Morning Report, September 14th: Free Theology, God on Morphine, Terrorists in Queens, Selling Infidelity, the Politics of Apologies, Kanye's Best, ACORN Drops, Murder in the Ivy League, and Tea Party Poopers

Morning Report, September 14th: Free Theology, God on Morphine, Terrorists in Queens, Selling Infidelity, the Politics of Apologies, Kanye's Best, ACORN Drops, Murder in the Ivy League, and Tea Party Poopers September 14, 2009

One Christian’s perspective on the day’s news.  (And please take “morning” in a metaphorical sense today.)

1.  FREE THEOLOGY.  The Evangelical Portal at Patheos has developed (and is still developing) a relationship with Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, which offers an excellent blog called Parchment and Pen, a weekly podcast, and more.  But the center of their ministry is the Theology Program, which provides seminary-quality instruction in theology for laypeople and clergy.  It has been a huge success, and I love the way they offer their courses in multiple formats, for multiple kinds of people, for free if necessary.  They put together a preview of their program here:

2.  GOD ON MORPHINE.  NPR has a multi-part report on the biology of religious experience.  There is no reason, in my view, for people of faith to be disturbed at the notion that God, even in religious experience, might work through the physical mechanisms and natural order He created and ordained.  Where reports such as these can become objectionable is where they make the unwarranted assumption that the discovery of a physical mechanism means that there is no divine activity and purpose at work; that is, they assume that physical explanation precludes religious explanation, or that God can only be active in the historical sphere where natural causal mechanisms are suspended.

The other point to consider, however, is the implicit religious relativism that often arises when scientists compare the religious experiences of Franciscan nuns, say, and Buddhist monks.  If the physical mechanism proves the same, the argument goes, then doesn’t this show that there is no difference between their religions?  No, of course not.  The mechanism of the experience has nothing to do with the truth of the experience and how it is understood.  You can have a religious experience on morphine; the fact that it was morphine-induced, however, does not determine for or against the truth value of what was ‘revealed’ to you in the midst of that experience.

3.  TERRORISTS IN QUEENS.  Potential terrorist bust?  Homes searched in Queens, New York.  Five Afghan men.  Al Qaeda ideology suspected.  This comes shortly after 9/11, of course, and shortly after bin Laden’s most recent recording release.  Bin Laden has sought to release recordings on the anniversaries of 9/11; is it possible this one took a while to get out, and some attack was intended for this anniversary?  Time will tell.

4.  IT HAS COME TO THIS.  Ashley Madison, an internet dating service, is posting advertisements inviting married men (and presumably women) to have affairs through their site.  Pretty disgusting:

Here more about it here.  Kathryn Lopez asks: yes, adultery has always been a problem, but have we crossed some sort of threshold?  Have we lost all true respect for marriage, and all possibility of shame?

5.  A SORRY SCENE.  As many of you probably know, Republican Congressman Joe Wilson is being pressured to offer a second apology on the floor of the House.  He is refusing — and he is becoming a hero to many on the right, who feel as though their concerns are being dismissed as lies and distortions.  (I know that seems like a contradiction.  But what angered Wilson, and others like him, is that Obama has been calling *them* liars; every time he says it’s not true that illegal immigrants will be covered, and people are “bearing false witness” and making “the most extraordinary lies,” he calling them liars.  Oddly enough, Wilson, who had been quite highly regarded as a reasonable person by Democrats, seems really not to have intended the outburst.  But he’s getting plenty of campaign money for it now.  And so is his opponent.

In any case, I am happy to agree with Michael Kinsley and Michael Scherer that this demand for a double-super-duper apology is nothing more than political gamesmanship.  We spend way too much time trying to make the other side apologize.

On a slightly different note, Michael Scherer, apart from his strange and unsupported assertion (aside from a vague allusion to what “most observers” believe–where it is probably just true of most observers Scherer speaks with) that few illegal immigrants would seek to take advantage of free health care, this is a very nicely detailed discussion of the issue of illegal immigrants and whether they would receive coverage and federal subsidies under the new reform.  The Obama administration issued a statement in support of requiring proof of citizenship.  This could be a feint, of course, with the understanding that this would come out when the final language is hammered out.  Republicans took is as implicit acknowledgment of the truth of their contentions.  But it also, as Scherer notes, seems to run against the spirit of Obama’s health care, and against the argument Obama has often made that we would be more efficient if we emphasized preventive care, rather than waiting until problems are worthy of the emergency room.

6.  UGLY OUT WEST.  Not to descend into the muck, but I can’t get over how incredibly rude and distasteful it was for Kanye West to interrupt 19-year-old Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the Video Music Awards by saying that someone else deserved it more.  Ugly.  Ridiculous.  Kanye has acted up at these shows more than once.  He should not be invited to future such ceremonies, but the sad fact is that he will receive even more attention now, and will certainly be invited to raise the ‘What will Kanye do next?’ intrigue.

Swift was reportedly seen “crying hysterically” backstage, and Kanye issued a muddled apology.

