Latest CT bucket o’ links

We have not done much — spread out as we are traveling — with coverage of several important and ongoing stories. But the new edition of the Christianity Today weblog has lots of update links on the U.S. Supreme Court story, the Intelligent Design wars, the U.S. Senate and military prayers and oodles of other stuff. Check it out. Am I the only one who sees some early signs that skilled MSM reporters are growing weary of locking everyone who does not believe that creation was “random” and “impersonal” inside the same “creationism” style box?

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Malcolm Gladwell on Intelligent Design

TimeOct24This week’s issue of Time features a wide-ranging discussion that links to its cover theme of “What’s Next?” The participants, identified by Time as “some of the smartest people we know,” include author Malcolm Gladwell, techie lecturer Clay Shirky, New York Times columnist David Brooks and author Esther Dyson.

On the opening page of this discussion, above a photo of Gladwell, comes this teasing callout: “In the future, we’re not going to have the kinds of arguments about religion that we have today.” Well, that certainly grabs the attention of people who enjoy arguing about religion (and I happily count myself among them).

Gladwell’s broader context appears on the final page of the feature, under the subtitle — wait for it — “Getting Religion.” (OK, folks, we enjoyed the phrase enough to choose it as the name of our blog, but please don’t overdo it.)

Gladwell gets the segment rolling with a reference to how evangelicals are adapting to the surrounding culture, and suddenly the panel is discussing Intelligent Design, creationism, designer babies, Down syndrome babies, abortion — in short, many of this blog’s hobby horses.

Here is the spirited exchange:

GLADWELL: One of the big trends in American society is the transformation of the evangelical movement and the rise of a more mature, sophisticated, culturally open evangelical church. Ten years from now, I don’t think we’re going to have the kinds of arguments about religion that we have today. Even the fight over intelligent design, to me, is a harbinger of a trend, which is that the religious world is increasingly willing to put its issues on the table and discuss them in the context of the secular world. Let’s argue about evolution vs. creation, using the framework that secular science has given us.

SHIRKY: That’s wrong. Intelligent design is a stalking horse for creationism against a particular enemy, evolution.

GLADWELL: I disagree. This is part of an ongoing transformation. We will not continue to have this kind of divide between Evangelicals and the rest of society. I just went to an interesting evangelical conference, and throughout, rock bands were playing. The rock-’n’-roll culture within the evangelical world is indistinguishable in terms of the sound of the music from the rock culture that came out of a very different, irreligious secular tradition, except that the words are about Jesus — love and all that. They’re not resisting outside culture, they’re embracing it and kind of making it their own. I think intelligent design and Christian rock are similar. It’s about taking up form from the outside and trying to Christianize it. Does the debate over evolution matter? Isn’t it really a nondebate?

SHIRKY: No. It matters a lot because medicine is starting to become evolutionary, and we want to continue to have doctors who understand that.

GLADWELL: But that’s not being threatened. The intelligent-design debate is about what you teach 7-year-olds.

DYSON: What you teach 7-year-olds matters because they grow up.

GLADWELL: But we’ve already been talking about how great Google is. They can just Google evolution.

BROOKS: I think the debate is unimportant for a different reason, which is that 40% of people in the country don’t believe in the theory of evolution, and yet we seem to march on regardless.

GLADWELL: None of this affects the way science is conducted in this century. Does it change you as a software salesman whether you believe in evolution or not? No — no more than it changes you whether you believe in Einstein physics.

DYSON: You can’t limit your concern to short-term economic impact. This attitude closes off inquiry. It creates an approach to science that I think is dangerous.

GLADWELL: But keep in mind the idea we’ve discussed of the multiplication of identity. We will have more debates and disputes, like the one over creationism. When you’re having 100 arguments at once, no one of them matters the way it used to. It’s important not to use a 19th century moral lens to evaluate the kind of debates we’re going to have in the 21st century. We have to accept that the general noise level will increase, but that doesn’t matter. You can be a creationist at night and go to work in the morning as a pediatrician and save lives.

