Colson and me

Chuck Colson has died.  The ruthless political operative for Richard Nixon was imprisoned for Watergate-related offenses.  Crushed by the law, literally, he read C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and became a Christian.  When he got out of prison, Colson started Prison Fellowship, a ministry to prisoners and their families that has chapters worldwide and that has changed the lives of untold numbers of men and women that society–and the church–had usually rejected.

I myself owe Colson quite a bit, not as I was a prisoner but as a writer.  Colson got interested in “Christian worldview” issues and started a radio program, Breakpoint, that looked at current events and cultural developments through the lens of a Christian analysis.  I had done some writing on Christianity and the arts, and for some reason Breakpoint producer Nancy Pearcey asked me if I would join the stable of writers she was putting together.  That was in 1991, pretty early in my career.   This got me paying attention to the news and keeping up with contemporary culture, whereupon, if I could find an angle, I would write up a brief commentary that Nancy would turn into a radio script.   (By the way, Breakpoint is now in good hands with Eric Metaxis doing the broadcasting.)  This would lead to my doing the same thing as a columnist for World.  And then as a blogger for World.  And then to this blog.   This work also led to longer form studies of Christianity and culture that I published into books.

As one of his writers, I was sometimes invited to meet with Colson, along with  others  in his brain trust to help him think through various issues, and sometimes he would call me over the phone.

So, for better or worse, if it weren’t for Colson, I would probably have just stuck as an English professor to writing about 17th century poetry and never would have gotten into cultural analysis, let alone punditry.   And this blog would almost certainly not exist.  So your reading this post at this very moment is something of a tribute to Chuck Colson.

 

See Charles Colson, Watergate felon and prison reformer, dies at 80 – Obituaries – MiamiHerald.com.

The new religion of Kopimism

A new religion, born of the internet age, is seeking legal recognition:

A Swedish religion whose dogma centers on the belief that people should be free to copy and distribute all information—regardless of any copyright or trademarks—has made its way to the United States.

Followers of so-called “Kopimism” believe copying, sharing, and improving on knowledge, music, and other types of information is only human—the Romans remixed Greek mythology, after all, they say. In January, Kopimism—a play on the words “copy me”—was formally recognized by a Swedish government agency, raising its profile worldwide.

“Culture is something that makes people feel much better and makes people appreciate their world in a different way. Knowledge is also something we should copy regardless of the law,” says Isak Gerson, the 20-year-old founder of Kopimism. “It makes us better when we share knowledge and culture with each other.”

More than 3,500 people “like” Kopimism on Facebook, and thousands more practice its sacred ritual of file sharing. According to its manifesto, private, closed-source software code and anti-piracy software are “comparable to slavery.” Kopimist “Ops,” or spiritual leaders, are encouraged to give counsel to people who want to pirate files, are banned from recording and should encrypt all virtual religious service meetings “because of society’s vicious legislative and litigious persecution of Kopimists.”

Official in-person meetings must happen in places free of anti-Kopimist monitoring and in spaces with the Kopimist symbol—a pyramid with the letter K inside. To be initiated new parishioners must share the Kopimist symbol and say the sacred words “copied and seeded.”

The gospel of the church has begun to spread, with Kopimist branches in 18 countries.

An American branch of the religion was recently registered with Illinois and is in the process of gaining federal recognition, according to Christopher Carmean, a 25-year-old student at the University of Chicago and head of the U.S. branch.

“Data is what we are made of, data is what defines our life, and data is how we express ourselves,” says Carmean. “Forms of copying, remixing, and sharing enhance the quality of life for all who have access to them. Attempts to hinder sharing are antithetical to our data-driven existence.”

About 450 people have registered with his church, and about 30 of them are actively practicing the religion, whose symbols include Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V—the keyboard shortcuts for copy and paste.

via Kopimism, Sweden’s Pirate Religion, Begins to Plunder America – US News and World Report.

We see, of course, what the Kopimists are doing, seeking the legal protections given to religion so that they can pirate music, movies, and the like with impunity.  And when they are prosecuted for internet piracy they can claim religious persecution!

And yet, isn’t this the pattern for the way many people approach religion today?  Their theology is based on what they “like.”  (People don’t like the concept of sin, judgment, and Hell or anything else that would restrict their behavior so they don’t believe in them.)  The Kopimists are simply reasoning backwards, starting with what they like to do and building a religion around it.

What might be some other religions people could construct as a way to justify their bad habits?

How could courts distinguish between these bogus religions and legitimate ones?

Explaining negative politics

Stephen Pearlstein sees a shift in the campaign strategies of both sides:

The winning strategy is no longer to be more moderate than your opponent, to offer a bigger tent. Instead, it is to be more zealous and committed to your party’s ideology.

This transformation has its roots in what has become the dominant reality of American politics: the arms race in campaign finance. Candidates and parties now raise and spend enormous sums, well beyond what would reasonably be needed to provide for a well-informed electorate and well beyond what is raised and spent in other advanced democracies.

These days, the average Senate candidate raises and spends $9 million to win election, which works out to slightly more than $4,000 for each day of a six-year term. For the average House candidate, it’s $1.4 million, or just under $2,000 per day in office (including Saturdays, Sundays and holidays). These sums are several times what they were 25 years ago.

Given this dramatic increase in campaign spending by those with the most intimate knowledge of campaigns, and with the most at stake in the outcomes, it’s probably safe to conclude that this spending must work — that it can determine the outcome of close contests. In fact, it appears to work so well that it has now been embraced by a growing legion of “independent” entities with their own fundraising and campaign spending.

