Posts tagged with: religion

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Over the weekend I had the chance to see an airing of the 1998 documentary, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg on Detroit public television. The film does an excellent job portraying the life of a baseball superstar complicated by social and political events in the 1930s and 1940s.

One of the film’s featured commentators was Alan Dershowitz, who said Hank Greenberg was the most important Jew in the world in the 1930s because he exploded Hitler’s propaganda myths about the physical superiority of Aryans. Greenberg stood 6’4″ and in 1938 Greenberg finished the season with 58 home runs, making a remarkable run at the home run record of Babe Ruth.

During that decade Greenberg thought of himself as hitting “home runs against Hitler.” But in 1941, Greenberg traded in his bats for bullets, serving in the armed forces between 1941-1944 during WWII.

While he was not particularly observant religiously, the film does a good job of showing how important Greenberg’s Jewish identity became to him as his career wore on, as his prominent standing within the local, national, and global Jewish communities increased along with his accomplishments on the field.

“Hank Greenberg was a great hero in Detroit, especially to the Jewish population,” said Tigers Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell.

In a strange twist of fate, the still-productive Greenberg was traded before his final season from the Detroit Tigers to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he was present for Jackie Robinson’s entry into the majors. Greenberg and Robinson faced each other on the field, and Greenberg was able to give Robinson words of encouragement in the face of virulent racism.

In seeing the hatred that Robinson faced Greenberg was able to relativize the powerful anti-Semitism he had faced in his own breakthrough to the major leagues. Greenberg felt that after his feats on the field of baseball and the field of battle that it was only after WWII that the question of his ethnic and religious identity was pushed to the background. He had finally become simply a baseball player…and he hopefully predicted that Jackie Robinson would one day come to achieve that recognition as well.

As we mark the beginning of baseball season this week in 2007, it’s a good opportunity to remember the contributions of Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg on the baseball field and to the cause of social and religious tolerance in the modern world.

Greenberg was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956, and in just nine full seasons finished with a career batting average of .313, along with 331 home runs and 1276 RBI.

Tiger great Hal Newhouser said of Greenberg that if he had to pick one batter to drive in a run in a crucial situation, he would pick Hank Greenberg over greats like Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio. Unless, of course, the batter would be facing Greenberg’s arch-nemesis, the great Cleveland pitcher Bob Feller!

This post has been cross-posted to Blogcritics.org.

Kishore Jayabalan reported yesterday on the latest happenings with the Acton Institute’s office in Rome and the most recent installment of the Centesimus Annus Conference Series, “The Religious Dimension of Human Freedom.”

As Kishore notes, the conference took place within the context of the spate of media attention to the religious situation in China, especially with reference to the relations between Beijing and the Vatican.

Last month Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg wrote in The Australian about the increasing integration of religious identity into Chinese society. “Christianity and other religions previously viewed with intense suspicion by China’s communist authorities are increasingly considered potential social lubricants for China’s fast-transitioning economy,” he writes.

Gregg also observes that “increasing numbers of Communist Party members are reportedly embracing religion, even though this violates party policy.” But given the Marxist antipathy toward religion, how can this be?

As Gregg rightly points out, there is increasing recognition of the social benefits of religious belief…perhaps the Party leaders are seeing the usefulness of religion as a means of increasing social stability and productiveness. And, indeed, the Marxist view of religion as an “opiate” would fit well with a regime obsessed with social control.

But there’s another phenomenon that is facilitating this odd mix of Communism and Christianity. As Forum 18 reports, the radical secularization of religious belief into a hermetically-sealed private sphere provides assurance that religious beliefs won’t impact Party loyalty.

The report sounds a note of caution:

It would be hard to argue that the rising number of religious believers across China will never affect government policies. However, it would be wise not to assume that greater numbers of religious believers automatically lead to changes in government policy on religious freedom. One (or three) hundred million “individual” religious believers, unwilling to engage in direct dialogue and negotiation with – let alone to confront – the government, are not in themselves a collective force for positive political change for all of China’s citizens.

