Duke University is embroiled in a sensational scandal involving its lacrosse team and allegations of sexual assault of a stripper at a wild party. But, as Anthony Bradley points out, the case is really symptomatic of a much larger problem in American society. “Why is there no national outrage about the fact that two adult women subjected themselves to voyeuristic, live pornography?” he asks. “What kind of men do we raise in America that they would even want to hire a stripper?”
Remember when I said that I thought there is a dangerous incentive in climate change research to make things seem worse than they are? (If not, that’s OK. I actually called it an “analogous phenomenon” to the possibility that AIDS statistics are exaggerated.)
Well, TCS Daily reports that a letter to Canadian PM Stephen Harper signed by over 60 scientists asks a similar question. Richard Lindzen, Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), wonders, “How can a barely discernible, one-degree increase in the recorded global mean temperature since the late 19th century possibly gain public acceptance as the source of weather catastrophes? And how can it translate into claims about future catastrophes? The answer has much to do with misunderstanding the science of climate, plus a willingness to debase climate science into a triangle of alarmism.”
Peter C. Glover, author of the article, “Climate Change’s Gravy Train,” continues, noting that “Lindzen goes on to identify how the doom-mongers in both the science research community and media have a ‘vested interest’ in ‘hyping’ the political stakes for policymakers who provide more funds for more science research to feed more alarm. ‘After all’, Lindzen wonders, ‘who puts money into science — whether for AIDS, or space, or climate — where there is nothing really alarming’?”
Read the whole thing. Lindzen raises a number of good points, including the discrimination faced by scientists who haven’t drunk from the GW Kool-Aid. As he says, “Scientists who dissent from alarmism have seen their funds disappear, their work derided, and libelled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse.”
Andy Crouch, a columnist for Christianity Today, who wrote in support of policy action on global warming, would do well to listen. As I said in response to his column, “It’s ironic that Crouch finds the source of evangelical distrust of scientific global warming dogma in the contemporary creation/evolution debates. If there’s any group that should know about the difficulty of breaking through the groupthink of mainstream science, it ought to be the proponents of Intelligent Design.” IDers really ought to be able to identify with the plight of scientists who question the predictions of the global warming alarmists.
And not only does the alarmism assure that there money for climate research funding, it means there’s commercial money available too. The Day After Tomorrow (2004) grossed $186,740,799 domestically (as might be expected, it was a bit more popular abroad, grossing $542,771,772 worldwide).
Jordan Ballor, “A Love/Hate Relationship with Science,” Acton Institute PowerBlog (February 8, 2006).
Andy Crouch, Response #1 (September 10, 2005).
Jordan Ballor, “Comet-Busting Lasers: A Response to Andy Crouch,” Acton Institute PowerBlog (September 12, 2005).
Andy Crouch, Response #2 (September 12, 2005).
Rev. Robert A. Sirico, “What Stewardship Means,” BreakPoint WorldView (September 2004).
Roy Spencer, “Global Warming Hysteria Has Arrived,” TCS Daily (April 4, 2006).
Hans Von Storch and Nico Stehr, “A Climate of Staged Angst,” Der Spiegel (January 4, 2005).
While doing research for my upcoming lecture at the Drexel University Libraries’ Scholarly Commmunication Symposium, I ran across this excellent book by Janet H. Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (New York: Free Press, 1997). Dr. Murray at that time was a professor at MIT and is now at Georgia Tech.
One of the interesting things that Dr. Murray discusses is the necessary element of what she calls “moral physics” in narrative worlds. She writes, “Stories have to have an equivalent ‘moral physics,’ which indicates what consequences attach to actions, who is rewarded, who is punished, how fair the world is. By moral physics I mean not only right and wrong but also what kinds of stories make sense in this world, how bad a loss characters are allowed to suffer, and what weight is attached to those losses.”
This observation reminds me of Agent Smith’s speech to Morpheus in the first installment of the Matrix trilogy. While rhapsodizing about the origins of the Matrix, Smith relates this tale:
Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization.
I think Murray’s analysis is reflected in Smith’s character, and that this is a representation of the moral realities that objectively exist in our world.
The moral order is, after all, objectively real. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory.”
There are normative limits then to the imaginative creation of fictional narratives. In the same way that even an anti-metaphysician is still a metaphysician of a kind, attempts to create amoral or anti-moral worlds are still grounded in the moral order.
This is in part because, as Murray rightly notes, “When we enter a fictional world, we do not merely ‘suspend’ a critical faculty; we also exercise a creative faculty. We do not suspend disbelief so much as we actively create belief. Because of our desire to experience immersion, we focus our attention on the enveloping world and we use our intelligence to reinforce rather than to question the reality of the experience.” The creative faculty, the active imagination, is not insulated and cannot be isolated from human moral faculties.
