Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 114

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

First, let me say this has been a heartbreaking week. The racism on display in Charlottesville was wicked, and if unrepented of will lead its practitioners to hell. Most of this week’s links are related:

  1. Charlottesville: Race and Terror (VICE News, Youtube link). This video is worth watching, but be warned that this is disturbing footage. The first two minutes are compelling.
  2. White supremacy angers Jesus, but does it anger his church? (Russell Moore, Washington Post): “One of the many remarkable things about the picture we get of Jesus in the Gospels is how relatively calm he is. When his disciples are panicking in a life-threatening storm, Jesus is asleep. When villages reject the message, the apostles are angered but Jesus is not. Threatened with arrest and even execution, Jesus meets his accusers with tranquility. The Scriptures show us two things that make Jesus visibly angry: religious hypocrisy and racial supremacist ideology.”
  3. After Charlottesville, black pastors are confronting how political to get (Jeff Stein, Vox): “The bloodshed has reinvigorated those pastors’ calls for their fellow clergy to preach about political issues, rather than just salvation.”
  4. ‘Jews will not replace us’: Why white supremacists go after Jews (Yair Rosenberg, Washington Post): “When white supremacists are viciously attacking Jews as nonwhite impostors, then any anti-racists worthy of the name must be there to defend them. They cannot impose their own definitions of whiteness on Jews and sidestep their plight.”
  5. Is America Headed for a New Kind of Civil War? (Robin Wright, New Yorker): “Mines concluded that the United States faces a sixty-per cent chance of civil war over the next ten to fifteen years. Other experts’ predictions ranged from five per cent to ninety-five per cent. The sobering consensus was thirty-five per cent. And that was five months before Charlottesville.” In response, read Our House Divided (Ross Douthat, New York Times): “…our divisions induce a particular anxiety because each of our two main factions reigns supreme in one particular arena. Conservatism is (somehow) politically dominant, with control of the legislative and executive branches and a remarkable power in the states. Meanwhile liberalism dominates the cultural commanding heights as never before, with not only academia and the media but also late-night television and sportswriting and even young-adult fiction more monolithically and — to conservatives — oppressively progressive. So both sides have reasons to feel threatened, disempowered and surrounded; both can feel as though they exist under a kind of enemy rule.”
  6. Political Parasites (Pete Spiliakos, First Things): “[Trump] is obdurate. He saw that his political enemies were calling for a condemnation and, in his defiance and arrogance, had to show them that they weren’t going to write his scripts.”
  7. The Rise of the Violent Left (Peter Beinart, The Atlantic): “If you believe the president of the United States is leading a racist, fascist movement that threatens the rights, if not the lives, of vulnerable minorities, how far are you willing to go to stop it?”
  8. Unmasking the leftist Antifa movement: Activists seek peace through violence (Sara Ganim and Chris Welch, CNN): “Antifa members also sometimes launch attacks against people who aren’t physically attacking them. The movement, Crow said, sees alt-right hate speech as violent, and for that, its activists have opted to meet violence with violence.”
  9. Extreme Protest Tactics Reduce Popular Support for Social Movements (Feinberg, Willer, and Kovacheff, SSRN working paper): One of the authors, Robb Willer, is a professor of sociology at Stanford. “The activist’s dilemma – wherein tactics that raise awareness also tend to reduce popular support – highlights a key challenge faced by social movements struggling to affect progressive change.”
  10. Trump Is More In Touch Than You Think (Rod Dreher, The American Conservative): “The news media have been seriously distorting public reaction to Trump’s handling of Charlottesville. Whether this is a matter of only seeing what they want to see, or a matter of the talking heads being concentrated among coastal elites of both parties, is a matter of conjecture.”
  11. Facing Our Legacy of Lynching (D. L. Mayfield, Christianity Today): “More than 4,000 African Americans were lynched between 1877 and the rise of the civil rights movement in the early 1950s. Lynching was a brutal public tactic for maintaining white supremacy, frequently used with the tacit blessing of government authorities. It was a part of my heritage I had never been taught…” Note that this piece is independent of the events in Charlottesville.

