas entirely.

The fastest growth was in those lower-density suburbs. Those counties grew by 1.3 percent in 2016, the fastest rate since 2008, when the housing bust put an end to rapid homebuilding in these areas. In the South and West, growth in large-metro lower-density suburbs topped 2 percent in 2016, led by counties such as Kendall and Comal north of San Antonio; Hays near Austin; and Forsyth, north of Atlanta.

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Posted in America/U.S.A.

Princeton Seminary Rescinds its Award of the Kuyper Prize to Tim Keller

Dear Members of the Seminary Community,

On March 10 I sent a letter to the seminary community addressing the emerging objections to the Kuyper Center’s invitation to the Reverend Timothy Keller to speak at their annual conference and receive the Kuyper Prize. Those who are concerned point to Reverend Keller’s leadership role in the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination which prevents women and LGBTQ+ persons from full participation in the ordained Ministry of Word and Sacrament.

As I indicated in my previous letter, it is not my practice to censor the invitations to campus from any of our theological centers or student organizations. This commitment to academic freedom is vital to the critical inquiry and theological diversity of our community. In talking with those who are deeply concerned about Reverend Keller’s visit to campus, I find that most share this commitment to academic freedom. Yet many regard awarding the Kuyper Prize as an affirmation of Reverend Keller’s belief that women and LGBTQ+ persons should not be ordained. This conflicts with the stance of the Presbyterian Church (USA). And it is an important issue among the divided Reformed communions.

I have also had helpful conversations about this with the Chair of the Kuyper Committee, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, and Reverend Keller. In order to communicate that the invitation to speak at the upcoming conference does not imply an endorsement of the Presbyterian Church in America’s views about ordination, we have agreed not to award the Kuyper Prize this year.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Evangelicals, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Seminary / Theological Education, Sexuality

(JE) Opposing Tim Keller at Princeton Seminary

Unfailingly thoughtful and cerebral, frequently appearing in secular media as a religious and cultural commentator, Keller is one of the most influential pastors and Christian thinkers in America today. He is a guru of the rebirth of urban evangelical Protestant Christianity. His theology like his denomination’s is orthodox and Reformed. Keller typically avoids culture war issues and hot button debates. He affirms traditional Christian sexual ethics and marriage teaching but rarely speaks about it. His churches are full of New Yorkers who are socially liberal but drawn to his intellectually vibrant presentation of Christianity.

One Princeton graduate, a minister in the liberal Presbyterian Church (USA), has been quoted in The Christian Post denouncing Keller’s scheduled appearance at her alma mater in her blog, which declares:

…An institution designed to train men and women for ministry shouldn’t be awarding fancy prizes to someone who believes half the student body (or is it more than half?) has no business leading churches. It’s offensive and, as I have taught my four and five year olds to express, it hurts my feelings.

She also complains that “he (and the denomination he serves) is also very clear in its exclusion of LGBT people.”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Evangelicals, Religion & Culture, Seminary / Theological Education

(PD) Nathaniel Peters–Not Benedictine Enough: Rod Dreher’s Diagnosis and Prescription for American Christianity

Benedictines were grammarians. They cared deeply about words and their meanings and usage. Instead of calling Leah Libresco Sargeant an “effervescent Benedict Option social entrepreneur” they would recognize her for what she is: a Christian with a gift for hospitality and community-building. Sargeant notes that this kind of hospitality is not new, and neither is the Benedict Option:

People are like, ‘This Benedict Option thing, it’s just being Christian, right?’ And I’m like, “Yes! You’ve figured out the koan!” But people won’t do it unless you call it something different. It’s just the church being what the church is supposed to be, but if you give it a name, that makes people care.

She’s right about what is best about the Benedict Option—it’s just Christianity. But she’s wrong about the effect of the name. The Benedict Option is not a mystery designed to break open the mind; it’s a catchphrase that expresses a feeling of alarm and an intuited need for redirection. If the Benedict Option is just Christianity, it is neither inherently Benedictine nor is it optional. If it is a feeling and intuition, it needs to be guided by careful, prudent thought so that it bears good fruit. Dreher describes the question facing today’s Christians as “not whether to quit politics entirely, but how to exercise political power prudently, especially in an unstable political culture.” But that has always been the question facing Christians—and it is one to which Dreher never offers a clear answer.

These reservations aside, many readers will find Dreher’s counsel on practical spiritual matters helpful, even as they wish for clarity in his argument. Living the Christian faith intently in communities has been the heart—and challenge—of Christianity from the beginning. For like the monastic life, the Christian life has one ultimate goal: quaerere Deum—to seek God.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Religion & Culture

(Coloradoan) A hidden horror: Heroin deaths rise fourfold in Colorado since 2002

Rebecca Waechter doesn’t need to listen to people talk about heroin and prescription opioid addiction to understand its far-reaching effects. She need only remember the night she almost died of an overdose in a friend’s Fort Collins bathroom.