Jordan Ballor, “The Matrix Anthrophology,” Acton Institute PowerBlog (August 26, 2005).
John Bolt, “The Necessity of Narrative Imagination for Preaching,” in Reading and Hearing the Word: From Text to Sermon: Essays in Honor of John H. Stek, ed. Arie C. Leder (Grand Rapids: Calvin Theological Seminary/CRC Publications, 1998), pp. 203-217.
Vigen Guroian, Rallying The Really Human Things: Moral Imagination In Politics, Literature & Everyday Life (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2005).
Peter J. Schakel, “Irrigating Deserts with Moral Imagination,” Religion & Liberty (Winter 2006).
Check out my Detroit News column today, “Humanity’s creativity helps environment,” in which I give a brief overview of the conflicting evangelical views of environmental stewardship.
A report from the road: I’m in Colorado Springs this week, and I noticed this note taped to the wall of the bathroom in my spartan lodgings at the local Ramada Inn:
Due to restrictions made by the City of Colorado Springs, the toilets have reduced water pressure and may not flush as well as you are accustomed to. In order to prevent the toilet from stopping up, please flush the toilet as frequently as possible while using it. Thank you!
Now I may be wrong here, but I think it’s safe to assume that the City of Colorado Springs was attempting to conserve water resources by putting these restrictions in place. The practical result of their action seems to have been to cause a local hotel to actively encourage greater water use.
Aaah, the irony.
Over at OrthodoxyToday.org, Fr. Theodore Stylianpoulos demolishes the media driven speculation that the so-called Gospel of Judas might somehow turn traditional Christianity on its head.
The Gospel of Judas is but another small window to Gnosticism, a hodgepodge of religious speculations that exploded on the scene during the second century. At that time, individual intellectuals or small and elitist groups around them, bothered by the basic story of the Bible, especially the violent God of the Old Testament and the scandalous death and resurrection of Jesus, generated their own religious philosophy. They combined Jewish, Christian and pagan elements to construct literally fantastic systems of speculation including astrology and magic. The core theme, found in the Gospel of Judas, is secret knowledge (gnosis) that leads to salvation.
This is Holy Week in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Daily observances mark Christ’s passion and culminate in Great and Holy Friday and Saturday and, the Feast of Feasts, Pascha (Easter Sunday). In these services, one is struck by the unequivocal condemnation — both in the Gospel readings and in the hymns — of Judas’ deceit and betrayal and greed. Not a lot of nuance or reinterpretation of the Gnostic view here. This would only surprise someone completely unfamiliar with Church history and, in particular, the Ecumenical Councils. Fr. Stylianopoulos, the Archbishop Iakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology and Professor of New Testament at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, exposes the logical flaw behind a Gnostic interpretation of Judas’ suicide:
The vilification of Judas in Christian history is lamentable. For Christians, the right response to all sinners, including ourselves, is sorrow and prayer in the spirit of Christ’s love who forgave his crucifiers. What a magnificent testimony to God’s forgiveness, if Judas, like Peter, had repented of his misdeed and run up to Jesus as he stumbled up the hill to Golgotha and asked for mercy! Forgiveness would have been certain. But it was not to be. Falling into despair on account of his betrayal, Judas killed himself, an act that would otherwise have no reasonable explanation, unless one is prepared to adopt the Gnostic system and see Judas as committing suicide to release his own soul to astral regions.
Of course, it’s hard to take these media-driven Gnostic “revelations” seriously when they are accompanied by sophisticated video and book merchandising campaigns. The National Geographic Society, which made the new translation of the Coptic-language “Gospel of Judas” public, also released two books and a DVD in conjunction with what it modestly refers to as “one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th Century.” All, of course, in time for Easter.
Gnosticism, the heresy, is everywhere with us today and is visible in things like New Age practices. Book publishers will continue to “rediscover” Gnostic writings, as we saw last year with Elaine Pagel’s book, “Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas.” The main attraction of Gnostic beliefs is that it gives us a free pass. We can become our own gods, make our own personal religion, and avoid the labor and struggle and repentance that Christ demands of us. “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt. 7:14).
And Gnosticism can be profitable, as National Geographic is showing us. When coupled with the allure of secret spiritual knowledge, buying a $24.95 DVD doesn’t seem like such a bad deal.
Tom Friedman asks in today’s NYT, “Why doesn’t every college make it a goal to become carbon-neutral — that is, reduce its net CO2 emissions to zero?” (TimesSelect subscription required)
I’ll give an initial possible answer: they already have enough to worry about with double-digit tuition increases practically every year without adding such costs.
