Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Malaysian court refuses to recognize Muslim's conversion to Christianity - International Herald Tribune

Malaysian court refuses to recognize Muslim's conversion to Christianity - International Herald Tribune:
"PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: In a controversial victory for Islamic law over secularism, Malaysia's highest court refused Wednesday to recognize the conversion of a Muslim-born woman to Christianity, ruling that the matter was beyond the jurisdiction of the country's civil courts and should be handled by religious authorities."

Apparently the Malaysian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but not necessarily the freedom to change religion.

For cheetah read cheater in call of the wild | Tech&Sci | Science |

For cheetah read cheater in call of the wild | Tech&Sci | Science |
"LONDON (Reuters) - For female cheetahs in the Serengeti, the call of the wild is just too hard to resist as new research shows nearly half of their litters are made up of cubs with different fathers.

And while the serial infidelities of the females does ensure a broader genetic mix to help the survival of the endangered species, it comes at a cost, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said on Wednesday.

'Mating with more than one male poses a serious threat to females, increasing the risk of exposure to parasites and diseases,' said Dada Gottelli, ZSL's lead scientist for the research."
Not to mention that with territorial predators, dates are few and far between.... And apparently the female is the one who does the walking, not the male.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Whale of a Ride!

For those who have been following the saga of the two humpback whales that managed to make their way 90 miles up the Sacramento River to the the Port of Sacramento, today was an amazing day. They made it into the San Pablo Bay (which is part of the Bay Area) and started hauling. They are now past the San Rafael Bridge and practically in sight of the Golden Gate.

You can track their progress using Google Maps.

I know they were going to try another dose of antibiotics today, but I imagine they are going to have to catch them first. They must smell their goal...

Malaysian Christian Tests Islamic Law -

Malaysian Christian Tests Islamic Law -
"KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, May 27 -- Lina Joy has been disowned by her family, shunned by friends and forced into hiding because she renounced Islam and embraced Christianity in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Now, after a seven-year legal struggle, Malaysia's highest court will decide on Wednesday whether her constitutional right to choose her religion overrides an Islamic law that prohibits Malay Muslims from leaving Islam.

Either way, the verdict will have profound implications in a country where Islam is increasingly conflicting with minority religions, challenging Malaysia's reputation as a moderate Muslim and multicultural nation that guarantees freedom of worship.

Joy's case began in 1998 when, after converting, she applied for a name change on her government identity card. The National Registration Department obliged but refused to drop Muslim from the religion category."

This is hard to fathom on more than one level.

First of all, this would not even be an issue under our own U. S. Constitution with its clear statement that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

Second, even with the idea of a national ID card, the concept of identifying people by religion is foreign. It is not so small a step from that to the wearing of a yellow circle or star on one's outer clothing.

Malaysia has a choice here: Respect the rights enumerated in their constitution or allow religion to control civil authority. May they have the courage to uphold their constitution.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Is Atheism Just a Rant Against Religion? -

Is Atheism Just a Rant Against Religion? -
"Despite its minority status, atheism has enjoyed the spotlight of late, with several books that feature vehement arguments against religion topping the bestseller lists.

But some now say secularists should embrace more than the strident rhetoric poured out in such books as 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins and 'The End of Faith' and 'Letter to a Christian Nation' by Sam Harris. By devoting so much space to explaining why religion is bad, these critics argue, atheists leave little room for explaining how a godless worldview can be good.

At a recent conference marking the 30th anniversary of Harvard's humanist chaplaincy, organizers sought to distance the 'new humanism' from the 'new atheism.'

Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein went so far as to use the (other) f-word in describing his unbelieving brethren.

'At times they've made statements that sound really problematic, and when Sam Harris says science must destroy religion, to me that sounds dangerously close to fundamentalism,' Epstein said in an interview after the meeting. 'What we need now is a voice that says, 'That is not all there is to atheism.' '

Although the two can overlap, atheism represents a statement about the absence of belief and is thus defined by what it is not. Humanism seeks to provide a positive, secular framework for leading ethical lives and contributing to the greater good. The term "humanist" emerged with the "Humanist Manifesto" of 1933, a nonbinding document summarizing the movement's principles."
There seem to be a lot of similar articles cropping up all over the place, all on this topic, and I hesitated to link to yet another treatment of a topic I visit on a fairly regular basis.

It seems that the terms used are a moving target, and something in the above quote regarding the origin of the term "humanist" triggered my "what were they thinking here?" reflex.

