Religious and secular news and commentary that one Christian found important or entertaining this morning:
0. FUNDAMENTALISM FUNDAMENTALS. The Public Square at Patheos has begun a conversation on fundamentalism. Rather than invite evangelicals to write about those crazy fundamentalists, I thought it would be more interesting for our evangelical readers to hear how fundamentalists explain themselves. So I recruited contributions from two very distinguished individuals, but seminary Presidents. Rick Walston suggests theological and sociological definitions of fundamentalism, and argues that theological fundamentalism simply represents orthodox Christianity. Kevin Bauder explains why fundamentalists draw the boundaries they do, even between those who are truly Christian and those who are, in their opinion, not Christian at all.
Both essays are well worth your time.
1. EVANGELICALS AS SCAPEGOATS. Writes Rodney Stark in What Americans Really Believe, “Evangelicals are the new scapegoats of liberal American culture” (149). Fifty-three percent of American professors admit to having negative feelings toward Evangelicals; 3% feel this way about Jews and 18% toward atheists.
Scot McKnight reflects on this further by gathering together some of the fascinating data from Stark’s study. Check it out. The following is important:
“Listen to this conclusion: “if a national referendum were held to restore school prayer and to allow religious symbols in public places” … are you ready for this? … “even if Evangelicals were prohibited from voting, the proposal would pass by a landslide” (153-154). Thus, 72% of Lib Prots, 74% of RCs and 61% of non-Evangelicals would support the use of religious symbols.How about prayer in public schools? Evangs are at 94%, Lib Prots 67%, RCs 76% and all non-Evangelicals are at 60%.Which leads, then, to evangelical activism in politics? “… less likely to make campaign contributions, significantly less likely to work in campaigns, and a bit less likely to attend meetings and rallies” (155). So much then for the idea that Evangelicals are on the march.”
2. A CAPTIVE AUDIENCE. World Magazine has a feature on a ministry that is near and dear to my heart: prison ministry. What an extraordinary opportunity to reach men who might never, at any other point in their lives, be open to hearing the gospel, and to transform them and give them the tools to transform their communities before they return to neighborhoods that are more in need of transformation than any other neighborhoods in America.
If you want to make a lasting difference in urban America, prison ministry may be your most strategic investment.
3. THE ECONOMICS OF MOTHERHOOD. World Magazine with excerpts from a fascinating interview.
4. OVAL OBAMA. Last night President Obama delivered the first Oval Office address of his presidency. There was a lot of tough talk, a lot of posturing. The problem, I think, is that the American public, or at least a large portion of it, has become skeptical of Obama’s uses of language. Aware of his ability to weave a compelling picture in words, and aware that there is sometimes a substantial difference between that compelling picture and reality, the public will wait to see how promises are made into actions. In this case, eloquence may even make listeners more likely to be suspicious. We’ve heard this kind of talk before, they will think. Even MSNBC is getting tired of hearing flowery words without concrete commitments to specific actions.
Really, listen to the MSNBC clip. I have never heard the overtly liberal section of the media turn on the President like this.
Obama also made use of the occasion to push the sweeping energy and climate change legislation his administration has been seeking in Congress. Senator Mitch McConnell objects to the President exploiting the crisis to push his cap-and-trade bill, and lists mistakes that Obama has made. I’m not sure that I agree with all of them, but I do wonder why the President has not accepted offers from other countries to use their skimming vessels to help mitigate the damage.
Meanwhile, the effects of the spill on Obama’s poll numbers continues. In a Rasmussen report due out this morning, Obama’s approval numbers fall to a new low of 42%. Indeed, Louisianans rate Bush’s response to Katrina higher than Obama’s to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
5. EPA ON $$$. Speaking of climate change legislation, the EPA released a report saying that the pocketbook effects of proposed cap and trade legislation would be minimal. The EPA is not disinterested, of course, and you can expect to see a lot of conservative counter-arguments in the coming days. But it was nice to see John Kerry and Joe Lieberman getting along again.
6. BP OVERBOARD. A final note on the oil spill disaster. This is interesting:
“While BP has resisted some government interventions, it has lobbied for tax hikes, greenhouse gas restraints, the stimulus bill, the Wall Street bailout, and subsidies for oil pipelines, solar panels, natural gas and biofuels.
Now that BP’s oil rig has caused the biggest environmental disaster in American history, the Left is pulling the same bogus trick it did with Enron and AIG: Whenever a company earns universal ire, declare it the poster boy for the free market.”
7. WASTING A CRISIS. In his (preemptive) objection to Obama using the crisis to push his cap and trade bill, McConnell references Rahm Emanuel’s now-famous “never let a crisis go to waste” comment. One has to wonder what Rahm was thinking when he made that comment. To feel that was is unremarkable; it is no great insight on Rahm’s part, and no great stain upon his character. I suspect that the majority of politicians feel the same way, and are happy to turn crises to their advantage.
