Saturday, January 31, 2009

It's Easier If We Pretend They Don't Exist

James Pate ProgressiveChurchlady notes a piece on the practice of "hiding" the homeless during major events, which is doublespeak for arresting them for being an eyesore. It seems that with the Super Bowl this weekend, Tampa Bay has joined the long list of cities to sweep for vagrants and lock them in jail while the crowds have their fun.

Instead of dealing with the problem directly--which would require admitting the numerous ways we dehumanize and disenfranchise the homeless--we cart them off and pretend then don't exist.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Problem with Literalism - Again

HT a fellow grad student apparently, Scott Bailey.

The Carnival is Back in Town

It's been a while since I've been in one of these, but my post on FOCA is included in this week's Christian Carnival, hosted at Ignorant Historian.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Abortion and Teenage Pregnancy By State

For those who have not been following the comments on my recent post on the Freedom of Choice Act, an objection was raised that restrictions on abortion merely trade a lower abortion rate for a higher rate of teenage pregnancy. Now those who believe abortion is murder might think that a reasonable trade--the lesser of two evils and all--but even if so, it is hardly an ideal situation. Better by far would be to reduce both teenage pregnancy and abortion, and a truly pro-life position must not ignore the negative consequences of its actions. Thus N. Adam claims the pro-life acceptance of this trade-off is one more instance of our "caring more about the welfare of the unborn than the born."

In support of such a claim, it can be pointed out that most of those states with the highest teenage birth rates are in the South, and many of these are Red states. These numbers are a bit skewed, however, by the fact that a high abortion rate can mask a similarly high pregnancy rate. Still, even when comparing overall teenage pregnancy rates, it is clear that the South is not doing well. According to the Guttmach Institute (an arm of Planned Parenthood; figures are for 2000, the latest I can find), the five states with the highest teenage pregnancy rates per 1000 girls are (with Abortion rank and percentage):

1. Nevada: Pregnancy rate 113/1000 (Abortion: 4th highest; 36%)
2. Arizona: 104 (A 19th; 21%)
3. Mississippi: 103 (A 28th; 16%)
4. New Mexico: 103 (A 18th; 22%)
5. Texas: 101 (A 26th; 17%)

Nevertheless, the fact that these are all in the South, and include some states with pro-choice policies (e.g. Guttmacher ranks New Mexico the 6th best for "efforts to help women avoid unplanned pregnancy") strongly points to a cultural factor--this is clearly not just a matter of access to contraception and abortion or even "Red vs. Blue." Thus, some very Red and very anti-abortion Midwestern states (like the Dakotas) are among the lowest in pregnancy and birth rates: North Dakota has the best overall teenage pregnancy rate (42/1000) and the 3rd best abortion rate (8%); South Dakota has the 7th best pregnancy rate (54/1000) and the 2nd best abortion rate (7%).

These numbers are also skewed by the fact that abortion restrictions and contraception restrictions (too) often go hand-in-hand, especially in the South. So if we want to get a better idea of the impact of abortion restrictions themselves--and thus the likely impact of FOCA's passage, which would eliminate all such restrictions--we should instead look at the rankings for highest abortion percentages, and here the claim that increased access to abortion lowers teenage pregnancy rates collapses in ruin. According the Guttmacher Institute's own numbers, the five states with the highest teenage abortion rates are all among the top 16 highest teenage pregnancy rates, and all are Blue states (with overall teenage pregnancy rank and rate/1000 girls):

1. New Jersey: 47% Abortion rate (Pregnancy rank 16th highest; 90/1000)
2. New York: 46% (P 14th; 91)
3. Maryland: 38% (P 13th; 91)
4. Nevada: 36% (P 1st; 113)
5. California: 36% (P 7th; 96)

Predictably, four of these states have very permissive abortion laws (California, Maryland, New York and New Jersey; Nevada is something of an exception, and in fact is not clearly Blue, though it went for Obama). More surprisingly, and according to Guttmacher, three of the four provide excellent access to contraception and related services: California (1st), New York (5th) and Maryland (12th) are all in Guttmacher's top 12, though Nevada (34) and New Jersey (43!) get low scores. In other words, these states have some of the best access to abortion and contraception but not only have very high abortion rates (predictably), but also have consistently higher teenage pregnancy rates. In contrast, the five states with the lowest abortion rates are all among those with the 25 lowest teenage pregnancy rates:

46. West Virginia 10% abortion rate (Pregnancy rank 35th; 67/1000)
47. Kentucky 8% (P 25th; 76)
48. North Dakota 8% (P 50th; 42)
49. South Dakota 7% (P 44th; 54)
50. Utah 6% (P 45th; 53)

Note that this does not just measure overall numbers of abortion, but the abortion rate per pregnancy. In other words, Utah, South Dakota and North Dakota are not just low on the list because they have few pregnancies; they have the fewest pregnancies and the smallest percentages of those pregnancies end in abortion. Four of these five states have in place the very laws FOCA would eliminate (West Virginia is the exception).

Now clearly there is much more involved in these differences in teenage pregnancy and abortion rates than a few parental consent laws. There are, very obviously, strong cultural differences that no laws (for or against abortion) can eliminate. Thus, it is often rightly pointed out that, even if criminalized, many women would still seek abortions (though clearly this is more true in certain parts of the country than others). But the opposite is also true: even where abortion is legal, it can remain rare if the culture continues to view it as objectionable (as in parts of the Midwest), and this by no means needs to lead to higher pregnancy rates. In short, and as I have emphasized on numerous occasions, it is not the laws that need fixing so much as people's hearts and minds. So long as we pretend that casual sex and abortion can be morally neutral and consequence free, we will have states like New Jersey and New York with extremely high abortion and teenage pregnancy rates.

But at the same time, it can hardly be an accident that four of the five states with the highest rates of abortion already have FOCA like laws on the books and yet still are among the worst in teenage pregnancy, while four of the five states with the the lowest abortion rates have the very kinds of laws FOCA would repeal and some of the best rates of teenage pregnancy. All of which renders very problematic the claim that restricting access to abortion inevitably leads to higher rates of teenage pregnancy. If anything, the opposite seems to be the case.

What Does It Mean to Be Bi-Partisan?

Henry Neufeld has an excellent post on the subject:

In my view bipartisanship means honestly listening to one another, and cooperating across party lines wherever that will work. There are two things to avoid: 1) Bickering, grandstanding, and other such tactics and 2) Compromising away your principles. I think both of these things should be avoided diligently and equally.

When two politicians disagree on a substantive issue of principle, debate it out openly and honestly, and then end up voting against one another, I regard that as good civic responsibility. When the same politicians waffle around until they find some mushy compromise, I call that dishonesty and cowardice.
Read the whole thing.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

BSG - "A Disquiet Follows My Soul"

The title of last night's episode of Battlestar Galactica aptly summarizes my feelings about where the show seems to be heading. Is their goal to prove that real heroes do not exist, that even the "best" are thoroughly corrupt? Where is the courage and hope? Left in the ashes of Earth, it seems. Along with the fleet, I have no idea where they are going anymore, and I'm not sure we'll like it when they get there (spoilers follow).

But despite all the "disquiet," this episode did explore some interesting ideas about the nature of humanity. In particular, it brought to the fore an issue that has underlain much of the series: the "humanity" of the Cylons. The Final Five Cylons have been revealed and have formed an alliance with the humans, and now they want to be treated as equals, full citizens with all the rights and protections that entails. Nor is their argument without merit. Are they not people too?

As is graphically illustrated by the scene in which Colonel Tigh and the Six first see the ultrasound of their unborn child, these "machines" are flesh and blood too, thinking and feeling people just like the rest of us. No, they were not born--as far as we can tell they are clones--but is that really relevant? Is it only one's birth that defines one's identity? As the movie Hellboy once put it, it's not one's origins that "make a man a man," but rather "the choices he makes. Not how he starts things, but how he decides to end them."

