Colbert, Amway and the end of the world

Colbert, Amway and the end of the world September 19, 2012

Scott Paeth discusses Molly Worthen on Democrats and the progressive Catholic social tradition, seconding this point from Worthen:

The handful of nationally known Catholic political thinkers who might be called progressive, or at least compassionate and cosmopolitan — like the journalist-scholars Garry Wills and E. J. Dionne Jr., blogmeister Andrew Sullivan, or the feminist nun and blogger Sister Joan Chittister — are far outnumbered by the ranks of prominent Catholic conservatives in the trenches of activism and policy making.

Photo by Kevin Mazur of TIME

I’d add one pretty important name to that list: Stephen Colbert.

On Friday, Colbert and New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan shared the stage “before 3,000 cheering, stomping, chanting students at Fordham University.” That crowd wasn’t there for the cardinal.

Nor was the cardinal the best source of theological wisdom:

Another question [from the audience] was even more pointed: “So many Christian leaders spread hatred, especially of homosexuals. How can you maintain your joy?”

Cardinal Dolan responded with two meandering anecdotes — one about having met this week with Muslim leaders, and another about encountering demonstrators outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

But Mr. Colbert’s response was quick and unequivocal. “If someone spreads hate,” he said, “then they’re not your religious leader.”

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Tony Jones quotes from Neal DeRoo about an upcoming conference on “The Christian Evasion of Popular Culture“:

As Christians, we should not call for the Church to engage culture, but rather to engage culture better, which means, in part, to be more self-aware of the ways in which it has always already been engaged by culture. … As Christians whose lives are thoroughly enculturated, we have not avoided culture so much as we have evaded dealing with it directly and purposively.

My late friend Dwight Ozard liked to say that this was another point where American evangelicals neglected at home what their missionaries insisted on abroad. Even fundies with a 19th-century colonial missiology can understand that the first thing a missionary needs to do is learn the language.

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What is the deal with evangelical Christianity and pyramid-marketing companies?

It’s not easy to find an evangelical institution, agency or nonprofit that isn’t on the hook for some amount of Amway money. And now I learn that Gary Bauer’s not-ready-for-community-theater anti-Obama ads are funded by a shady outfit called “Corporate Land Management.”

Corporate Land Management won’t say what they do or sell, but they share an address with Premier Designs — a jewelry company that has designs on becoming the Amway of baubles and bangles. From Premier’s website:

  • You can be your own boss.
  • Make 50% on every sale and you get paid immediately.
  • Premier pays you a 10% commission on the wholesale of anyone you sponsor to compensate you for time spent mentoring them.
  • You’ll also earn 10% on everyone in the second and third levels of your sales organization.

So, for the record, Gary Bauer thinks marriage equality is grievously immoral. But exploitative multi-level marketing schemes? He’s totally cool with that.

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The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life says 34 percent of all Republicans are white evangelical Protestants.

That’s not surprising. What’s more unexpected — at least for those who buy the dominant stereotypes about the “liberal” mainline Protestants, is that white mainline Protestants make up 20 percent of the Republican Party.

That’s a bigger share of the GOP than white mainline Protestants make up of the Democratic Party, where they are only 14 percent of the total.

And Pew also tallied up the invisible, unmentionable category of white evangelical Protestant Democrats. We make up 9 percent of the party. That’s not a huge slice, but it’s a lot bigger than you might expect considering that Republican evangelicals keep insisting that we do not exist at all.

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Vorjack has some insightful thoughts about NASA scientist David Morrison. The Awl profiled Morrison, a “specialist in asteroids and potential asteroid impact.” But he’s also “the man responsible for the Ask an Astrobiologist page at NASA,” responding to hundreds of emails about the End of the World.

As part of that work, vorjack notes, Morrison deals “with the young people who are unable to process the deluge of rumor and suggestion.” Some samples from The Awl piece:

“I’m scared because I’m in 10th grade and I have a full life ahead of me. …”

“I am really scared about the end of the world on 21 December. I’m headed into 7th grade and I am very scared. … Can someone help me? I can’t sleep, I am crying every day, I can’t eat, I stay in my room. …”

My friends growing up were not worried about some pseudo-Mayan 2012 nonsense, but I had several who were just as freaked out because of what we were taught about the Rapture, or about the hellfire that might await them. (These kids were all “saved,” but could they be sure about that?)

“Conspiracy theories and end times predictions are frequently ghost stories for adults,” vorjack writes. “They’re stories that give us that creepy little thrill.” But kids, being kids, mistake the pretense for something real. They assume the adults pretending to believe these scary stories really do believe them, and so the kids are scared.

That’s cruel.

It’s also revealing, because if the adults really did believe their own scary stories, they ought to be even more freaked out than the kids.

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