Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 258

Is 650 a lot? it depends. Pennies? No. Murders? Yes. Coronavirus cases? Depends on where they spread.

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. Churches Emerge as Major Source of Coronavirus Cases (Kate Conger, Jack Healy and Lucy Tompkins, New York Times): “More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, with many of them erupting over the last month as Americans resumed their pre-pandemic activities, according to a New York Times database.” 
    • Are Churches “A Major Source of Coronavirus Cases?” (Tim Challies, personal blog): “If I have $3,000,000 in the bank and you give me another $650, you’d hardly be in the position to claim that you had made a major contribution to my wealth. Similarly, adding 650 cases to America’s total caseload of 3 million is no more than a blip that leaves 99.98% attributable to other causes.”
    • Churches, Coronavirus, and the New York Times (Ed Stetzer, Christianity Today): “It is strange (at best) to use words like ‘major’ and ‘erupted’ when describing 650 cases. On that point, the headline is misleading. Having 650 cases in my county might be news, but 650 nationally out of three million cases is a headline looking for a story. The real story is this: churches are gathering and remarkably few infections are taking place.”
  2. America’s Racial Progress (David French, National Review): “There are two things that I believe to be true. First, that America has a long history of brutal and shameful mistreatment of racial minorities — with black Americans its chief victims. And second, that America is a great nation, and that American citizens (and citizens of the world) should be grateful for its founding. Perhaps no nation has done more good for more people than the United States. It was and is a beacon of liberty and prosperity in a world long awash in tyranny and poverty.”
  3. A Letter on Justice and Open Debate (many signatories, Harpers): “The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other.”
    • Prominent Artists and Writers Warn of an ‘Intolerant Climate’ (Jennifer Schuessler and Elizabeth A. Harris, New York Times): “‘We’re not just a bunch of old white guys sitting around writing this letter,’ Mr. Williams, who is African-American, said. ‘It includes plenty of Black thinkers, Muslim thinkers, Jewish thinkers, people who are trans and gay, old and young, right wing and left wing.’”
    • ending the charade (Freddie deBoer, personal blog): “Please, think for a minute and consider: what does it say when a completely generic endorsement of free speech and open debate is in and of itself immediately diagnosed as anti-progressive, as anti-left?”(emphasis in original)
  4. Lazarus Chakwera: Malawi’s president who ‘argued with God’ (BBC): “In the unmistakable cadence of a preacher, Malawi’s new President, Lazarus Chakwera, appealed for unity in his country shortly after he was sworn in on Sunday. The day of the week seemed fitting as the former head of the Malawi Assemblies of God, one of the largest Christian denominations in the country, treated the stage like a pulpit to inspire fervour with his words.”
  5. Slate Star Codex and Silicon Valley’s War Against the Media (Gideon Lewis-Kraus, New Yorker): “The division between the Grey and Blue tribes is often rendered in the simplistic terms of a demographic encounter between white, nerdily entitled men in hoodies on one side and diverse, effete, artistic snobs on the other.” Interesting throughout. 
  6. Christianity’s Covert Success (Mark Tooley, Providence) “I quote an Indian professor who says that Christianity proceeds in two ways, through conversion—which is obvious, that’s how people tend to think Christianity precedes—but he then says, through secularization. And I think he’s absolutely right. And I think that the assumption of people in the West that the secular is somehow neutral, that if you’re secular, you’ve somehow escaped the bounds of cultural contingency, couldn’t be more wrong.”
  7. On Religion, the Supreme Court Protects the Right to Be Different (Michael McConnell, New York Times): “The court may be political, but its politics is of the middle, and of a particular kind of middle, one that is committed to pluralism and difference rather than to the advancement of particular moral stances.” The author is a Stanford law prof.

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have Planet of Cops (Freddie de Boer, personal blog): “The woke world is a world of snitches, informants, rats. Go to any space concerned with social justice and what will you find? Endless surveillance. Everybody is to be judged. Everyone is under suspicion. Everything you say is to be scoured, picked over, analyzed for any possible offense. Everyone’s a detective in the Division of Problematics, and they walk the beat 24/7…. I don’t know how people can simultaneously talk about prison abolition and restoring the idea of forgiveness to literal criminal justice and at the same time turn the entire social world into a kangaroo court system.” First shared in volume 161.

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

Christianity For Modern Pagans: Vanity and the Vanity of Human Justice

Pascal diagnosed our modern dysfunctions 350 years ago.

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through an annotated translation of Pascal’s Pensees called Christianity For Modern Pagans, I’ll post the thoughts I’m emailing the students here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2020. The reading schedule is online.

One reason I appreciate reading writers from the distant past is that when they make an observation relevant to modern times it is usually more powerful than if it was uttered by one of our contemporaries.

It reminds me of an excerpt from C. S. Lewis’ introduction to a translation of Athanasius’ On The Incarnation of the Word of God:

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

C. S. Lewis

With that in mind, two of Pascal’s observations struck me as especially prescient:

The mind naturally believes and the will naturally loves, so that when there are no true objects for them they necessarily become attached to false ones.  

Pascal, Pensée 661 (page 77)

Hundreds of years ago, Pascal accurately diagnosed the modern American. Our deceptively secular age is full of religion, and for many people politics is their preferred form of worship. Look back over my Friday “Issachar” emails and you will see many examples of the religious dynamics in our cultural debates; in fact, the very first article I ever shared was Joseph Bottum’s The Spiritual Shape of Political Ideas and this week I’m likely to share David French’s America Is in the Grips of a Fundamentalist Revival.

As your pastor I urge you: don’t participate in the crazy of whatever group you tend to vote with. You already have a religion, so you are free to treat politics as significant but not ultimate. Back in the 90’s, political scientist J. Budziszewski wrote two articles back-to-back for First Things, The Problem With Liberalism and The Problem With Conservativism. Read them both, especially read the one that describes your team. You won’t resonate with every critique in either article, but you will find much to think about.

Moving on, I also appreciated one of Pascal’s comments which is relevant to social media:

We are not satisfied with the life we have in ourselves and our own being. We want to lead an imaginary life in the eyes of others, and so we try to make an impression. We strive constantly to embellish and preserve our imaginary being, and neglect the real one.

Pascal, Pensée 806 (page 79)

Reading this Pensée brought to mind Madison Fischer’s assertion that ditching social media was key to her winning a medal as a competitive climber.

“I cared so much about what everyone thought of me that it became outsourced confidence…. I couldn’t step out of the reputation I forged online so I lived in a world of entitlement. Pride in my accomplishments made me content, and contentedness is poison to a young athlete who has to stay hungry if she wants to stay competitive.”

Madison Fischer

She realized that she faced a choice: actually become a more competitive climber or spend her time trying to look like what people thought a competitive climber should be.

In a similar manner, we can actually strive to be like Jesus or we can instead try to become what other people think a follower of Jesus should be. In other words, we can either follow Jesus or we can follow other people. We can follow Christ or a crowd.

This is about more than social media, but it’s definitely about social media as well. You probably know that I am on Facebook and Twitter, so clearly I’m not about to tell you to delete your accounts. But I do urge you to be aware of the temptations they create. Meditate on Matthew 6:1, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

Other tidbits I appreciated:

The atheist argues: “If there were a God, how could there be injustice?” To which Pascal replies: “If there is injustice, there must be true justice for it to be relative to and a defect of; and this true justice is not found on Earth or in man, therefore it must exist in Heaven and God.” Either there or nowhere; and if nowhere, then “everything is permissible”. But not everything is permissible. Therefore there must be a God.

