Old Time Religion
I’ve written before about the impact of religion on our nation and its policies. The politics of abortion, birth control, rape, global warming, science in the classroom, school prayer, same-sex marriage, genetic and stem-cell research, even war and the arts, all are subject to religious pressures. That’s just scratching the surface of the cultural issues into which religion has inserted its fingers. America is a nation awash in religious symbolism and filled with the influence of religious movements.
Every year at this time, we are treated to complaints about the “War on Christmas”. In a nation perceived as being increasingly diverse and secular, a subset of conservative politicians and entertainers mount an annual publicity campaign decrying an alleged denial of — or even hostility toward — Christian symbolism. Set aside for a moment the First Amendment aspects of whether public funds should or should not be used for public religious displays. Let’s ignore the prevalence of Christmas movies, TV specials, commercials with Christmas themes, music on radio stations, special sales in most stores, the National Christmas Tree on the National Mall, and so on. The complaint really isn’t about a supposed dearth of public displays of Christmas imagery. There’s something deeper happening.
As I often do, I’m going to use my Sunday column to divert us from the concerns of the moment. Rest assured, tomorrow Logarchism will return to 24–7 coverage of the upcoming election. View today’s article as the final pit stop before the political equivalent of the Indianapolis 500 roars to its end.
What I offer today is a perspective on a question at the root of all our politics, all our culture, all our social structures. From a single comment buried in a heated political debate, there is cosmic significance. We can use it to consider how the perilous issue of rape and abortion relates to the nature of our very selves. From there, we can perhaps return to the questions of the moment, with a new and larger sense, and reconsider our direction as individuals, as a society, as a nation — perhaps as a species.
Last Thursday, in response to an article by Monotreme, one of our Gentle Readers provided a link to a blog post at National Review Online. I thought the article wrong on all counts, but particularly theological ones. It gave me an excuse to write an article I’ve been intending to do for a long time.
The immediate topic was a comment by Indiana Republican Senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock on the thorny issues of rape, pregnancy, and abortion, and the relationship to politics and theology and individual conscience. Though I profoundly disagree with Mourdock’s answer — and, as an unashamed partisan, I would gleefully take advantage of it — as a theologian I need to admit it was a thoughtful and considered response. There also are further depths here to explore, depths which reach to the heart of everything related to politics and social justice, economics and freedom. (more…)
We’ll take a break today from election politics. It’s not every day ancient documents make the news. This past week, Karen L. King, a professor of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, announced a tiny papyrus fragment dating from the fourth century CE. It is a portion of a longer text, a work which has been dubbed “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” You can find Professor King’s paper on the discovery here.
What relevance has this to a political blog? To the extent that our society is shaped by religious beliefs, it may indicate the fragility of that society. But perhaps more importantly, it sheds light on the differences between things the public generally knows, and things known by specialists in a field. When that field seems to have little relationship to everyday life (think: astrophysics), the public can perhaps be excused from knowing all that much. But when the topic is concerned with the way we live and the way we shape our governments and our economies (think: global warming) the ignorance is dangerous, and allows for manipulation.
Among some of the media, Professor King’s newly-released text has caused a bit of sensation, and you might have seen breathless coverage. There is evidence of the beginnings of a small industry dedicated to debunking the fragment as being either or forgery or some other type of distasteful fraud. Yet for scholars of early Christian history, it isn’t terribly shocking. It’s simply one more indication of the complexity and diversity of early Christianity, something historians of the era are familiar with, but the general public is not. (more…)
There is so much interesting news this week, its hard to pick just one thing to write about. Hiring is up, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up…but, paradoxically, so is unemployment. Since early 2010, the economy has added over five million private-sector jobs, which have been partially offset by a loss of over 660,000 public sector jobs, for a net gain of about 4.5 million. The Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates low, which is causing some conservative economists to continue fearing inflation (for which there is, so far, no evidence).
Mitt Romney returned from his whirlwind tour, which received mixed reviews. He returned in time for terrible reactions to his tax plan. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center called it “mathematically impossible,” which is really not quite what we expected from a financial genius like Romney. Perhaps this is why he doesn’t want to release his tax returns: maybe he can’t add.
Speaking of confused signals, The Dark Knight Rises continues to do well at theaters, despite the tragedy in Colorado. Talk has died down about whether there was any intentional connection between Bane and Bain.
But for me, perhaps the most important of current events is about to happen late tonight. NASA’s latest Mars rover, named Curiosity, is scheduled to land on the Red Planet about 1:30 AM Monday morning, Eastern time. (more…)
Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.
Feynman could have been saying that about any of the sciences.
I have a personal obsession to study science in general, and space science in particular. This madness has been with me for as long as I can remember. I already felt it on September 12th, 1962, when, at the age of six, I saw President Kennedy on television, speaking as if directly to me. That was the day he committed America to literally reach for the Moon. I’ve never been the same. Neither has the rest of the world.
Logarchism is a political blog. What has my obsession with space to do with politics? I’ve written about this before. Politics, like science, sometimes gives practical results, but that’s not why we do it. Sure, practicality is the reason we give ourselves. Honestly though, how much of the rhetoric associated with politics, how much of the game playing and the issues that drive people to the polls, has actual practical value? Some, yes, but birth certificates? Seeing Russia? Really?
Many of these things serve other purposes. The real value of space science is not practical, unless learning about yourself, about reality, about how the universe actually works, is practical. (more…)
… some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge…
— Galadriel, from the Walsh, Boyens, and Jackson screenplay of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Last week, I discussed the rift that exists in Western society between our culture and our dominant religions. The rift matters, because it means the those religions can’t perform the functions in our society that a religion historically performed. This has given rise to a misunderstanding of the purpose of religion, and a misuse of religion within our national conversation.
It is vital to understand this. For reasons I alluded to last week, and will expand on here, it may be impossible to banish religion from the public sphere. If this is true, then understanding what religion is supposed to do can help us prevent it from being used inappropriately. (more…)