Yet that is just the problem, according to Felix Gaeta and many others in the fleet, who rightfully ask: Are these not the same Cylons who only four years ago destroyed the colonies--incinerating billions of people? Are these not the same Cylons who oppressed, imprisoned, tortured and executed many of the last survivors on New Caprica? Are these not the same Cylons who chased the remnant of humanity across half the galaxy, only finally giving up their war of extermination when they learned the Final Five were among them? Are these not the same Cylons who, only days ago it seems, threatened to nuke the whole human fleet if they refused to hand over the Five? But now--now that Earth is a wasteland and all hope seems lost--now the Cylons feel as frightened and alone as the humans. Now they want protection. Now they claim to have turned over a new leaf and want to be treated as equals. Is that justice? Is Gaeta wrong to insist that "someday soon there will be a reckoning"? Should we just forget the past with all its victims and join in a round of Kum Ba Yah?

If the Cylons are guilty as sin, however, their newfound desire to be treated as humanity's equal is not as out of place as it might seem, for there is little sign of righteousness among the Colonials either. They too have tortured and executed, imprisoned and enslaved, even coldly slaughtered their Cylon enemies. It wasn't long ago that these very humans and these very Cylons attacked and destroyed the resurrection hub, killing thousands instantly and condemning all Cylons everywhere to death. It may even turn out that it was humans who destroyed the Cylon "Earth" 2000 years ago. "All this has happened before, and all this will happen again."

And if this is true of humanity in general, it is also true of our "heroes," each and every one of whom has a closet full of too many skeletons to name. Gaeta himself, as revealed in the recent webisodes, is hardly a picture of virtue, aiding the Cylon pogrom during the occupation of New Caprica, attempting to kill Gaius Baltar and an Eight for reminding him of that treason, and now plotting mutiny on Galactica. Even Cally Tyrol--probably the cleanest character in the whole series until Tory flushed her out an airlock for discovering they were Cylons--has now been revealed as unfaithful: it turns out Nicholas is not Tyrol's child after all; she got pregnant by another man just before they got married, tried to get an (illegal) abortion, then changed her mind and lied about who the father was.

After all of this has come to light, however, Gaius Baltar--Gaius Baltar--has the audacity to blame God for the evil that has befallen them:

Baltar: What manner of forgiveness are you seeking? Is it that of disobedient children?... Are you all just children who transgressed against your Father's demands?
Crowd: No, we've done nothing wrong.
Baltar: Are you being punished for your multitude of sins? Are you?
Crowd: No!
Baltar: Is this really our lot? To have been lead, by a father, to the promised land? To paradise? Only to have paradise cruelly smashed to bits before our very eyes? Are these the actions of a father towards his children?
Crowd: No! It's not right!
Baltar: What have you done to deserve this punishment? What sins have you committed to condemn you--condemn you!--to wander through the universe, without hope, without light? So you have to ask yourselves, what kind of a father abandons his own children to despair and loneliness? Perhaps we are not the ones in need of forgiveness! Perhaps we are not. Perhaps we have been wronged! Perhaps it is God who should come down here and beg for our forgiveness!
Coming from Gaius Baltar--the most narcissistic, self-serving, morally bankrupt character of all, the very man who enabled the Cylons to wipe out the colonies, collaborated with them on New Caprica, and now leads a sex-cult on Galactica--this outburst of indignant blasphemy is deeply ironic, and made all the more so when it is immediately followed by a fight between Tyrol and the real father of Cally's child. It seems that Cylons and humans can't even stop fighting long enough to blame God for their troubles.

I wonder, if God really did come down, who among them would deserve to stand in his presence? But more to the point: Will God come down anyway, and will there be any redemption on offer if he does? Is there any hope at the end of this story, or is BSG content to leave us with the despair of a meaningless and Godless universe?

Friday, January 23, 2009

I'm a Fundamentalist, You're a Fundamentalist, We're All Fundamentalists...

From a humorous post over at Inhabitatio Dei:

The third kind of fundamentalist is what we might call the ubiquitous fundamentalist. This sort of fundamentalist is someone who strongly believes a fairly large number of things and, as such, gets in arguments with other such fundamentalists who believe different things. The reason this sort of fundamentalist is termed ubiquitous is because every single person in the world is one of them. You, me, that guy over there. Her? Her.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Quote - Smallville

From tonight's episode of Smallville:

Saving someone, truly saving them, is not about knocking them out and throwing them in a dark room; it's about helping them find their way back to the right side.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Abortion, Infant Mortality and the Freedom of Choice Act