Nine years after that near-death experience, the 35-year-old Loveland resident remains painfully acquainted with addiction’s deadly toll. As she sifts through a small binder stuffed with wrinkled letters and old photos of friends and lovers alike, she utters a phrase no amount of practice makes easier: “no longer with us.”

She’s lost track of the toll, though she estimates losing more than a dozen friends and loved ones to the deadly grip of opioid addiction.

“It’s terrifying to me,” Waechter said, her voice tinged with frustration over the ignorance in places like Fort Collins of the prevalence of opioid and narcotic abuse. “It is next door. It’s everywhere. It’s here.

“You don’t need to travel anywhere to get it. It is everywhere. And it’s cheap and just readily accessible. And people aren’t aware.”

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in America/U.S.A., Drugs/Drug Addiction, Health & Medicine

(CT) Missionaries Dreamed Of This Muslim Moment. Will Trump’s Travel Ban End It?

“It has to do with the fact that the evangelical church is in touch with Christian churches in the Muslim world. More than any other religious group, they’re hearing the horror stories,” said Cashin, the CIU professor, who has seen three of his friends and colleagues martyred as they attempted to bring the gospel to Muslim-majority nations. “For that reason, they tend to respond more negatively to the faith of Islam.”

Many associate the violent acts of ISIS extremists, who target Christians and other religious minorities, with Islam itself. In a LifeWay Research survey, slightly more than half of evangelical pastors saw ISIS as a true indication of what Islamic society looks like. They also disagreed with the notion that “true Islam creates a peaceful society.”

Warren Larson, former director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies, called such beliefs “very damaging for ministry and mission among Muslims.” The survey statistics indicating Christians’ negative attitudes towards Muslims have played out in his experience among believers.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Immigration, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Missions, Other Faiths, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

(WSJ) Nathan Diament–What Neil Gorsuch Sees That Antonin Scalia Didn’t

What comes through in these opinions is a recognition that seems to have eluded Scalia in 1990: The law is meant to be a bulwark against the infringement—whether by government or other powerful entities—upon a person’s religious conscience and practices. It is not enough to allow Americans to believe as they wish; they must also be able, generally, to act in conformity with their beliefs.

Accommodations for religious observance are welcome from the legislative or executive branches, but the Framers put freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights to guarantee it. The First Amendment applies to people of all faiths, and shouldn’t depend on political power. What is required is enforcement by jurists sensitive to the needs of religious minorities.

Whether Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed to the Supreme Court remains to be seen. But his record suggests that those who care about religious liberty may want to pray that he gets the chance to rule on it.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Supreme Court

Ross Douthat on Christians in America and Several Recent Books on the Subject

This reversal of fortune provides the unexpected backdrop for several new books from conservative Christian writers, all written back when liberalism’s cultural-political progress seemed more inevitable (that is, last year). They include Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput’s “Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World” and the Providence College English professor Anthony Esolen’s “Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture.” The most talked-about title is Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option” (blurbed, the alert reader will note, by Russell Moore), whose arresting title references the founder of Western monasticism, St. Benedict of Nursia, and whose countercultural themes have been percolating for some time in Dreher’s prolific blogging.

Each book has its own tone. Chaput’s is ruminative and strains for optimism; Esolen waxes poetic in the service of a cultural jeremiad. Dreher’s is an interesting mixture. It begins in sweeping pessimism, describing a Western Christianity foredestined to all but disappear, collapsing from within even as its institutions are regulated and taxed to death by secular inquisitors. Then it pivots to a more practical how-to guide for believers trying to build religious communities — churches, schools, families, social networks — that are more resilient, more rigorous and more capable of passing on the faith than much of Christianity today.

If I were giving “The Benedict Option” to religious readers, whether conservative or progressive, I would almost urge them to save the opening for later and just approach the how-to guide with an open mind.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Religion & Culture

(Atlantic) Peter Beinhart– Breaking Faith The culture war over religious morality has faded; in its place is something much worse

In his book Twilight of the Elites, the MSNBC host Chris Hayes divides American politics between “institutionalists,” who believe in preserving and adapting the political and economic system, and “insurrectionists,” who believe it’s rotten to the core. The 2016 election represents an extraordinary shift in power from the former to the latter. The loss of manufacturing jobs has made Americans more insurrectionist. So have the Iraq War, the financial crisis, and a black president’s inability to stop the police from killing unarmed African Americans. And so has disengagement from organized religion.

Maybe it’s the values of hierarchy, authority, and tradition that churches instill. Maybe religion builds habits and networks that help people better weather national traumas, and thus retain their faith that the system works. For whatever reason, secularization isn’t easing political conflict. It’s making American politics even more convulsive and zero-sum.

For years, political commentators dreamed that the culture war over religious morality that began in the 1960s and ’70s would fade. It has. And the more secular, more ferociously national and racial culture war that has followed is worse.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., History, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(NYT Op-ed) David Brooks on Rod Dreher’s new Book–The Benedict Option

Rod is pretty conservative. “There can be no peace between Christianity and the sexual revolution, because they are radically opposed,” he writes.