DYSON: The real challenge is going to be for the next generation of pediatricians who have to design your baby. It’s in the field of genetics and genetic engineering where faith and morality questions will play out. Is it immoral now to abort a Down syndrome baby? In the future, should you use technology to create a perfect baby, finding the right genes? And then you’ll be responsible for what you have created in a way that you never were before. No more “will of God . . .”

The group also includes the musician Moby, who contributes — this will shock you — the roundtable’s first reference to sex. Moby pronounces himself disconcerted about what he describes:

I have a friend whose Swedish mother — she’s in her mid-60s — goes online to meet men. I was with my friend as he drove her to the Hilton to meet a Canadian doctor she’d encountered online, and I thought, How disconcerting. Because it was 10 at night and most likely she was going to meet this guy and stay in his hotel room. Go back 50 years, and she would have been in her Swedish village, depressed, a bit lonely and sad. Instead she’s in midtown Manhattan, preparing to spend the night with a doctor, and her son is driving her to the hotel!

If only someone had thought to ask what Moby found disconcerting about this, because he sounds more impressed than troubled. Was it the horrifying thought of two elderly people who want to <Grandpa Simpson’s voice>have sex? Or that her son serves as the chauffeur for this frisky encounter?

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Thinking outside the Godbox

LDSConfCenterOne of Slate’s greatest strengths, since its days under founding editor Michael Kinsley, is to match a topic with the ideal author. Slate comes close to perfection in asking Witold Rybczynski, professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, to evaluate the design of megachurches.

Rybczynski’s thoughts come in 10 extended captions to large, color-rich photos of Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Willow Creek Community Church (the godfather of most nondenominational megachurches) in the Chicago suburbs, the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City (pictured), the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles and Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif.

To his credit, Rybczynski begins by identifying megachurch as a putdown, and he challenges the label by including Our Lady of Angels on the list.

His point that Willow Creek does not look like a church has been around for a few decades now, at least among readers familiar with church-design debates, but these sentences are rewarding:

The 4,550-seat sanctuary — it’s actually called the Main Auditorium — of Willow Creek . . . appears to have good sightlines, excellent audiovisual facilities, and comfortably wide aisles for moving around in. But inspiring it’s not. It’s the architectural equivalent of the three-piece business suit that most nondenominational pastors favor.

Rybczynski sees the LDS Conference Center as an example of “the influence megachurches have had on mainstream religions,” which is strange. To be sure, the interior of the LDS Conference Center looks much like the interior of Willow Creek, but it’s a conference center, not a church sanctuary set aside for weekly worship services.

The LDS parallel to Willow Creek is not a meeting hall that also functions as a community center, but any of the larger-than-life temples that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has constructed for decades. Those temples are open only to LDS members once they are dedicated, and (as I first heard from my friend Mark Kellner) some of their rooms feel like the lobbies of higher-end Marriott hotels. Outside, though, they are distinctive and unquestionably religious in style. (While churches such as Willow Creek omit steeples and crosses, you’ll never find an LDS temple without a golden statue of the angel Moroni.)

Further, in a nation dominated by Protestants, Willow Creek is the mainstream while LDS would be countercultural — unless mainstream becomes a synonym for “religions founded more than a century ago.” (One exception that’s gaining momentum: Some liberal Protestants now agree with the LDS idea of continuing revelation, especially when it reverses biblical revelations that they reject.)

These are quibbles, however, with a piece that should gladden the heart of anyone who appreciates clever writing about contemporary church design. Here is Rybczynski’s withering critique of the cathedral in Los Angeles:

The bright interior of Our Lady of the Angels is a modern version of a traditional church. But the wooden ceiling is a poor substitute for a fan vault, just as the alabaster panels in the windows have none of the numinous quality of stained glass. The 100-foot-tall nave, which holds 2,600 people, feels squat rather than soaring. The artworks attached to the walls, presumably intended to humanize the architecture, feel makeshift, as if the large space were originally designed for some other function and had been converted into a sanctuary. This busy and confusing interior points to the peril of trying to “update” a traditional architectural idiom. It’s as hopeless as translating Shakespeare into hip-hop.

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Does your iPod get religion?

catholicinsider banner byYou have to admit that this is one snazzy logo.