Kreeft commenting on Pensée 697, page 94

And I particularly like this one. It’s true of babies, and it’s true of adults. Different trifles, same psychology.

A trifle consoles us because a trifle upsets us.

Pascal, Pensée 43 (page 75)

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 257

a shorter collection of links than those I’ve shared recently

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. Stop Firing the Innocent (Yascha Mounk, The Atlantic): “Cafferty was punished for an offense he insists he did not commit. Shor was punished for doing something that most wouldn’t even consider objectionable. Wadi was punished for the sins of his daughter. What all of these rather different cases have in common is that none of the people who were deprived of a livelihood in the name of fighting racism appear to have been guilty of actually perpetuating racism.” The author is a political science professor at Johns Hopkins. 
    • This is an essential follow-up: punishing the innocent (Alan Jacobs, personal blog): “…for those who want to effect social change by exposure and shaming, punishing the innocent is a feature of their system, not a bug. It increases fear, which increases discipline, not only of oneself but of others. And every employer who fires an employee because they’re afraid of a social-media mob draws us closer to a fully Panoptic society, a social tyranny with an efficiency beyond the dreams of totalitarian societies of the past.” This reminds me of the classic post Planet of Cops by Freddy deBoer.
  2. The Minneapolis street corner where George Floyd was killed has become a Christian revivalist site. (Ruth Graham, Slate): “‘I would describe this as revival and awakening,’ said Joshua Giles, a local pastor who has been coming to the site to pray and preach for several weeks. Giles, who is Black, said he has taken part in conversions and spontaneous baptisms there, and that at least one woman had been miraculously healed of persistent pain in her arm.”
    • I found the way Graham framed one minister’s criticism of the Black Lives Matter organization interesting. I don’t think it’s an unusual perspective — it was presented on Tuesday by sports anchor (and Columbia grad) Marcellus Wiley: https://twitter.com/SFY/status/1278064470435090438 (three minute video)
    • It’s also interesting to compare Worshippers Continue ‘Unity Revival’ at George Floyd Memorial Despite Pushback (Taylor Berglund, Charisma News). The reports largely align, I’m just fascinated by how reporters’ interests and contexts shape the questions they ask and the answers they emphasize. I am pretty sure both reporters are Christian, although I suspect they gravitate to different churches.
  3. Is Tim Scott the Most Influential Legislator in Congress? (Declan Garvey, The Dispatch): “To Scott, his blackness and his partisan affiliation makes perfect sense: He’s lived the American dream, rising from poverty to build a series of successful businesses. He’s a devout Christian committed to the preservation of religious liberty. But to interlopers projecting their own experiences and beliefs onto him, two of his three core identities are in direct contradiction with one another. Leaning too hard into one elicits accusations of being traitorous to the other.’” Utterly fascinating.
  4. How a Great Power Falls Apart (Charles King, Foreign Affairs): “Faced with a series of external shocks and internal crises, and pursued by more dynamic and adaptable competitors abroad, his country had far less life in it than anyone at the time could see. All countries end. Every society has its own rock bottom, obscured by darkness until impact is imminent. Already in the sixth century, Amalrik wrote, goats were grazing in the Roman Forum.” The author is an international relations Professor at Georgetown. Relevant for both America and China.
  5. Pastors on Social Media (Jonathan Leeman, 9 Marks): “… you are wrestling against principalities and powers, and those powers have keen eyes for your desire for a bigger audience and your church members’ affinity for other forms of social reinforcement. They want you to believe that other forms of wisdom are more reliable than God’s Word, other audiences more important than your humble congregation, other platforms more powerful for speaking, other kinds of impact you can make more lasting and significant. The second you begin to believe these things you have begun to compromise your calling as a pastor.” This is a fire hydrant of wisdom, and most of it is relevant to everyone.
  6. On Behalf Of Environmentalists, I Apologize For The Climate Scare (Mike Shellenberger, Quillette): “Climate change is happening. It’s just not the end of the world. It’s not even our most serious environmental problem. I may seem like a strange person to be saying all of this. I have been a climate activist for 20 years and an environmentalist for 30.”
    • The author’s book is currently the #1 best seller in environmental science on Amazon. This article was originally published on Forbes (where he is a regular contributor) but they took it down in the ensuing controversy. Undeniably interesting. I don’t have expertise in this area, so if he’s wrong please point me to any better pieces you know of.
  7. The Ghost of Woodrow Wilson (Ross Douthat, New York Times): “…unless the endgame of New Haven’s removal of Columbus is the expropriation of white property (Yale’s property, I suppose, especially) and its redistribution to the Pequots and Mohegans, then a consistent rejection of Columbus’s legacy isn’t what my city is embracing. Instead, it’s just doing the same thing as Princeton: keeping the inheritance, but repudiating the benefactor. Keeping the gains, but making a big show of pronouncing them ill gotten.”

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have Are Satanists of the MS‐13 gang an under‐covered story on the religion beat? (Julia Duin, GetReligion): this is a fascinating bit of news commentary. My favorite bit: “How does one get out of MS‐13? An opinion piece in the New York Times this past April gives a surprising response: Go to a Pentecostal church.” Highly recommended. First shared in volume 158.

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

Christianity For Modern Pagans: Wretchedness and The Paradox of Greatness and Wretchedness

My favorite of Pascal’s thoughts.

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through an annotated translation of Pascal’s Pensees called Christianity For Modern Pagans, I’ll post the thoughts I’m emailing the students here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2020. The reading schedule is online.

This reading includes the line from Pascal that has shaped my thought more than any other of his, “There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition” (Pascal, Pensee 149, page 69). It’s simple observation that explains something we observe every day at Stanford: the coexistence of smart people who think God’s existence is blindingly obvious alongside smart people who think that God’s nonexistence is blindingly obvious.

I think about this observation frequently, and I have come to believe that such exquisite balance is itself evidence of a master planner at work behind the scenes. If a flipped coin landed on its edge once, we would be astounded. If it landed on its edge repeatedly, we would be sure that the coin was rigged. Pascal’s point is that reality is rigged in such a way that strong cases can be made for faith and for doubt. Pay attention the next time there is a significant scientific discovery in an area you might expect to clarify the existence of God, you will see that theists and atheists alike rejoice in the discovery and write about it with great glee. The coin will have landed on its edge once again.

Why would God arrange reality this way? To reveal our heart. As Pascal said earlier in the same Pensee:

‘If he had wished to overcome the obstinacy of the most hardened, he could have done so by revealing himself to them so plainly that they could not doubt the truth of his essence, as he will appear on the last day with such thunder and lightning and such convulsions of nature that the dead will rise up and the blindest will see him. This is not the way he wished to appear when he came in mildness, because so many men had shown themselves unworthy of his clemency, that he wished to deprive them of the good they did not desire. It was therefore not right that he should appear in a manner manifestly divine and absolutely capable of convincing all men, but neither was it right that his coming should be so hidden that he could not be recognized by those who sincerely sought him.

Pascal, Pensee 149, page 68

As I heard a pastor say once, “You get what you want in eternity. Do you want God? You go to Heaven where He dwells. Do you not want God? You will be free of Him forever and will go to Hell where He is not.”

Other sections that stuck with me:

It is instructive to compare Job and Ecclesiastes. For this is the comparison between ancient and modern man. Ecclesiastes, like modern man, has everything and yet has nothing because it is only “vanity”. Job, like ancient man, has nothing but has everything because he has God.

