Where Did the Idea of Mary as “Ever-Virgin” Come From?

Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition both formally teach the doctrine of Mary as "ever-Virgin," meaning that she didn't have sex with anyone, including her husband Joseph, throughout her life.The doctrine also includes the notion that she remained a virgin even through the birth of Jesus, meaning that her hymen was not ruptured through childbirth.Jaroslov Pelikan, in Mary Through the Centuries, tells us that the doctrine got lift-off in part through an allegorical reading of an … [Read more...]

On the Origin of Modern Apologetics and the Loss of Mystery (via Charles Taylor)

Try this: Scan the Bible (in vain) for any sustained, intellectual interest in the so-called "problem of evil."CC by 2.0, via FlickrSo why do the biblical authors seem to lack any sustained interest in theodicy (defending God's goodness in the face of evil and suffering), when Christian theologians are often very engaged in that whole constellation of questions?Charles Taylor, in his monumental book, A Secular Age, argues that the modern theodicy discussions came about in large … [Read more...]

The Virtue Gap: Our Current Mess and the Church’s Place in it

This crazy election year has done at least one thing: It has raised to public consciousness questions about virtue (and lack of it).Virtue has not been a dominant theme in contemporary politics in America. Our political machine has been fueled by more pragmatic things: policies and power.To be sure, values have often been trumpeted. The religious right put "values" up front and center, creating terms like "family values" and "values voters." But even values, as a term, has lost … [Read more...]

The Evangelical Relationship With God, from an Anthropologist’s Point of View

The Evangelical experience is so fascinating that even anthropologists long to look into it.That's just what Tanya ("T.M.") Luhrmann has done in her fascinating book, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God.Granted, there is no such thing as the evangelical experience--and Luhrmann acknowledges this. Nonetheless, she has pinpointed important, prominent and unique features of a large sector of the evangelical religious experience and analyzed … [Read more...]

Hauerwas on the Political Task of the Church in America

What is the role of the church in the larger society? What does it mean for Christians to be "political"?Stanley Hauerwas's A Community of Character, while being over three decades old, still represents well Hauerwas' continuing influence on Christian ethics. His narrative and virtue ethic, which he views as not a distinct discipline from theology, but rather as a sub-set of theology, is still very much a live option within the fields of ethics as well as political and public theology.In … [Read more...]

If There’s a Future for Progressive Evangelicalism, it’s Somewhere in this Book

Evangelicalism is slowly changing. But you have to look very closely.That 'close looking' is exactly what Deborah Jian Lee has done in her book, Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women & Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evnagelicalism.Jian Lee is well-suited for this task because, as a journalist she has a knack for accurate description as well as talent for storytelling. She's woven together a fascinating tale of the diversity within American Evangelicalism, by telling stories … [Read more...]

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...]