Here is good news for those of us who have been continually told that divorce rates amongst Christians are comparable to those of the general population: The Christian Divorce Rate Myth.
W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, finds from his own analysis that “active conservative Protestants” who regularly attend church are 35 percent less likely to divorce compared to those who have no affiliation. Nominally attending conservative Protestants are 20 percent more likely to divorce, compared to secular Americans . . . .
The divorce rates of Christian believers are not identical to the general population — not even close. Being a committed, faithful believer makes a measurable difference in marriage.
Saying you believe something or merely belonging to a church, unsurprisingly, does little for marriage. But the more you are involved in the actual practice of your faith in real ways — through submitting yourself to a serious body of believers, learning regularly from Scripture, being in communion with God though prayer individually and with your spouse and children, and having friends and family around you who challenge you to take [your marriage] seriously — the greater difference this makes in strengthening both the quality and longevity of our marriages. Faith does matter and the leading sociologists of family and religion tell us so.
As a literature professor, one of the challenges I face is helping students to see that “fiction” and “falsehood” are not interchangeable terms. Just because something is fictional does not mean that it is, per se, untrue; fiction is imaginative prose that may or may not be journalistically or historically true.
Typically, fiction makes no claim on historicity or journalistic probity, though there certainly are exceptions to this. Some writers of historical fiction create imaginative characters who function in historically accurate settings (think Harriet Beecher Stowe’s sobering Uncle Tom’s Cabin), even as some fiction writers place actual historical persons into imaginative settings (think Seth Grahame-Smith’s surreal Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). Some writers arrange historical tidbits into fictional tales that masquerade as factual truth. Perhaps the most notorious of these writers is Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code fame, who opened that novel with three assertions of fact, the third being that “all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate” (1).
I often tell my students that they have only to shop at a bookstore (brick and mortar stores in particular) and inspect the non-fiction section to see that “non-fiction” emphatically does not mean “true.” The inverse may be true as well: “fiction” does not mean “untrue.”
Not long ago I gave a lecture on citizen journalism to a course in media and everyone wanted to talk about Mike Daisey’s expose on NPR’s This American Life, which was a scathing indictment of the working conditions of Apple’s factories in China. Daisey’s episode had, apparently, become the most downloaded in the show’s history. The students were very interested in how this one man seemed poised to change corporate human rights perceptions among a generation of Westerners who were navigating their own culpability in Apple’s alleged abuses. Since that lecture, however, Daisey’s report has unraveled and NPR has taken the unusual step of retracting the episode.
Daisey’s defense, however, has been that his report was not journalistically accurate but was “artistic truth.” He says that the essence of the story, not the facts themselves, create a representation of truth that is, well, true. Apparently, students in a journalism course at Seton Hall agreed with Daisey, with the instructor saying that for the students, “the idea that there might be different versions of the truth — a larger truth, or an emotional truth — . . . seemed OK.”
Troubling on so many levels.
Here’s my bottom line, though: when we allow truth to be mixed with error, we give quarter to those who would abuse the truth in service to self. If the police trump up charges to press for a conviction of a man who is guilty of an actual crime, the criminal may escape his due punishment. Worse, we may commit an atrocity of law that can only be viewed as some sort of karmic justice (see for instance, William Faulkner’s character Popeye in the brutal novel Sanctuary, who is hanged for a crime that he couldn’t have committed because at the time he was committing another capital crime, which he could not use as an alibi in the convicting court).
One of the most frustrating things that I have do deal with in my secular contexts is the ease with which Christians pass along rumors that masquerade as fact. Yes, we may find a particular party or organization wicked, but we are not, then, entitled to mix truth with error in a vain quest for “ethical truth” or “virtual power.” In doing this, we succeed not in destroying those who may be guilty of egregious wrong but rather of looking foolish and allowing the (other) wrong-doers to escape the veracity of their actual malfeasance.
When Pontius Pilate asked the iconic question “What is truth?” (John 18:38) he was voicing the overarching question of unbelievers everywhere. If Christians are not clear in their use of both truth and Truth, we cannot overcome the eye-rolling response that occurs all too often.
