Category: General

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Tuesday, October 3, 2006
Talk about separation of Church and State.

Ah, Autumn in an even year. The crisp smell of approaching winter, the exploding color on the trees, and the sound of the desperate mad dash for votes. As I was travelling a couple of weeks ago, I picked up a copy of T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, a play Flannery O’Connor claimed was “good if you don’t know it, better if you do.” It is the story of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Caterbury who was killed under orders from a jilted King Henry II.

I thought a particular scene does a fine job of laying out the temptation that politcal power can bring, and it seemed to me that what the Tempter says to Thomas in the following passage about power and legacy might shed light on many political aspirations.

TEMPTER
The Chancellorship that you resigned
When you were made Archbishop — that was a mistake
On your part — still may be regained. Think, my Lord,
Power obtained grows to glory,
Life lasting, a permanent possession.
A templed tomb, monument of marble.
Rule over men reckon no madess.

THOMAS
To the man of God what gladness?

TEMPTER
Sadness
Only to those giving love to God alone.
Shall he who held the solid substance
Wander waking with deceitful shadows?
Power is present. Holiness hereafter.

THOMAS
Who then?

TEMPTER
The Chancellor. King and Chancellor.
King commands. Chancellor richly rules.
This is a sentence not taught in the schools.
To set down the great, protect the poor,
Beneath the throne of God can man do more?
Disarm the ruffian, strengthen the laws,
Rule for the good of the better cause,
Dispensing justice make all even,
Is thrive on earth, and perhaps in heaven.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 20, 2006

In case you haven’t seen it yet, Beliefnet, in conjunction with Sojourners, is hosting a blog based on Jim Wallis’ book, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.

One of the key features in the blog’s short tenure to date is a discussion between Jim Wallis and Ralph Reed, former leader of the Christian Coalition. Jim says that Ralph is his “first dialogue partner on God’s Politics,” so perhaps we can expect more to come.

And in case you haven’t seen it, Acton’s Jay Richards reviewed Wallis book in the October 2005 issue of Touchstone magazine.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Received some emails in the past week from the folks at Magnolia Pictures announcing the release of Jesus Camp, which they call a "new, controversial documentary." According to one mailer, "The film follows children at an Evangelical summer camp, as they hone their prophetic gifts and are schooled in how to take back America for Christ."

Disclaimer – I haven’t seen it. Haven’t even been offered comp tickets to attend a screening of it, though I have been asked to promote it, which seems rather odd (and by your reading this, may be too late to avoid). You can see clips of it here and here.

Apparently some "Evangelical leaders" – the emails don’t say which – aren’t happy about it. Maybe they don’t like the portrayal of this Pentecostal summer camp as an American madrassa, as David Byrne (who has seen the film) puts it. In any event, Eamonn Bowles, President of Magnolia Pictures, felt it necessary to release the following statement:

“We’re frankly surprised and a little disheartened by the efforts of prominent members of the evangelical community to clamp down on JESUS CAMP. Whether or not the children and camp depicted in the film represents the ‘mainstream’ of the Evangelical movement is beside the point: they exist, the film documents them, and the subjects feel they’ve been treated fairly. Why a community that’s so quick to attack discrimination from secular Americans would then turn and do the same to other Evangelicals is unexpected, to say the least.”

Christianity Today interviewed the film’s documentrixes. Besides Byrne’s and Bowles’ comments, their interview suggests what might be bugging some conservative evangelicals:

You talk about the range of evangelicals you came across. Would Mike Papantonio [a radio talk-show host who appears throughout the film, and at one point debates Fischer] self-identify as an evangelical? Grady: No, he’s not evangelical. He’s a Methodist, he goes to a mainline church, but he’s quite devoted to his church. [snip] Ewing: . . .While Mike is not officially a born-again Christian, he does echo a lot of the concerns that these gentlemen have, and we thought this was a more creative way to vent those concerns, because he is a Christian. He just thinks that the politicization of the church is going to be the downfall of it, and he doesn’t like that association. So officially, no, he’s not a born-again, but he does, I think, speak very well for the concerns of Christians that don’t like the political nature of the evangelical movement, or at least of the far right part of that movement.