The concept of humanism actually arose in the Renaissance as a reaction to the scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas and others. Both were an outgrowth of the rediscovery of the ancient Latin and Greek texts. The Scholastics tried to reconcile theology and the ancient philosophies, and the humanists wanted to deal a little more strictly what became known as the humanities subjects (grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, etc.) all seen from a Greek and Latin perspective viewed through a lens of reason

The Humanist Manifestos of 1933, 1973, and 2003 were examples of "religious humanism" (as opposed to secular humanism.) If I had to guess, Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard, would probably not object to being characterized as a "religious humanist". He certainly seems more than willing to see himself as a colleague of more traditional religious leaders, if not in communion with them.

Edward O. Wilson, also of Harvard, is quoted in this article. His willingness to engage with the religious community has been well-known, and in his humorous way suggests that the approach of some atheists tends to "carpet-bomb all religion", thus driving off an entire community that does, in fact, share some ideals when it comes to care for the environment, global warming, hunger, and other issues. (I am making some strong inferences here, but having read a lot of Wilson's work, I think I am pretty close.)

It would seem to me that there is a polarization developing among atheists between those who see themselves are merely holding a different viewpoint, and those whose feelings about religion and its adherents compel them to attempt to eradicate religion. It's as if the very existence of organized religion is a personal affront. We have seem religious extremism in the world, and it is ugly. When these same attitudes are seen among the hard core of atheistic fundamentalists, it can be no less ugly.

Parenthetically, I have to point out that "extremism" is not a term to use lightly; it is not, for example, appropriate to thus characterize a quiet fundamentalist who is willing to let others alone, if they will leave him alone. Nor is is it appropriate to characterize Greg Epstein or Edward Wilson in this manner. Yet the "extremist" label appears with increasing frequency in the secular, religious, and political debates of our time. Let's save the loaded words for appropriate times, shall we?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Royals Showing Signs of Life

I was doing the morning drive to work, and I was snapped out of my lethargy (don't worry - my wife was driving) by the words "The Royals broke their winning streak last night..." You don't hear "Royals" and "winning streak" too often in the same sentence these days, so it does tend to bring my brain to wakefulness.

Looking into the recent performance, the Royals have won 7 of the last 10 and 9 of the last 15 -- so it seems to show improvement -- and that is about all we die-hard Royals fans have these days. Keep it up, Royals!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

TCS Daily - Kiwi Fruit for America

TCS Daily - Kiwi Fruit for America:
"Once upon a time, in a country way, way down under, the government dismantled its system of agricultural subsidies and supports. Initially, cries of outrage and disbelief were heard from farmers all across the land.

For more than 20 years, farm assistance had steadily increased, peaking at 33 percent of total farm output (about double the level of assistance in the U.S. today). Then, with one swift and decisive decree, all subsidies were eliminated.

The transition period, which lasted about 6 years, was not easy, but it was less painful than expected. The government predicted a 10 percent failure rate, but only 1 percent of farms went of business. Government assistance during the transition period was limited to one-off 'exit grants' for those leaving their farms, financial advice, and the same social welfare income support afforded to all citizens."
This is a timely article in view of Bread for the World's 2007 Offering of Letters.

According to Bread for the World, two-thirds of American farmers get no subsidies at all, in contrast with the top 10% of US farmers who receive 60% of the subsidies. This bit of information by itself should raise questions in people's minds. Why is a program that was designed to help the small farmer failing to reach the lower two-thirds of American farmers?

Add to that the subsidized US food commodities that are exported to developing nations, providing food at lower cost that indigenous farmers can grow it. It may have been a good thought, but our system of farm subsidies not only favors the larger farming operations to the exclusion of small family farms, but has the effect, albeit unintended, of making it difficult for small farms in developing countries to operate.

This is something that calls for Christians to reflect, pray, and if they are moved to do so, to let their elected officials know that this is important. It may, perhaps, be even more more important and far-reaching than any other issue facing the United States.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Panel Tells India's Government a Dalit's Faith Should Not Affect Assistance - JOURNAL CHRETIEN

Panel Tells India's Government a Dalit's Faith Should Not Affect Assistance - JOURNAL CHRETIEN:
"NEW DELHI, INDIA — The National Commission for Religious & Linguistic Minorities’ oft-delayed report was released and the findings could drastically change life for India’s Dalit (formerly called “untouchables”) community. If the government accepts the Commission’s recommendations, decades of religious-based discrimination against the lowest-strata in India’s society will be reversed.