Kreeft’s commentary on Pensee 403, page 49

The two most life-changing revolutions in modern times were the scientific-industrial revolution, which taught man to live and think abstractly, like an angel; and the sexual revolution, which taught man to live and think like an animal. The first knows only the head, the second knows only the hormones. Neither knows the heart.

Kreeft’s commentary on Pensees 678 & 121, page 53

Man’s greatness is so obvious that it can even be deduced from his wretchedness, for what is nature in animals we call wretchedness in man, thus recognizing that, if his nature is today like that of the animals, he must have fallen from some better state which was once his own…. Who would think himself unhappy if he had only one mouth and who would not if he had only one eye? It has probably never occurred to anyone to be distressed at not having three eyes, but those who have none are inconsolable.

Pascal, Pensee 117, page 59

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 256

FYI, I offer some of my own thoughts on police towards the end.

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. The Rebel Physicist Trying to Fix Quantum Mechanics (Bob Henderson, New York Times): “Bassi is a practicing Catholic and a believer in God, something he says is ‘unusual’ but ‘not rare” among his colleagues at the university. Einstein called his own belief that reality could be understood ‘religion,’ and I wondered if there’s a connection between Bassi’s religious faith and that in what has become essentially a far-right position in physics.” I have no opinion on the underlying scientific controversy, but Bassi sounds like a fascinating person.
  2. What the Tentmaking Business Was Really Like for the Apostle Paul (Justin Taylor, Gospel Coalition): “[It] cost the Apostle Paul to write his letters, including the securing of materials and the hiring of a secretary to make a copy for himself. After extensive research and calculation, he determined that on the low side it would have cost him at least $2,000 in today’s currency to write 1 Corinthians. (And that doesn’t include the cost of sending someone like Titus on a long journey to deliver it.)” Short and fascinating.
  3. The Tempting of Neil Gorsuch (Ross Douthat, New York Times): “We may officially have three branches of government, but Americans seem to accept that it’s more like 2.25: A presidency that acts unilaterally whenever possible, a high court that checks the White House and settles culture wars, and a Congress that occasionally bestirs itself to pass a budget.”
  4. Religious Americans Have Less Positive Attitudes Toward Science, But This Does Not Extend to Other Cultures (Jonathon McPhetres, Jonathan Jong & Miron Zuckerman, Social Psychological and Personality Science): “It is commonly claimed that science and religion are logically and psychologically at odds with one another. However, previous studies have mainly examined American samples…” Raw data at https://osf.io/t7w6x/ DOI 10.1177/1948550620923239. The authors are professors at MIT, Oxford, and the University of Rochester.
  5. “He’s the Chosen One to Run America”: Inside the Cult of Trump, His Rallies Are Church and He Is the Gospel (Jeff Sharlet, Vanity Fair): “Nonbelievers roll their eyes over what they see as the gobsmacking hypocrisy of Trump as a tribune of family values, the dopiness of the rubes who consider him a moral man. Nonbelievers, in other words, miss the point. They lack gnosis. Very few believers deny Trump’s sordid past. Some turn to the old Christian ready-made of redemption: Their man was lost, but now he’s found. Others love him precisely because he is a sinner—if a man of such vast, crass, and open appetites can embody the nation (and really, who is more American—vast, crass, and open—than Trump), then you too, student of porn, monster truck lover, ultimate fighter in your dreams and games, can claim an anointing.” The title filled me with low expectations, but the article has some interesting reflections on Gnosticism in modern America. 
  6. On religious liberty:
    • The True Extent of Religious Liberty in America, Explained (David French, The Dispatch): “Yes, it is true that in some respects religious liberty is ‘under siege.’ There are activists and lawmakers who want to push back at multiple doctrines and some radicals even dream of revoking tax exemptions from religious organizations that maintain traditional teachings on sex and gender. But if the siege is real, then so is the citadel. People of faith in the United States of America enjoy more liberty and more real political power than any faith community in the developed world.” This is really good.
    • No Longer a Luxury – Religious Liberty is a National Security Priority (Christos Makridis, Providence): “…increases in religious liberty are associated with robust increases in human flourishing even after controlling for differences in gross domestic product, the labor force, and measures of economic freedom. For example, moving a country that ranks in religious liberty along the lines of Russia to one that ranks closer to the United States amounts to an 11 percent increase in the share of individuals who say that they are thriving.” Christos is an alumnus of our ministry. 
    • Torah Is the Air We Breathe (Gil Student, First Things): “But our spiritually impoverished society views religious practices as merely cultural expressions. It views religious services as equivalent to yoga classes and book club meetings. It does not see religion as essential, and therefore cannot understand that Jews don’t serve God as part of our lives; rather, we live to serve God.”
  7. On race, police, and protests
    • Above the Law: The Data Are In on Police, Killing, and Race (Lyman Stone, The Public Discourse): “…police killings have made up about one out of every twelve violent deaths of Americans between 2010 and 2018. That’s including American military deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere during that window. Indeed, more Americans died at the hands of police officers during that period (about 14,400) than died while on active military duty (about 9,400). Police violence in America is extraordinary in its intensity. It is disproportionate to the actual threats facing police officers, and it has risen significantly in recent years without apparent justification.”
    • Jewish businesses in Los Angeles ransacked in riots, but only Israeli and Jewish media care (Julia Duin, GetReligion): “The Oregonian called riot-plagued Portland ‘a city of plywood.’ Since then, images have emerged of a darker narrative, with rioters targeting Jewish businesses. Israeli newspapers ran with this angle this past Saturday, but by the end of the day, there was nothing about the Jewish vandalism to be found on the New York Times website. Usually the Times is pretty up on anti-Semitism, but it was easier to find a piece about Anna Wintour than any mentions of vandalized Jews.”
    • How Jesus became white — and why it’s time to cancel that (Emily McFarlan Miller, Religion News Service): “Anderson said that it has been common for people to depict Jesus as a member of their culture or their ethnic group. ‘If a person thinks that’s the only possible representation of Jesus, then that’s where the problem starts,’ he said.” It’s almost like portraying God visually leads to trouble. I wish God had thought to warn against that.
    • Reflections from a Christian scholar on Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, Marxism, and Biblical Ethics (Kelly Hamren, Facebook): “I have two English degrees (B.A. and M.A.) from a Christian university and a Ph.D. in literature and criticism from a state university. In my field, Marxism is one of the most commonly studied and most influential perspectives, and Critical Race Theory is also a significant force and gaining momentum.… my studies have convinced me that the sufferings and deaths of millions are not only correlated with but largely caused by the Marxist-Leninist agenda, and I am therefore deeply opposed to Marxism as a framework. I hope that, knowing this, those patient enough to read these notes will acquit me of being a closet Marxist covering a secular agenda with a veneer of Bible verses.” The author is an English professor at Liberty University.
    • Law professor’s response to student offended by their shirt (Patricia Leary, Imgur): “Premise: You are not paying for my opinion. Critique: You are not paying me to pretend I don’t have one.” Two comments: first, this is a few years old. Second, initially looks made-up but checks out. The author is a professor at Whittier Law School: Law professor responds to students who complained about her Black Lives Matter shirt (Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed) 
    • The New Truth (Jacob Siegel, Tablet Magazine): “What we are witnessing, in the rapidly transforming norms around race, sex, and gender, is not an argument at all but a revolution in moral sentiment. In all revolutions, the new thing struggling to be born makes use of the old system in order to overthrow it. At present, institutions like the university, the press, and the medical profession preserve the appearance of reason, empiricism, and argument while altering, through edict and coercion, the meaning of essential terms in the moral lexicon, like fairness, equality, friendship, and love.”
    • History Shows Free Speech Is The Loser In Mob Action (Jonathan Turley, personal blog): “What will be left when objectionable public art and academics are scrubbed from view? The silence that follows may be comforting to those who want to remove images or ideas that cause unease. History has shown, however, that orthodoxy is never satisfied with silence. It demands speech. Once all the offending statues are down, and all the offending professors are culled, the appetite for collective suppression will become a demand for collective expression.” The author is a law professor at George Washington University.
    • Of Statues and Symbolic Murder (Wilfred M. McClay, First Things): “…a great many of the foot soldiers in this movement are young, white, suburban, middle-class and college-educated; and that they are working out their salvation with fear and trembling and a deadly earnestness. The ‘white privilege’ of which these young people complain is a projection onto others of the very condition that they suspect and fear in themselves. Hence the convulsive rage, complete with copious gutter profanity, which we have all seen in videos of them. People in the grip of such powerful psychological forces will go a long way to expiate for their existential sins and rid themselves of their demons. They are easily mobilized by others. According to Pew estimates, only one out of six Black Lives Matter activists is actually black.”
      1. Related to the last sentence: George Floyd Protester Demographics: Insights Across 4 Major US Cities (MobileWalla report) has bar charts based on surveilling the cell phones of people at the protests and inferring their demographics the way marketers do. 
    • A Minneapolis Neighborhood Vowed to Check Its Privilege. It’s Already Being Tested. (Caitlin Dickerson, New York Times): “The impulse many white Powderhorn Park residents have to seek help from community groups rather than from the police is being felt in neighborhoods across the country. But some are finding the commitment hard to stand by when faced with the complex realities of life. While friends, neighbors and even family members in Powderhorn Park agree to avoid calling the police at all costs, it has been harder to establish where to draw the line.” Read through to the insane final story. 
    • I don’t often insert my own commentary in these emails, but in this case I’d like to highlight a Biblical perspective.
      1. The Bible teaches that one of the reasons that God gives governments authority is for them to use violence in the pursuit of justice. Romans 13:4 is key: “the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”
      2. We have freedom in how we choose to do that as a society — the Bible does not require that we use police or that we build prisons. Having said that, if we abolish domestic law enforcement then the only alternatives I see are the military, private businesses that offer protection for a fee, sanctioned vigilantism, or mob justice. These are not appealing options. Some combination of unbundling police work, reducing criminal laws while rethinking the sanctions for violating them, and increasing police pay while imposing higher standards for police conduct seems like a better path forward.