A church, then, I take to be a voluntary society of men, joining themselves together of their own accord in order to the public worshipping of God in such manner as they judge acceptable to Him, and effectual to the salvation of their souls.
I say it is a free and voluntary society. Nobody is born a member of any church; otherwise the religion of parents would descend unto children by the same right of inheritance as their temporal estates, and everyone would hold his faith by the same tenure he does his lands, than which nothing can be imagined more absurd. Thus, therefore, that matter stands. No man by nature is bound unto any particular church or sect, but everyone joins himself voluntarily to that society in which he believes he has found that profession and worship which is truly acceptable to God.
Q. What do you believe concerning “the holy catholic church”?
A. I believe that the Son of God through his Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith. And of this community I am and always will be a living member.
Historic liberalism is predicated on the assumption that all communities can be reduced to mere voluntary associations of sovereign individuals uniting with each other for specific self-chosen purposes amendable at their own discretion. This is behind the contractarian vision of the state, and it also obviously has relevance for the institutional (or not so institutional) church. Is it mere coincidence that North America, whose culture has been deeply influenced by Locke, is disproportionately populated by churches with voluntaristic polities and a commitment to what has been called “decisional regeneration”?
What if we were to take seriously St. Peter’s words concerning the church and the seriousness of God’s sovereign call to us as its members?
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).
How would this change our attitude towards the church as corporate recipient of God’s grace?
Carson Weitnauer writes at the Gospel Coalition blog about the Irony of Atheism, including,
The contrasts are clear: atheists claim that religion is the main barrier to reason. Christians believe our capacity to reason comes from being created in the image of an all-knowing God, and the active use of reason is an important way to honor him. Atheists brand themselves as a community united by reason. Christians marvel at how this group rallies together even as their most prominent leader, Richard Dawkins, argues that evolution favors the selfish gene, not the reasonable group. Atheists work hard to eradicate religion for the sake of a brighter future. Christians are amazed that atheists so blissfully ignore the scientific fact that, if religion is a false consolation, the future always ends in death.
The Man in the Middle:
An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era
By Timothy S. Goeglein
(B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee, 2011)
Reviewed by Connie Marshner
Many people write Washington memoirs because they want to air dirty laundry or spew forth detraction and scandal, or at least indulge in a little I-told-you-so gloating. It is refreshing to read recollections of a tour of duty in the White House that has none of this.
Now Washington rep for Focus on the Family, Goeglein was Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison from January 21, 2001 until early 2008—the man in the middle between the Christian, pro-life, pro-family grassroots and Karl Rove/George W. Bush. A Missouri Lutheran, Tim was the perfect liaison. Your reviewer observed—and even put—him in some pretty stressful situations during those years, and never was he without calmness and a well-reasoned, well-worded response that faithfully and accurately reflected his bosses, Karl Rove and George W. Bush.
In the line of duty, he was masterful at keeping even a hint of his own opinion out of his words or his voice. In this book, he has his chance to make up for lost time. But instead, he stays true to form, and that gives the book its value.
One tradition of religious liberty contends that freedom of conscience is protected and advanced by the autonomy of religious groups. In this view, government should honor an institutional pluralism — the ability of people to associate, live and act in accordance with their religious beliefs, limited only by the clear requirements of public order. So Roger Williams welcomed Catholics and Quakers to the Rhode Island colony, arguing that a “Church or company of worshippers (whether true or false) . . . may dissent, divide, breake into Schismes and Factions, sue and implead each other at the Law, yea wholly breake up and dissolve into pieces and nothing, and yet the peace of the Citie not be in the least measure impaired or disturbed.”
There is another form of modern liberalism that defines freedom of conscience in purely personal terms. Only the individual and the state are real, at least when it comes to the law. And the state must often intervene to protect the individual from the oppression of illiberal social institutions, particularly religious ones.
This is the guiding philosophy of the American Civil Liberties Union. But as Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs, pointed out to me, this approach has roots in the Anglo American tradition of political philosophy. John Locke’s “Letter Concerning Toleration” urges legal respect for individual conscience because “everyone is orthodox to himself.” But Locke offered no tolerance for the institution of the Catholic Church: “That Church can have no right to be tolerated by the magistrate which is constituted upon such a bottom that all those who enter into it do thereby ipso facto deliver themselves up to the protection and service of another prince.” In Locke’s view, Catholics can worship as they wish as individuals, but their institution is a danger to the liberal order.