The Commission said a clause in a 1950 law should be dropped to de-link status from religion. The clause had restricted government benefits to Scheduled Castes who are Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist. The Commission’s decision was based on a two-year study of the socio-economic and educational condition of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims."
It is hard to imagine that this sort of discrimination can still openly exist in the world today. Is really about religion? Or is it about the preservation of privilege?

For some reason I thought the caste system had been abolished years ago, but its effects linger on institutionally.

A few years ago I recall a controversy from India regarding mass conversions to Christianity of Dalits, but I can't remember the details.

Politicians weigh renewal of Net access tax ban | CNET

Politicians weigh renewal of Net access tax ban | CNET
"WASHINGTON--With only months left on a moratorium restricting state governments from taxing Internet access, the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday began a debate over whether the ban should be made permanent or allowed to lapse.

At issue is the scheduled expiration on November 1 of a law, initially enacted in 1998, that says local governments generally cannot tax Internet access, including DSL (digital subscriber line), cable modem and BlackBerry-type wireless transmission services. The law also prohibits governments from taxing items sold online in a different manner than those sold at brick-and-mortar stores, but it does not deal with sales taxes on online shopping."
Warning -- politicians involved.

This is a recurring issue, and one that I am of two minds about.

I remember the initial arguments that this would help the Internet get on its feet. Well, that has happened, and the Internet is doing right well.

Of course, legislatures are always looking for ways to keep the meter running, and I have little sympathy with that in view of the documented waste in our state government.

The issue of sales taxes is addressed by existing state laws requiring sales taxes to be paid on items bought out-of-state and shipped to your address. We all do that, right?

How would internet access be taxed? The existence of a line? Bandwidth capability of the line? Actual bandwidth used?

Another issue that an informed person should be aware of is Net Neutrality, which has been a bit of hot potato for a year or so.

Oh well. Something to look forward to in the Fall.

Back From A Short Hiatus

Friday I started coughing a lot, Saturday I developed a fever which remained above 100F for four days, and a few other details I won't bore you with. My fever broke last night and I feel a little more chipper.

Tomorrow, I plan to go to work.

This evening, I'll catch up on some blogging.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Fred's watershed? - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Fred's watershed? - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
"On the day of the first Southern-state Republican debate on the Fox News Channel, one undeclared GOP candidate performed a media leapfrog.

With the help of one 38-second video clip and a great sense of humor, Fred Thompson, the former U.S. senator from Tennessee who is one sock away from dipping his toe into the race for the White House, remained just as relevant as the other GOP candidates.

And thanks to Michael Moore, the Hollywood documentarian who just can't help himself, Thompson delivered what, in time, could become his watershed moment."
For those who have not seen the short video clip, take a look here (

This article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review gives a pretty good summary of how this video came to be.

Considering the level of debate thus far, Fred Thompson's entry into the race might improve things. I suppose there are some potential opponents who would rather not see him in the debates, but I think he'd shake things up. I mean anyone who can administer such a skilled political takedown in less than 38 seconds (actually only about 30 seconds of talking) certainly has formidable communication skills.

The article linked above suggested that regardless of whether Thompson enters the race, the use of short video clips may, in itself, be a watershed moment in political discourse:
"The question is not if this was a watershed. The question is, whose watershed was it -- Thompson's, mainstream media's or new media's?"
This could be interesting....

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Harvard Crimson: Science and Religion Drive Divinity Professor

The Harvard Crimson :: News :: Science and Religion Drive Divinity Professor:
"A self-proclaimed hippie with a never-settled quest for religious understanding, Philip Clayton—a visiting professor this year at the Harvard Divinity School (HDS)—has spent the past year encouraging the exploration of the delicate balance between the study of science and the study of religion, an interest motivated in part by his own uncertainties of faith.

“I’ve met religious people for whom religion is no conflict—it’s as obvious as the air you breathe, or your own name, and I was never one of those people,” Clayton says. “It was always an intellectual struggle.

“Science and religion was the field in which that struggle expressed itself,” he added."
This guy has had an interesting trajectory, coming from an atheistic family, joining a church at 14, and studying "the areas of tension and sometimes harmony" between science and religion. He had a particularly humorous anecdote about the problems in telling his parents that he had had a conversion experience. (You can follow the link and read the whole article.)

Clayton had some interesting things to say about the human tendency to place God in the gaps of our scientific knowledge -- i.e. phenomena that we can't explain can be neatly filled by God. The problem is the gaps are constantly shrinking and where does that leave our concept of God?

