Cynic or Fool? How to Not “Go Low” When We Can’t Agree on Facts

Michelle Obama famously called us to be our best selves as citizens: “When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.” But that standard is difficult to maintain in our increasingly Orwellian world of “Alternative Facts.” As guides for such a time as this, Oxford University Press has published an excellent and accessible book related to this topic each of the last two… Read more

Universalism, Then & Now: Insights from the Life of Orestes Brownson

Patrick Carey, a theology professor, who has written the best modern biography of Orestes Brownson (1803-1876), calls him, with affection, an “American Religious Weathervane” because his theological orientation changed so many times. More charitably, we might call Brownson a maverick. And in contrast to the many politicians who like to call themselves “mavericks”—but whose behavior is often more conformist than independent-minded—Brownson was a maverick to a head-spinning degree: During his time as a Unitarian minister, he joined the rebellious wing… Read more

When to Not Tolerate Intolerance? Insights from the Jewish Tradition on Yom Kippur

In the Jewish tradition, we are in the midst of the High Holy Days, also known as the “Days of Awe,” which run from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah literally means “the head” (the beginning) “of the year.” Whereas the secular calendar celebrates New Year’s Day on January 1, the Jewish calendar celebrates New Year’s on Rosh Hashanah. So by the traditional Jewish reckoning it’s not 2017, but 5778.  The High Holy Days culminate with Yom Kippur (“the… Read more

Islam in America

This post is a continuation of yesterday’s theme of “American Muslims.” Regarding the first line of President Obama’s speech in Cairo that I ended with yesterday (“Islam has always been a part of America’s story”), here’s one example. We have a biography from 1734 about Job ben Soloman, an enslaved African Muslim who in 1730 was sold in Annapolis, Maryland. Part of why we know about him at all (including that he was a Muslim) is that his owner found… Read more

American Muslims

There are approximately 1.5 billion Muslims in the world today, making it the world’s second largest religion. (Christianity is the first largest, with 2.1 billion adherents. And the Hindu Tradition is third, with 900 million.) Projections estimate that Islam will become the world’s largest religion by 2070. So there are many reasons to increase our familiarity with the Islamic tradition—from correcting misinformation that exacerbates Isalamophobia, to equipping ourselves to be better able to advocate for a more open, liberal, and… Read more

The Revolution in Bioethics is Already Here: from “Gene-editing” to “Genome Engineering”

(This post is a continuation of my topic yesterday on “Bioethics, CRISPR, & “Our Children Redesigned.”) The best metaphor I’ve seen for how CRISPR works—for those of us who don’t have a doctorate in biochemistry—is that CRISPR is kind of like a “designer molecular Swiss army knife” which can “home in on specific twenty-letter DNA sequences and cut apart both strands of the double helix” (101). The real rub for bioethics arises because CRISPR can alter not only somatic cells… Read more

Bioethics, CRISPR, & “Our Children Redesigned”

Have you been following the breaking news about the revolutionary new gene-editing technology CRISPR? Not “crisper” with an “e”—like a refrigerator drawer for keeping your lettuce fresh—but the acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. (That clears it up, right?! No worries. More clarity forthcoming.) Consider these headlines in The New York Times from just the past six weeks. The first headline is from July 27: “In U.S. First, Scientists Edit Genes of Human Embryos.” It says “In U.S…. Read more

Beyond $15: The Sturdy Floor of a Universal Basic Income #21stCenturyUniversalism

The “Fight for 15” is a current goal of the labor movement to secure both a nationwide minimum wage of $15 and the right of low-wage workers to organize unions. But on this week after Labor Day, I would like us to imagine what might be possible beyond an endless struggle for a-few-dollars-an-hour increase in our minimum wage. Part of what can hold us back is not only a lack of political will, but also a failure of imagination—or a… Read more

Insights from Octavia Butler’s 1998 Novel that Predicted a “Make American Great Again” President

This post is a continuation of yesterday’s theme of “Orwell, Atwood, Butler: Reading for Resistance & Resilience in the Age of Trump” about a three-part book discussion series on “Reading for Resistance & Resilience.” This sentiment is echoed in the central discussion question for our third piece of fiction Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents: What lessons might we learn from a novel published in 1998—almost twenty years ago—in which a populist, authoritarian zealot is elected President of the United States using… Read more

Orwell, Atwood, Butler: Reading for Resistance & Resilience in the Age of Trump

This summer at the congregation where I serve as minister, we hosted a three-part book discussion series on “Reading for Resistance & Resilience.” When I first mentioned this idea in the spring to my wife Magin, who is an English professor, she was intrigued. But she also cautioned that George Orwell’s 1984, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents “might be the most depressing list of beach reading I’ve ever heard.” In retrospect, from the insights that… Read more

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