Things Glen Found Entertaining

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have This Is What Makes Republicans and Democrats So Different (Vox, Ezra Klein): I was skeptical of this piece based on the title, but it’s insightful. (first shared in volume 32)

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).

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.

Archives at http://glenandpaula.com/wordpress/category/links.

To Change The World, Week Seven

To Change The World by James Davison Hunter
To Change The World

I thought Hunter’s chapter on the religious left wasn’t as strong as his chapter on the religious right, although I appreciated that he highlighted the long history of a politically-engaged religious left. I am baffled when people act as though the politicization of the faith is exclusively a problem of the right. The religious left is FAR more political than the religious right. It’s not even close. It is not unusual to hear overtly political sermons in religious left congregations whereas it is vanishingly rare to hear political sermons in a religious right congregation.

Something to keep in mind is that neither the religious left nor the religious right are above the partisanship that dominates America.

Given the resources of the Democratic Party and the special interests that drive it, there is little question that progressive Christianity is instrumentalized (or used as a means to an end) by the Democratic Party in its quest for power, just as conservative Christianity has been used for quite some time by the Republican Party. (page 148)

Hunter explain what he considers to be the driving force of progressive politics: a particular conception of justice illustrated by the French Revolution’s call for liberty, equality, and fraternity.

The key word in the progressive lexicon, and arguably the paramount virtue, is justice. Justice, though, is defined as economic equity — the equality component. Within the contemporary left, there is a tension between the communitarian wing and the social libertarian wing, and the dividing line is far from clearcut. Over the course of the last two centuries, liberalism has had less to say about “fraternity,” though socialism has made this a central part of its agenda. In (p.133) contemporary America, most secular progressives define the “liberty” component in terms of individual autonomy and the freedom to choose one’s own lifestyle; that is, in terms of sexual identity and practice, relationships, entertainment, and so on. But religiously oriented progressives, Christians among them, tend to lean toward the communitarian side of this divide. For these, liberty is understood largely as liberation; often enough this means freedom for individuals and communities from poverty caused by economic domination and exploitation of the wealthy. As to community itself (the “fraternity” component), it is the idea of solidarity among equals — across the boundaries of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and social class. (page 132-133)

 

Hunter mentions that the religious left has less visibility now than in the past, but I think his description doesn’t do justice to the extent of the mainline collapse. These denominations are imploding at a crazy rate. Researcher Ed Stetzer puts it this way, “If the data continues along the same pattern, mainline Protestants have an expiration date when both trend lines cross zero in 2039. If the trend line continues, they have 23 Easters left.” (source)

Read that last sentence again. It’s stunning.

Those on the left and the right disagree about the reasons for the demise of the once-strong denominations. I think Rodney Stark put it well:

“The wreckage of the former Mainline denominations is strewn upon the shoal of a modernist theology that began to dominate the Mainline seminaries early in the nineteenth century. This theology presumed that advances in human knowledge had made faith outmoded… Eventually, Mainline theologians discarded nearly every doctrinal aspect of traditional Christianity.” (from America’s Blessings)

So due to their weakness, organizations on the religious left were not taken seriously by politicians and academics as they had once been.

Their political advocacy was also mostly ignored until the Republican presidential win in 2004. It was only then that the Democratic Party, for many decades tone-deaf to faith, recognized that it would not mobilize the American public and win elections until it learned to use the language and grammar of faith that has always informed the values and beliefs of most Americans. The problem was that most Democrats have been uncomfortable using the language of faith. From across the Democratic Party, many called for “soul-searching” and internal reform that would address the so-called God-gap.

I am sure at the time Hunter wrote this it seemed that the Democrats had learned the importance of welcoming people of faith, but although Barack Obama’s campaign did this very well Hilary Clinton’s campaign did this outrageously poorly. This is ironic because I believe Hilary Clinton to be far more personally pious than Barack Obama.

