SMBC has the goods (complete with PG13 language, if, you know, that bothers you):
More links, because I said so:
Thomas Jefferson thought that Calvin was an atheist (!)
One of Hitler’s food testers reveals her past.
The importance of interacting outside your own bubble.
Impress your friends with notable Latin quotes.
Lastly, here’s how you can write like a famous columnist: the Thomas Friedman op-ed generator.
Let them click links:
Andrew Sullivan goes to an evangelical megachurch.
Rod Dreher on Andrew Sullivan having gone to an evangelical megachurch.
Coverage of terror at home and abroad. (Kind of graphic, maybe don’t click if the kids are around.)
Lastly, this has been everywhere, but for good reason, please read this account of a gay man at Jerry Falwell’s university.
It’s probably one of the most disturbing news stories to cross anyone’s path in a while, I’ll spare you the details but Kermit Gosnell was a doctor performing botched abortions in terrible, unsanitary conditions and he is now face murder charges in Pennsylvania. There was a recent convulsion on Twitter and in some sections of the media by various pro-life groups about how such a story deserves more coverage than it has gotten. Of the media responses that I’ve read, notably Conor Friedersdorf has essentially agreed that this is a newsworthy story, as has Dave Weigel (who also points out that, yes, the story did already receive a certain amount of national news coverage).
The first thing to bear in mind when discussing something like this is that media coverage is not something that is decided fairly and on a rational basis. It is memetic in nature and tends to focus on certain topics (noticeably missing white women) while ignoring others without regard to any sort of rational basis. The only exception to this, the only case in which there would be some kind of thought given to coverage might pertain to how a story might affect another business unit of the news organization or how it might affect sponsors. Other than that, it’s pretty unpredictable what will blow up into a national news event: Why did the Jodi Arias trial get wall-to-wall coverage? How is it that we all still remember Antoine “Hide yo wife, hide yo kids” Dodson? What about the recent infamous “poop-cruise?” That last one is significant because while Arias’ case is about murder (albeit one of thousands that happen every year) and Dodson was talking about a sexual assault (thousands, if not millions, of those happen every year too), the disabled cruise-ship was just about really lousy vacations with some health risks for a relatively small number of travellers.
There is a thread that ties the missing white women together with the poop cruise. Almost all of the cases of missing white woman syndrome involve upper-middle class sorts of women (bonus if they are photogenic) and even in the days of last-minute vacation deals, one usually has to be somewhat above the working poor at least to afford a vacation. The target demographic of television news skew upper-middle class (look at the ads on CNN if you want validation for that) and things that can affect people in this class are things that get covered. The typical “school shooting” news story is about suburban predominantly-white schools, when kids get killed in poorer, blacker neighbourhoods, it doesn’t make the news. That Kermit Gosnell is alleged to have inflicted the most harm on poor folks of colour is likely the surest reason that this case is not going to receive a whole lot of media coverage.
The other strike this case has against it is that there really isn’t that much that demands that it be paid attention to by the national media. This man is alleged to have done some terrible things, but there really isn’t that much more to report about the case. I know this doesn’t stop other murder trials from becoming national news, but I happen to think that almost none of them merit the widespread attention that a handful of them get. I don’t want more Kermit Gosnell, I want less Jodi Arias. The only time I’d devote much attention to a murder trial was if it appeared that there was a gross injustice in how it was being decided (rigged jury, lousy public defender, crooked cops, that kind of thing). If the Gosnell case is being handled correctly, then the actual court case does not merit much attention. What does deserve attention is that Gosnell was apparently able to operate this way without regulators stepping in and taking away his license. An investigation into this sort of failure of state oversight is the sort of thing that should get some kind of attention since this is the kind of public policy upon which we as citizens can demand action. (Interesting that most of the pro-life people I know generally want reduced government oversight in pretty much every other area.)
Of course, most people demanding more coverage of this murder trial are being disingenuous here. It’s not that they think the specific facts of this case are newsworthy in and of themselves but rather they want this in the news as way to frame the abortion debate. And this is perhaps the final reason why this story does not get a lot of media attention. There are perhaps five to ten percent of people at either extreme of the abortion debate spectrum who want to talk about this topic as much as they possibly can all the time, who stake out the most extreme positions and whose disdain of the other side is only surpassed by their disdain for moderates on this issue. And while most people do have an opinion on abortion, most people also have some nuance to it and also prefer not shouting about it every chance they get. I know this because I don’t know the opinions of most people I know on the topic of abortion, because I’d rather not bring it up because it is a great way to get in a shouting match, and/or end a friendship, and/or ruin a family gathering. It’s a topic that seems fruitless to argue about, so most people would rather leave it alone. So in addition to being about poor minorities, the Gosnell case is something that a handful of folks will use to try to discuss an issue that 80-90% of the population is not eager to bring up.