He’s not evangelical – he’s a Methodist. Heh. Will have to remember that one. I think these ladies are being modest about their protagonist. Their own promotional materials say this about Papantonio:

The film also features a counterpoint, in the form of excerpts from Michael Papantonio’s "Ring of Fire" show on NPR’s Air America. Though he frequently takes aim at the fundamentalist Christian movement, Papantonio is an active Methodist who admits that his moral compass comes from his faith.

…a show Mike shares with Bobby Kennedy, where "two of the nation’s most dynamic legal warriors" take on "corporate crooks, polluters, hypocritical preachers and ugly politicians."

First, I doubt evangelical leadership is discriminating against Pentecostals, but rather decrying the exploitation of this group by religious folk like Papantonio and the secular Left. Conservatives may well be frustrated by a portrayal of this group as "mainstream," but since the Body of Christ is pretty diverse anyway, the whole what-is-mainstream-thing is territory in which neither evangelicals nor secular movie makers should tread.

Second, Magnolia clearly has a right to make the film. Pastors also have a right to counsel their flock according to what they know about the film, and the folks in the pews have a right to spend or not spend their family cash as they (prayerfully) see fit.

Third, by their own admission, Jesus Camp was meant to be "controversial." It seems pretty disingenuous for Mr. Bowles to turn around and complain when Evangelicals pan the film, then accuse Christian critics of discriminating against another Christian group.

All that said, sometimes you can judge a book by its cover (and the liner notes). In the case of Jesus Camp, I’m not going to waste my time with it. Recommend you do the same. I also hope/assume that the crack Acton readership will quickly roll in and correct me if I’ve misjudged the picture.

[Don's other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist]

UPDATE: If it helps, I checked the United Pentecostal Church website and updated the spelling above, though many sites use pente and penta interchangeably. db

Voltaire had a saying: “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” or, “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.”

It’s often repeated, especially in public policy circles, that the perfect the enemy of the good, implying that you should favor the realistic good that can be done rather than the unattainable perfect ideal.

And now you know why. Because “good” beats “perfect” in a Google Fight, and by a rather handy margin.

HT: Seth’s Blog, which compares “unique”, “best”, and “finest”.

Oh, and one more thing. Dark Helmet was wrong when he said, “Evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.” See for yourself.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Regular readers may have already inferred that I am fascinated by demographics. So I enjoyed this piece at WSJ.com by Arthur C. Brooks, who uses survey data to show that conservatives have more babies than liberals. He presses the statistics, moreover, into the service of demonstrating that the trend bodes ill for Democratic Party political success.

Taken completely seriously, there are problems with the analysis—for example, what “liberal” and “conservative” mean with respect both to survey answers and to politics—but taken light-heartedly, it’s a collection of interesting data points inventively presented. Here’s the key stat:

According to the 2004 General Social Survey, if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids.

The Acton Institute was not making animated films in 1948, but if we were, this might have been what we came up with. Though it starts out a bit slow, keep with it; it’s actually a pretty coherent defense of the free market.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, August 16, 2006

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Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, August 4, 2006

I’ve noted the recent rash of books roughly on the theme of the danger of theocracy. As though in (indirect) response, several books celebrating Christianity’s impact on Western civilization (and democracy) have appeared. There was Thomas Woods’ How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. Then there was Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason, about which others have commented in this venue. Now there is Robert Royal’s The God that Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, August 2, 2006

I’ve commented previously on Randall Balmer’s new book. The online article this month from First Things is Ross Douthat’s excellent review of a raft of books (including Balmer’s) that take up similar themes. In a nutshell, there is currently a lot of hyperventilating about the danger of an unholy alliance between church and state in the United States, which, to most religious folks probably seems to read the trends 180 degress wrong.

Douthat doesn’t even include Damon Linker’s book (an expansion of a New Republic article about which I posted here), which dubs First Things editor Richard John Neuhaus a theocon—and which Neuhaus in the latest issue characterizes as “what is known in the publishing business as an ‘attack book.’”

As I’ve noted before, concern about the relationship between church and state is legitimate, and it is dangerous to both sides when religious institutions snuggle too comfortably with government. Unfortunately, most of the accusations of theocracy currently being tossed about in the public square appear to consist more of grandstanding than valuable criticism.