As for Harvard's recent dropping of the "religion and reason" course requirement for undergraduates, his response was:
"Tragic. Tragic. If Harvard’s goal is to train the men and women who will be leaders across all branches of American culture, and internationally, then these have to be people who are knowledgeable in the fundamental cultural conflicts of our day."
I have to admit, I find the use of "academic speak" just a bit jarring when I hear or read about my religion, but I suppose it can be no other way for professors in secular universities. At least there are people who are still dealing with it at our educational institutions, which is better than the alternative...

Friday, May 18, 2007

KC Royals Take a Series in Oakland!

This really shouldn't need the exclamation point on the end of the title, but it happens so infrequently these days....

Those who have followed the Royals (and the previous Kansas City team) over the years know how sweet it is to serve it to the A's in Oakland.

It may be a long time before we see the heady days of the mid-1980s with Howser, Brett, Wilson, White, Saberhagen, Quisenberry, and all the others who made the Royals true contenders -- but we can hope.

Russian Church to End Schism -

Russian Church to End Schism -
"MOSCOW -- Russian Orthodox leaders will move to end nine decades of bitter division Thursday with a pact reuniting the main church in Russia with a breakaway church that split off as Communist rule took hold after the Bolshevik Revolution.

Patriarch Alexy II, who heads the largest flock in the Orthodox Christian world, is to sign the Canonical Communion Act with Metropolitan Laurus, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

The ceremony is to take place at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral -- a symbol of the revival of Russia's dominant church since the 1991 collapse of the officially atheist Soviet Union. The golden-domed church is a replica of the cathedral blown up in 1931 on the orders of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. ..."
It's nice to see old rifts healed.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bible drawn into sex publication controversy | Oddly Enough | Reuters

Bible drawn into sex publication controversy | Oddly Enough | Reuters:
"HONG KONG (Reuters) - More than 800 Hong Kong residents have called on authorities to reclassify the Bible as 'indecent' due to its sexual and violent content, following an uproar over a sex column in a university student journal.

A spokesperson for Hong Kong's Television and Entertainment Licensing authority (TELA) said it had received 838 complaints about the Bible by noon Wednesday.

The complaints follow the launch of an anonymous Web site -- -- which said the holy book 'made one tremble' given its sexual and violent content, including rape and incest.

The Web site said the Bible's sexual content 'far exceeds' that of a recent sex column published in the Chinese University's 'Student Press' magazine, which had asked readers whether they'd ever fantasized about incest or bestiality."
I saw this linked on Presbyweb, and my first reaction was that someone had a little too much time on their hands.

I still think that, but it also seems that this is a fairly well-organized "spontaneous" outpouring of "concern" about pornography by people who (1) have little problem with it in the first place; and (2) may not be all that familiar with the passages in question.

Reuters may be a little amused by all this as well, since this article is to be found in the "Oddly Enough" section....

PC(USA) News: Tennessee church finds a creative way to support international mission

PC(USA) News: Tennessee church finds a creative way to support international mission:
"LOUISVILLE — First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, TN, believes financial support of international mission personnel can be as easy as 1-2-3.

First Presbyterian is challenging each member to give $2 per month for a year to support Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) international mission personnel. The church named the effort the “1-2-3 Offering” to remind parishioners that the offering is taken on the first Sunday of every month, that a $2 donation is requested, and that funds collected will support the third century of mission by U.S. Presbyterians."
I like this. It is simple and easy to remember.

The idea of showing people how effective small amounts of money can be when multiplied over time and numbers of members is used in other campaigns like One Great Hour Of Sharing. How much money leaks out of our pockets in the course of days, weeks, months, and years?

I think I will float this idea at the next Mission Committee meeting.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Anger gone nuclear -- Presbyterian Outlook

Anger gone nuclear -- Presbyterian Outlook:
"Anger is to humanity what nuclear energy is to electricity. Powerful and creative. Volatile and dangerous.

God created anger, and for good reason. Anger stirs social workers to rescue abused children from violent parents. Anger provokes prophets to expose exploiting power brokers. Anger compels the courageous to break chains of injustice. Anger confronts religious hypocrites and drives moneychangers out of temples.

Then again, evil hijacks anger for destructive pur­poses. It batters spouses and children. It unleashes the privileged against the powerless—and vice versa. It propagates hatred. It murders innocents. It morphs into resentment, escalates into bitterness, depresses into isolation, and explodes into carnage. ..."
Dr. Haberer goes on to remind the Presbyterian Church and its various factions that we as a denomination cannot "feign innocence" -- the easiest way to work a crowd is to go on the attack, using pejoratives. Haberer highlights "Those liberals" or "those fundamentalists," "those gays" or "those homophobes". (I would add the characterizations "anti-choice" and "baby killers" to this mix.)