Emma Green interviewed Michael Wear about this in the Atlantic “Democrats Have A Religion Problem

“Barack Obama was the perfect transitional president from the old party to the new. He could speak in religious terms in a way that most white, secular liberals were not willing to confront him on. He “got away with” religious language and outreach that would get other Democratic politicians more robust critiques from the left. He was able to paper over a lot of the religious tensions in the party that other, less skilled politicians will not be able to paper over.”

An even more illuminating read is by Ruth Graham at Slate: “Why Hillary Clinton Bombed With White Evangelical Voters” –

This election cycle, Christianity Today made multiple attempts to request an interview with Hillary Clinton, according to Kate Shellnutt, an editor there. The campaign never responded. Of course, campaigns turn down interview requests all the time. But the Clinton campaign was the only one that didn’t reply at all. And this wasn’t the only sign this year that the Democratic candidate had no interest in speaking to evangelical Christians. She spent little energy explaining her views on abortion to them and little time talking about religious freedom. She didn’t hire a full-time faith outreach director until June and had no one focused specifically on evangelical outreach. She didn’t give a major speech to the evangelical community and never met publicly with evangelical leaders. Religious publications reaching out to her campaign with questions were frequently met with silence. Some evangelical insiders are now asking: Why didn’t Hillary Clinton even try to get us to vote for her?

And in a candidate for understatement of the decade:

“For all of the diversity one can find among progressives, one of the central catalysts of solidarity over the years has been their hostility to the leaders, organizations, ideology, and agenda of the Christian Right.” (page 139)

This is true of my friends on the religious left. Their anger at the religious right is a thing to behold. From afar. I am convinced that some of them are quite prepared to punch you in the name of tolerance.

Again, I thought this chapter was less strong (although I imagine the information in it was newer to many of you).

 

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 112

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. ‘God’s ACLU’ Seeks Freedom For The Faithful (Tunku Varadarajan, Wall Street Journal): “The progressive or liberal approach is to equate free exercise of religion with the freedom to worship and to deny that it has anything to do with how a person organizes his life. The Becket Fund and others assert that most religions have complete codes governing not only worship but other aspects of conduct. This comprehensive Way of Life—which leads a devoutly Christian baker to decline to decorate a cake for a same-sex wedding, for instance—commands much more from believers than progressives will allow.” Becket is Chi Alpha’s pro bono legal team. The author is a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.
  2. For Culturally Illiterate Science Reporters, Canaanite DNA Yields Occasion to Slap Bible Around (David Klinghoffer, Evolution News): Did you see all those headlines suggesting that a DNA study proved the Biblical accounts wrong? Yeah… don’t lose any sleep over that. When someone tells you that the Bible is wrong, don’t assume they actually know what the Bible says. See also a longer and more reflective post from an OT scholar Breaking News: Science Disproves The Bible (but I really like the short and punchy one that’s the main link).
  3. The ‘Prophets’ and ‘Apostles’ Leading the Quiet Revolution in American Religion (Bob Smietana, Christianity Today): “It’s very spontaneous. We went to a conference where a number of apostles were speaking and Bill Johnson was doing a Bible teaching. He had probably talked 20 or 30 minutes, and you could feel the restlessness in the room. He said, ‘I know you are just waiting for me to stop preaching because you want the power. But just hang with me here.’ People weren’t there to listen to him. What they wanted was for him to lay hands on them.” Interesting read that is not entirely fair but also fairly insightful. 
  4. Venezuela’s Unprecedented Collapse (Ricardo Hausmann, Project Syndicate). “Measured in the cheapest available calorie, the minimum wage declined from 52,854 calories per day to just 7,005 during the same period, a decline of 86.7% and insufficient to feed a family of five, assuming that all the income is spent to buy the cheapest calorie.” The author is a Harvard professor and former Venezuelan official.
  5. Why The Scariest Nuclear Threat May Be Coming From Inside The White House (Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair): “The United States government might be the most complicated organization on the face of the earth. Two million federal employees take orders from 4,000 political appointees. Dysfunction is baked into the structure of the thing: the subordinates know that their bosses will be replaced every four or eight years, and that the direction of their enterprises might change overnight—with an election or a war or some other political event.” Fascinating and frightening, even once you factor in the author’s hostility to the Trump administration.
  6. Marriage Matters (W. Bradford Willcox, City Journal): “…young adults who follow three steps—getting at least a high school degree, then working full-time, and then marrying before having any children, in that order—are very unlikely to become poor.” The author is a sociologist at UVA.
  7. From the Enlightenment to the Dark Ages: How “new atheism” slid into the alt-right (Phil Torres, Salon): “As a philosopher — someone who cares deeply about intellectual honesty, verifiable evidence, critical thinking and moral thoughtfulness — I now find myself in direct opposition with many new atheist leaders. That is, I see my own advocacy for science, critical thought and basic morality as standing in direct opposition to their positions.”