More about tuition inflation here, such as this, “On average, tuition tends to increase about 8% per year. An 8% college inflation rate means that the cost of college doubles every nine years.”
Here’s an article in the Washington Post recently that I want to pass along, “Tithing Rewards Both Spiritual and Financial,” by Avis Thomas-Lester.
Among the highlights are the Rev. Jonathan Weaver of Greater Mount Nebo African Methodist Episcopal Church, who says, “Some people have a sense that pastors are heavy-handed . . . in the use of the Scripture to insist that people tithe. But we are not encouraging people to give 10 percent. We want them to be effective managers of the other 90 percent. God wants us to be effective managers of what He has entrusted us with.”
The story also points out the critical function that churches serve in the relief of the poor: “Long before government programs were put in place to help the poor and the needy, black churches were responsible for assisting their congregations with everything from food and shelter during Reconstruction to legal help during the civil rights movement. Money dropped into the offering plate wasn’t just for the building fund. Black churches paid to help poor and disenfranchised citizens at a time when no other help was available, experts said.”
The article goes on to observe some of the potential pitfalls of tithing, namely giving only “under the belief that the members will prosper financially in return.” This is part of a larger “prosperity gospel” movement, and as this piece illustrates, is not restricted to churches in the US.
For more about how the principle of the tithe can function in helping the poor and those who need it the most, see my “The North American Church and Global Stewardship,” and “Building on the Tithe.”
Amy Ridenour of the National Center for Public Policy passes along a report from Peyton Knight about a briefing in Washington sponsored by the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, the Acton Institute, and the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
According to Knight, at the luncheon “top theologians and policy experts articulated a vision of Biblical stewardship based upon the Cornwall Declaration.” You can read the text of the Cornwall Declaration here.
Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, an Acton adjunct scholar and professor at Knox Theological Seminary, said, “While we recognize that some environmental problems are well-founded and serious, we are concerned that some are ill founded or greatly exaggerated. We are interested in priorities placed on well-founded concerns, especially those that put large numbers of people, usually the poor, at risk.”
On a related note, for an overview of the vision of stewardship as articulated in two different documents, check out this commentary in which I compare the Cornwall Declaration to the Evangelical Environmental Network’s “Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation.”
The name Robespierre is synonymous with terror and mass murder. But the author of The Terror that accompanied the French Revolution was also the prototype of the revolutionary leader who would become all too familiar in the 20th Century. Robespierre loosed the hordes of hell on his people, utterly convinced that he was preserving the purity of his political movement. In the current City Journal, John Kekes offers a fascinating analysis of Robespierre, the man, and those who have since adopted his method. “Why Robespierre Chose Terror” also looks at the way “reasonable” people filter ideologies by subjecting them to a healthy skepticism:
An ideology is a worldview that makes sense of prevailing political conditions and suggests ways of improving them. Typical ideologies include among their elements a metaphysical outlook that provides a God’s-eye view of the world, a theory about human nature, a system of values whose realization will supposedly ensure human well-being, an explanation of why the actual state of affairs falls short of perfection, and a set of policies intended to close the gap between the actual and ideal. This last component—commitment to a political program and its implementation—is what distinguishes ideologies from religious, personal, aesthetic, or philosophical systems of belief. Ideologies aim to transform society. Other systems of belief do not involve such a commitment; if they do, they become ideological.
In the course of history, many different and incompatible ideologies have held sway, all of them essentially speculative interpretations that go beyond undeniable facts and simple truths. Resting on fallible hypotheses about matters that transcend the existing state of knowledge, they are especially prone to wishful, self-deceiving, anxious, or self-serving thinking—to unchecked flights of fantasy and imagination. Reasonable people therefore regard ideologies, including their own, with robust skepticism and demand of them conformity to elementary standards of reason: logical consistency, the explanation of indisputable and relevant facts, responsiveness to new evidence and serious criticism, and recognition that the success or failure of policies derived from them counts as confirming or disconfirming evidence.
As Kekes points out, the first object of terror for the revolutionary ideologue is often his own people.
But the chief reason that people followed [Robespierre] was fear. No one was safe, and people hastened to testify by words and deeds that they were loyal, enthusiastic supporters. Robespierre wielded his power over life and death as arbitrarily as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao did. Arbitrariness is the key to terror: if there are no rules, justifications, or reasons, then everyone is at risk. People can try to minimize the risk only by outdoing others in toeing the line. Dictators understand that, and it explains much of the “spontaneous demonstrations” and public adulation that they extract from the duped and terrified people at their mercy.
A pretty fair definition of political freedom might begin with — the freedom from fear of one’s rulers.