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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Quote for the day

Biden explained that the real choice is between Trump and American democracy, between Trump and objective truth and between Trump and someone with a basic understanding of what makes America “great.” The speech was intended to and succeeded in making the case that Biden could be that better alternative, but in another sense it should serve as a provocation to Republicans.

What and who are Republicans supporting? How can one love America’s founding principles and vote for Trump? Do tax breaks justify keeping a president that inspires white terrorism?

Anyone who fails to comprehend the decision we face and the obvious answers to these queries, unfortunately, is unreachable at this point. The rest of us will simply have to outvote those lost souls.

Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

This column goes directly to the most maddening aspect of the national disgrace of Donald Trump: Unless we believe that the generality of Republicans, evangelicals especially, had no clue who Donald Trump actually is, then we have to face the reality that a lot of Americans are affirmatively hostile to the most foundational of American ideals, and want to be governed by a strongman unconstrained by the niceties of laws.

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The case for being armed

Longtime readers will recall that, years ago, I linked regularly to a blogger named Jeri Massi, an early, bona fide hero of the now-widespread movement to hold clergy accountable for their abuses of (usually) women and children.

It wasn’t always a widespread movement; when Jeri started it was she and a handful of others facing cataracts of ridicule and abuse and — Who knew? — threats of violence from the Godly. So Jeri started packing.

By this time I was starting to see what a morass of evil Fundamentalism is. Plenty of shocks remained ahead for me, and at least one attempted assault on me that was no joke. But at that point, I wanted to make sure these IFB preachers knew I had a gun, but I didn’t want to come across like I was bragging.

[ … ]

Still, I thought then, and still think now, that a gun was essential to my safety and to the safety of others. But I support background checks, cooling off periods, raising the minimum age to buy guns, and red flag laws.

Jeri’s years of fighting for accountability eventually compromised her health and she stopped investigating and blogging. But whenever you read another story about clergy abuse, and earnest conferences trying to address the problem, Jeri Massi is an important part of the reason. And don’t forget, either, that she was once assaulted for fighting to hold clergy accountable for wrongdoing.

And get over, forever, the idea that Holy Men are special, extra virtuous, extra wise, et cetera, et cetera. That’s a marketing lie, and that’s all it is.

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