Monday Miscellany, 2/12/24

Monday Miscellany, 2/12/24 February 12, 2024

Taylor & Toby, Iceland builds a pagan temple, and something else churches have stopped teaching about.

Taylor & Toby

Before Taylor Swift became a pop music super- nova, she had a significant career in country music.  I remember seeing her on a country music award show in 2006, a 17-year-old from a small town singing her first big hit Tim McGraw,  a saga of young love played out to the soundtrack of the country crooner on the radio.  After her performance, she stepped off the stage to introduce herself to McGraw sitting in the front row (“Hi, I’m Taylor”), not forgetting to also shake the hand of his wife Faith Hill.  Staged, of course, but it was heartwarming and the teenager was obviously star struck.  (You can hear the song and see the moment here.)

She was discovered at the age of 15 by Toby Keith, who died last week of stomach cancer at the age of 62.  He signed her to his new record label, where she became a huge country star.  After experimenting quite a bit with country pop, in 2014 she recorded 1989 (named after the year of her birth), billed as “her first official pop album.”  From that time forward, she left country music behind for an even bigger career as a pop singer and songwriter.

But she would not have come this far if Toby Keith hadn’t given her her start.  It would be classy to issue a statement of some kind on the occasion of his death.  But, so far at least, she has said nothing.  The word is, she became alienated from Keith because of her fight with his record label over control of her songs, though Keith had sold out his share of the company a long time ago.  Or that she resented Keith’s macho patriotism and his feud with the Dixie Chicks for criticizing George W. Bush and the Iraq War.

She is getting criticism for her silence on the death of her former mentor.  Maybe she’ll relent after the distractions of the Super Bowl.  If you hear anything, let us know in the comments.

Iceland Builds a Pagan Temple

The dominant religion in Iceland is Christianity, mostly of the Lutheran variety,  though that often means the Lutheran-in-name-only of the liberal state church.  The second-most-practiced religion is Ásatrú, a revival of ancient Norse paganism.

Now the first pagan temple in 1,000 years is being built in Iceland.  It’s a modernistic structure, reminding me of the mainline Protestant church buildings that were put up in the 1960s.  Here is how an article on the temple describes it:

The mostly concrete structure of the 800-square-meter (8,600-square-foot) hof is already largely completed. Meant to evoke the journey into the Norse underworld, the temple is designed as a circle dug into the hill. Apertures in its domed roof, made of an open steel structure, will allow sunlight to illuminate the open hall below, where weddings, naming ceremonies and funerals will be held.

The first area to open will be the sanctum, or sacred space, which, along with space for “social facilities,” makes up about half of the building. Some of these facilities are ready, but the dome over the sanctum itself is still being built. The second phase, expected to be completed in 2026, will include more social facilities, a library, cafe and feast halls.

But this sounds like a mainline Protestant church!  “The primary religious ritual in Norse religion,” Wikipedia informs us, “appears to have been sacrifice.”  These included the sacrifice of both animals and human beings.

If this is an authentic pagan temple, where is the sacrificial altar?  Where are the pens for the dogs, oxen, cows, and other animals awaiting sacrifice?  Where are the rooms for the men, women, and children who will be offered up to the Norse gods?

This alleged revival of a pagan religion seems to be at best a highly liberal, highly non-traditional version of Ásatrú.  In fact, in its apparent beneficence it seems to have borrowed quite a bit from Christianity.

The article on the temple quotes one of the religion’s priests: “As for doctrine, ‘there is no revealed truth or strict commandments, only “polite recommendations.”‘”  How is that different from mainline Protestantism?  Or the Icelandic state church?

 Something Else Churches Have Stopped Teaching About

Emily Belz, whom I know from my days with World Magazine, now works for Christianity Today.  On the occasion of the SuperBowl, she was assigned to write about how churches address the vice of gambling.  In a newsletter (which I can’t find online), she tells the tale:

This week I tried to report a story on churches addressing sports betting around the Super Bowl, and I failed because there wasn’t much to report. I reached out to one organization I heard was working on the issue, and its representative asked whether I might want to do a story on human trafficking instead. I asked a large Christian counseling school if one of its faculty could talk about gambling addiction, and it said it didn’t have anyone who could speak on the topic. I asked a large church in Las Vegas, where the game is being held, and it also didn’t have resources. When I reported on this issue back in 2022, many of the Christian advocates against gambling were retired.

The story I couldn’t write because of lack of sources shows how disengaged the church is on this issue, which is what the research we published today from Lifeway shows.

The article Christianity Today finally came up with, a report from the Baptist research group Lifeway,  found that 55% of evangelical pastors believe gambling is immoral, but hardly any of them are teaching that to their congregations.

What do you think of that?  We Lutherans don’t usually make a big deal of lifestyle issues, such as drinking and smoking, that are not condemned as sinful in the Scriptures.  The Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) studied the matter in 1996 and issued a document entitled Gambling that takes an interesting approach.  It lists the actual sins that gambling can lead to: “Gambling encourages the sins of greed and covetousness.”  “Gambling works at cross purposes with a commitment to productive work.” “Gambling promotes the mismanagement of possessions entrusted to us by God.”  “Gambling is a potentially addictive behavior.” “Gambling threatens the welfare of our neighbor and militates against the common good.”  “Gambling undermines absolute reliance on God for His provision.”  (Though some gamblers I’ve heard ascribe their winnings to God blessing them.)

But the CTCR stops short of saying that all gambling, in itself, is sinful:

To safeguard the principle of Christian liberty, and in faithfulness to the sola scriptura principle, we must refrain from declaring that each and every act of gambling is in and of itself contrary to the Word of God and therefore sinful. This is not to diminish the potential for wrongdoing in the lives of those who gamble, but it is to say that individuals will need to exercise careful discernment in light of the scriptural concerns such as those raised in this document.

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