It belongs to Father Roderick Vonhögen, a Roman Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Utrecht, The Netherlands, and his Catholic Insider website. He is best known for doing a series of podcasts — seemingly stalled at the moment — titled “The Secrets of Harry Potter.” You may have seen that up on the screen behind Steve Jobs during the Potter plugs at the most recent Apple keynoter (click here to view the liturgy).

Father Roderick (who has a fine radio voice) is very positive about the books (ditto for me), and one of his podcasts picks up an interesting Vatican podcast that goes behind the scenes of the mini-media storm in which it briefly appeared that Pope Benedict XVI had dissed Harry Potter. Some of the material in this podcasting series is similar to the work of my friend John Granger at, but there are new wrinkles as well. Like, what is the name of Harry’s owl?

Anyway, with the rising prices of gasoline, my commuter train from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., is getting more and more crowded. This makes it harder for me to read books since, as a creaking overweight Baby Boomer, I tend to sway around a bit too much.

So I am turning to my trusty iPod and starting to get into the podcasting thing. I could have sworn that GetReligion has run some posts about Godcasting, but I can’t find them. If we missed some good stories, let us know.

Anyway, I have a question for GetReligion readers. What are the best religion news podcasts that you have found? I have already subscribed to the Religion & Ethics Newsweekly feed at PBS, which is simply the audio track to the television show. You lose something without the visuals, but it is better than missing the broadcasts.

So what are you iListening to these days?

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Gotta love that Post blog

It’s rather hard to get through the working day with a live video feed on your computer screen showing the U.S. Senate hearings on John Roberts. But I think The Washington Post‘s blog is amazing. Then, of course, there is National Review Online’s Bench Memos blog. What other blogs are readers following right now? This is all just another sign of an evolving technology and its changing role in our lives. Is anyone vblogging yet?

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The New Yorker glances at Planet Hewitt

WizardHughThe August 29 New Yorker includes a six-page profile of über-blogger Hugh Hewitt, calling him the “Most Famous Conservative Journalist Whom Liberals Have Never Heard Of.” A color illustration by Eric Palma depicts Hewitt as a smirking colossus, sitting atop a half-black, half-white globe and doing his radio show while fingering his laptop.

Like many other magazines, The New Yorker releases only some of its pages to the Web — and this Web-centric piece is, oddly, not one of them. Hewitt’s blog, however, provides lots of reading material, including his evaluation of the profile, written by veteran journalist Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia University’s journalism school.

Hewitt’s Christianity does not appear frequently in Lemann’s piece — which focuses more on Hewitt’s efforts to challenge old-media hegemony — but when it does pop up, the details are informative:

Hewitt’s radio employer, Salem Communications, owns a hundred and four radio stations, covering twenty-four of the country’s twenty-five major markets, and purveys the work of eight talk-show hosts, five of them mainly conservative and three mainly Christian. Salem, whose headquarters are in Camarillo, California, is led by two brothers-in-law who are graduates of Bob Jones University; it is publicly held, and growing swiftly enough to have joined the handful of radio-station groups that are bunched together far behind the two national leaders, Clear Channel and Infinity Broadcasting. . . . Hewitt thinks of himself as the most liberal-friendly of the Salem hosts — he calls his program “National Public Radio for conservatives.”

Much later in the story comes this surprisingly nontheological description of how Hewitt, who grew up Catholic in Warren, Ohio, eventually became a Protestant:

Like many conservative Republicans of his generation, he was increasingly drawn to evangelical Protestantism. And Hewitt had come to dislike the political direction that the Catholic Church had taken. (“They were wrong on the Soviet Union, wrong on nuclear weapons, and wrong on poverty,” he says.)

The profile is fascinating because of Hewitt’s tendency to call out journalists on their cultural and political preferences. Lemann describes Hewitt’s reasons for doing this:

When somebody like [The Washington Post's Dana] Milbank gamely steps up to the plate, Hewitt uses the appearance as an opportunity to pursue one of his cherished goals, what he calls “transparency” in journalism. He has no problem presenting himself as an active, loyal Republican — so why won’t people who work in the mainstream own up to views that surely affect their work?

