Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 184

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 Moral Horror of America’s Prisons (Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg): “…if you think America’s current penal system is the very best we can do, that is about the most pessimistic verdict on this country I have ever heard. Has anyone ever suggested that the American prison system is the world’s best? The can-do attitude is one of my favorite features of American life. We just need to apply it a little more broadly.”
  2. The Number 1 Reason For The Decline In Church Attendance… (Thom Ranier, Facts & Trends): “Stated simply, the number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that members attend with less frequency than they did just a few years ago. Allow me to explain. If the frequency of attendance changes, then attendance will respond accordingly. For example, if 200 members attend every week the average attendance is, obviously, 200. But if one-half of those members miss only one out of four weeks, the attendance drops to 175. Did you catch that? No members left the church. Everyone is still relatively active in the church. But attendance declined over 12 percent because half the members changed their attendance behavior slightly.”
  3. Biblical Archaeology’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2018 (Gordon Govier, Christianity Today): “These discoveries, relatively insignificant individually, join with many other discoveries over the decades to give us a great deal of confidence in the historical details contained in the Bible.” Note: these are precisely the sort of mundane, ongoing discoveries we would expect from a book describing real people doing real things in real places. I encourage you to contrast it with the texts of other religions.
  4. Facts Are Not Self-Interpreting (Twitter) — this is a short, soundless video. Recommended.
  5. Evangelical Mega-donors Are Rethinking Money in Politics (Emma Green, The Atlantic): “‘What Christian philanthropists see now, maybe more than in past generations, is the full landscape of how they can deploy their [money] toward the entirety of what God cares about,’ said Josh Kwan, who was recently appointed the head of the Gathering—the organization’s first new leader in its three-decade run.”
  6. Two Roads for the New French Right (Mark Lilla, New York Review of Books): “Continental conservatism going back to the nineteenth century has always rested on an organic conception of society. It sees Europe as a single Christian civilization composed of different nations with distinct languages and customs. These nations are composed of families, which are organisms, too, with differing but complementary roles and duties for mothers, fathers, and children. On this view, the fundamental task of society is to transmit knowledge, morality, and culture to future generations, perpetuating the life of the civilizational organism. It is not to serve an agglomeration of autonomous individuals bearing rights.”
    • This article provoked letters to the editor to which Lilla responded: How to Write About the Right: An Exchange. Lilla ends his rebuttal with this, “For those concerned about the antiliberal forces gaining strength in world politics, the most important thing is to maintain one’s sangfroid. Before we judge we must be sure of what exactly we are judging. We need to take ideas seriously, make distinctions, and never presume that the present is just the past in disguise. Greil Marcus falls into that last trap, I’m afraid, by shifting from discussing the affinities among countries to imagining a Fascist International with poles in the US and Russia. Whatever we are facing, it is not twentieth-century fascism. Hell keeps on disgorging new demons to beset us. And as seasoned exorcists know, each must be called by its proper name before it can be cast out.”
    • There is something helpful about reading about politics in another culture. If you are inclined to skip this because you’re not French, I encourage you to at least skim it.

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  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). 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 180

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.

This week was especially hard for me to put together. I stumbled upon so much insightful writing this week! I had to ruthlessly eliminate some that I really liked, so I hope you enjoy these gems that survived my ruthless winnowing process.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. Slain missionary John Chau prepared much more than we thought, but are missionaries still fools? (Ed Stetzer, Washington Post): “…Mary Ho, who leads All Nations (the agency that sent Chau on missions), indicated that he was heavily vaccinated and even quarantined before going on the mission. The Washington Post reported Tuesday night that Chau also undertook linguistic and medical training to prepare for the outreach. These new reports at a minimum challenge the simplistic image of an adventure-seeking zealot willing to recklessly risk the lives of a remote group of islanders.” By far the best article I’ve read on this subject.
  2. Liberal Parents, Radical Children (David Brooks, New York Times): “In the age of social media, virtue is not defined by how compassionately you act. Virtue is defined by how vehemently you react to that which you find offensive. Virtue involves the self-display of a certain indignant sensibility, and anybody who doesn’t display that sensibility is morally suspect.” An insightful column — this excerpt does not do it justice.
    • Related but not obviously: The Question Without A Solution (Alan Jacobs, The Weekly Standard): “You read all this with a feeling of rising horror, and not just because of the physical and mental and spiritual suffering. You feel that horror also because it becomes increasingly difficult, as the story progresses, to imagine how the even the worst of the pain could have been avoided. Not one man, or woman, knew a prudent remedy.” Haunting and highly recommended.
    • More clearly related: Debate ends when we label views we simply disagree with as ‘hatred’ (Kenan Malik, The Guardian): “‘It is better to debate a question without settling it,’ observed the 18th-century French writer Joseph Joubert, ‘than to settle a question without debating it.’ How naive that sounds today.”
  3. My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy (Andrea Long Chu, New York Times): “Until the day I die, my body will regard the vagina as a wound;as a result, it will require regular, painful attention to maintain. This is what I want, but there is no guarantee it will make me happier. In fact, I don’t expect it to.”
    • See also this response piece: The New York Times Reveals Painful Truths about Transgender Lives (Ryan T. Anderson, Public Discourse): “Why should a doctor perform surgery when it won’t make the patient happy, it won’t accomplish its intended goal, it won’t improve the underlying condition, it might make the underlying condition worse, and it might increase the likelihood of suicide?” Anderson was mentioned in Chu’s op-ed.
  4. American Exorcism (Mike Mariani, The Atlantic): “If neither the mental-health evaluation nor a subsequent physical exam turns up a standard explanation for the person’s affliction, the priest starts to take the case more seriously. At this point he may begin looking for what the Church considers the classic signs of demonic possession: facility in a language the person has never learned; physical strength beyond his or her age or condition; access to secret knowledge; and a vehement aversion to God and sacred objects, including crucifixes and holy water.”
  5. What If The Placebo Effect Isn’t A Trick? (Gary Greenberg, New York Times Magazine): “The findings of the I.B.S. study were in keeping with a hypothesis Kaptchuk had formed over the years: that the placebo effect is a biological response to an act of caring; that somehow the encounter itself calls forth healing and that the more intense and focused it is, the more healing it evokes.”
  6. For Californians living in their cars, a church parking lot can briefly be home (Kimberly Winston, Washington Post): “As they often do in hard times, houses of worship stepped in. In Chico, a hub for Paradise refugees, churches have opened their buildings and parking lots as temporary shelters. But while those churches have been lauded, congregations in other areas that open their parking lots to those they sometimes refer to as ‘vehicle residents’ face hurdles and hostility. Many Bay Area municipalities, including the tech centers of San Francisco and San Jose, have outlawed sleeping in a car parked on the street overnight, while neighbors speak out against having the homeless next door.”
  7. A Time To Fast (Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution): “Over one hundred years ago researchers demonstrated that calorie restriction in rats increased lifespan, sometimes by as much as 50%. Since that time, the finding has been replicated and extended to primates. A few humans have taken up the diet but for most of us easy access to delicious food trumps willpower. A new paper in Science reviews the literature on calorie restriction and also offers some evidence that less restrictive regimes such as intermittent fasting may have similar effects.” A secular perspective on the benefits of certain types of fasting (this is a summary of an article in the journal Science).

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 Spiritual Shape of Political Ideas (Joseph Bottum, The Weekly Standard): many modern political ideas are derived from Christian theological concepts. (first shared in volume 1)

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.