In the meantime, Kevin L. Boonstra has published an analysis of the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision in S.L. v. Commission Scolaire des Chênes: LexView 76.0 – Whose Children Are They, Anyway? Controversies over religious freedom have erupted virtually simultaneously on both sides of the 49th parallel. Let us pray for justice in the two countries and elsewhere.
The organizers of the upcoming secularist Reason Rally have placed themselves in a pickle. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for these who portray themselves as the defenders of reason and science.
Every scientist knows it’s unprofessional to draw conclusions from a non-representative sample, and that it will lead to false results every time. In a word, it is both unscientific and unreasonable.
Now we have news that a vice-president of the National Atheist Party has invited the inflammatory fringe “church,” Westboro Baptist, to the rally. Notably no such invitation has been sent to the True Reason group that’s planning to bring a non-disruptive, reasoning Christian presence there. (Full disclosure: I’m involved in leadership of that initiative.)
So what will the Reason Rally representatives do with the Westboro Church’s shouts, picket signs, and expressions of hatred? The scientifically responsible, reasoning thing for them to do would be to say, “Okay, folks, draw no conclusions about Christianity or religion from this group! They are a non-representative sample! There’s no reason for us to think Christianity is at all like that!”
I’m sure that’s why they invited them there–so they could do exactly that. Right?
Ill winds are blowing across the land when it comes to parental rights, religious liberty and education policy.
Quebec’s new “ethics and religious culture” curriculum aims to promote religious tolerance by teaching that religious differences don’t matter. If you are a Muslim parent who wants to teach your child that Islam is superior to being an atheist or being a witch, the education system will be undermining that view in class. Quebec will brook no exceptions to the new groupthink: No child is permitted to be exempt from class when the teacher instructs her that her pious parents are teaching her falsehoods. The Supreme Court of Canada affirmed this soft totalitarianism last month, saying in effect that parents ought to get with the program and get over their religious, moral and cultural obligations to instruct their children. That is the narrowing of liberty to the point of eliminating it; everyone is free to teach his kids what he wants at home, just as long as the state gets to teach the little ones the opposite at school.
After reading Fr. de Souza, I am reminded of this quotation from the great christian statesman Abraham Kuyper with more than a little relevance for current developments on both sides of the 49th parallel:
When principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then battle is your calling, and peace has become sin; you must, at the price of dearest peace, lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy, with all the fire of your faith.
Incidentally, Fr. de Souza delivered this homily at Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’ funeral three years ago.
This past weekend my wife and I were privileged to attend a banquet near Toronto to mark the first anniversary of the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister of minorities and the only Christian in that country’s government. A number of dignitaries were present at this event, including Canada’s immigration minister, Jason Kenney, who delivered an excellent keynote address, and the newly minted Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto. Far from being a sombre event, there was a note of celebration and thanksgiving for the life and witness of this servant of Jesus Christ. No one can fail to be moved by this heroic statement of faith in Christ which Bhatti recorded prior to the death he so clearly anticipated.
This morning we observed Holy Communion for the first time since late last year. How I wish Reformed churches would celebrate the Lord’s Supper whenever they meet for worship. When will we finally follow Calvin’s wishes rather than the defective practice of Geneva’s city fathers? Many years ago I published this article in Reformed Worship: The Lord’s Supper: How Often? Here is an excerpt:
As for the Lord’s Supper itself, we should begin to think of it as it was meant to be: a meal. We eat meals three times a day. And the most pleasant and meaningful of these are eaten in the company of family and friends. Fellowship at table does not lose its significance simply because it is repeated two or three times daily. The same, I would argue, is true of frequent reception of communion.
Because we are frail human beings plagued with the normal doubts that beset everyone, we need this tangible confirmation of our salvation in Christ’s body and blood. Far from being burdensome, our nourishment in the Lord’s Supper should be cause for joy and gratitude. . . .