N. Adam left the following comment on my last post. Given that tomorrow is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I wanted to provide a full response here:

[I]t is rather curious how a site like the one you've linked to [here] can be so opposed to abortion and embryonic stem cell research on moral standing alone, yet (according to my google searches) have absolutely nothing meaningful to say about the horrible infant morality rate in the US and the fact that we have tens of millions of children [who] are currently without healthcare.
It's a fair observation, and similar to the one Timothy Mills made a while back. As I responded to Timothy, there is a very clear distinction to be made between intentional and unintentional death, whereby it is hardly illegitimate to focus one's primary attention on the former. But the issue is even clearer in this case. The site N. Adam refers to is specifically focused on a fighting a particular piece of legislation, the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), so it can hardly be blamed for failing to address issues not connected with FOCA, as infant mortality is not.

A more important question, then, is whether fighting FOCA itself is a worthwhile cause, or whether our time ought better to be spent fighting the "horrible" rate of infant mortality in the United States. Sadly, that is easily answered: the US infant mortality rate is the 28th worst in the world, more than twice as high as some other developed nations. In short, infant mortality (and the poor education and health care that contribute to it) absolutely should be a concern to all of us. Nevertheless, in the US this amounts to less than 28,000 deaths a year, whereas abortion currently takes 1,200,000 lives a year. I'm no math wiz, but I'm pretty sure 1.2 million is more than 28 thousand.

But that is only half the issue, for we are not talking about which of those numbers are more important to reduce; we are talking about a bill that would very likely increase the number of abortions performed in this country. If made law, FOCA would eliminate all state and local restrictions on abortion, including partial birth abortion bans, parental consent laws, waiting periods, and many other restrictions which have already been found constitutional by the Supreme Court. There is also concern that the bill might supersede the Hyde Amendment, which currently restricts federal funding for abortions, and many believe it would force religious health care providers (such as Catholic hospitals) to perform abortions or close their doors. In short, FOCA would reduce or eliminate all limitations on abortion, and would almost certainly increase the total number performed annually, as has been the case in those states, like Maryland, which have passed similar legislation (for fuller discussions of the likely impact of this legislation go here and here).

As a Senator, President Obama was a co-sponsor of the bill, and once vowed that "the first thing" he would do as President would be to sign it. Thus, while there are many things about Obama that I like, I am thankful that so far he has not kept that promise (in fact, I'm quite impressed by the legislation he did choose to sign first), and I sincerely pray that he is never able to do so.

To return to N. Adam's observation, then, I do not find it the least bit curious that the site I linked should focus its attention squarely on abortion; it is, after all, called FightFOCA. But more fundamentally, I fail to see why it should seem strange that the pro-life movement generally focuses more attention on abortion than infant death, given that the US infant mortality rate is only 6.9 per 1000 live births, while the abortion rate is currently 19.4%, or about 194 per 1000 known pregnancies (the lowest rate since Roe v. Wade).

Now imagine you lived in a country where theft had been legal for 36 years, and because of this, pick-pocketing had become quite pervasive: 194 out of every 1000 people in this hypothetical country have their wallets stolen, while 7 out of every 1000 people lose their wallets by accident. Now imagine that various pro-Picking organizations argue vehemently that to outlaw the practice would not stop people from stealing; it would only make life more dangerous for those who choose to steal. This argument has convinced the Supreme Court of this hypothetical country, but various states within it have been unimpressed by the rhetoric and passed laws to limit theft where possible. Now imagine that these laws seem to be working--pickpocketing is at its lowest level since theft became legal, except in those few states which passed their own Freedom of Picking Acts, in which the rate of pickpocketing has continued to increase.

Now imagine the country elected a man who said "the first thing" he would do upon entering office would be to pass legislation to repeal all those local restrictions on theft and even force tax-payers and religious organizations to support the practice. Would you find it strange if a group of the citizens of that country formed an organization intent on fighting that new legislation? Would you find it odd if their website failed to devote equal attention to the 7 people per 1000 who lose their wallets accidentally, as they devote to the 194 people per 1000 who are robbed?

