Sect that believes Vladimir Putin is St. Paul

More weird religion:  An all-female cult in Russia believes that the nation’s strongman is the reincarnation of St. Paul:

Members of the sect that has sprung up in a Russian village some 250 miles southeast of Moscow believe that the 58-year-old macho Russian politician is on a special mission from God.

“According to the Bible, Paul the Apostle was a military commander at first and an evil persecutor of Christians before he started spreading the Christian gospel,” the sect’s founder, who styles herself Mother Fotina, said.

“In his days in the KGB, Putin also did some rather unrighteous things. But once he became president, he was imbued with the Holy Spirit, and just like the apostle, he started wisely leading his flock. It is hard for him now but he is fulfilling his heroic deed as an apostle.”

Reports from the sect’s headquarters close to the town of Nizhny Novgorod say that its members are all women who dress like nuns and pray for Mr Putin’s success in front of traditional Russian Orthodox Church icons that have been placed alongside a portrait of the Russian prime minister himself.

Followers are reportedly encouraged to sing upbeat patriotic Soviet songs at ‘services’ rather than hymns.

As befits a sect that worships a man who has denounced the decadence of the oligarchs, the sect’s members are said to survive on a Spartan diet of turnips, carrots, peas and buckwheat.

via All-female sect worships Vladimir Putin as Paul the Apostle – Telegraph.

Right wing atheism

Time’s Amy Sullivan draws attention to how a number of Republican leaders are fans of Ayn Rand, the militant atheist whose praise of capitalism led to her ethical principle of the “virtue of selfishness” and her attacks on Christianity for promoting the “weakness” of altruistic love.  We’ve blogged about her before, and some of you have defended her, Christian though you be.  I am less tolerant, having witnessed the family of a good friend of mine torn apart by her influence.  I was interested, though, in the names that Sullivan mentions:

When George W. Bush declared in a 1999 GOP debate that his favorite political philosopher was Jesus, pundits snickered and wondered whether he actually knew any political philosophers. But the answer was politically canny, establishing Bush’s evangelical bona fides with social conservatives.

In contrast, the philosopher GOP leaders quote most reverently these days was vehemently anti-religion, and referred to Christian teachings as “evil” and “monstrous.” Awwwwkward. Fortunately for Republicans, most social conservatives haven’t yet made the connection. (See the dozen Republicans who could be the next president.)

Here’s just a taste of the praise GOP and other conservative leaders have for Ayn Rand:

- Paul Ryan says Ayn Rand is the reason he entered politics and he requires all staff and interns to read her books. Says Ryan: “Ayn Rand more than anyone else did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism.”

- Clarence Thomas requires his law clerks to watch The Fountainhead, and has said “I tend really to be partial to Ayn Rand.”

- Sen. Ron Johnson, Ryan’s GOP colleague from Wisconsin, calls Atlas Shrugged his “foundational book.”

- Rush Limbaugh calls Ayn Rand “the brilliant writer and novelist.”

- Fox News repeatedly promoted the recently released movie version of Atlas Shrugged, airing the trailer on several shows and interviewing cast members.

The conservative evangelical leader Chuck Colson has become so concerned about Rand’s booming popularity in the GOP that he recently recorded a video warning that Rand “peddles a starkly anti-Christian philosophy.” And the Christian group American Values Network, which presents itself as an alternative to organizations like the Family Research Council, has distributed a memo to congressional offices highlighting Rand’s criticisms of Christianity and some of her more controversial comments, including praise for a man who raped, murdered, and dismembered a 12-year-old girl.

via An Atheist Icon? Social Conservatives Worried About GOP Ayn Rand Resurgence – Yahoo! News.

It sounds like some Christian activists and social conservatives are becoming aware of what Rand and the Randites stand for.  Does this herald a split in conservative ranks between those who believe in moral reality and those who don’t, between  Christian conservatives and materialist conservatives?

Starbucks and vocation

Blogger Matt Perman wrote a good post entitled “Starbucks, Vocation, and The Meaning of the Mundane.”  He even included a shoutout to my book about vocation, God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life !

The other day I came across an excerpt from the new book by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul. I don’t know if he’s a believer or not, but right at the start he does a fantastic job of articulating, in shadow form, a core concept of the biblical doctrine of vocation. Here’s what he says:

“Only weeks earlier, I’d sat in my Seattle office holding back-to-back meetings about how to quickly fix myriad problems that were beginning to surface inside the company. One team had to figure out how we could, in short order, retrain 135,000 baristas to pour the perfect shot of espresso.

Pouring espresso is an art, one that requires the barista to care about the quality of the beverage. If the barista only goes through the motions, if he or she does not care and produces an inferior espresso that is too weak or too bitter, then Starbucks has lost the essence of what we set out to do 40 years ago: inspire the human spirit.”

I realize this is a lofty mission for a cup of coffee, but this is what merchants do. We take the ordinary—a shoe, a knife—and give it new life, believing that what we create has the potential to touch others’ lives because it touched ours.

Here’s the point: the ordinary is not ordinary. Rather, it is in the ordinary that we are able to build people up and, yes, inspire the human spirit.

When you clean house for your family, or pour a cup of coffee, or take your car to the wash, you aren’t just doing small, mundane things. You are building building people up. You are making things better, and making a statement that people matter. Or, that’s how you ought to see it.