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have When Children Say They’re Trans (Jesse Singal, The Atlantic): “ …to deny the possibility of a connection between social influences and gender‐identity exploration among adolescents would require ignoring a lot of what we know about the developing teenage brain—which is more susceptible to peer influence, more impulsive, and less adept at weighing long‐term outcomes and consequences than fully developed adult brains—as well as individual stories like Delta’s.” This is a long and balanced piece which has garnered outrage in some online circles. First shared in volume 157.

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

Christianity For Modern Pagans: Order & Method

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through an annotated translation of Pascal’s Pensees called Christianity For Modern Pagans, I’ll post the thoughts I’m emailing the students here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2020. The reading schedule is online.

The theme that seems most important to me from this first week’s readings (the preface and the chapters Order & Method) is the need to understand the heart behind someone’s skepticism. We must genuinely love our skeptical friends if we are to persuade them.

Their intellectual questions are real and have to be answered honestly, but the cries of the heart (Christianity is intolerant, faith is for ignorant people, becoming a Christian would make me into someone I wouldn’t like, following Jesus would mean abandoning fun) are far more important.

I find when I speak with unbelievers on campus their first questions to me are often tests: they want to see how I respond to purely intellectual inquiries before they begin raising the issues that really keep them from faith. And sometimes they don’t even know the real reasons they won’t consider Christianity. A reply I’ve found helpful is, “I’ll answer your question as best I can, but I’m curious: if I answer it to your satisfaction will you seriously consider becoming a Christian? If not, what would still hold you back?”

What do you think Stanford students’ biggest heart objections are to Christianity? I’m curious what you notice as you speak with your friends.

And now a few excerpts from the reading I particularly enjoyed:

In the past, the difficulty in accepting Christianity was its second point, salvation. Everyone in premodern societies knew sin was real, but many doubted salvation. Today it is the exact opposite: everybody is saved, but there is no sin to be saved from. Thus what originally came into the world as “good news” strikes the modern mind as bad news, as guilt-ridden, moralistic and “judgmental”. (page 26, Kreeft’s commentary on pensee 6)

Page 26 (from Kreeft’s commentary on pensee 6)

If he exalts himself, I humble him.
If he humbles himself, I exalt him.
And I go on contradicting him
Until he understands
That he is a monster that passes all understanding.

Page 37 (Pascal speaking, pensee 130)

When we want to correct someone usefully and show him he is wrong, we must see from what point of view he is approaching the matter, for it is usually right from that point of view, and we must admit this, but show him the point of view from which it is wrong. This will please him, because he will see that he was not wrong but merely failed to see every aspect of the question.

Page 39 (Pascal speaking, pensee 701)

Our religion is wise and foolish: wise, because it is the most learned and most strongly based on miracles, prophecies, etc., foolish, because it is not all this which makes people belong to it. . . . What makes them believe is the Cross. . . . And so St. Paul, who came with wisdom and signs, said that he came with neither wisdom nor signs, for he came to convert, but those who come only to convince may say they come with wisdom and signs.

Page 42 (Pascal speaking, pensee 842)

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 255

Again, the standalone stuff is up top and the current news items are towards the end.