Haberer calls this "potshot preaching" and expresses great concern over the effect it is having on the overall climate of our denomination. He reads the letters to the editor, and while most are posted online and some find their way into print, there are some "so violate basic decency, that we are compelled to hit the delete key."

The Outlook is beginning a collaborative effort with Tom Ehrlich called "The Church Wellness Project". It is the hope of The Outlook that "... in publishing these columns is that Tom will help us all become the health­filled, transparent, humble, thoughtful, compassionate, prophetic, coura­geous and, ultimately, Christlike community of faith that knows how to turn even anger, like harnessed nu­clear energy, into a creative motivation—just as God intended."

The Outlook requires registration to read the articles online, but it is free, and I recommend it highly. It is one of the best sources for truly balanced and independent reporting of the life of the PC(USA)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's Day 2007

My thanks and best wishes go out to two women who have been a part of my life, one for nearly 55 years and the other coming on 26 years. Each has had a major effect on my personal development and I cannot possibly thank them enough for all they have done.

My mother taught me how to hear and read critically, and not to accept everything unquestioningly. We may not agree on everything, but I still approach the Bible in much the same way as she encouraged me to while I was growing up. She was the primary parent during the two times my father went to war (although I have no memories of the time he was in Korea). She entered the workforce relatively late, but worked hard in the home to ensure that her four kids were able to grow up in a loving home. Being a mother is a tough job, and one that is greatly undervalued.

My wife, whom I first met in 1977, has been a joy to me as we dated and throughout our marriage beginning in 1981. She has taught me much about love and how to show it, even to people who are hard to love. Her interests parallel and complement my own (always a good thing), and together we have learned new things and developed new interests. Eleven years into our marriage we had a son together who is now fourteen, and together we are trying to ease his passage from childhood to adulthood. It's an awfully short amount of time we have to raise a child....

Happy Mother's Day, Mom and Susan!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Breaches ease pressure -- Columbia Tribune

Breaches ease pressure -- Columbia Tribune:
"Misfortune upstream likely helped Mid-Missouri dodge big damage this week as a peak pulse of floodwater traveled down the Missouri River.

On Thursday, river watchers drastically scaled back the threat for this area, allowing many small river communities to breathe a sigh of relief. But that fortunate development came after people farther up the Missouri saw levees fail or get topped by the swollen river.

'What we’re believing is that they revised the forecast down because a lot of the smaller, non-federal levees and ag levees above them were either topped or breached, so that allows the water to spread out,' said Bob Finneran, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers levee inspector for the Kansas City district."
This article goes on to note that much of the flooded areas upstream were Missouri Department of Conservation bottom lands that were managed specifically "in anticipation of the ebb and flow of water." Many of these public lands were former agricultural lands that were bought out following the devastating floods of the latter years of the last century.

I have been a supporter of free-flowing, natural rivers for many years, and the scientist in me realizes that straightening out the meanders (shortening the river), deepening the channels, and confining the rivers with levees has contributed significantly to the worsening of floods. There were floods before the "taming" of the rivers, to be sure, but the rivers at least had somewhere to go.

I married into an agricultural family, so I also have a sensitivity to those farmers who lost crops in past floods, and who will continue to lose crops as long as they farm the floodplains. When you get right down to it, it is great farmland. Most of the time. What has happened to the rivers is not their fault, but they certainly pay the price for the policies of the past.

The Missouri River presents a complex issue pitting recreational interests in South Dakota against barge traffic in Missouri. Kansas grain can be shipped by rail to Kansas City, and floated the rest of the way to the mills in St Louis and along the Mississippi, and ultimately to international grain terminals on the Gulf of Mexico.

But in order to float the barges, the dams upstream have to release water in the summer when it is most needed for the summer and fall harvests. This is the same time when the recreational interests need it the most. All too often recreational interests trump agricultural interests.

But the most ironic thing seems to be that the changes in river flow to support barges may have had the unintended effect of hurting the farmers in Missouri.

Friday, May 11, 2007

At Georgetown, InterVarsity is Back | Liveblog | Christianity Today

At Georgetown, InterVarsity is Back | Liveblog | Christianity Today:
"Last year, just before the students returned to the campus of the Roman Catholic Georgetown University, the school's Protestant chaplain informed six evangelical student ministries that they were being 'disafilliated.' That is, they could not use campus facilities for their events, could not advertise their events on campus, and could not use the Georgetown name or logo.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was one of the affected ministries, and the irony could not have been sharper: the daughter of IVCF president Alec Hill was a Georgetown student."
This was a break from the usual legal issues -- in other instances public universities had attempted to "disaffiliate" InterVarsity due to their requirement that officers subscribe to Christian beliefs. Legal action has been effective in these cases (and the law seems to support InterVarsity's stand).