Don't misunderstand me, I for one believe that a truly pro-life view absolutely must care as much about the born as the unborn (if not more). I've argued again and again that the current dichotomy over such issues is nothing but harmful. But no one that I know of is trying to make infant mortality "safe, legal and rare." No one I know of wants to reduce health care for children. Unfortunately, our new President does want to eliminate state and local laws which reduce abortion, and I for one will not stand by and say nothing. I'm thankful that the 500,000 other signers of the FightFOCA petition feel the same.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Good Choice

Congratulations Obama! Thank you for your efforts to raise the level of civility and optimism in our nation and around the world. Thank you for your hopeful and bi-partisan approach, as evidenced by your cabinet appointments and Inaugural address. I pray that you truly are able to lead us to a brighter future. That said, while there are many campaign promises that I hope you are able to keep, there is one in particular that I very much hope you are not.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Martin Luther King Jr Day!

Full text of the speech here.

UPDATE: Matt Kelley offers some excellent reflections on another of King's speeches, which is perhaps even more relevant than the above. Do click through and read it (HT James McGrath's reader).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Battlestar Galactica - Sometimes a Great Notion

What would you do if all your hopes fell to ashes. How would you respond if all your dreams of heaven turned into hell? Such are the questions put to our long-suffering heroes in last night's episode of Battlestar Galactica. Unfortunately, the unmitigated despair we got for an answer was far from inspiring. We waited a year for this?

It's probably not a good sign that my wife's reaction was: "Do we really have to sit through nine more episodes of this? Can't they just answer our questions and be done with it?" The best thing about BSG has always been the story it told, but after last night I've lost the plot. Even the answers they finally gave were depressing, especially the anticlimactic identification of the final Cylon. I'm not sure what was worse: Who they picked, or the admission that they only decided at the end of last season. The Cylons had a plan; did the writers?

Still, as Carmen Anders notes, BSG has given us some dark and dreary episodes in the past, and they always paved the way for something better. If all seems lost now, that doesn't mean it will end that way, and really, we could hardly have expected sunshine and puppy dogs after all that has happened. Our characters have been hanging their hopes on Earth for years now, and to finally get there and find it worse than what they left could hardly fail to devastate them. It's not a fun way to begin the final episodes of the series, but it was brutally honest.

On that score I particularly liked the brief scene when Adama was walking to Tigh's quarters with a loaded gun, as Galactica's crew fell to pieces around him--it perfectly revealed his loss of control and concern. I also agree with Barbara Nicolosi that Dualla's and Kara's storylines were particularly well done. They were shocking, but made a certain terrible sense in retrospect.

So in the end, I still have hope for Galactica, but I'm not sure what I'll do if it comes to nothing.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Quote - Nietzsche on Christian Faith

From Friedrich Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil (translated by Helen Zimmern):

The Christian faith from the beginning, is sacrifice: the sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of spirit.... Modern men, with their obtuseness as regards all Christian nomenclature, have no longer the sense for the terribly superlative conception which was implied to an antique taste by the paradox of the formula, "God on the Cross." Hitherto there had never and nowhere been such boldness in inversion, nor anything at once so dreadful, questioning, and questionable as this formula: it promised the transvaluation of all ancient values. (pg. 34 Dover Thrift Edition)

Three Cheers for Continuum and T&T Clark!

Last month I mentioned that I'd won the Continuum/T&T Clark give-away at SBL. Well the books arrived today and I'm pleased to announce that they even exceeded my expectations. Not only did they let me choose $250 worth of free books, but they even let me take them at the conference price! These are the volumes I chose:

Paula Gooder The Pentateuch (retail $40)
James Charlesworth Resurrection: The Origins and Future of a Biblical Doctrine ($35)
Larry Hurtado One God, One Lord: New Edition ($50)
Loren Stuckenbruck (ed.) Early Christian and Jewish Monotheism ($84)
Mark Goodacre The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze ($35)
Stephen Um The Theme of Temple Christology in John's Gospel ($168)
John Day (ed.) Temple and Worship in Biblical Israel ($50)
Total retail value: $462

So let me give a hearty Hip Hip Hurray! to Continuum and T&T Clark!

By the way, they also have a blog here.