And how is the money spent? Anyone with a telephone, TV set or Internet connection has surely noticed that it is mainly used to produce an ever-increasing volume of negative, distorting and ideologically tinged advertising about opposing candidates and parties.

Contrary to what many believe, the central effect of such negative advertising isn’t to move voters from supporting another candidate to backing yours, as Mitt Romney and his allies have discovered during this primary season. The main effect is not even to move undecided voters into your column. No, the real effect of negative advertising is to energize and solidify support among your ideological base while turning everyone else off to the other candidate, the campaign and the entire electoral process. Negative advertising isn’t about changing minds; it’s about altering the composition of the voter pool on Election Day by turning moderate voters into non-voters.

This is particularly true in low-turnout elections such as primaries and midterm contests. But it is even true these days in high-turnout elections. . . .

Energizing the base has another important advantage: It increases campaign contributions from both small donors and rich zealots. That money can be plowed back into yet more negative advertising along with sophisticated get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day. This self-reinforcing cycle creates a strong incentive for politicians to abandon the center and move permanently to the ideological extreme. You do not energize the base through moderation and compromise. . . .

There is a vigorous academic debate over whether negative advertising depresses or increases voter turnout. I suspect it does both, depressing turnout among moderates and independents while stimulating it at the ideological extremes. In that process, what has changed is the composition of the turnout rather than its overall level.

via Today’s paper.

 

Mormonism & Islam

Brigham Young University has its first non-Mormon student body president.  He’s a Muslim.  This is being reported like it’s an example of Mormon tolerance, but is it really so unusual?  I mean this with all due respect to both religions, but isn’t Mormonism much closer to Islam than to Christianity?

Both Mormonism and Islam reportedly had their origins in a prophet receiving a supernatural book from an angel.  Both involve elaborate systems of laws, including dietary rules and regulation of virtually every facet of life.  Both have practiced or currently practice polygamy.  Both promise an afterlife that includes sex and sensual pleasure.  Both recognize Jesus but consider Him as being less than true God.  Both reject the Trinity.  Both believe in salvation by works-righteousness.

Shouldn’t Mormonism and Islam be classified together as very similar religions?  Aren’t they both together on the other end of the extreme from Christianity, which is about God’s incarnation, grace, and redemption from the Law?

Muslim becomes BYU-Hawaii’s first non-Mormon student president | Following Faith | The Salt Lake Tribune.

Life Full Voice

Some of you may remember Lori Lewis who occasionally has frequented this blog.  At one point she was all involved in radio and contemporary Christian music, but then she became a confessional Lutheran and an outspoken critic of that musical scene.  More recently she has gotten involved with opera, both as a singer and as a popularizer of that artform via radio and writing.  Her latest project, though, is a webzine entitled  Eveyday Opera.  It’s not  about opera; rather, it uses opera as a metaphor for what she describes in the site’s slogan as “Life Full Voice.”  Here is how she described it to me:

A little over 2 years ago I started Everyday Opera out of the need to find a platform for my own art.
I had gone through a down time but out of it grew this idea…Making Classic Art an Everyday Event.
Personality driven, non intimidating, but with the theory that Art lifts us in our everyday experience.  In a culture full of junk food, and I eat plenty of my share, I’m a mini-evangelist for expanding one’s horizon’s.
Opera is the metaphor here for living Live Full Voice. That is how an Opera Singer sings…Full Voice
We encourage the thinking that all of life can be lived Full Voice, whether you are a great singer,
a great chef, wine maker, farmer, mother, teacher, and on and on. (Isn’t it really modeled after
The Spirituality of the Cross? The book that help me be free as a christian to be free as a person.)

Kind words about my book.  She makes an interesting connection between Christian freedom through the Gospel, personal freedom, and vocation.  Anyway,   Eveyday Opera has articles about travel, food, art, literature, wine, music, and other pleasures of life.  It doesn’t get into theology, as such, though I’d say it has a Christian view of the world, though many Christians have arguably hung back from living life “full voice.”  (Why is that, do you think?  Do you agree that Christians are freed to appreciate things like these?)

Anyway, Lori has enlisted me to write for the site occasionally, so I wrote a piece on literary style that I’ll link to in a separate post.

The Art of Words

This is a topic that Lori Lewis asked me to address at her webzine Everyday Opera, trying to help people appreciate all the different literary styles:

“I can’t stand all of those flowery descriptions in classic literature. Why don’t the authors just get to the action?” “I don’t like opera with all of that over-the-top emotion.” “Those old writers are just not realistic!” Those are common complaints, but they deserve an answer.

First of all, literature is an art form that consists of language. Whereas a painter uses daubs of paint, an author uses daubs of words. Whereas a musical composer works with individual musical notes, working them together into complex harmonies, rhythms, and melodies, an author creates the effects of a novel or a poem with individual words.

This is to say, an author can’t just “get to the action” because a story is not just a matter of action. It’s words. Plays, including the dramatic production that is a movie, do consist of action. But even a visualized story generally depends on the language of dialogue, which actors use to create their characters. Purists who want only action might restrict themselves to silent movies. But even silent movies—as with all dramatic scripts—have to be written.

Words are multi-dimensional and can create an infinite number of effects–including the illusion that the words are doing nothing. Those who are impatient with “style” often don’t realize that “realism” is also a style.

continue reading.


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