Indeed, a religion that restricts itself to a realm of authority subservient to and derivative of the state may fulfill the role that the Party desires, but it does not reflect the comprehensive symmetry of doctrine and practice, faith and love, that is at the core of Christianity.

Speaking of a “red-letter hermeneutic,” for which I criticize Vince Isner of the National Council of Churches, Tony Campolo says that the new group of evangelical activists, who “transcend” partisan politics, has decided to go by the name of “Red-Letter Christians.”

“By calling ourselves Red-Letter Christians, we are alluding to the fact that in several versions of the Bible, the words of Jesus are printed in red. In adopting this name we are saying that we are committed to living out the things that He said,” writes Campolo.

They chose that name because “progressive evangelicals” might be construed in such a way as to be seen as “a value judgment of those who do not join us.” If it’s one thing these “red-letter Christians” don’t want to be seen as, it’s judgmental. After all, “Do not judge” appears in red letters in the Bible.

Of course, this doesn’t really mean that the agenda of the “red-letter Christians” is not progressive. Thus, Campolo speaks of the “progressive social agenda we espouse.”

Who’s the “we”? Just mainstream evangelical types like, “Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine; Richard Rohr, a well-known Catholic writer and speaker; Brian McLaren, a leader of the Emergent Church movement; the Rev. Dr. Cheryl J. Sanders, a prominent African-American pastor; the Rev. Noel Castellanos, a strong voice in the Hispanic community, and several other outstanding Christian communicators.”

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Monday, March 12, 2007

It has become common for politicians to cite God in promoting their programs and views. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has recently joined this growing list by invoking God’s name in promoting a new Illinois health care program. This proposal is a tax-increase-for-health-insurance plan that the governor promoted last week as something "God intended" for the people of this great state since God does not want people without health insurance. He even says his new tax increase is a "moral imperative." That sounds pretty important to me.

Al Gore, in accepting his Oscar at the Academy Awards ceremony two weeks ago, said that his "inconvenient truth" about global warming was the great moral issue of our time. Now the governor of Illinois says that universal health coverage and a significant tax-hike for Illinois’s citizens is a "moral" issue.

Blagojevich, who is an Eastern Orthodox Christian, is not known for expressions of personal faith and has generally not injected God-talk into his political agenda. A spokeswoman for the governor, however, said this reference was not accidental because he does have a "deeply held belief" that everyone should have access to health care based on moral principle. Blagojevich has previously cited the "Golden Rule" and made a few references to biblical history to promote several similar ideas. The facts are pretty clear. More and more politicians on the left do not want to be left out on God-talk.

The problem here is one that we see on the left and the right routinely. Moral imperatives too easily become associated with particular programs for solving social problems. The same governor who invokes God for this tax increase also promotes using tax-payer money for embryonic stem cell research. He has also voted to require pharmacists, who have problems of conscience with birth control, to dispense birth control pills against their conscience or they will not be able to practice pharmacy in this state.

Most agree that Blagojevich is bringing God into his agenda in order to make his very partisan points. It sure seems that way to ordinary observers. Illinois House Republican leader Tom Cross of Oswego, the son of a Methodist minister, baptized one of the governor’s daughters. What is his agenda as a Republican? To promote the expansion of gambling in the state. Former Senate President James "Pate" Philip of Wood Dale was at least honest when he once said, "I’m an Episcopalian, but not a very good one." Blagojevich is Orthodox for sure but to those Orthodox Christians I know his practice of faith is so inconsistent that they conclude with me that it seems, at least on the surface of things, like he is not a very good one.

Leave it to politicians, based on the numerous polls that routinely say people still retain a place for God in their private thought and public response, to invoke God’s name more and more in the coming days. I think the next time I hear a politician tell me that some program "is a moral imperative" I am going to hold on to my wallet and have some serious doubts.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Reading, [w]riting, [a]rithmetic, and…religion? So says Cal Thomas in a post from the WaPo blog On Faith.

Writes Thomas, “Religion as a subject and the beliefs of individual religions absolutely should be taught in all schools and at all levels.”