The possibility that the US may soon, at a federal level, do what several states, Canada, and a number other countries have already done vis-a-vis legalizing same sex marriage has caused any number of folks to restate comprehensive arguments both for and against same-sex marriage. The contra side often includes appeals to some kind of natural law, warnings about churches being persecuted but also arguments of the sort that Alastair makes here about the decline of a sort of marriage culture:
“[T]he re-imagining of marriage taking place in many quarters does not merely rest with the issue of whether two men or two women can marry each other just like a man and a woman. Rather, the very sort of thing that marriage itself is is in the process of being re-imagined. As I have argued elsewhere, marriage is ceasing to be about institutional norms and public values and is gradually moving towards a more privatized lifestyle consumer model.”
One has to pause here and ask what, in all of North American and wider Western culture, is not being remade in a “privatized lifestyle consumer model?” Indeed, by wanting to enter into the institution of marriage, it may be argued that at least some LGBT people are specifically wanting to make a public, lasting commitment to their spouse (while I’m sure not all do, just as not all heterosexual people really *get* marriage). But back to my question: in what spaces are any of us, especially Christians trying to resist a sort of consumerist mentality that privileges individual choice and makes little effort to stand in the way of those sorts of choices? Now I suspect that the standard refrain here might be something about abortion, yet the arguments that I most commonly see against abortion are very libertarian-friendly, that abortion, limits the future choices of another autonomous individual, not so much that it is damaging to society as a whole (though that argument is also advanced sometimes).
Why should the idea of marriage as a public good and a lifelong commitment survive in a society where we no longer expect to work for the same company for our whole adult lives, where business-friendly commentators mock anyone who wants stable, long-term employment as thinking themselves “entitled” to a “job-for-life” and scoff at any retiree naive enough to believe that their pension would be there for them, where workers are told they need to be “flexible” and “competitive” (i.e.: work for cheap with no long-term guarantees)? If we’re told over and over that we need to be flexible and competitive in our work life, how do we not allow that to bleed into our family life? Few conservative pastors or speakers seem to express much interest in opposing the privatized consumer lifestyle model when it comes to most other areas of life. Churches themselves seem to actively employ consumerist models as growth strategies, so it seems that a consumer lifestyle is acceptable, so long as you’re straight.
Okay, so we’re not Roman Catholics, but certainly the person sitting on St. Peter’s throne in the Vatican has an influence through all of Christendom.
First off, there seems to be more than clever marketing behind Francis being called Francis, the guy rode the subway in Argentina back when he was an Archbishop:
It is hard to imagine Ratzinger/Benedict doing the same sort of thing once he had the means to ride around in company cars. Another subtle hint: no points for guessing which shoes belong to which pope:
I don’t pretend to know how Francis is going to run things in the Vatican, but he seems to have at least clued into the idea that, as had of a religion whose largest groups of followers reside in the developing world, it’s simply obscene for him to continue to revel in the ostentatious treasures of his new digs. He can however go further in this direction, the Vatican holds all kinds of art treasures and other extravagances, more than they can ever hope to display or use. Perhaps it’s time to start slowly divesting these things. I wryly tweeted something to the effect that only the Pope can be called a humble man of the people whilst riding in a convertible Mercedes SUV (journalists were making comments to this effect because he had his people remove the bulletproof glass that surrounded his predecessors . I guess given the Vatican’s starting point, it’s something.
There was some talk about whether or not Bergoglio collaborated with the Argentine government in persecuting a number of liberation theology priests in the 1970s though at least one of those priests has come forward to say that he does not hold Bergoglio culpable for his persecution. Given how negatively the current hierarchy views liberation theology, it’s hard to imagine someone from that school feeling compelled to absolve a new Pope.
I posted some thoughts about the “drift” of various theologies when Keith did his original post concerning Brian McLaren, but since he updated his assessment of certain emergent-y authors, I thought I’d do an update of my own. My original point was that we can’t know from the apparent direction of a theology where its followers might end up. The example I used that when a preacher preaches too much hellfire: instead of wanting to be safe in the arms of the church that says it will protect them from such hellfire, folks just give up and go towards some kind of humanism or some other system of belief. Let’s see where that stands today:
Now I get that Keith has put together some valid reasons why he’d reckon that, yes, Brian McLaren and/or Rob Bell has drifted away from anything like mainstream evangelical/conservative Protestantism, but what about his counter example:
“If a guy can sit down and stomach something like a John Piper sermon, at the very least I know his temptation isn’t going to drift in that way.”