In churches where the Lord’s Supper is celebrated weekly, the people have generally come to treasure this opportunity to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). Far from becoming mundane and ordinary, the supper has come to enrich the faith of those receiving, who increasingly find themselves looking forward to each Resurrection Day with eager anticipation.
The welfare state consists of a network of public, financial benefits originally established to even out the boom and bust extremes of the business cycle. In the United States, the welfare state got its start with President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and continued with President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
Although the welfare state’s existence is not especially controversial outside of libertarian circles, a number of related issues merit reflection. First, does the state possess the normative competence to provide a diverse array of services beyond its core functions of making and executing the law, as well as judging under the law? Second, does the state bear a legitimate responsibility for resolving social issues such as poverty, unemployment, homelessness and disease?
David Cross earned new bragging rights at the White House a while back, according to a Fox News report yesterday. That’s what he was after, and that’s what he gained, when he did cocaine at a dinner there in 2009: “It was just about being able to say that I did it, that I did cocaine in the same room as the president,” he said in a recent interview.
He is an actor—a famous one. I have known aspiring actors who have thought a TV role would mean that they had really arrived. It does not seem to have been so for him. He was invited to a White House dinner. Many of us would consider that all we could ever need to boast about. But apparently for David Cross, that wasn’t quite enough, either. He needed to score one more point: to be able to add to his being a famous TV star, and his having been to dinner at the White House, “I did cocaine in the same room as the president.”
And what does it feel like to be able to make that boast? “I’m not proud of it, nor am I ashamed of it,” he said. If I’m reading him right, it didn’t mean all that much after all. It was nothing to get excited about, just one more thing he had done. That’s not so surprising, for why should it mean more than that? Still the emptiness makes my heart ache.
It hurts in part because of how very human it is, and how close it hits to home. I look back on my aspirations year by year throughout my career so far, and I see how getting what I’ve wanted has always left me wanting something more. I started out as a trombonist in a Christian band, part of a major missions organization. I thought it would be great to lead a band like that, and I had the opportunity, but then I thought it would be great to be involved more with higher-level leadership in the organization. For a few years I was on a mid-level national leadership team, where I discovered that there were other leaders I’d like to be associated with, and others doing work I thought I’d like to do, too. I got promoted, and then—you guessed it—I discovered there was another level yet to reach.
I don’t want to misrepresent the organization or the leaders I have worked with, whom I consider among the most humble and godly men and women in all the world. I’m not talking about them but about myself, and how I see in David Cross’s empty quest an image of myself.
C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength is, among other things, an insightful portrayal of one man’s deathly drive to enter the “Inner Ring.” It is an ambition made hideous by the fact that its fulfillment is forever out of reach; for there is always another ring further in. (Not “further up and further in,” for those who have read The Last Battle; just further in.) There is no arriving at the inner ring. Not for musicians or missionaries; not for TV stars or White House dinner guests. There is only the empty discovery that each level of achievement leaves one in touch with others who can boast about a bit more than you can.
This constant hunger and thirst for more is a very human thing. Its successes lead inevitably to failure; for it is a nearly universal principle that there is always more to be had, and more to want, than what one has, whether that be position, prestige, money, popularity, or whatever one might seek.
How astonishing it is in light of that that there is an exception. There is something for which fulfillment is assured, precisely because of desire. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” The Psalms (16, for example), the Prophets (Jeremiah 29:12-13), and the Lord (Luke 11:9) promise satisfaction in God for those who seek it in him. Is there anything else of which we can say, “The more you want, the happier you’ll be?” Is there anything more surprising than a promise like that?
It is a human thing to want more. In humanness there is always the trace of the image of God; so in fact it can be good to want, when one wants what is good, what is right, and what is promised. Thankfully I have also seen this confirmed in my experience. It is possible to find satisfaction—whatever position I am in—if I seek it in what is sure to fulfill.
It is interesting to note that religious people, of a variety of persuasions, tend to naturally understand how serious a problem the HHS mandate presents. What the department did, deliberately and with full knowledge of the consequences, was to create a very real and urgent crisis for institutions with a religious identity (especially the Catholic ones). We could call this kind of crisis a “God and Caesar crisis” in which an individual or a community must choose between obeying God or obeying the coercive force of government. ”Rape” is not an absurd metaphor to employ when we are talking about the use of raw power to force an action against conviction.