But in this case Georgetown University, being private, could ban any group that was not Catholic, if they so desired.

From Alec Hill, as quoted in the InterVarsity press release:
"I give a lot of credit to our staff and student leaders who did not overreact. They were firm but diplomatic in their dealing with university officials. We are grateful for the good spirit of dialog shown by Georgetown as this agreement was worked out."
It's good to see it could be handled in this way; it is far more satisfying than needing to resort to the courts to enforce what should be a common-sense decision based on existing law.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Romney and Sharpton Clash Over Mormonism -

Romney and Sharpton Clash Over Mormonism -
"Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and civil rights activist Al Sharpton traded angry, racially charged accusations yesterday, with Romney alleging that Sharpton had uttered 'bigoted' comments about Mormonism.

On the campaign trail in Iowa, Romney was asked about Sharpton's comment during a debate Monday that 'those of us who believe in God' will defeat Romney. The former Massachusetts governor told reporters that such a comment 'shows that bigotry still exists in some corners.'

Sharpton angrily denied Romney's charge in a telephone interview yesterday, and he accused Romney of stoking a verbal war with him to gain support among conservatives.

Sharpton said his comments have been taken out of their original context -- a debate about religion with journalist Christopher Hitchens, who Sharpton said had suggested that Mormonism once advocated segregation."
A couple comments for Romney:
  1. Don't get into a spitting contest with a man who is so skilled at it.
  2. Don't worry too much about an avowed atheist's take on the details of religious history.
I am not a Mormon, and I find much to disagree with Mormon theology and practice. I am aware that the Mormons dropped their stance that persons with African blood were ineligible for the priesthood back in 1978 -- nearly 30 years ago. This article quotes Richard Ostling, a well-respected AP religion writer for many years as saying that there is no record of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ever advocating segregation. This was based on Ostling's research into a book on Mormons in the United States.

There are plenty of substantive reasons to question any given candidate's positions without resorting to religious bigotry.

Unfortunately, the quadrennial presidential political shenanigans are on us even earlier than usual.....

Columbia Missourian - Flood waters passing without major damage

Columbia Missourian - Flood waters passing without major damage:
"A speedy, coordinated response, combined with declining crest forecasts along the Missouri River, has officials and residents of Boone County towns optimistic that damage from flooding this week will be minimal.

Crest forecasts from the National Weather Service on Wednesday called for a high-water mark of 32.8 feet at Boonville on Saturday. That’s more than 11 feet above flood stage but six inches lower than Tuesday’s forecast. At Jefferson City, the river was predicted to crest near 31.7 feet on Sunday. That is more than a foot lower than the forecast peak from the day before."
Better news than expected....

It's still a major flood, and a lot of bottomland has been inundated, but it looks as if the major damage we have seen in the big floods over the past 21 years will be avoided for now.

Prayers for those affected by the flooding are still in order...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Major flood predicted

Major flood predicted:
"WILTON - Maggie Riesenmy recalls the time when the American Red Cross used the front porch of her store as a food distribution center for her neighbors affected by the Flood of 1993. The Riesenmys had built a sandbag wall in front of their store on River Road to protect them from the flooding Missouri River.

So when warning came yesterday that another major flood was on the way, she knew what to do: Stay calm. 'Done this before. We were here in ’93; we were here in ’95. That was my first reaction,' Riesenmy said. 'The river will take what she takes, and do the best you can.'

Numerous communities were evacuating their residents yesterday and today as the National Weather Service predicted near-1993 flooding levels across much of the state.

Rivers and streams already were overrunning their banks yesterday in parts of northwest Missouri, and flooding was expected later in the week farther east. As the floodwaters rose, Gov. Matt Blunt declared a state of emergency and authorized the mobilization of Missouri National Guard troops. ..."

I've been in Missouri long enough to have seen the 1986, 1993, and 1995 floods -- all of which were labeled 500-year-floods. The NOAA river forecast center is showing a prediction for a 33.5 foot stage by 6AM Saturday in Boonville. That is 12.5 feet above flood stage and a few feet below the 1993 flood. (NOAA's disclaimer is that these forecasts assume no additional rain...)

