Burning of the Quran

by Amy Reynolds

On February 20th, burned copies of the Quran were discovered at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The U.S. military admitted that they were responsible for not disposing of the books properly. In the wake of the incident, President Obama sent a formal apology to President Karzai and the people of Afghanistan; General John Allen (commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan) phoned Karzai to express regret as well.

In our highly polarized political environment, several in America—largely political opponents of the president—have spoken out, saying that the apology was too much.  It has been suggested that the apology makes America weak, that there was nothing worth apologizing for, and that apology came from too high an authority. Some have accused the president of merely pandering to extremists.  In the aftermath of the event, at least 40 people have been killed (including 4 U.S. soldiers), and hundreds have been wounded.  Just yesterday, March 5, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the base in Afghanistan.  Protest has erupted throughout many cities in the nation. [Read more…]

Red Sex

(This is an excerpt from my 2011 book Premarital Sex in America…)

Martin was a 19-year-old from Virginia when our research team spoke with him for the second time. He had tried college but had dropped out after a year. It just wasn’t for him. Instead, he settled comfortably back into his working-class roots, becoming an electrician. By ignoring the popular narrative that said he needed a college education to successfully navigate life, Martin had found his niche. And a girlfriend. Not terribly religious and yet very culturally conservative, Martin is one face of “red” America.

Although sexually experienced with a previous girlfriend, Martin wasn’t having sex at age 19 because he was dating Bethany, the 15-year-old daughter of a police officer. Indeed, sex with her would’ve been against the law, and he was well aware of that. But the two were hardly unsexual. Martin said they did “everything but,” a common revelation. A vocal opponent of homosexual behavior, Martin is more conservative about others’ sexual decisions than his own. Although he believes the Bible says that sex before marriage is wrong, he adds, “A lot of it, I think, has to do with society to a certain extent.” While it’s not exactly clear what he means by that, we suspect it’s a way of claiming that sex is normal relationship behavior today, regardless of what might have been acceptable in the past. Like many conservatives, he offers a nod to the standard while excusing his diversion from it: “I’ll tell you, I believe in it. But I’m not perfect. . . . I mean nobody is. But I’ll be the first person to tell you I’m not.”

While premarital sex has largely dropped off the map of salient issues among many conservatives, marriage has not [Read more…]

How Best to Help the World’s Poor?

What is the most cost-effective means of helping the World’s poor? Economist Bruce Wydick surveyed a group of developmental economists about 10 popular strategies. Of the ten, the economists deemed donating farm animals, drinking fair trade coffee, and giving poor kids laptop computers as the least effective interventions.

What was most effective? Programs that provide clean water to rural villages, and programs that provide medicine for deworming people. He cites a study that found that “regular de-worming treatment in worm-infested areas of the developing world can reduce school absenteeism by 25 percent at a cost of only 50 cents per year per child.”  Wow!

Read more in the February issue of Christianity Today.

Do Secular Colleges Destroy Young Christians’ Faith?

I recently received an e-mail asking about the impact of secular vs. Christian colleges on Christian’s faith. Specifically, the person asking the question had been told that the data are “irrefutable:  secular colleges have a tremendously detrimental effect on the faith of college students” and he wanted to know if this is true.

My first thought is that this is a difficult question to answer because of selection issues. That is, if students in Christian colleges have more Christian beliefs, actions, and affiliation, is it because a) Christian colleges promoted their faith while secular colleges hinder faith or b) the students who go to Christian colleges are more devout in the first place.

What do you think? Do you know of any studies that have looked at this?

Christianity and Attributions

I’m just finishing Martin Seligman’s fascinating book Learned Optimism. Seligman, a psychologist at Penn, makes the case that how we explain the world has a big impact on us—especially when we’re explaining the causes of difficult or unpleasant events.

One way of explaining things is what Seligman refers to as a pessimistic attributional style. Here, when something bad happens, we explain it as a permanent event that is due to our own actions and that will affect every part of our lives. In contrast, an optimistic attributional style explains bad things as temporary, due to causes outside of us, and affecting only part of our lives.

For example, suppose that you’re driving in traffic and another driver cuts you off and makes an angry, obscene gesture at you. A pessimistic explanation might go something like this: “I’m a bad driver who must have done something stupid to upset the other driver so much. I always do stupid things.” An optimistic explanation might say “Oh, it’s Steve Bell. Hi Steve! [Read more…]