(P.S. I normally dislike these kinds of "look what I got!" posts when I see them on other blogs, but I didn't want to let this pass without giving Continuum/T&T Clark the thanks they deserve!)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009

Quote - Richard Longenecker on Apostolic Exegesis

Richard Longenecker in Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (as with most things I quote, I could quibble over some details, but it's a good summary):

There is a great deal that was held in common by the earliest Christian preachers and the New Testament writers in their use of Scripture.... All treated the biblical text with some degree of freedom, believing that from among the various textual traditions then current they could do something of textual criticism on a theological basis since they knew the conclusion to which that biblical testimony was pointing. All seem prepared to employ not only biblical citations but also, to a limited extent, statements of truth found outside the canon, whether of Jewish, pagan or uncertain origin. And all of them, most importantly, worked from the same two fixed points: (1) the messiahship and lordship of Jesus, as validated by the resurrection and witnessed to by the Spirit; and (2) the revelation of God in the Old Testament as pointing forward to Jesus. Thus their perspective was avowedly christocentric and their treatment thoroughly christological. (pgs. 189-90)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Reading the Bible in Context--But What Context?

Recently, John Hobbins of Ancient Hebrew Poetry called my blog "Christian postmodern," which puzzled me at first, but I suppose makes sense in light of various things I've said around here, not least in my sidebar and this post. The problem with nice thing about a label like "postmodern" is that it's ambiguous enough to take however I want--in this case I'll go with "hip and unconventional"--but since others may define the term differently, I wanted to clarify my position, particularly regarding how I understand biblical interpretation:

To many, "a postmodern doctrine of Scripture" (John's phrase) means a reading cut off from its original context, based on the assumption that meaning and truth are flexible and necessarily imposed by the reader. Thus you might have a feminist, post-colonial or vegan reading of a text, with little concern at all for whether such a thing was intended by the original "author." Now, on the one hand, I do have a great deal of sympathy for such an approach. The very fact that the Bible has been written and rewritten, collected and interpreted through numerous different contexts--from bronze age nomadic tribes to Imperial Rome and beyond--suggests that flexibility and reapplication are inherent to its very nature, as I suggested in the post linked above.

In fact, it is not at all clear to me that the authors of the New Testament themselves felt restricted to the "original intended meaning" in their own interpretation of the Scriptures they treasured, so why should we? They clearly believed that more recent events and knowledge, especially the life and death of Jesus but also including broader political and cultural realities, set their scriptures in new and quite unexpected light. Nor is it easy to see why such a process had to end with the New Testament authors. Thus, I not only think it is appropriate to ask new questions of Scripture, but such may even be demanded by the text itself. After all, is "the word of God living and active" (Heb 4:12), or only dull and lifeless? Doesn't Paul say we have been given "a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:6)?

But clearly that can only be half the story, for why bother reading in the first place if you are not willing to hear what someone else has to say? If we only bring our own questions and perspectives to the text, there is little point in reading at all, and almost no chance of reading well. This is especially the case when dealing with an ancient document like the Bible, which derives from a very different cultural context. As John's post makes clear in the case of Jeremiah 7:22, ignorance of the original context inevitably leads to distorted understandings of the text, and this is hardly excusable simply because our interests lie elsewhere. Thus, even if it is legitimate and even necessary to go beyond the text, such can only be done responsibly after we have made every effort to understand it on its own terms.

More fundamentally, has not the primary purpose of preserving and reinterpreting scripture precisely been to face these new situations in ways that are faithful to, or at least aware of, what has gone before? If it is appropriate for us to ask new questions, then, we must also learn to hear anew the questions the text itself was intended to ask and answer, as these are often enough not questions we ourselves are likely to ask. If we are not willing to do that, we might as well ignore the text altogether and focus our attention elsewhere.

Ultimately, I don't think there is just one legitimate context in which scripture is to be interpreted. Rather, there is a necessary tension between our own varied contexts and the "original" context of scripture. To read the Bible faithfully is to live into that tension, allowing our questions (and answers) to shape and be shaped by those of our predecessors, to learn from our tradition even if we refuse to be trapped by it.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Bumper Sticker Wisdom

Seen next to an Obama sticker (make of that what you will):

Don't Believe Everything You Think

12+ Best Links of 2008

Sherry at Semicolon had the great idea to compile the twelve best things she linked in 2008 (naturally, the fact that she included one of my posts has nothing to do with why I like the idea!). Anyway here are my twelve (plus) favorite links from 2008, in chronological order:

Be Grateful, It's Your Birthday, by Julie Grisolano, is easily the most thoughtful and moving article about the impact of abortion that I read last year. Please read it, then consider signing this.