Things Glen Found Amusing

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have Reading The Whole Bible in 2016: A FAQ (Gospel Coalition, Justin Taylor). How much time each day would it take you to read the entire Bible in a year? “There are about 775,000 words in the Bible. Divided by 365, that’s 2,123 words a day. The average person reads 200 to 250 words per minute. So 2,123 words/day divided by 225 words/minute equals 9.4 minutes a day.” This article is full of good advice for what could be the best commitment you make all year. Do it! (first shared in volume 31 and useful for any year)

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).

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.

Archives at http://glenandpaula.com/wordpress/category/links.

To Change The World, Week Six

To Change The World by James Davison Hunter
To Change The World

Today’s reading is about the religious right. I know some of you are conservative and some of you are liberal. Whichever camp you align with, I encourage you to read both this chapter and the next chapter (on the religious left) carefully, seeking to gain sympathy for the side you oppose. I also encourage you to read the attached essay “The Problem With Conservatism” by J. Budziszewski, a Christian political philosopher at the University of Texas. He has a companion essay about liberalism which I’ll send next week – so whether you are liberal or conservative you’ll find a chapter that describes your views fairly while also encountering a thoughtful critique of your tribe.

Anyway, on to today’s insights. Hunter is fair and insightful in describing the Christian right:

“In the present world order, many if not most of the principles [politically conservative Christians] most esteem have come under fundamental challenge. There has been a challenge to heterosexuality, to monogamy, to marriage as a life-long commitment, to the sacred responsibility of parenting, to the authority and autonomy of the family. There has been a challenge to the sanctity of human life, most clearly in the earliest stages of life but also life at its most vulnerable and at its end. Not only has there been a challenge to the truths of the Christian faith and the traditions and scripture that express them, but there has been a challenge to the very concept of truth as well. And there has been a challenge to the moral authority of the church. These challenges have been expressed intellectually, educationally, and artistically, but also commercially, through advertising, and in the range of entertainment media. Not least, all of these challenges have also been expressed legally and politically.” (page 111)

I would be surprised if you have not heard similar sentiments in the lobby after church. In response,

Conservative Christians “defend a prominent role for religion in public life, a traditional nuclear family, and traditional morality.” (page 122)

Hunter deeply understands the perspective of conservative Christians. It makes me wonder what churches he has attended. Even in small things he gets their self-understanding. I think it would surprise many at Stanford to learn that most politically-engaged conservative evangelicals consider themselves to be the true activists who pursue human flourishing in the face of an unjust culture.

“In this view, the Tocquevillian legacy that celebrates the active role of religion in public extended into the modern age through the abolitionist movement, prohibition, and with the civil rights movement of the 1960s and it extends to the present in the movement against abortion, homosexuality, and the like. In their own view, conservative Christian activists are anything but strange. They are, rather, the “rightful heirs” of progressive Christianity.” (page 114)

Having said all of that, Hunter addresses something that I hear often: many conservative Christians are fed up with the Republican party because they feel taken for granted.