So what way is this John Piper-stomaching fellow going to drift? Most likely Keith is thinking that he’d end up in a good, Reformed congregation full of people who nod approvingly at the words of folks involved with all the “young, restless, Reformed” websites/conferences/YouTube channels. You know the ones: The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, Acts 29 and so on. These people are going to be, from an evangelical-conservative standpoint, safe, right? We are told this is especially the case now because of the renewed interest in church discipline in Reformed circles, whereas people like Rob Bell or Brian McLaren are completely untethered, no longer pastors, (and this last bit is from an Anabaptist!) no one can call them to account now. (Never mind that Mark Driscoll is functionally unaccountable to anyone now.) Tony Jones made the point in response that Bell is accountable to the book-buying public (for many conservative Christians the free market is usually sufficient accountability in other areas – don’t know if it flies for troublesome post-evangelical speakers).
I’m digressing now, what about these folks in Reformed churches with solid church discipline? They aren’t drifting towards wherever Rob Bell or Brian McLaren (or Tony Jones or Peter Rollins) are going, but where do they end up? In the case of Sovereign Grace Ministries they seem to have fallen under the scourge of both spiritual and sexual abuse and some nasty attendant cover-ups (if you keep digging around this story it now appears to be just about as ugly as the Roman Catholic abuse scandals, only lacking in scale since SGM is minuscule compared to Rome). James MacDonald may or may not have set up his church’s finances like a Ponzi scheme. And both MacDonald and Driscoll seem to have something of a pecuniary interest in cozying up to T. D. Jakes. These are not outliers, but some of the very central figures to Reformed ecclesiology, people whose churches are models for all of North American (or even global) Protestantism.
Now I hasten to add that this is not the case for every Reformed congregation, certainly there are very good people and very good pastors in this tradition, many of whom I’m blessed to know personally. But what if our Reformed theological drifter ends up in a congregation that abuses ideas like authority or church discipline? Hopefully they get out, but often it sours them on not just that church, but church in general. I don’t know how to speak to a survivor of those kinds of experiences who has given up on churches or Christianity entirely without sounding like, “Other than that, what did you think of the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” There is an aspect to this sort of discussion that seems to assume “no enemies to the right” as it were (except perhaps for the Phelps family, who everyone thinks is completely crazy). Drifting to more Reformed/conservative/evangelical expressions of Christianity cannot and does not save you, nor does it ensure that you will not leave the church – just like those who drift into reading Rob Bell.
I thought that this was apropos our current discussion on natural law. CBC’s radio show, Ideas did a couple shows under the title “The Gender Trap” discussing the idea, popularized in recent years that boys and girls have all these fundamental differences in how they learn, develop, and interact with the world. What they find is that parents, schools, and advertisers construct much of this world for children. One of the examples they gave was a study where mothers were asked to estimate how a steep an incline their 11 month-old baby climb up. At this stage boys and girls can handle the same incline but their mothers would consistently overestimate the ability of the boys and underestimate the ability of girls. It’s not hard to extrapolate a lifetime of this kind of “soft bigotry of lower expectations” as one might call it. Then some pop-psychologist or megachurch pastor (wait, is there a difference?) pronounces on how boys or men like to be challenged or rise to a challenge or something.
My own field research on this (consisting of raising my own daughter for the past year or so) has confirmed at least some of this. A quick example: We bought my daughter a toy seaplane and my own grandmother expressed concern about whether this was an appropriate toy for a baby girl. This made me laugh since my grandmother had taken flying lessons in the 1930s and, had World War II not broken out, probably would have earned her pilot’s license. And yet here the same gender assumptions come up, girls can’t or won’t or shouldn’t want to play with something like a toy airplane. Who knows, maybe she’ll hate it, but it’s funny how these sorts of cultural expectations rear up and try to enforce gender roles, even emanating from someone who once flouted those roles. What we talk about when we talk about a sort of natural law or a tao or some other innate set of rules for human flourishing is almost certainly being corrupted by our own assumptions, prejudices, and cultural expectations about gender, race, class, politics and everything else.
It’s been a while, but we need some more links:
The shuttering of Google Reader seems at first to be just another first-world problem, but the site actually acts as a valuable tool for activists and dissidents in places like China and Iran.
Mark Driscoll is just descending into self-parody I think.
Unlocking: not just for cellphones.