Now, it is obvious that religious belief cannot command a blank check, but the old standard was essentially that religious belief (and action) would remain undisturbed as long as it did not pose a threat to the peace and safety of the community. It should be obvious that declining to fund contraceptives in an insurance policy is far from an affirmative threat to either peace or safety. After all, there are many low cost ways to obtain contraceptives and no one is forced to work for a religious employer. The coercion being employed is what is hyperbolic. No one should be forced into a God and Caesar crisis with so little regard for the alternatives and so little regard for conscience.
In particular, my concern is that we, the church, have unwittingly encouraged you to simply import musical practices into Christian worship that–while they might be appropriate elsewhere–are detrimental to congregational worship. More pointedly, using language I first employed in Desiring the Kingdom, I sometimes worry that we’ve unwittingly encouraged you to import certain forms of performance that are, in effect, “secular liturgies” and not just neutral “methods.” Without us realizing it, the dominant practices of performance train us to relate to music (and musicians) in a certain way: as something for our pleasure, as entertainment, as a largely passive experience. The function and goal of music in these “secular liturgies” is quite different from the function and goal of music in Christian worship.
I might add that this tendency is present, not just in praise bands, but also in organs and traditional church choirs, whose anthems and liturgical responses often substitute for those of the congregation. Although I cannot entirely accept the Orthodox and Reformed Presbyterian proscription of instruments in worship, I do believe there is nothing more beautiful than unaccompanied congregational part singing.
The primary point of my first book, The End of Secularism, was to demonstrate that secularism doesn’t do what it claims to do, which is to solve the problem of religious difference. As I look at the administration’s attempt to mandate that religious employers pay for contraceptive products, I see that they have confirmed one of my charges in the book.
I wrote that secularists claim that they are occupying a neutral position in the public square, but in reality they are simply another group of contenders working to implement a vision of community life with which they are comfortable. And guess what? They are not comfortable with many of the fundamental beliefs of Christians. Regrettably, many secularists are also statists. Thus, their discomfort with Christian beliefs results in direct challenges to them in the form of mandatory public policy.
Collectivism is often very appealing to Christians who want to do good for their neighbors. Unfortunately, collectivism is frequently a fellow-traveler of aggressive secularism with little respect for religious liberty. The veil has slipped. I hope we do not too quickly forget what was revealed in that moment. Collectivism gives. But it also takes. And what it takes is very often precious and irreplaceable.
This whole article is interesting, but one point in particular provided a new perspective for me to consider. Frank Furedi is a British sociologist and author.
The claim that religion scars children for life is symptomatic of the tendency of New Atheists to express themselves through the language of victimhood and therapeutic culture. Time and again, they use the idiom of therapy to pathologise religion. Their use of terms such as ‘toxic faith’ and ‘religious virus’ are symptomatic of their medicalisation of strong religious commitment….
The New Atheism is very selective about who it targets. So although it claims to challenge irrationalism and anti-scientific prejudice, it tends to confine its anger to the dogma of the three Abrahamic religions. So it rightly criticises creationism and ‘intelligent design’, yet it rarely challenges the mystifications of deep environmentalist thinking, such as Gaia theory, or the numerous varieties of Eastern mysticism that are so fashionable in Hollywood. Since the New Atheism is culturally wedded to the contemporary therapeutic imagination, it is not surprising that it has adopted a double standard towards spiritualism.
When I was in doctoral work, I enjoyed taking courses from professors who smoked because they took longer breaks (our seminars met once per week, with a break about halfway through the session). This was the time when we got to know our classmates, which greatly enhanced class discussions.
One particular evening, a classmate sidled up to me and looked around as if to indicate that he had a secret to confide in me. “Gene,” he whispered, “I have heard that you are a Christian. Is that true?” I looked around, matching his opening gesture and leaning to whisper back, “Yes, I’m a Christian.” His eyes grew large and he said, “But honestly, you don’t seem mentally ill? I’m just shocked that you even admit that you are a Christian. I mean, you seem like a pretty bright guy.”