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. Why Ditching Instagram Earned me the Podium (Madison Fischer, personal blog): “I cared so much about what everyone thought of me that it became outsourced confidence…. Pride in my accomplishments made me content, and contentedness is poison to a young athlete who has to stay hungry if she wants to stay competitive.”
  2. The Financial Finish Line (Christina Darnell, Ministry Watch): “Giving has always been another bedrock principle for the Barnharts. The company committed to giving half of their profits to ministry. The other half goes to growing the business. The first year, they gave away $50,000. The next year, it was $150,000. It grew to $1 million a year—then $1 million a month.” An inspiring story.
  3. On Cultures That Build (Tanner Greer, personal blog): “In the 21st century, the main question in American social life is not ‘how do we make that happen?’ but ‘how do we get management to take our side?’ This is a learned response, and a culture which has internalized it will not be a culture that ‘builds.’”
    • Related: Why America’s Institutions Are Failing (Derek Thompson, The Atlantic): “Whatever the true cause for our failure, when I look at the twin catastrophes of this annus horribilis, the plague and the police protests, what strikes me is that America’s safekeeping institutions have forgotten how to properly see the threats of the 21st century and move quickly to respond to them. Those who deny history may be doomed to repeat it. But those who deny the present are just doomed.”
  4. Is There a Religious Left? (Casey Cep, New Yorker): “The daughter of a Baptist preacher who was once the dean of the Howard University School of Divinity, Newsome came by her faith and her preaching honestly, yet almost all of the publicity that followed her act of civil disobedience [taking down the Confederate flag] stripped her protest of its theological tenor. Such is the fate of much of the activism of the so-called religious left: if it is successful, it is subsumed by broader causes and coalitions; if it fails, it is forgotten.” 
  5. Race in America
    • Most US Pastors Speak Out in Response to George Floyd’s Death (David Roach, Christianity Today): “Nearly all US pastors (94%) agree that ‘the church has a responsibility to denounce racism,’ and most (62%) say their church has made a statement on the unrest stemming from the May 25 death of George Floyd, according to a Barna Church Pulse Poll released today. The poll, conducted over the past week, also found that 76 percent of pastors say the church should support peaceful protests occurring in response to Floyd’s killing.”
    • What the Bible Has to Say About Black Anger (Esau McCauley, New York Times): “Jesus experienced the reality of state-sponsored terror. That is why the black Christian has always felt a particular kinship with this crucified king from an oppressed ethnic group. The cross helps us make sense of the lynching tree.” The author is a New Testament professor at Wheaton. 
    • On the Unjust Death of George Floyd and Racism in America (Marco Rubio, The Public Discourse): “Like before, the latest unrest has given rise to voices arguing that the foundations of our republic are built on systemic racism and must therefore be brought down. The only difference is that this time claims like these don’t just come from the fringes of our politics. Like before, we also have voices who say that today race is a factor only in individual cases, distinct from our society at large. Both of these views are wrong.” This was a speech given on the floor of the Senate.
    • Racist Police Violence Reconsidered (John McWhorter, Quillette): “…these figures are not necessarily evidence of police racism. According to the Washington Post‘s database, over 95 percent of the people fatally shot by police officers in 2019 were male, and no serious-minded person argues that this is evidence of systemic misandry. So what, then, accounts for the disproportionate representation of black men among those killed by cops?” McWhorter is a professor of linguistics at Columbia. 
    • Stories and Data (Coleman Hughes, City Journal): “…the basic premise of Black Lives Matter—that racist cops are killing unarmed black people—is false. There was a time when I believed it.” The author is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
    • A Few Bad Apples? Racial Bias in Policing (Felipe Goncalves & Steven Mello, SSRN): “Using a bunching estimation design and data from the Florida Highway Patrol, we show that minorities are less likely to receive a discount on their speeding tickets than white drivers. Disaggregating this difference to the individual police officer, we find that 40% of officers explain all of the aggregate discrimination.” 40% is HUGE!
    • Why I Stopped Talking About Racial Reconciliation and Started Talking About White Supremacy (Erna Kim Hackett, Inheritance Magazine): “The term white supremacy labels the problem more accurately. It locates the problem on whiteness and its systems. It focuses on outcomes, not intentions. It is collective, not individual. It makes whiteness uncomfortable and responsible. And that is important.” Shared with me by a student.
  6. On American journalism:
    • The American Soviet Mentality (Izabella Tabarovsky, Tablet Magazine): “The mobs that perform the unanimous condemnation rituals of today do not follow orders from above. But that does not diminish their power to exert pressure on those under their influence. Those of us who came out of the collectivist Soviet culture understand these dynamics instinctively.” The author is a scholar with the Wilson Center.
    • Is There Still Room for Debate? (Andrew Sullivan, New York Magazine): “Liberalism is not just a set of rules. There’s a spirit to it. A spirit that believes that there are whole spheres of human life that lie beyond ideology — friendship, art, love, sex, scholarship, family. A spirit that seeks not to impose orthodoxy but to open up the possibilities of the human mind and soul.”
    • The American Press Is Destroying Itself (Matt Taibbi, Substack): “It isn’t the whole story, but it’s demonstrably true that violence, arson, and rioting are occurring. However, because it is politically untenable to discuss this in ways that do not suggest support, reporters have been twisting themselves into knots. We are seeing headlines previously imaginable only in The Onion, e.g., ‘27 police officers injured during largely peaceful anti-racism protests in London.’”
    • The woke revolution in American journalism has begun (Damon Linker, The Week): “In place of difficulty, complexity, and complication, today’s journalistic revolutionaries crave tidy moral lessons with clear villains and heroes. They champion simplicity, embrace moral uplift, and seek out evildoers to demonize.” See also his earlier column Don’t willfully ignore the complexity of what’s happening in America right now

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have a compelling series of articles on China by a history professor at Johns Hopkins (who also happens to be a Stanford grad): China’s Master Plan: A Global Military Threat, China’s Master Plan: Exporting an Ideology, China’s Master Plan: A Worldwide Web of Institutions and China’s Master Plan: How The West Can Fight Back (Hal Brand, Bloomberg). The money quote from the second article: “If the U.S. has long sought to make the world safe for democracy, China’s leaders crave a world that is safe for authoritarianism.” First shared in volume 156.

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 254

The less timely stuff is up top this time and there are a lot of magic videos at the bottom.