Sandbagging volunteers are already at work in Rocheport, MO and will work their way downstream over the next few days. The Katy Trail runs along the river, and there are a number of low-lying communities that stand to be inundated yet again.

Monday, May 07, 2007

What Accent Do I Have?

OK. I saw this linked on The Kruse Kronicle, and I am shocked! Shocked! (rhymes with chalk, if anyone really cares).

I have gone through life being told I have no accent and now I'm told that my accent comes from a place I have never lived.

Well, maybe it has a little to do with my mother who grew up in Philadelphia and my father who grew up across the river in Camden....

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: Philadelphia

Your accent is as Philadelphian as a cheesesteak! If you're not from Philadelphia, then you're from someplace near there like south Jersey, Baltimore, or Wilmington. if you've ever journeyed to some far off place where people don't know that Philly has an accent, someone may have thought you talked a little weird even though they didn't have a clue what accent it was they heard.

The Northeast
The Midland
The South
The Inland North
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Is There Disdain For Evangelicals In the Classroom? -

Is There Disdain For Evangelicals In the Classroom? -
"Frank G. Kauffman was teaching a course in social work at Missouri State University in 2005 when he gave an assignment that sparked a lawsuit and nearly destroyed his academic career.

He asked his students to write letters urging state legislators to support adoptions by same-sex couples. Emily Brooker, then a junior majoring in social work, objected that the assignment violated her Christian beliefs. When she refused to sign her letter, she was hauled before a faculty panel on a charge of discriminating against gays."
To Missouri State University's credit, they quickly quashed the discrimination charge, removing it from Brooker's record, and, in an out-of-court settlement, offered to pay for her graduate schooling.

This article cites two studies, one from collaborators from Harvard University and George Mason University, and one from the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. Both studies found that overall, university professors are less religious than the public at large, but that atheists and agnostics nonetheless represent a minority.

The Institute for Jewish and Community Research measured attitudes toward various religious groups with an eye toward determining how much anti-semitism there was at education institutions. While most religious groups, including Jews, were generally viewed positively, two groups in particular elicited "highly negative" responses: Evangelical Christians and Mormons.

From the Major Findings section of the IJCR report (reformatted for clarity):
  1. Faculty Feel Warmly about Most Religious Groups, but Feel Coldly about Evangelicals and Mormons -- Faculty have positive feelings toward Jews, Buddhists, Catholics, and Atheists.
  2. Faculty Feel Most Unfavorably about Evangelical Christians -- This is the only religious group about which a majority of non-Evangelical faculty have negative feelings.
  3. Faculty Are Almost Unanimous in Their Belief That Evangelical Christians (Fundamentalists) Should Keep Their Religious Beliefs Out of American Politics -- Faculty who are secular/liberal are more likely to favor separation of religion and government, and those who are religious and conservative are more likely to advocate a closer connection between religion and government.
  4. Although Faculty Generally Oppose Religion in the Public Sphere, Many Endorse the Idea That Muslims Should Express Their Religious Beliefs in American Politics -- Faculty are far less likely to endorse Evangelical Christians expressing their beliefs in American politics.
Note that this report seems to conflate the terms "Evangelical" and "Fundamentalist", which is an error all too often made in this debate.

The Washington Post article mentioned that not all in the education field feel this is a problem, which is no surprise, but one comment from an administrator should be noted. William B. Harvey, vice president for diversity and equity at the University of Virginia, while conceding that the findings may in fact be true, said it was a leap to assume that this translates to discrimination in the classroom. I would have to agree -- I have encountered professors whose opinions are well-known, but who are nevertheless fair in the classroom. I have also encountered professors who are not, but in far fewer numbers.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Facing criticism, evangelicals urge flock to adopt | - Houston Chronicle

Facing criticism, evangelicals urge flock to adopt | - Houston Chronicle:
"DENVER — Prominent evangelical Christians are urging churchgoers to strongly consider adoption or foster care, not just out of kindness or biblical calling but also to answer criticism that their movement, while condemning abortion and same-sex adoption, doesn't do enough for children without parents.

With backing from Focus on the Family and best-selling author Rick Warren, the effort to promote 'orphan care' among the nation's estimated 65 million evangelicals could drastically reduce foster care rolls if successful.

Yet sensitive issues lie ahead: about evangelizing, religious attitudes on corporal punishment, gay and lesbian foster children, racially mixed families, and resolving long-standing tensions between religious groups and the government.
My impression has been that evangelical groups have been doing more than most other groups in promoting adoption as an alternative. But having said that, as long as there are children in need, no one is doing all that is needed, and no one's job is done. And the third paragraph alludes to a significant stumbling block -- there has been a tendency for the very real needs of children to be eclipsed by issues held dear on all sides of the various debates.