This is the problem with electoral politics in our time. Politicians cannot get nominated without the support of the grassroots activists, but they cannot get elected and govern without moving to the political center. It is inevitable that politicians who do get elected betray their most ardent supporters by moderating (p.126) their positions. Needless to say, this comes as a source of terrible frustration to the movement leaders. Movement leaders regularly and probably rightly accuse Republican politicians and officials of “just ignoring those that put them in office.” (page 125-126)

Having said that, as long as the Democratic party continues on their current trajectory it is difficult to imagine a large-scale drift of conservative Christians from Republican to Democrat. As I said in the runup to the election, I could not in good conscience vote for either Trump or Clinton and so I cast my ballot for a third party candidate. But I know many of my friends who voted for Trump as a way of preventing a Clinton victory. I think if I was to ask them why they would say something like this. “Sure, Trump is crazy and personally immoral, but Clinton is disciplined and devoted to promoting wickedness. I think America will be better off under the crazy sleazebag.”

It is difficult to overstate the centrality of the Supreme Court to the thinking of most of my conservative Christian friends. Hunter nails it with this paragraph:

If there is an epicenter of the problem, though, it is seen in the judicial system—“the last great bastion for liberalism.” Some have called “the secular-liberal takeover” of the judiciary the greatest assault representative self-government has ever faced; an assault that is “more dangerous and successful because it comes from within and aims to destroy not just our physical defenses, but the moral ideas, habits and practices that sustain our character as a free people.” The principal instrument for their assault has been “an abuse of the judicial system,” and in particular the Federal judiciary’s assertion of supreme and unchecked constitutional power. In particular, the U.S. Supreme Court has arrogated to itself governmental power that the Tenth Amendment unambiguously reserves to the States, arbitrarily withdrawn the protection of the community from generations to come, interfered with the public celebration of religious festivals and observances determined by the people, and now seeks to remove all references to the Creator, God, (p.117) from public declarations adopted by the people. The campaign of “liberals and progressive forces” has been nothing less than “insidious.” The problem, then, is not just the fact that the courts are complicit in “trying to erase our Judeo- Christian heritage.” “The courts have also imposed immoral decisions on the American people.” The courts’ decisions liberalizing the practice of abortion and homosexuality are particularly galling since the majority of Americans oppose them. Cumulatively, these actions amount to “judicial tyranny.” (pages 116-117)

My friends who voted for Trump felt a huge sense of vindication when Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Trump could do everything else wrong and get the Supreme Court right and my friends would say, “I made a good call. Thank God Hilary Clinton is not president.”

I am very eager to see how he portrays the religious left in next week’s reading and then how he critiques them both afterwards.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 111

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. Meet the Megadonor Behind the LGBTQ Rights Movement (Andy Kroll, Rolling Stone): “More broadly, for Gill and his allies, nondiscrimination is the new front of the movement: a campaign that pits LGBTQ advocates against a religious right that responded to marriage equality by redoubling its efforts…. Gill refuses to go on the defense. ‘We’re going into the hardest states in the country,’ he says. ‘We’re going to punish the wicked.’…. ‘We have been fighting for [nondiscrimination] since the Sixties,’ he says. ‘It’s the religious right that decided to make marriage an issue. They worked tirelessly on it for decades and they lost.’”
  2. Fusion GPS Illuminates the Brave New World of Manufactured News For Hire (Lee Smith, Tablet Magazine) “There is no accurate accounting of how many of the stories you read in the news are the fruit of opposition research, because no journalist wants to admit how many of their top ‘sources’ are just information packagers—which is why the blinding success of Fusion GPS is the least-covered media story in America right now.”
  3. The Death Of Reading Is Threatening The Soul (Philip Yancey, Washington Post): “I am reading many fewer books these days, and even fewer of the kinds of books that require hard work. The Internet and social media have trained my brain to read a paragraph or two, and then start looking around.”
  4. Ask Andrew W.K.: My Dad Is a Right-Wing Asshole (Andrew W.K., The Village Voice): apologies for the title, this is a surprisingly good piece (published back in 2014).
  5. Charlie Gard and the Experts (Ross Douthat, New York Times): “The rights of parents are essential to a free society’s architecture, and fathers and mothers are far more likely than any other party to have their child’s best interests close to heart. To intervene on behalf of experts against the family is sometimes necessary but always dangerous, fraught with totalitarian temptations to which the modern West is not immune.” Charlie Gard died after this column was written, which makes the piece even more important.
  6. How Cool Works In America Today (David Brooks, New York Times): argues that being woke is a cultural replacement for being cool. “The woke mentality became prominent in 2012 and 2013 with the Trayvon Martin case and the rise of Black Lives Matter. Embrace it or not, B.L.M. is the most complete social movement in America today, as a communal, intellectual, moral and political force.”
  7. Free Markets and Unicorns (Andrew Strain, First Things): “In the age of corporations, a truly free market is as mythical as a unicorn.” This essay called forth the response piece Why is socialism being promoted by conservative Christian outlets? (Joe Carter, Acton Institute): “by analyzing his essay we can see a common pattern that is emerging, even in once conservative publications: writers who don’t know the first thing about free markets explaining why they are inferior to socialist policies.” Reading them together is illuminating.