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. What Unites Most Graduates of Selective Colleges? An Intact Family (Nicholas Zill & Brad Wilcox, Institute for Family Studies): “… even after controlling for parent education, family income, and student race and ethnicity, being raised by one’s married birth parents provides an additional boost to one’s chances of getting through Princeton.”
  2. What Christians Must Remember about Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control (Peter Feaver & William Inboden & Michael Singh, Providence): “Before embracing calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons, thoughtful Christians must confront two uncomfortable facts. First, we live in a fallen world in which the threats we face are changing, and arguably growing. Second, the envelope of peace and security in which free societies have thrived for the past eight decades is not self-sustaining—one need only view the recent decline of democracies and rise of authoritarian threats from Russia and China. One can detest nuclear weapons and still see their strategic value.” The authors are, respectively, a professor of political science at Duke, a professor of public policy at UT Austin, and a senior fellow at a thinktank.
  3. Peer Review (Rodney Brooks, personal blog): “I came to realize that the editor’s job was real, and it required me to deeply understand the topic of the paper, and the biases of the reviewers, and not to treat the referees as having the right to determine the fate of the paper themselves. As an editor I had to add judgement to the process at many steps along the way, and to strive for the process to improve the papers, but also to let in ideas that were new.” The author is a professor emeritus of robotics at MIT.
  4. JK Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues (JK Rowling, personal blog): “…I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm in seeking to erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class and offering cover to predators like few before it.”
  5. More on the NY Times tangle last week and what it reveals about our society
    • America is changing, and so is the media (Ezra Klein, Vox): “The news media likes to pretend that it simply holds up a mirror to America as it is. We don’t want to be seen as actors crafting the political debate, agents who make decisions that shape the boundaries of the national discourse. We are, of course. We always have been.”
    • The Still-Vital Case for Liberalism in a Radical Age (Jonathan Chait, NY Magazine): “…it is an error to jump from the fact that right-wing authoritarian racism is far more important to the conclusion that left-wing illiberalism is completely unimportant. One can oppose different evils, even those evils aligned against each other, without assigning them equal weight.”
    • Why everyone hates the mainstream media (Andrew Potter, Policy for Pandemics): “It’s not a coincidence that lawyers, journalists, and politicians are routinely ranked as the most disliked professions in the world. It’s because the law is not about justice, politics is not about democracy, and the news is not about information. But in each case, that is what emerges, by harnessing the status-conscious competitive natures of the participants.” The author is a former journalist and editor.
  6. Thoughts on race and racism:
    • George Floyd and Me (Shai Linn, Gospel Coalition): “Though I’m deeply grieved, I am not without hope. Personally, I have little confidence in our government or policymakers to change the systemic factors that contributed to the George Floyd situation. But my hope isn’t in the government. My hope is in the Lord.”
    • American Racism: We’ve Got So Very Far to Go (David French, The Dispatch): “If politically correct progressives are often guilty of over-racializing American public discourse, and they are, politically correct conservatives commit the opposite sin—and they filter out or angrily reject all the information that contradicts their thesis.”
    • This moment cries out for us to confront race in America (Condoleezza Rice, Washington Post): “Still, we simply must acknowledge that society is not color-blind and probably never will be. Progress comes when people treat one another with respect, as if we were color-blind. Unless and until we are honest that race is still an anchor around our country’s neck, that shadow will never be lifted. Our country has a birth defect: Africans and Europeans came to this country together — but one group was in chains.” She is, of course, a fellow believer and also a Stanford professor who will soon be the director of the Hoover Institution. 
    • Our Present Moment: Why Is It So Hard? (Kevin DeYoung, Gospel Coalition): “I’m thinking more broadly about why race in this country is so difficult, and in particular difficult even between people of good will, between people in your church of a different color. I’m thinking about people who agree on so many other things. And you sing the same songs and you really love Jesus together. And you read the same Bible, and you really are together for the gospel. So why is it so divisive?” Some really good thoughts in here.
  7. On the protests
    • The protests started out looking like 1968. They turned into 1964. (Omar Wasow, Washington Post): “For a growing international movement trying to draw attention to the long history of racist and brutal policing, nonviolence in the face of police repression is an exceedingly difficult strategy to sustain. Evidence from the 1960s, however — and perhaps this month, too — suggests using such tactics to generate media coverage of a pressing social problem can be a powerful tool for building a coalition for social change.”
    • We often accuse the right of distorting science. But the left changed the coronavirus narrative overnight (Thomas Chatterton Williams, The Guardian): “Two weeks ago we shamed people for being in the street; today we shame them for not being in the street.”
    • Tribalism Comes for Pandemic Science (Yuval Levin, The New Atlantis): “These public health professionals are simply admitting that their views on the health risks of large gatherings depend on the political valence of those gatherings. Rather than compartmentalize their professional judgment from their political priorities — explaining the risks of large protests regardless of their political content and then separately and in a different context expressing whatever views they might have about that content — they openly deny not only the possibility but even the desirability of detached professional advice. This kind of attitude inevitably makes it much harder for the public to assess scientific claims about the pandemic through anything other than a political lens.”
    • The Growing CHAZm in Seattle (Jonah Goldberg, The Dispatch): “It took activists less than 24 hours to discover that even their make-believe Duchy of Grand Fenwoke relies on the basic building blocks of any polity. If Seattle’s supine and sausage-spined political leadership allows this experiment to continue, pretty soon you can expect the emergence of currency, taxes, even some kind of charter or constitution. It wouldn’t shock me if they ended up creating rudimentary courts or even a jail.” Goldberg is an expert at the meandering rant. 
    • Anarchy In Seattle (Christopher Rufo, City Journal): “The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone has set a dangerous precedent: armed left-wing activists have asserted their dominance of the streets and established an alternative political authority over a large section of a neighborhood. They have claimed de facto police power over thousands of residents and dozens of businesses—completely outside of the democratic process. In a matter of days, Antifa-affiliated paramilitaries have created a hardened border, established a rudimentary form of government based on principles of intersectional representation, and forcibly removed unfriendly media from the territory.”
    • A Dark Cloud For Democracy (Carl Trueman, First Things): “…this does not entirely explain why Minneapolis and not Hong Kong has grabbed the imagination of British youth. After all, Hong Kong is a much more recent part of the British narrative; one can watch the dismantling of Hong Kong’s constitution online and on the television; and an extremely good case can be made that the British government is more responsible for that mess and its potential amelioration than for the chaos in the Minneapolis police department. After all, the British can actually do something about it—as Boris Johnson’s pledge on immigration to the U.K. from Hong Kong indicates. So why Minneapolis, not Hong Kong?”
    • If we want better policing, we’re going to have to spend more, not less (Megan McArdle, Washington Post): “Reform is thus more likely to stick if we co-opt the unions rather than trying to break them. Instead of ‘defund the police,’ what if we offloaded the nonjudicial parts of their work, like dealing with the homeless and the mentally ill, to social workers, and then ‘stuffed their mouths with gold’ to reform the policing part? We could offer a significant salary boost in exchange for accepting stricter standards and oversight, which wouldn’t just ease the political obstacles, but possibly attract higher-quality candidates to the police force.”
    • Most Americans Want Police Reform But Don’t Back ‘Defund The Police’ (Ariel Edwards-Levy and Kevin Robillard, Huffington Post): “A near-universal majority of Americans support at least some changes to policing in the United States following the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds. There is majority support for proposals circulating in Congress to ban chokeholds and make it easier to track and charge officers accused of misconduct. But the idea of ‘defunding the police’ has little support from the public.”
    • Police Brutality: The Ferguson Effect (Robert Verbruggen, National Review): “There’s a temptation in some quarters to think this issue is like gay marriage or marijuana legalization, where there’s a turning point in public opinion and a rapid shift in policy and then everyone wonders what the big deal ever was. See, for example, Tim Alberta’s piece in Politico today, which bizarrely claims we may be seeing the ‘last stand’ of law-and-order Republicans and draws those two parallels explicitly. But crime isn’t like that. When the streets become unsafe, public opinion shifts back in favor of the folks who stand between the innocents and the bad guys.”

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have The Problem with Dull Knives: What’s the Defense Department got to do with Code for America? (Jennifer Pahlka, Medium): “I have a distinct memory of being a kid in the kitchen with my mom, awkwardly and probably dangerously wielding a knife, trying to cut some tough vegetable, and defending my actions by saying the knife was dull anyway. My mom stopped me and said firmly, ‘Jenny, a dull knife is much more dangerous than a sharp knife. You’re struggling and using much more force than you should, and that knife is going to end up God Knows Where.’ She was right, of course…. But having poor tools [for the military] doesn’t make us fight less; it makes us fight badly.” (some emphasis in the original removed). Highly recommended. First shared in volume 155.

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 253

Specific suggestions for police reform, various explainers and opinion pieces, and some weird news about TikTok and Christianity.

