From Skittles to Syrians and What the Trolley Problem Has to Do With it

What do Skittles have to do with Syrians, and with Trolleys?In my Ethics class last week, we discussed the well-known "Trolley Problem." This is a thought experiment often used to exemplify the dynamics of moral calculations (originally written by British philosopher Philippa Foote). It raises the question of whether a consequentialist (or "utilitarian") approach to ethics is preferable to a rule-based or duty-based ("deontological") approach.The thought experiment goes like this:  … [Read more...]

How the Bible was Used to Justify Slavery and White Supremacy

In my Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism course today, we'll be talking about the history of slavery and segregation in American Christianity.It's the ugly underbelly we can't ignore, but so often would rather pass over quickly.Many of (white) American Christianity's great "heroes of the faith" defended slavery on "biblical" and theological grounds--as God's punishment for sin or the outworking of a divinely ordained and divinely sanctioned hierarchy.Some argued that slavery is … [Read more...]

How Political Ads Manipulate Your Anxiety About Death

Advertisers know how to tap into our deepest anxieties. For better or worse, they know how to manipulate us.One of the projects I was proud to work on this summer was a collaborative piece written under the auspices of the Ernest Becker Foundation--and now posted on the EBF website.The piece is called "Voter Manipulation: Death Anxiety in Political Messaging." (click through to read and to view a talk on death anxiety and political leadership by Sheldon Solomon, leading Terror … [Read more...]

Did You Know that Evangelicals Were Feminists, Back in the Day?

Looking at what so often goes by the name "evangelical" or "evangelicalism" today, you would assume that evangelicals were always resistant to women at the highest levels of church leadership and public ministry roles--certainly in its origins.I mean, there may be some progressive, egalitarian, feminist evangelicals today--but centuries ago? Surely not.But you would be wrong.Evangelicalism in America mainly sprang out of the soil of eighteenth and (perhaps especially) … [Read more...]

Why There’s No Such Thing as a “Permanent Text” of the Bible

It's often said that "all translations are interpretations."Scot McKnight draws our attention to the "New Stealth Translation of the ESV" (Crossway Pubilshing's English Standard Version of the Bible), thereby indirectly raising the problem of politics and presuppositions in Bible translation.Yes, "all translations are interpretations." And interpretations are human endeavors.Crossway recently announced that their 2016 edition of the ESV will be a "Permanent Text" from henceforth unto … [Read more...]

Christian Universalism or Eternal Judgment? The Bible’s Pros and Cons

One of the key turning points for me in my shift toward a more universalist view of salvation (the complete, universal reconciliation of all people to God), was a brief section in Moltmann's The Coming of God.The section is titled: "The Dispute About the Bible: Pro and Contra Universalism."He lists (and very briefly discusses) several Bible verses that appear to support universalism, and other verses which appear to affirm a "double judgment" (eternal, everlasting punishment on the … [Read more...]

A Brief, Liberal Definition of Public Theology (Via Schleiermacher)

My colleague shared a quote with me recently that is blog-post worthy. It encapsulates the liberal/progressive approach to public theology, which takes a common Christian scholarly sentiment that "all truth is God's truth," and runs that all the way down to mean that, "yes, seriously, all truth is God's truth, and that conviction must shape the way we actually seek and determine what is true." For Schleiermacher, the only possible Christian theology was a 'public' theology, one whose warrants … [Read more...]

Teaching About Death Anxiety in a Seminary Context: An Interview

Last Fall I taught a course called Death, Evil, and Alienation, at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. The course revolved around the work of Ernest Becker, in particular The Denial of Death.I recently gave an interview about my experience in that course which has now been published on the Ernest Becker Foundation website.The course wasn't just about death. It was about the "life instinct," or the impulse toward preservation and the ways in which religion intersects with that … [Read more...]

Why Democracy is Good Even Though it Still Sucks (Niebuhr’s “Christian Realism”)

Ever heard of "Christian realism"? The notion is attributed to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, whose writings about ethics, politics, and the relation between Christianity and society remain hugely influential.Robin Lovin, in An Introduction to Christian Ethics, has a good summary of Niebuhr's Christian realism, showing why Niebuhr believed that democracy was deemed preferential to other systems of government: We need a form of government that will use force to restrain evil, but we also … [Read more...]

Is a Cure for Alzheimer’s On its Way?

Huge news regarding the state of Alzheimer's research was just announced on the Telegraph's Science page.The announcement is a summary of a recent report in Nature magazine, which tells of a new drug that appears to halt mental decline in Alzheimer's patients by eliminating the amyloid plaques in the brain which are thought to be the causes of dementia.This is said to be the "best news" in the past 25 years for dementia research.From the article: In the trial, which was reported in … [Read more...]