And the doctrine of vocation takes us further than this. For it means that, when we serve others in the everyday, it is actually God himself who is serving people through us. God is hidden in the everyday. This is true if we are believers; and God is also working through unbelievers, even if they don’t know it (Gene Veith makes this point very well in God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life when he discusses why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “give us this day our daily bread” when we actually get it from the grocery store, who got it from the bread company, who got the ingredients from various other spots, and so forth).

In fact, the doctrine of vocation even takes us one more step. When we, as followers of Christ, serve others for his sake, we aren’t just serving them. We are actually serving the Lord himself.

via Starbucks, Vocation, and The Meaning of the Mundane : What’s Best Next.

HT:  Brady Russell

Color photos of the Depression

Go here for a treasure trove of rare color photos of Depression-era America: Rare Library of Congress colour photographs of the Great Depression | Mail Online.

They are of astonishing vividness.  These here folks are my people:

Where you fit politically

The Liberal/Conservative dichotomy does not really explain where people are on the political spectrum.  There are different kinds of conservatives and different kinds of liberals.  This has been a theme of a number of our blog posts.  But now the Pew Research Center has formulated a “political typology” that consists of nine different positions:

Staunch Conservatives take extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues – on the size and role of government, on economics, foreign policy, social issues and moral concerns. Most agree with the Tea Party and even more very strongly disapprove of Barack Obama’s job performance. A second core group of Republicans – Main Street Republicans – also is conservative, but less consistently so.

On the left, Solid Liberals express diametrically opposing views from the Staunch Conservatives on virtually every issue. While Solid Liberals are predominantly white, minorities make up greater shares of New Coalition Democrats – who include nearly equal numbers 0f whites, African Americans and Hispanics – and Hard-Pressed Democrats, who are about a third African American. Unlike Solid Liberals, both of these last two groups are highly religious and socially conservative. New Coalition Democrats are distinguished by their upbeat attitudes in the face of economic struggles.

Independents have played a determinative role in the last three national elections. But the three groups in the center of the political typology have very little in common, aside from their avoidance of partisan labels. Libertarians and Post-Moderns are largely white, well-educated and affluent. They also share a relatively secular outlook on some social issues, including homosexuality and abortion. But Republican-oriented Libertarians are far more critical of government, less supportive of environmental regulations, and more supportive of business than are Post-Moderns, most of whom lean Democratic.

Disaffecteds, the other main group of independents, are financially stressed and cynical about politics. Most lean to the Republican Party, though they differ from the core Republican groups in their support for increased government aid to the poor. Another group in the center, Bystanders, largely consign themselves to the political sidelines and for the most part are not included in this analysis.

via Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology | Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

You can even take a quiz to see which one of these you are.  This is not one of those Facebook quizzes, like seeing which Star Trek character you are.  This is sophisticated social science research!

And yet, it still seems to leave a lot of political ideologies out:  Where are the Burkean conservatives?  The neo-conservatives?  The paleo-conservatives?  The crunchy conservatives?  The Wendell Berry conservatives?  The localists?  The Reconstructionists?  Where are the socialists?  The Greens?  The Anarchists?  The Jihadists?  The Marxists?

I think the true political spectrum is even more complicated than this typology shows.

Take the quiz.  Does it peg you?  Or are there other issues that this study doesn’t even raise that are more definitive, as far as you are concerned?

HT:  Jackie

Strong dollar vs. weak dollar

“Strong” usually means good, and “weak” usually means bad.  Ezra Klein says that those positive or negative connotations shouldn’t necessarily apply to the dollar:

Sometimes, of course, a strong dollar is in our best interest. And over the long run, a strong economy will produce a strong dollar. But there are moments when stronger isn’t better. Moments like, well, this one.

The dollar’s “strength” or “weakness” is relative. “A strong dollar means that when you exchange it for another currency, you get a lot of that other currency for a single dollar,” says Josh Bivens, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. A weak dollar, of course, implies the reverse.

That’s . . . it. In practice, a strong dollar makes foreign goods cheaper and domestically produced goods more expensive. That’s a boon for American consumers, American travelers and countries that export to America. In fact, when you hear that China is manipulating its currency, that’s a reference to its efforts to keep the dollar strong and the yuan weak. As far as China is concerned, a strong dollar means a strong China.

A weak dollar, meanwhile, makes American-made goods cheaper on the world market and foreign-produced goods — including commodities, like oil — more expensive. That’s a boon for American manufacturers and people in other countries who want to buy American goods or come visit the country. The very crude way to put it is that, in the short term, a stronger dollar is good for buying stuff and a weaker dollar is good for making stuff.

What a temporarily weak dollar is particularly good for, however, is recovering from a deep recession. “If domestic demand is weak,” says Barry Eichengreen, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, “the normal way an economy reacts to that is by substituting export demand, and a more competitive dollar is the way that happens.”

The same goes for deficit reduction, Eichengreen says. That’s because cutting government spending reduces domestic demand, and so you need to find new sources of demand to avoid a recession. The way countries customarily do that is to weaken their currencies to make their exports more competitive.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. We happen to be simultaneously trying to recover from a recession and reduce the deficit. But the value of the dollar, though low historically, is higher than you might expect: It shot up after the financial crisis, as anxious investors loaded up on Treasury bonds, and returned to its pre-crisis level only recently. But the economy is much weaker now than it was then, and America much more in need of an export boom.

The irony is that although in the long run, a healthy, productive economy will lead to a stronger dollar, getting there probably requires a temporarily weaker dollar.

via ‘Strong dollar’ doesn’t make sense – The Washington Post.

Do you think this is a correct analysis?


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