I doubt, however, that Thomas would say that “one should not expect an individual faith to be singled out for special consideration or imposition” in the case of explicitly religious schools. He seems to have in mind the limitations inherent in the public school system.

Thus, he writes, “Neither should a specific prayer be promoted in public schools and universities, as has been advocated by some in the past.” That presumably includes a prayer of secularism.

But surely Cal Thomas realizes that a naked public square does implicitly promote the ‘faith’ of secularism. This confusion and difficulty associated with teaching religion in public schools is real. But all too often the source of the problem is attributed to religion rather than to secularist nature of the public schools itself.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, February 19, 2007

One of the latest iterations of the reality TV craze is the show, “Bad Girls Club,” on the Oxygen network. The premise of the show revolves around a group of young women of diverse backgrounds brought together to live in one house: “What happens when you put seven ‘bad’ girls in a house together – the type of girls who lie, cheat and flirt their way out of trouble and have serious trust issues with other women?”

It doesn’t take long for fireworks to fly. Only four days and a couple episodes into the experience, one of the bad girls named Ripsi flies off into an alcoholic rage (video here and here). After a long stretch of binge drinking (inexplicably she drinks more alcohol to sober up), Ripsi explodes into an attack on two of her housemates, amidst a flurry of broken dishes.

After that fateful night, Ripsi claims she had no memory of the events and is somewhat apologetic (although she brags about her privileged background with one of the girls she attacked), but the fallout is already decided: Ripsi has to leave the house (view the video here).

As she’s packing to leave, Ripsi shows great disdain for her possessions, giving away a $500 designer dress to one of her housemates. Too lazy to carry her bags, she simply kicks them down the stairs and lets them land where they may.

But in the midst of this prima donna behavior, Ripsi makes this tearful confession:

I just wanna be happy, I’m not happy. Nothing in the world makes me happy. I could shop until I drop. I could go out with my friends. But there’s a void in there. I have been looking for something my whole life and I don’t know what it is. I just know that I haven’t found it yet.

In this intimate and heartfelt admission, we find the confirmation of the truth of Augustine’s famous theological confession to God: “You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you” (1.1.1).

Ripsi: “I just wanna be happy, I’m not happy…”


Unless our affections are properly oriented toward God, nothing will make us happy. Ripsi exemplifies the perennial experience of fallen humanity which seeks fulfillment and happiness in various created goods, whether in the social bonds of family and friends or in material possessions. Solomon documents his search for meaning in the book of Ecclesiastes and takes Ripsi’s confession to its final conclusion: without God no one can be happy, everything is meaningless.

Ripsi’s confession is an unwitting witness to the reality that pervades all of fallen humanity, for “absolutely all of us want to be happy” (10.21.31). But by nature we seek happiness through the ignorance and corruption of our will and so we are doomed to seek happiness in sinful ways. As Augustine writes, “Sin gains entrance through these and similar good things when we turn to them with immoderate desire, since they are the lowest kind of goods and we thereby turn away from the better and higher: from you yourself, O Lord our God, and your truth and your law” (2.5.10).

Since Ripsi’s departure from the show, there have been more fights and misadventures in the Bad Girls Club. But at the very least this show has provided us with a contemporary testimony to the reality of fallen humanity and the self-destructive nature of sin. What Ripsi is looking for, even without her knowledge of it, is what all of us are ultimately seeking: the unsurpassed happiness that comes with a relationship with God, made possible through the work of Jesus Christ.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, February 16, 2007

Today’s Detroit News ran a brief letter to the editor in response to my Jan. 23 op-ed, “Don’t prevent religion from helping to reform prisoners.” (Joe Knippenberg engaged a previous response on his blog here).

David Dery of Central Lake writes, “Jordan Ballor’s article encouraging religious groups in prisons is fine, as far as he goes…. The problem comes when the state attaches some benefit to attending these programs without providing a non-religious alternative.”

In response I’ll simply make a few observations and raise a few questions. I agree that the state “attaching some benefit” to a program like IFI is potentially problematic, although the nature of the benefit would probably need to be more clearly defined (are we talking material benefits? social?). What if this benefit is not attached by the state but inheres to the nature of the program itself (i.e. spiritual)?