Things Glen Found Amusing/Entertaining

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have Christian Missions and the Spread of Democracy (Greg Scandlen, The Federalist): This is a summary of some rather wonderful research Robert Woodberry published in The American Political Science Review back in 2012: The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy. If it looks familiar it’s because I allude to it from time to time in my sermons and conversations. (first shared in volume 14)

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).

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.

Archives at http://glenandpaula.com/wordpress/category/links.

To Change The World, Week Five

To Change The World by James Davison HunterBlog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through To Change The World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2017. The reading schedule is online at https://xastanford.org/summer-reading

Earlier this week I saw an essay that illustrates many of the ideas from our reading so far: Why Didn’t the Planned Parenthood Videos Change the Abortion Debate? (Joe Carter, Gospel Coalition). Carter makes many points, but two stand out – the video makers failed to coordinate with institutions and they also were attacked by elite networks. To use Hunter’s terminology, Planned Parenthood is an institution on the center and the Center for Medical Progress is an institution on the periphery – they had an uphill battle for which they were unprepared because they apparently held to the naive view of culture Hunter critiqued. I encourage you to read the article and reflect upon the readings so far in light of it.

Hunter is now moving onto the second theme of his book – rethinking power in light of faith. He’s going to focus “on the conservative, progressive, and neo-Anabaptist positions — because in contemporary America, these are the most prominent” (page 109). As Hunter hints, there are more theological options than these. Perhaps we will discuss them as we move through this second essay.

His main point in this week’s reading is that in modern societies discussions of power are inevitably political.

“Politics has become so central in our time that institutions, groups, and issues are now defined relative to the state, its laws and procedures. Institutions such as popular and higher education, philanthropy, science, the arts, and even the family understand their identity and function according to what the state does or does not permit. Groups (women, minorities, gays, Christians, etc.) have validity not only but increasingly through the rights conferred by the state.” (page 103)

Hunter says this tendency is evidence of a weak social fabric.

“…the amount of law that exists in any society is always inversely related to the coherence and stability of its common culture: law increases as cultural consensus decreases. By these lights, the fabric of the common culture in modern America has worn even more thin in the last several decades and the extraordinary amount of litigation we have seen in recent decades is just one place we see it.” (page 102)

Given that laws will multiply, the reach of the state will become ever more encompassing, and so interest groups feel it is imperative to get the state to act in alignment with their values. The state cannot simply remain neutral, as Hunter explains:

“There is a tradition in political theory that claims that in a liberal democracy, the state is or should be neutral when it comes to questions of the good. This is wrong mainly because it is impossible. Law infers a moral judgment; policy implies a worldview.” (page 103)

There is, of course, the caveat that this ressentiment-driven impulse toward power-seizing is not always true of individuals – even influential ones – but as Hunter demonstrated in the previous essay the attitudes of individuals prove less significant than the attitudes of institutions.