7.  SPEAKING OF MUCK.  The ACORN saga continues.  The activists James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles, posing as a pimp and hooker, have gotten advice from three separate ACORN offices on how to evade the law and set up brothels, in at least one case involving the traffic of underage girls from South America.  ACORN threatens legal action, and (implausibly) accuses the pair of looping the tape to re-match answers to different questions; O’Keefe says: make my day, sue me.  And the mainstream press seems more interested in talking about the ethics of the undercover sting operations than they are in the laws broken by ACORN.  ACORN has threatened to sue the activists for felony crimes.

It seems like every news team in a major market has one person, a battle-axe, who conducts the undercover stings, exposing corruption in places of power.  You never hear about these places threatening legal action against the local news–or if you do, it seems as though the media come together in defense of the need to expose the truth.  I can understand: it’s much sexier to expose corruption in big business, to expose hypocrisy amongst conservatives, and etc., than it is to show the faults in an organization that is (among other things) devoted to getting housing for the poor.  But I think supporters of ACORN have to take seriously the possibility that the corruption runs a little further underneath the surface than they may want to believe.

The consequences of its failures are proving severe.  The U. S. Census decided not to work with ACORN, which means millions of dollars lost.  And now the Senate has voted to cut off federal funding of ACORN.  As Hot Air notes, whether the House will follow suit is less certain (though usually it’s the House that’s more reactionary).

8.  WAR WITH CHINA.  Potential trade war over what appears to be a strongly protectionist measure from Obama, one requested by his big supporters, the unions.  The Obama administration is calling China’s bluff, and they may be right.  China, which manipulates its currency to keep the prices of its exports ridiculously low, can hardly complain about unfair trade practices.  At the same time, Obama unveils tighter regulations he wishes to impose on Wall Street, and warns the financial institutions not to fight back.

9.  MURDER IN THE IVY LEAGUE.  Evidence of the Fall, Exhibit #14: the murder of Annie Le, 24, a pharmacology student at Yale, who was scheduled to be married on the day her remains were found.

10.  TEA PARTY POOPERS.  Big tea party protest in Washington, D.C.  Ugly media reaction.  Do people like Gail Collins understand that by slandering these people as racist bigots, wild-eyed nutjobs and etc., they are only further inflaming the opposition?  Joan Walsh pulls out the race card without apology.  Yet there’s no need to appeal to Obama’s race to explain why his numbers have taken such a stumble; his actions and policies are explanation enough.  Walsh supplies the numbers, but doesn’t make the obvious point.  Obama won the election with 43% of the white vote (more than then 41% John Kerry — who is white, in case you were wondering — received); after the election, amid the feel-good atmosphere of the inauguration and etc., his support amongst whites soared to 63%.  Now it has fallen far–but it’s fallen right back to 43%.  In other words, Obama’s support is back to its “natural” level, the level that simply reflects our political composition as a people.  And it’s still higher than the support Kerry received.  So where is the grounds for seeing a tidal wave of racism here?

Isn’t it Obama himself who says that we should give our “opponents” the benefit of the doubt, that we should not question their motivations but assume that they truly wish the best?

11.  Robert Samuelson on how we simply cannot have a frank and honest health care reform discussion:

The candor gap reflects a common condescension. One side believes it must fool Americans into thinking “reform” will do more than it will; the other thinks it must frighten Americans into believing that it will harm them in ways that it won’t. Given Americans’ contradictory expectations, any health care proposal can be criticized for offending some popular goal. We refuse to face unavoidable — and unpleasant — choices.

11.  TODAY’S TWO-SIDES.  From the Left, E. J. Dionne, who extrapolates from Joe Wilson’s outburst that he and others like him don’t want illegal immigrants to receive treatment even if they are dying on the hospital floor.  From the Right, Scott Harrington fact-checks Obama’s claims and stories about abusive insurance providers who refuse coverage.

12.  COLUMN OF THE DAY.  For the first time in the illustrious history of this blog, the CoTD is a series, from the WSJ, on Barack Obama’s financial regulation overhaul.  Don’t fool yourself into believing that this only concerns Wall Street.  When Wall Street suffers, rightly or wrongly, Main Street suffers.  In fact, Main Street is so invested in Wall Street and vice versa that this simplistic dichotomy which we have heard discussed so frequently is really not a dichotomy at all.  They are interlinked, enmeshed, mutually informative.  Changing the regulation amounts to changing the structure of the financial industry.  And it’s all too easy to fight yesterday’s war: to make the adjustments that would have caught the last set of bad developments, but which are blind to the continuing evolution of financial instruments.

Edmund Andrews is right.  Bush, Bernanke and Obama are all correct that we should not have institutions that are “too big to fail.”  But that is even more of a problem today than it was a year ago, when Lehman collapsed.  The fallen giants were consumed by the giants still standing, which became even more gigantic.

The nation’s four biggest banks now control 60 percent of all bank deposits in the country, higher than two years ago. The handful of banking winners, like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, have acquired giant failing competitors. The ranks of bulge-bracket Wall Street investment banks have been cut back by the loss of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. The remaining survivors, like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, have been recruiting top producers from their crippled rivals.

As noted above, Obama has warned Wall Street against fighting back (responses were not exactly positive amongst business bigwigs), and since the government took over portions of the financial industry he has significant leverage.  I have to confess I’m not exactly comfortable having Obama, someone with zero business experience, and whose instincts seem to be anti-corporate, restructuring the financial industry.  Obama has never lacked for audacity.  Let us pray he has an equal amount of wisdom.

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