I also think there is not only a question of a religious vs. non-religious/secular alternative to be considered, but Christian vs. other religions (Islam, paganism, Buddhism, et al.) That is, if the government allows a Christian program into prisons, must it also provide a non-Christian religious alternative? What if there are no groups who are doing religious reform work in prisons from these groups?

Here’s a tentative alternative proposition: if the state allows a Christian group to do reform work in the prison, it must allow (not necessarily provide itself) other groups, whether religious or secular, to do reform work under the same conditions and standards as the Christian group. But the state need not necessarily seek out or artificially create Buddhist, pagan, Islamic, or secularist groups to do the reform work.

The fact that Christian groups are perhaps the most active in this area says something about the nature of the Christian faith and its expression.

IFI’s appeal of the decision in Iowa began this week. Joe Knippenberg gives some good introductory links and IFI’s ruling page gives information on how to listen to the oral arguments.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, February 12, 2007

Most of our talk at Acton about educational choice addresses K-12 programs, i.e., the public schools. There already exists a great deal of choice at the levels of higher ed, and so they are not of the most immediate concern.

But the issues I raised earlier this month about the integration of faith and learning are just as relevant in the realm of higher ed as they are in secondary education. Here’s what David Claerbaut, author of Faith and Learning on the Edge: A Bold New Look at Religion in Higher Education, has to say:

There is a distinctly Christian view of what life is all about, about the nature of humankind, about what our purposes ought to be, and about where we are headed eternally. To dance away from these distinctives is to marginalize faith as an element in the learning process.

Today’s Zondervan>To the Point features this quote as well as a link to this piece from Inside Higher Ed, “Spiritual Accountability.”

Dr. Michel Casey – Clicking this link will open a new window with a video player.

Dr. Michael Casey was in Grand Rapids today to deliver the first address of the 2007 Acton Lecture Series, which was entitled The Religion of Politics. Dr. Casey is a Permanent Fellow at the John Paul II Institute, Melbourne, Australia, and Private Secretary to Cardinal George Pell, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney. He is currently serving as a Visiting Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and was also awarded the 2002 Novak Award by the Acton Institute for his contributions to thinking that concerns the relationship between religion and economic liberty.

In his address, Dr. Casey examines the marginalization of traditional religious believers in political debates in the west as well as the ascent of secularist thinking that, far from ending the influence of religion on society, has almost become a religious system in its own right.

You can listen to today’s lecture by clicking here (12 mb mp3 file).

[Update: Video of Dr. Casey's lecture is now available through the link above.]

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 4, 2007

One of the oft-overlooked groups in the Iraq conflict are Iraqi Christians (many of whom are Chaldean Christians). Chances are if you hear about an Iraqi ethnic or religious minority, they are either Kurds or Sunni Muslims.

Doug Bandow, who writing a book on religious persecution abroad, points out the dilemma facing native Christians in Iraq in his latest piece for The American Spectator, “Iraq’s Forgotten Minority” (HT: The Point). Writes Bandow, “Although the Shiite- dominated government does not oppress, Christians are a uniquely vulnerable, disfavored minority with neither political power nor militia protection. Christians, usually in business and often thought to have wealthy relatives abroad, are targeted by criminals. Believers also are caught in the violent cross-fire that now characterizes so much of Iraqi society.”

Bandow argues that Christians should be object of special regard for US forces in Iraq, and that the US government should be opening its arms to refugees. But while more than 100,000 Iraqi Christians sought to emigrate to the US, only 200 were granted access in 2006. Check out the rest of Bandow’s piece for some even more shocking numbers.

One other option for fleeing Iraqis, Christians included, has been refuge in neighboring Syria, but Christians at least don’t look to be getting much of a reception there either (HT: Religion Clause).

All in all the situation seems to be a strange recapitulation of the sojourn of Abraham, “a wandering Aramean,” who went up out of Ur of the Chaldeans with his family at the Lord’s call.