“I don’t want to overstate the case—clearly what I describe here are not fully and comprehensively established realities; all is not power and ressentiment. What makes it more complicated (and interesting) is that there are genuinely public-spirited people on all sides of all issues. Indeed most people are not resentment-filled and power hungry. But consistent with my view all along is the fact that the motives of individuals and the structures of culture are not the same thing.” (page 109)

This essay is off to a promising start. I’m eager to see how he summarizes the three theological options he mentioned.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 110

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 First Church of Intersectionality (Elizabeth C. Corey, First Things): “Intersectionality is, then, a quasi-religious gnostic movement, which appeals to people for precisely the reasons that all religions do: It gives an account of our brokenness, an explanation of the reasons for pain, a saving story accompanied by strong ethical imperatives, and hope for the future. In short, it gives life meaning.”
  2. Nondicrimination For All (Jonathan Rauch, National Affairs): “The landmark civil-rights bills that broke the back of racial segregation in the 1960s were not absolutist. They provided exemptions for religious organizations. They exempted ‘Mrs. Murphy,’ the landlady renting a room in her own house. At the time, civil-rights advocates in Congress made the pragmatic argument that exemptions were needed to pass the bill, but they also made the politically principled argument that exceptions would increase social comfort with the legislation while still covering the vast majority of cases — a trade they deemed worth making…. In fact, the pop-culture ideal of zero-tolerance nondiscrimination is possible only because of the underlying reality of ubiquitous accommodation.”
  3. The Wasted Mind of Ben Sasse (Ben Mathis-Lilley, Slate): “What is most maddening about Sasse is not his party fealty per se—I’m not expecting a Republican senator to support left-wing policies; that’s not the standard we should hold him to—but the way he has outlined the basis for a path he has yet to take himself.” This is more partisan than most things I share, but since I highlighted Sasse as one of my two favorite Senators back in issue 107 it seems appropriate. I still like both Sasse and Booker, by the way.
  4. Some questions I’m asking while off to my white evangelical church (Lisa Robinson, personal blog): “Has all this attention on white supremacy maybe pushed down central issues to being part of the kingdom of God together, with its discipleship mandates and being salt and light in the world? Because it seems to me, based on what I read in Scripture anyway, that only through him can true reconciliation happen.”
  5. Meet Five Men Who All Think They’re The Messiah (Jonas Bendiksen, National Geographic)  “If Christ were to come back to complete his work today, I’ve thought, what would he think of the world we’ve created? And what would we think of him? With these thoughts tumbling around in my head, I decided to start looking for messiahs. I found them the way you find everything these days: through Google.”
  6. “Mainline” Churches Are Emptying. The Political Effects Could Be Huge (Lyman Stone, Vox): “While progressives are keen to see in the decline of labor unions an important component in the rise of conservative political power, they rarely consider the impact of losing their movement’s soul. Despite mainline denominations commanding as much or more popular support and membership as labor unions, their decline seems to be unmourned within the progressive movement they birthed; the consequences of that decline likewise go unconsidered.”
  7. Getting the Rich and Powerful to Give (SSRN, Kessler, Milkman & Zhang): “Consistent with past psychology research, we find that the rich and powerful respond dramatically, and differently than others, to being given a sense of agency over the use of donated funds. Gifts from rich and powerful alumni increase by 200-300 percent when they are given a sense of agency.”

Things Glen Found Amusing

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have Alcohol, Blackouts, and Campus Sexual Assault (Texas Monthly, Sarah Hepola), the most thoughtful secular piece I’ve read on the issue. “Consent and alcohol make tricky bedfellows. The reason I liked getting drunk was because it altered my consent: it changed what I would say yes to. Not just in the bedroom but in every room and corridor that led into the squinting light. Say yes to adventure, say yes to risk, say yes to karaoke and pool parties and arguments with men, say yes to a life without fear, even though such a life is never possible… We drink because it feels good. We drink because it makes us feel happy, safe, powerful. That it often makes us the opposite is one of alcohol’s dastardly tricks.” (first shared in volume 25)

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).

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.

Archives at http://glenandpaula.com/wordpress/category/links.