He was genuine in his inquiry, not hostile at all. His reaction was that of one who had learned that the moon was not, in fact, made of cheese. This was my third graduate degree and I was amply sure that his thoughts were the product of too much Freud (religion being a psychosis) fertilized with Marx (religion being an opiate) and not of a particular animus toward me whatsoever. In fact, I’d had a similar conversation with a professor about that same time.
I couldn’t help but think about that incident this week as I read two bits of news. First, in the Ninth Circuit’s ruling on California’s Proposition 8, the majority opinion ruled that the initiative failed the “rational basis standard,” meaning it was based on irrational thought, rooted, apparently, in religious irrationality in particular. Second, in a transcript of an exchange at Vanderbilt, the chief academic officer of the institution scolded students who wished to allow their religious faith to influence their decision-making:
Now let me give you another example, and this would affect all of you. I’m Catholic. What if my faith beliefs guided all of the decisions I make from day to day? (more…)
After some days of conspicuous silence on the controversy, Sojouners’ God’s Politics blog has finally published this statement by Alec Hill, President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA: At Stake: Religious Liberty.
Last month, the Federal government mandated that Catholic universities, hospitals and charities must provide – and pay for – contraceptives to their employees and students. The mandate may also — depending upon interpretation – include the provision of sterilization services and the morning-after pill. (There appears to be some disagreement amongst scholars regarding the potential scope of the new Health and Human Service mandate.)
Why should I care? I am not Catholic. Nor do I agree with Catholic teaching on contraception, though I do have grave concerns about the morning-after pill.
Politically, I am a moderate and hence not prone to condemn every governmental edict.
I care because this matter touches upon the religious freedom of us all.
Controversy continues: Religious Liberty and Civil Society. Yuval Levin plausibly explains the origin of the current confusion over the definition of religious freedom in English-speaking democracies:
The English common law tradition of religious toleration, which we inherited, has always had a problem with religious institutions that are not houses of worship—i.e. that are geared to ends other than the practice of religion itself. To (vastly) oversimplify for a moment, that tradition began (in the 16th century, and in some respects even earlier) with the aim of protecting Protestant dissenters and Jews but (very intentionally) not protecting Catholics. And the way it took shape over the centuries in an effort to sustain that distinction was by drawing a line between individual religious practice (in which the government could not interfere) and an institutional religious presence (which was given far less protection).
Because Catholicism is a uniquely institutional religion—with large numbers of massive institutions for providing social services, educating children and adults, and the like, all of which are more or less parts of a single hierarchy—this meant Catholics were simply not granted the same protection as others. Obviously the intent to treat Catholics differently has for the most part fallen away since then, but the evolved legal tradition is very much with us, and it is not a coincidence that it always seems to be the Catholic Church that gets caught up in these situations when the government overreaches. . . .
Does civil society consist of a set of institutions that help the government achieve its purposes as it defines them when their doing so might be more efficient or convenient than the state’s doing so itself, or does civil society consist of an assortment of efforts by citizens to band together in pursuit of mutual aims and goods as they understand them? Is it an extension of the state or of the community?
There’s a relatively new movement in the communities of people who deal regularly with autism and related conditions that’s assigned themselves the term “neurodiversity” as a shorthand reference to their commitment to affirming atypical neurological conditions as equally legitimate. This movement shuns the terms ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ and instead prefers to speak of those who are neurotypical and those who are not. The neurodiversity movement seeks to identify various traits common with autism as neither better nor worse but simply different.
This movement should be praised for its recognition that respecting people with autism requires taking into account how differently they take in information, process it, use it, and produce various responses. They rightly emphasize that an atypical neurological state need not be thought of as a disease that needs a medical cure or treatment or a disability that requires taking the person to be deficient. They recommend supporting a person for who they are rather than trying to “fix” them to conform to the standards everyone else has. Some autism advocates on the autistic spectrum insist that they wouldn’t want to be made “normal” if a “cure” were ever found. They like being the way they are.