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. On the racial division in America:
    • How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change (Barack Obama, Medium): “Finally, the more specific we can make demands for criminal justice and police reform, the harder it will be for elected officials to just offer lip service to the cause and then fall back into business as usual once protests have gone away. The content of that reform agenda will be different for various communities.” Emphasis in original.
    • Some specific policy proposals: “For those who are interested in research-based solutions to stop police violence, here’s what you need to know — based on the facts and data. A thread. (1/x)” (Samuel Sinyangwe, Twitter)
    • More specific policy proposals: How to Actually Fix America’s Police (Seth W. Stoughton, Jeffrey J. Noble & Geoffrey P. Alpert, The Atlantic): “‘Overcriminalization’ has been broadly discussed; there are so many laws that violations are ubiquitous. If everyone is a criminal, officers have almost unfettered discretion to pick and choose which laws to enforce and whom to stop, frisk, search, or arrest.” The authors have an interesting combination of expertise (a law prof, a criminology prof, and a former officer).
    • I Must Object: A Rebuttal to Brown Univ.’s Letter Decrying Pervasive Racism in US (Glenn C. Loury, City Journal): “I deeply resented the letter. First of all, what makes an administrator (even a highly paid one, with an exalted title) a ‘leader’ of this university? We, the faculty, are the only ‘leaders’ worthy of mention when it comes to the realm of ideas. Who cares what some paper-pushing apparatchik thinks? It’s all a bit creepy and unsettling. Why must this university’s senior administration declare, on behalf of the institution as a whole and with one voice, that they unanimously—without any subtle differences of emphasis or nuance—interpret contentious current events through a single lens?” Loury, who is black, is an econ professor at Brown. He did not come to play.
    • Efrem Smith: White Evangelicals Need to Humble Themselves (Bob Smietana, Christianity Today): “I’ve been encouraged, especially in the evangelical wing of the church, to see more pastors speaking out, being brokenhearted, calling for change. But then there’s also a significant segment of evangelicalism that is either silent or late to the party when it comes to the church calling for justice.”
    • A Nation on Fire Needs the Flames of the Spirit (Esau McCaulley, Christianity Today): “There is no other world in which to talk about Jesus than a world in which black men can have their necks stepped on for nine minutes.” The author is an Anglican priest and a professor of New Testament at Wheaton. 
    • Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LA Times): “…even though we do all the conventional things to raise public and political awareness — write articulate and insightful pieces in the Atlantic, explain the continued devastation on CNN, support candidates who promise change — the needle hardly budges.”
    • On Days of Disorder (Tanner Greer, personal blog): “Notice that this schema is value neutral: it describes both the football hooligan and the race rioter, 19th century Russian pogroms and 21st century Hong Kong street battles. In all of these a certain percentage of the participants plays the game for fairly mundane reasons: to revel in excitement or terror, lose themselves in a rare sense of solidarity, belonging, or power, or to simply gain the monetary rewards that come with theft and looting. The proportion of the population willing to join a riot to attain these things likely reflects the proportion of the population otherwise cut off from them in normal times. Few rioters are married men who must be at work at 8:00 AM the next morning.” This was quite good. Recommended.
    • Simplicity Is The Enemy & Bad Apples (Jonathan Last, The Bulwark): “What’s happening in America right now is large and complicated. We have a series of problems, some of which overlap, some of which do not. And attempts to solve them have, historically, been stymied by conflating them and believing that they are simple and connected.”
  2. On the pandemic:
    • The Treason of Epidemiologists (Jonah Goldberg, The Dispatch): “The simple fact is that whatever legislation we’re going to get, we’d still get if the protests stopped this morning. In fact, a reasonable person would conclude we’d be more likely to get it if they stopped now, because the more these things go on, the more opposition and resentment will grow.” 
    • Related: “A thread about how protesting during a pandemic was described when conservatives were doing it” (Matt Walsh, Twitter)
    • Surgisphere: governments and WHO changed Covid-19 policy based on suspect data from tiny US company (Melissa Davey, Stephanie Kirchgaessner & Sarah Boseley, The Guardian): “The World Health Organization and a number of national governments have changed their Covid-19 policies and treatments on the basis of flawed data from a little-known US healthcare analytics company, also calling into question the integrity of key studies published in some of the world’s most prestigious medical journals. A Guardian investigation can reveal the US-based company Surgisphere, whose handful of employees appear to include a science fiction writer and an adult-content model, has provided data for multiple studies on Covid-19 co-authored by its chief executive, but has so far failed to adequately explain its data or methodology.” This is actually nuts.
    • The C.D.C. Waited ‘Its Entire Existence for This Moment.’ What Went Wrong? (Eric Lipton, Abby Goodnough, Michael D. Shear, Megan Twohey, Apoorva Mandavilli,Sheri Fink & Mark Walker, New York Times): “…the C.D.C. is risk-averse, perfectionist and ill suited to improvising in a quickly evolving crisis — particularly one that shuts down the country and paralyzes the economy.”
  3. The Museum of the Bible is winning over some of its biggest critics: Jewish scholars (Menachem Wecker, Washington Post): “Mintz believes Jewish scholars who denounced evangelical tones in the museum may have done so because they don’t see eye-to-eye with its politically conservative owners. But, she notes, the museum itself caters to Jews. She cites a time when it arranged kosher food for an event in which her husband, an Orthodox rabbi, participated. ‘They were just nice about it,’ she says.”
  4. Christian TikTok videos are censored and deleted in the US, creators say (Liza Vandenboom, Religion Unplugged): “Christian content is often censored and removed from TikTok, according to several creators on the platform. The China-based social media app hosts short, snippy videos ranging from inspirational mini-speeches to musical and dance performances and is popular with teenagers and young adults. The platform reports over 800 million active users, with 30 million active users in the U.S. Researchers have grown concerned over the app’s reach and the possibility of it bringing Chinese-style censorship to mainstream U.S. audiences.” 
  5. Technocracy Is Impossible (Alan Jacobs, personal blog): “Leaders should pay attention to scientists, dramatically more than the current Presidential administration does, but an immunologist will say one thing, an epidemiologist something slightly different, an economist something altogether other. The various sciences and academic disciplines will not speak with a single voice, indeed will not speak at all: individual scholars will speak, and what they say will arise from a combination of their scholarly expertise and their beliefs (derived from non-scientific sources) about what matters most in life, and a good political leader will have the general intelligence and moral discernment to sift the various messages he or she receives and make a decision based on all the relevant input.”
  6. There was a fight at the New York Times this week. I’m not actually that interested in the op-ed that provoked it, but I am quite interested in how the fight is playing out. The New York Times occupies a special place in the American media ecosystem and fights like this illuminate some of what is happening beneath the surface.

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have A One Parameter Equation That Can Exactly Fit Any Scatter Plot (Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution): “Overfitting is possible with just one parameter and so models with fewer parameters are not necessarily preferable even if they fit the data as well or better than models with more parameters.” Researchers take note. The underlying mathematics paper is well‐written and interesting: One Parameter Is Always Enough (Steven T. Piantadosi) — among other things, it points out that you can smuggle in arbitrarily large amounts of data into an equation through a single parameter because a number can have infinite digits. Obvious once stated, but I don’t know that it ever would have occurred to me. First shared in volume 154.

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 252

There was an abundance of sad news this week, which matches this month, which matches this year.