The question is: Why did Rahm say it out loud? I see no compelling political reason to do so. He could have made much the same point by saying, “At the same time as this financial crisis is a horrible, horrible experience for so many Americans, it affords us an opportunity to assess the structure of our economy on a fundamental level and make some long-overdue changes.” Yet no. Rahm had to say, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” And ever since then, any time that there is a crisis, and the administration turns from the crisis to the legislative or regulatory changes that (they claim) will help prevent such crises in the future, those words come back to haunt the administration. It makes them seem opportunistic, less concerned with the sufferings of the Americans they represent than with advancing their own utopian ideals.
Was Rahm just that confident that the press would give him the benefit of the doubt – that his words would not be used against him? The press by and large has excused those words, but it gave a major piece of ammunition to his political enemies, ammunition they have used to considerable effect. Was he so flush with confidence from the recently won election that he thought words such as those would not come back to haunt him? Was he trying to show how clever he was, how ruthless, how shrewd a politician? In this case, as in many such cases involving politicians, the reason for saying something so foolish seems to be simple pride. That, at least, is my best guess.
8. MEDIA MANIPULATION. In yesterday’s Morning Report, I mentioned the Obama administration’s consideration of providing financial assistance to news organizations. Dick Morris takes up the issue today. While not an unpartisan source, he is right about the potential conflicts of interest, and this of course would apply on both sides of the political spectrum:
“Should the government follow through on Leibowitz’s ideas and enact special subsidies and tax breaks for news organizations, it will induce a degree of journalistic dependence on the whims of government not seen since the days when the early presidents bestowed government advertising on favored periodicals.
Is it too difficult to imagine that the Democrats might pass laws favoring news organizations, only to question — as former White House communications director Anita Dunn did — whether or not Fox News is a news organization or an “arm of the Republican Party”? We can see a future in which news media are reluctant to be too partisan or opinionated for fear that they would endanger their public subsidy.”
9. BIN LADEN BOBA FETT. I’ve wondered what would happen if a private citizen took it upon himself to gather the best intelligence he could, then go to Afghanistan or Pakistan with the intention of visiting extreme violence upon the head of Osams bin Laden. Apparently Gary Brooks Faulkner wondered the same thing – enough to give it a try himself. Also, he brought a sword and “Christian literature” with him. Interrogated after he was detained, he said: “God is with me, and I am confident I will be successful in killing him.”
I am inclined to say: Why not release him and let him give it a shot (so to speak)? He’s obviously willing to give up his life for the cause. On the other hand, he could become a hostage, and thus a pawn for the benefit of the Taliban or al Qaeda, in the same way that some well intentioned but dim-witted activists have recently for North Korea. Also, setting off to murder bin Laden while carrying Christian literature (I wonder what exactly it was) in your backpack risks playing into the hands of the terrorists by making this appear to be a religious war.
Still, interesting story. Stay tuned. (H/t Michael Yon)
10. LOSING THE GOOD WAR. Tony Blankley with a fairly devastating assessment of the war in Afghanistan.
11. TODAY’S TWO-SIDES. On Obama’s Oval Office address, Paul Begala is impressed and supportive, Maurren Dowd is supportive but not impressed, Roger Simon is irritated by the lack of details, and Michael Goodwin is incensed.
12. COLUMN OF THE DAY: “Burying the Incumbent Protection Racket.” I do not agree with all the proposed solutions, but I absolutely agree with the premise of this article: one of the greatest threats to the health of our democracy are the mountainous advantages that incumbents have legislated for themselves over against political challengers. This makes incumbents less accountable to the people they represent, and more likely to make legislative decisions according to calculations of political interest, rather than principled representation of their constituents.
“Our current campaign finance system, which requires candidates to raise virtually all their own campaign funds, continues to create an odd paradox in American politics: although only 14 percent of the public in some polls approves of Congress, in an ordinary year 95 percent of all incumbents in the Senate and the House are re-elected.
But this should be no mystery. Incumbent representatives and senators begin every re-election campaign with a huge advantage in name recognition. This flows from their full-time Washington and local office constituent service staffs; the privilege of sending information to voters, free of charge, about the work they’ve done for the district or state; and of course all the media coverage that incumbents get while in office.
Incumbents, of course, know this, and over the years they have adopted “reforms” that have made it more difficult for challengers to raise or spend campaign funds. Fortunately, the Supreme Court has recognized these obstacles for what they are, and has struck down spending caps, limits on independent expenditures by outside individuals and groups, and restrictions on candidates’ contributions to their own campaigns. In its last term, the Court struck down the so-called millionaire amendment in the McCain-Feingold law, which had lifted many of the contribution limits on any candidate (almost always incumbents rather than challengers) whose opponent contributed more than $350,000 to his own campaign.
The article focuses on campaign finance, but it should also have referenced gerry-mandering. We will not have more centrist representatives in the House until we have more centrist House districts. As it stands now, members of the House of Representatives are overwhelmingly accountable to the base of their own party, and very little accountable to members of the other party or even centrists and independents.
If you want to understand why Washington is so polarized, so incapable of working together, you need to pay attention to these nitty-gritty details. As I have said before, my political instincts are conservative. But I believe that a reasonable middle can be found in most issues – but politicians will only be interested in a reasonable middle if they are not solely or primarily accountable to the less-reasonable extremes on their site of the spectrum.