There’s something obviously right about most of that. The more I read stuff from this movement, however, the more disturbed I get that there’s something they’re just not seeing, and the good in what I just wrote is blinding a lot of well-meaning people to a serious philosophical error lying behind much of what the neurodiversity movement produces. Consider this story by Karen Kaplan of the Los Angeles Times. She is right to point out that, just because autistic people do badly on certain standardized tests, it doesn’t mean they’re cognitively deficient. It may well be that the reason a certain person scores low on a certain test is because the test is relying on typical patterns of language use, and someone with autism may be using a different pattern of language use. The underlying cognitive ability being tested for may be stronger than the test shows. That’s all correct. But in her rush to make this point, Kaplan completely ignores the fact that the reason someone is scoring low on the test is because of a genuine deficiency in the kind of language use that most people are much better able to engage in. That means there is a lack of ability that comes with autism, even if its manifestation will be different from person to person. (more…)
Writing for The New York Times, Ross Douthat’s mention of “liberal communitarians” sounds a little odd to my ears, but he is dead on in his analysis of the current situation in the US: Government and its Rivals. An excerpt:
Liberals know that it takes a village; conservatives pretend that all it takes is John Wayne.
In this worldview, the government is just the natural expression of our national community, and the place where we all join hands to pursue the common good. Or to borrow a line attributed to Representative Barney Frank, “Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.”
Many conservatives would go this far with Frank: Government is one way we choose to work together, and there are certain things we need to do collectively that only government can do.
But there are trade-offs as well, which liberal communitarians [sic] don’t always like to acknowledge. When government expands, it’s often at the expense of alternative expressions of community, alternative groups that seek to serve the common good.
Not long ago I ran across a modern translation of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy on death. Shakespeare’s original is on the page above it, providing a most instructive comparison.
The translation does a fine job of capturing the passage’s propositional content. I can imagine how much it might help a student reading Shakespeare for the first time. What’s a fardel? or a bare bodkin? The modern rendition clarifies such things nicely. It is, one might say, perfectly not wrong.
It is a good thing to be not wrong. If this page had translated “fardels” as long and burdensome journeys, or “contumely” as fancy, foppish fashion, it would have been misleading, useless, even dangerous in a way.
Still it is possible to be not wrong and at the same time be perfectly dry and colorless, practically dead. This translation page illustrates the point magnificently. Read the translation; then read the original. On one level they mean quite the same thing, yet they could hardly be more different. There is a rightness to Shakespeare’s original that far transcends the not-wrongness of its propositional content as conveyed in the translation.
I think many Christians work hard at translating the Gospel’s propositional content into modern language. We can recognize error a mile away, and we’re quick to correct it. We make it our business, one might say, to be perfectly not wrong.
It is important that we be true in this way. To be wrong is, well, wrong.
Still there is a rightness that transcends not-wrongness. It is the artistry of living a full-color life: a life of creativity, a life of exploration rather than of self-protection, a life of abandonment to God and to others. It is not only not wrong: it is right.
Some of you might have noticed this, but I thought it appropriate to point out on Evangel that First Things has produced its first video, The Creed: What Christians Profess, and Why It Ought to Matter. It is a documentary about the Nicene Creed. I stumbled on this because I was looking for something like it for my 11th Grade theology class. Here is the advertisement by First Things:
A few years ago Pope Benedict XVI gave a series of lectures on the early church fathers, and they have been collected into a book: Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine. In one of the lectures on St. Augustine, the Pope mentioned something significant about Ambrose’s influence on St. Augustine:
The great difficulty with the Old Testament, because of its lack of rhetorical beauty and of lofty philosophy, was resolved in Saint Ambrose’s preaching through his typological interpretation of the Old Testament: Augustine realized that the whole of the Old Testament was a journey toward Jesus Christ. Thus, he found the key to understanding the beauty and even the philosophical depth of the Old Testament and grasped the whole unity of the mystery of Christ in history as well as the synthesis between philosophy, rationality, and faith in the Logos, in Christ, the Eternal Word who was made flesh. (171)
Interesting…Biblical Theology via a typological interpretation of the OT was part of the breakthrough for St. Augustine in understanding the Scriptures. The Old Testament is a way to Jesus Christ, the eternal Word made flesh.
Last night in Charleston, South Carolina on the day the nation celebrates the Rev. Dr. King, Governor Rick Perry used a question about voting rights to say the Federal government was at “war” with the states.