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. The Bible tells us to weep with those who weep, and this is a good week for that. I’ve had to share articles about similar wickedness too many times, beginning all the way back in volume 4.
    • I think this 8 minute Facebook video by my friend Jamil Stell is good. He filmed it a few hours before George Floyd’s death, which is why he doesn’t reference it. Jamil, who spoke at our fall retreat four years ago, is the Chi Alpha director at Cal State Stanislaus.
    • I Specifically Requested The Opposite of This (Imgur) — if a picture is worth 1,000 words, a picture with a great caption is an entire treatise.
    • The Sorrows of Minneapolis: A Prayer for Our City (John Piper, Desiring God): difficult to excerpt, quite good.
    • When the Law Doesn’t Contain All the Answers (Bob Driscoll, The Dispatch): “The law, even applied correctly, doesn’t remedy what we know is wrong. We can hope that the George Floyd killing can provide some insight into the feeling of frustration in many minority communities surrounding policing issues, because we can see, or at least sense, the depth of the problem. Assuming the system properly tries and convicts the kneeling officer of some serious offense, will you feel any better about George Floyd’s death? I won’t.”
    • George Floyd Left a Gospel Legacy in Houston (Kate Shellnutt, Christianity Today): “The rest of the country knows George Floyd from several minutes of cell phone footage captured during his final hours. But in Houston’s Third Ward, they know Floyd for how he lived for decades—a mentor to a generation of young men and a ‘person of peace’ ushering ministries into the area.”
    • Did George Floyd and Then-Officer Derek Chauvin Work Together in Minneapolis? (Snopes): “So while it’s true that Floyd and Chauvin worked at the club at the same time, it’s unknown, and unlikely, according to the former owner of the building where the club was located, that the two men knew each other.”
    • Cooped up: A shameful Central Park encounter demands all New Yorkers be better people (Robert A. George, NY Daily News) : “In the latest episode of the everyday-fresh-hell that is New York City under quarantine, one white female, Amy Cooper, was caught on video calling the cops on one black male, Christian Cooper. Sorry, folks, I’d encourage everyone to push back on the reflexive instinct to make this into a story about racism as it’s more a modern parable of bad behavior between two individuals.” Super-interesting.
    • White People Behaving Badly (Zaid Jilani, Arc Digital): “The truth is, measured explicit and implicit racial bias has rapidly declined, interracial crimes are rare, and whites are actually underrepresented compared to their share of the population in the FBI’s index of hate crimes. No racial group has a monopoly on hate, whatever anecdotes elevated to news coverage may lead us to believe.”
    • Anger Is Justified, Riots Never Are (Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review): “Riots are bad. Riots are never a coherent or moral response to injustice, they just multiply injustices and the rioters themselves often suffer more in the long run…. Riots dissuade individuals, families, and businesses from staying in or joining a community. Who wants to raise their kids in the neighborhood where the police station had to be evacuated before it was set ablaze?” Some research on the effects of riots The Economic Aftermath of the 1960s Riots in American Cities: Evidence from Property Values (Collins & Margo, Journal of Economic History on JSTOR) and this Twitter thread by a Princeton professor.
    • A differing perspective: What the news doesn’t show about protests in Minneapolis and Louisville (Jason Johnson, Vox): “Nighttime coverage will seldom show a full city map demonstrating that, two blocks over from a street that looks like a ‘city engulfed in flames,’ there’s a CVS still open for business. The press flocking to dramatic images as a protest metaphor is not a new phenomenon.” The author is a professor of politics and journalism at Morgan State University.
    • George Floyd protests: Photos show uprisings across America (Jen Kirby and Kainaz Amaria, Vox): striking images.
  2. About China:
    • The Infinite Heartbreak of Loving Hong Kong (Wilfred Chan, The Nation): “Something profound has been lost. It is not democracy, because Hong Kong was never democratic. It is not autonomy, because Hong Kong never enjoyed self-determination. It is certainly not the will to resist; as I write this, activists are already planning a full calendar of mass protests, determined to fight until the bitter end. What is lost is the feeling that Hong Kong’s future could be an open question.”
    • Pompeo declares Hong Kong no longer autonomous from China (Carol Morello, Washington Post): “‘Hong Kong and its dynamic, enterprising, and free people have flourished for decades as a bastion of liberty, and this decision gives me no pleasure,’ [Pompeo] added. ‘But sound policymaking requires a recognition of reality. While the United States once hoped that free and prosperous Hong Kong would provide a model for authoritarian China, it is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong after itself.’”
    • What to Make of Secretary Pompeo Decertifying Hong Kong Autonomy (Julian Ku, Lawfare): “Although Pompeo’s dramatic announcement drew headlines around the world, his decision should not have surprised observers, given the new requirements on any such certification imposed by Congress in November 2019.”
    • ‘All-out combat’ feared as India, China engage in border standoff (Saif Khalid, Al Jazeera): “A video shot by an Indian soldier and shared on social media showed soldiers from both nations engaged in fistfights and stone-pelting at the de facto border, known as Line of Actual Control (LAC). The incident, which continued until the next day, resulted in 11 soldiers being injured on both sides.” The headline seems a bit over-the-top. I talked with a friend who has some relevant expertise and he is not that concerned. Still worth keeping an eye on. 
    • China-India border: Clashes raise fears of broader confrontation as Beijing pursues sovereignty claims on all fronts (Anna Fifield and Joanna Slater, Washington Post): “The relationship between the two countries remains tense, exacerbated by efforts from both capitals to stoke nationalist sentiment. The obvious place for this to erupt is at the point where the two countries bump up against each other.” 
  3. ‘AKA Jane Roe’ and the humiliation of the pro-life movement (Karen Swallows Prior, Religion News Service): “Even before the film aired, headline after headline heaped humiliation on pro-lifers. The Los Angeles Times reported that McCorvey had been paid to change her mind. This was misleading: McCorvey wasn’t paid to change her mind — she was paid to speak at pro-life events after she claimed she had changed her position.”
    • Related: FX documentary on Norma McCorvey omits key Catholic sources who knew her best (Julia Duin, GetReligion): “Also, the documentary is coy about one important thing. To get access to McCorvey, surely they had to pay up too? We call that ‘checkbook journalism’ and ethical news organizations don’t offer money to their interviewees. When pressed by the Washington Post, the film’s producer admitted he paid her a ‘modest licensing fee’ for use of family photos and documentary footage.” 
  4. Pandemic Perspectives:
    • Conservatives who refuse to wear masks undercut a central claim of their beliefs (Megan McArdle, Washington Post): “[Refusing to wear masks] also undercuts a more central claim of conservatism: that big, coercive government programs are unnecessary because private institutions could provide many benefits that we think of as ‘public goods.’ For that to be true, the civic culture would have to be such that individuals are willing to make serious sacrifices for the common good, and especially to protect the most vulnerable among us.”
    • Reopening churches safely: What pastors in Utah, Georgia have learned (Kelsey Dallas, Deseret News): “The Rev. Leroy Davis wants his church to feel as safe as Costco. The service will hopefully be a little more personal, he said, but the environment should seem just as clean.“
    • The Regulatory State Is Failing Us (Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic): “It is important not to make this a partisan conflict. I do not view the administrative state as extra-constitutional. That said, it has become far too inflexible, and not sufficiently focused on outcomes. It is time we woke up and realized that we have a system that simply is not working.”
    • COVID-19 Has Exposed Critical Weaknesses in Global Higher Education (Christos Makridis and Soula Parassidis): “While publicly available data does not seem to exist to identify the source of the increasing proliferation of degree programs, many students have been funneled into degree programs without an accurate representation of what they are going to learn and their post-graduation labor market prospects.” Christos is an alumnus of our ministry. 
  5. Have Pentecostals Outgrown Their Name? (Daniel Silliman, Christianity Today): “Names can be tricky. What do you call a Pentecostal who isn’t called a Pentecostal? The question sounds like a riddle, but it’s a real challenge for scholars. They have struggled for years to settle on the best term for the broad and diverse movement of Christians who emphasize the individual believer’s relationship to the Holy Spirit and talk about being Spirit-filled, Spirit-baptized, or Spirit-empowered.”
  6. Conn. transgender policy found to violate Title IX (ESPN): “Connecticut’s policy allowing transgender girls to compete as girls in high school sports violates the civil rights of athletes who have always identified as female, the U.S. Education Department has determined in a decision that could force the state to change course to keep federal funding and influence others to do the same.”

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have Why Being a Foster Child Made Me a Conservative (Rob Henderson, New York Times): “Individuals have rights. But they also have responsibilities. For instance, when I say parents should prioritize their children over their careers, there is a sense of unease among my peers. They think I want to blame individuals rather than a nebulous foe like poverty. They are mostly right.” The author just graduated from Yale. Worth reading regardless of your political allegiances. First shared in volume 153.

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.