Specifically, “L.G.B.T. activism is the tip of the spear at our throats in the culture war. The struggle over gay rights is what is threatening religious liberty, putting Christian merchants out of business, threatening the tax-exempt status and accreditation of Christian schools and colleges.”

Rod shares the fears that are now common in Orthodox Christian circles, that because of their views on L.G.B.T. issues, Orthodox Christians and Jews will soon be banned from many professions and corporations. “Blacklisting will be real,” he says. We are entering a new Dark Age. “There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization….”

Maybe if I shared Rod’s views on L.G.B.T. issues, I would see the level of threat and darkness he does. But I don’t see it. Over the course of history, American culture has tolerated slavery, sexual brutalism and the genocide of the Native Americans, and now we’re supposed to see 2017 as the year the Dark Ages descended?

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Evangelicals, History, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

Scott Sauls–My Tribute to Tim Keller

A decade or so ago, I moved with my family to New York City thinking I was going to get to serve alongside and learn from one of the greatest preachers and visionary leaders of our time. Indeed, I did get to do that, along with a few others. But even more than this, the man gave me (and us) what McCheyne said is the most important thing a minister can give to his people — his own holiness. For me, Tim’s life has painted notable pictures of integrity that exceeds imperfections, character that exceeds giftedness, prayerfulness that exceeds pragmatism, other-centeredness that exceeds personal ambition, generosity that exceeds personal comfort, and humility that exceeds (even a stellar) impact.

And now, Tim is beginning to paint for us a picture of what it can look like to finish well. He is providing glimpses of what it can look like to say with one’s life and not merely with one’s lips, “I am, and always have been, unworthy to untie the straps on Jesus’ sandals. He must increase, and I must become less.”

And yet, in becoming less, the man is becoming more. For as the man himself has said in sermons, “The less we presume to act like kings, the more like kings we shall be.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Evangelicals, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

(Wired) America’s infrastructure is such a mess it earns a D+ grade, and we need $4.6 trillion just to bring it to a B

One of President Donald Trump’s first promises after getting elected was to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure—bridges, roads, tunnels, pipes, dams. And whether you’ve had to evacuate a town in the shadow of a crumbling dam, buy filters for tainted municipal water, or even just bounced over potholes on a highway, you’ve experienced the problems the president alluded to.

Well, it really is as bad as you think. The American Society of Civil Engineers has just released its latest infrastructure report card, and grades the United States at D plus. That means the country’s public works are in substandard condition, with a risk of failure. The ASCE releases its reports every four years, and the mark hasn’t changed since the last time. “While our nation’s infrastructure problems are significant, they are solvable,” says ASCE President Norma Jean Mattei. But that’ll take money.

So … $1 trillion, right? Great news! Except the ASCE report says it’ll take $4.59 trillion to bring things up to a B, or adequate grade, by 2025. That’s a shortfall of $2 trillion over current spending plans. Again: $1 trillion is nowhere near enough.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Budget, Economy, House of Representatives, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Donald Trump, Senate, The U.S. Government

(Atlantic) Nobel laureate Angus Deaton discusses extreme poverty, opioid addiction, Trump voters, robots, and rent-seeking

Angus Deaton studies the grand questions not just of economics but of life. What makes people happy? How should we measure well-being? Should countries give foreign aid? What can and should experiments do? Is inequality increasing or decreasing? Is the world getting better or worse?

Better, he believes, truly better. But not everywhere or for everyone. This week, in a speech at a conference held by the National Association for Business Economics, Deaton, the Nobel laureate and emeritus Princeton economist, pointed out that inequality among countries is decreasing, while inequality within countries is increasing. China and India are making dramatic economic improvements, while parts of sub-Saharan Africa are seeing much more modest gains. In developed countries, the rich have gotten much richer while the middle class has shriveled. A study he coauthored with the famed Princeton economist Anne Case highlights one particularly dire outcome: Mortality is actually increasing for middle-aged white Americans, due in no small part to overdoses and suicides—so-called “deaths of despair.” (Case also happens to be Deaton’s wife. More on that later.)

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Economy, Poverty

(FT) US and North Korea on collision course, says China

China’s foreign minister has warned the Trump administration that it is on a collision course with North Korea and called on Washington to halt military exercises with Seoul to avoid conflict.

While Wang Yi also called on North Korea to suspend its missile and nuclear programmes, his direct challenge to President Donald Trump — who has warned Pyongyang that its goal of building a nuclear warhead that can reach US soil “won’t happen” — was unusual in its bluntness.

“The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming towards each other with neither side willing to give way. The question is, are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision?” Mr Wang told reporters in Beijing. “Given the situation, our priority now is to flash the red light and apply brakes on both trains.”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, North Korea, Politics in General