Quote for the day

Organized Religion Is Having a Bad Few Decades

The last few decades sure have been bad ones for organized religion. Conservative Christians have decided that the sum total of the Bible is about reestablishing the sex and gender mores of the 19th century. Liberal protestantism is so gutless that hardly anyone even remembers it exists. The Catholic Church has been responsible for the deaths of millions in Africa thanks to its mindless belief that God hates condoms. Much of Islam has been taken over by the toxic Saudi strain. Israel has turned into an apartheid state. Hindus in India are apparently now dedicated to creating a religiously pure state. And even Buddhists have been acting badly lately.

Meanwhile, science keeps churning out new wonders. Cell phones. The internet. Cures for cancer. Robotic prosthetics. Solar panels on rooftops. Talking computers. Antidepressants. Google Maps. Cheap genome sequencing. Virtual reality. Machine learning. Meatless meat. Missions to Mars. Electric cars. Fiber optics.

Seems like no contest to me.

Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

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Demented tweet of the day

Israel has subsequently forbidden Reps. Tlaib and Omar to enter the country.

I don’t know what surprises me the most: that Donald Trump would actually connive abroad at injuring a domestic political enemy, or that Netanyahu yielded to the crude appeal to his manhood. Where have the grown-ups gone? Whatever happened to at least the pretense that partisanship stopped at the waters edge?

Most evangelicals, of course, are thrilled. Though evangelical leaders tend to downplay the eschatological (End Times) connection, because it’s totally nuts, the stouthearted morons in the pews can read the Inerrant Bible for themselves — and it says right there in Revelation that there will be an apocalyptic fight in Israel at Armageddon, and then Jesus will return and all those smartypants who laugh at them will get their just desserts. Therefore, anybody who isn’t a full-throated supporter of Israel must hate the Baby Jesus, probably kneels during the national anthem, and most likely gets extra-friendly with unauthorized persons. So there.

Or … something like that. It’s kind of muddled, but these are Evangelicals and muddled is the best they can do.

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Back in the ol’ hometown, ctd

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Theology and fetal tissue research

Some of you will recall that, in June, the Trump administration announced a severe tightening of medical and related research that uses fetal tissue. The details of the revised regulations are beginning to emerge — and the news is not good (link might be paywalled).

On 5 June, the Trump administration banned fetal tissue studies by in-house NIH scientists and said extramural proposals must go through an ethics review lasting up to 6 months (Science, 14 June, p. 1016). The review will be performed by a board composed of 14 to 20 people, including at least one theologian, one ethicist, and one attorney; one-third to one-half of its members must be scientists.

I understand the point of seeking the opinion of a lawyer, and an ethicist — but what on earth can a theologian offer?

Seriously: theology is not a branch of knowledge. Theology is “the study of god and man’s relationship with god,” so it should not be taken seriously until (1) the existence of an infinitely powerful supernatural being has been proved, and (2) a reliable way of knowing the wishes of that supernatural being has been proved. Until that groundwork has been laid, theologians are just spinning cotton-candy fairy-castles.

Probably, the theology representative on that committee is going to be a Christian. But what does that actually mean? Albert Mohler is a Christian theologian, and so is Bishop John Spong — and is there anybody acquainted with the work of both men who wouldn’t expect carnage if they were locked in the same room for half-an-hour? And what about Muslim theologians, and Hindu theologians, and Mormon theologians, et cetera, et cetera?

This regulation is nothing but a sop to the Evangelical Right, and almost certainly assures the existence of bureaucratically embedded below-the-radar opposition to all fetal tissue research. That is, the stupidity of these regulations will probably outlast the Trump administration, along with the needless deaths.

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Rejecting education

Albert Mohler approvingly tweeted a link to a recent article headlined Is Christian education safe?, written by Matthew Hall, the Provost of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The article appears on the seminary’s Web site and is clearly a sales pitch for the extremely conservative pedagogy found at SBTS.

For example:

I wish I didn’t have to tell you this, but there is a lot of “bait & switch” marketing in what sometimes passes as Christian higher education. Don’t get me wrong, there are a great many healthy, faithful, and wonderful Christian colleges and universities. However there are just as many that market themselves as Christian, but when you arrive you quickly discover that the Christian faith is really something of a historical artifact stashed away somewhere in an exhibit, rather than the central and defining dynamic of the school.

[ … ]

If a student goes into a school expecting it to strengthen their faith, to deepen their confidence in the Bible, to call them to a closer walk with Christ, to push them out on mission in the world — and then they get there and the opposite happens, it can be absolutely devastating to their faith.

This points toward a debilitating tension within Christian education. After all, the point of a good education is not merely to gain command of a body of facts, but to learn to think and build the foundation for a lifetime of learning. The healthy, properly-educated mind is a voyager and constantly updating itself.

But-but-but — what if one ought not to have confidence in the Bible? After all, Biblical– and historical-scholarship, and science, have shown dispositively that the traditional, orthodox Christian narrative is false; that is a settled fact. So: How do you provide a sound education while locking students into a lifetime of belief in gaudy nonsense? That is the tension, and the answer is … it can’t be done. The ‘bait-and-switch’ schools that Hall criticizes try to convey the settled facts in a wholesome environment informed by Christian ethical teachings while side-stepping the most ruinous — for Christianity — of the implications of scholarly conclusions. Whether they are doing the right thing or the wrong thing is a discussion worth having, but their intentions are honorable.

Or you can go to a school where everybody believes the same thing, where everybody says the same formulaic things, where you will never confront the discomfiting reality that not everybody has been reared to the belief that Pastor Bubba never puts a single word amiss.

You cannot make it alone in the Christian life. This is true for every believer, not merely for college students, but I think there’s a particular reality to the college years that makes this so vitally urgent for us.

Here’s why: the world, the flesh, and the devil (to use the old Christian formula!) are all conspiring against you. If you are a Christian, you are in a battle. Now the enemy is not who you might think: it’s not the atheist professor, your unbelieving roommate, the Muslim classmate, etc.

But when you go onto a college campus — any campus, whether Christian or secular — you need to have your eyes open to the reality of this spiritual opposition. Did you really think that the devil wouldn’t come at you just because you went to a Christian college?

But at SBTS, where never is heard a discouraging word, ol’ Beezlebub gets no traction!

Unfortunately, the students don’t get much of an education, either, and are all but uneducable when they leave.

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