The people promoting this initiative also recognize that not all can adopt:
"...Aware that adoption and foster care aren't for everyone, organizers are suggesting alternatives such as providing support networks for foster families, taking short-term mission trips and sponsoring orphanages. ..."
This is one area in which anyone can take part. The support of the entire community (be it local, regional, national, or worldwide) is necessary regardless of how many families are able to step forward and adopt.

Friday, May 04, 2007

OpinionJournal - True Unbelievers

OpinionJournal - True Unbelievers:
(H/T Presbyweb)
Tuesday, May 1, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

A recent Associated Press story, headlined 'Atheists Split on How Not to Believe,' has set fingers tapping throughout the blogosphere. The gist of the story as I read it is that there are soft atheists and fundamentalist atheists, and the softies are concerned that the fundies are becoming too outspoken, too uppity, indeed that they are giving unbelievers a bad name--a good trick that, like trying to give a bad name to an oil slick.

As usual, the impetus for this new development was 9/11, and the death and destruction caused by religious fanatics, after which some atheist intellectuals decided there was complicity in silence, thus they would be silent no more.

The spokesman for the soft atheists has been Greg Epstein, a 'humanist chaplain' at Harvard University. The Rev. Mr. Epstein is encouraging the fundamentalists or 'New Atheists' to pipe down, and warns that their outspokenness is keeping fence-sitters from coming over to the side of the humanists, a dubious allegation, at best. Though I can't prove it, it seems to me that passionate advocacy attracts converts as often as it drives them away."
Epstein, even if he is coming from the wrong side of the debate, sees quite clearly that the fundamentalist atheists are not adding much to the debate, and suggests that, in fact, they are making it difficult for his side of the spectrum.

I wish I could believe that the strident voices from the hard-core atheists would be heard for what they are -- the voice of intolerance -- but experience in hearing racists and sexists and all kinds of ethnic intolerance in the course of my life leads me to suspect that dealing with the intolerance of the fundamentalist atheists will be no less painful. Words CAN hurt, especially when they are tinged with scorn and hatred.

I suppose the best thing we can do is not descend to their level, and to consider the words of Paul in Romans 12:17-18:
Ro 12:17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Ro 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Geneva College court battle could end - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Geneva College court battle could end - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
"The United States and Pennsylvania now agree that Geneva College's policy of hiring only Christians is not illegal, a development that could end a court standoff between the two governments and the Beaver County school.

The college claimed its rights to free expression, free speech and church autonomy were violated when it was told it could not mention a religious preference for job applicants in help-wanted ads posted on a government Web site."
Maybe my opinion is somewhat colored by my 2 years teaching at a Presbyterian college, but this seems like a no-brainer. Geneva College is quite clear about what it is, where it comes from, and what its expectations are of its students and faculty.

PC(USA) News: Spiritual impact on wellness often beyond the grasp of science

PC(USA) News: Spiritual impact on wellness often beyond the grasp of science:
"by Dave Parks
Religion News Service

TUSCALOOSA, AL — A blossoming body of research is showing that religion can have an impressive impact on health, but scientists are also finding limits in their ability to study this benefit, says a leading authority on the subject. ..."
This article is generally well written, but I need to point out that the assertion in the above paragraph should come as no surprise to anyone who understands the methods and limitations of the scientific method. God, by his nature, is outside our abilities to touch, feel, measure, confine, or experiment. Assertions of a small number prominent scientists notwithstanding, you can not use the methods of science to prove the existence of God, much less claim that science has proven that God does not exist.

(OK -- my buttons got pushed here. Moving right along...)

This article highlights the work over the past 20 years of Dr. Harold Koenig, a Duke University researcher, whose interest is the link between religion and health. The article summarized Koenig's main findings in three areas:
  1. People with strong religious beliefs tend not to get depressed as often as people lacking such beliefs, and if they do, they tend to recover quicker.
  2. People who attend worship weekly had indicators of a stronger immune system
  3. People with strong religious beliefs have statistically lower incidence of hypertension and slower mental decline associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Since depression is a major factor in the course of other, unrelated diseases, the first finding may have far-reaching significance.

At a recent conference Koenig was asked why disease and poor health were so high in the region commonly referred as the "Bible Belt". Koenig's reply was that religion was not a cure for inactivity, stress or poor diet.

More information can be found at the Duke Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health website.