Lemann mentions early in his piece that Hewitt agreed to speak with him if Lemann would agree to be interviewed for a possible article. Near the conclusion of his article, Lemann explains why he plans to decline any invitation from Hewitt to declare himself:

If Hewitt does write about me, he will surely ask me to reveal whom I voted for in the last Presidential election. I might as well get started with the transparency now. Although I do vote, I’m not going to tell him. Like the house of the Lord, journalism has many mansions, and the one Hewitt inhabits is surely one of them. But in another of the mansions, reportorial journalism, the object is different. One can be curious or not, fair-minded or not, empathetic or not, imprisoned by perspective or not. For a reportorial journalist to announce his voting record is to undermine his work. It dishonors the struggle to do it right.”

About the art: Borgard Blog submitted this witty collage to a vast collection of images (warning: long load time) promoting Hewitt’s Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World, which enjoys almost scriptural authority among conservative bloggers.

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iPod, therefore iAm (what iAm)

I had one of those moments of techno-transcendence this morning on the MARC train as I rolled into Washington, D.C.

So the mass-media side of me is looking around the train, noticing that about half of the people are wearing iPods or iPod wannabees. The older iPod people are listening and reading — books or newspapers. The younger people are just plugged in.

Then the journalist in me notes a Jose Antonio Vargas story that someone is reading in The Washington Post. You can guess the topic, and the headline sort of says half the equation in a blunt, materialist fashion: “The iPod: A Love Story Between Man, Machine.”

I, of course, start thinking again about the role music plays in self-identity and, thus, in religious faith. GetReligion has visited this topic before, of course.

Please understand that I am interested in some of the openly religious commercial applications of this new form of personal technology. I am even interested in the religious leaders who have started thinking about the implications of the iPod for religious expression in this age (check this out, on a slightly different topic). I am not even talking about the neo-cult status of Steve Jobs and Apple, although the last Windows machine in my personal life should leave the house within a matter of days.

No, I am talking about the spiritual implications of people — supposedly secular people, even — making statements such as this:

“If a song represents a memory in your head, then you listen to your life’s memories — faster than a mixed CD, definitely faster than a mixed tape — as you listen to your iPod,” says the affable, fast-talking Berkowitz, a project manager for a software company, as he sits in his downtown Washington office. “It becomes an extension of you,” he says. “It’s like a window to your soul.”

And then again there is this issue, which raises issues of cultural assimilation and cultural isolationism — at the same time. Does the iPod make you a part of a culture or does it help you avoid it? What if the answer is “yes”?

Fatima Ayub, wearing a white chiffon hijab that matches her iPod’s white earphones, is walking briskly on R Street in Northwest Washington on her way to work. You’d hardly ever see her, she says, without her 15-gigabyte iPod, which has more than 1,300 songs on it.

“Your taste in music is something very personal, very emotional. So when you have an iPod and you’ve got all your music on it, you’re trying to say something about yourself,” says Ayub, 22, an associate for the Asia division of Human Rights Watch and a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University. She’s listening to “A Perfect Sonnet” by the indie rock group Bright Eyes as she sits on a curb near 18th and R streets. Her boyfriend, Imran, learned to play that song on his guitar for her, she says, cracking a shy smile. “You’re making a little collection of emotions and memories for yourself and you stick them all in this little machine and you carry it around with you wherever.”

Has anyone seen someone sitting in a religious sanctuary with an iPod on? Or have many people already chosen a congregation that fits in with the style and content of their iPod? Questions, questions.

P.S. tmatt’s iPod mix for this morning’s ride was the Byrds, with a heavy emphasis — I confess — on spaced-out David Crosby tunes. I don’t think “Triad” is about the Nicene Creed.

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How odd of Google / to choose the news

As part of my regular duties at this blog, I was scanning Google News the other day, when it struck me: You’ve got Top Stories, World, U.S., Business, Science and Technology, Sports, Entertainment, Health, and More Top Stories. What’s missing?

True, Google News highlights plenty of religion stories — no complaints there — but it does not separate them under their own category. Now the question I have for GetReligion readers is, Is that a good thing?

On the one hand, creating a Religion category would make sure that such stories are continuously called to people’s attention. But separating religion stories out of the regular lineup would also likely lower some of those stories in said lineup and make them easier to gloss over for many readers.

Put another way, Should Google get Religion?

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