Equally heartbreaking is Sex and Scandal at Duke from Rolling Stone. It's an older article (written in 2006), but still well worth a read.

On a lighter note, there's Hell Abolished, God Adopts Gold Sticker System at The Wittenburg Door, which also wins the prize for most comments I've ever seen on a post (5441!).

Kim Fabricius, who is always worth your time, is at his very best in this paradoxical sermon: Lose Your Faith.

On another note, with the final episodes of Battlestar Galactica premiering in less than two weeks (!!), this is still the best post I've seen on the mid-season finale: Battlestar Galactica Provides Earth-Shattering 'Revelations' (major spoiler warning).

Next is another from The Wittenburg Door, but this one is more substantial (but still funny): Joe Bob Parties With the Atheists.

Steven Greydanus posted an excellent article on good, evil and the supernatural in recent film, at Christianity Today: Hellboy, Evil and the Cross.

Two for one: Nick Milne posted the most comprehensive of the many responses to P.Z. Myers' desecration of the Eucharist, the Quran, and a copy of The God Delusion, while Francis Beckwith offered perhaps the most succinct summary of my own view of the debacle.

And back to the fluff, there's Five O'Clock People, whose latest CD is still awesome, and still maddeningly unavailable; listen to it here.

Back to the meat, and another double-dip, here's a thought-provoking article at The Other Journal on Why Every Christian Should 'Quite Rightly Pass for an Atheist', and the response: On What Could Quite Rightly Pass for a Fetish.

Halden at Inhabitatio Dei wrote an outstanding post on Moral Equivalence, War, and Abortion.

Alan Knox had an excellent and humorous series on Scripture... As We Live it.

And finally--a bonus--my favorite comic of 2008 (from xkcd):

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Evan Almighty

I saw Evan Almighty again tonight and and enjoyed it quite a bit more than the first time. I tend to dislike movies where, if they were remotely realistic, everything would end badly, and you keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. So here we have a newly elected U.S. Congressman going to seed, followed around by wild animals, and shouting about a flood and how God told him to build an ark. There's simply no way this is going to end well, or maintain any believability if it does. Nor does the film itself provide a convincing resolution to the mess--I'm pretty sure that even if everything could happen as it did in the movie, the authorities would be more likely to believe Evan sabotaged the dam than that God actually warned him of the danger. And I'm certain that any flood that could carry a boat right up to the Capitol Building would destroy most of Washington D.C. in the process.

But whatever. This time I knew what to expect and so wasn't as distracted by the absurdities and just enjoyed it as a humorous parable about a man far too concerned with outward appearances with whom God has some fun, and uses to do some good. And as a parable, it works pretty well (for instance, see Carmen's excellent observations here). What I especially like about it, however, is its exploration of how God answers prayer. On one side, of course, the movie is full of instances of direct, miraculous, acts of God, but on the other hand, it suggests that God's usual practice is much more subtle and personal:

Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for their family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?
Ultimately, and as I've said before, God is less interested in fixing our circumstances than he is in fixing us--making us into the kind of people who live for and love one another, regardless of our circumstances. Yet it is still we who must choose how to live in each circumstance. Though God wants to transform us, to cleanse us of our self-focus and make us into the people we are meant to be, he can only do so through our choices.Whatever its failings, Evan Almighty explores that tension very well, and has a lot of fun doing it.

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2009, the 150th anniversary of the Origin of Species, 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, 450th anniversary of the final edition of Calvin's Institutes, and 500th birthday of John Calvin. One of my goals this year is to read both books. If you'd like to join me, you can get them in daily installments: DailyLit has On the Origin of Species in 205 parts here; and Princeton Theological Seminary has The Institutes of the Christian Religion in 365 parts here. Both can be subscribed to with a reader.

Here are my other resolutions:

1. To finish my thesis (I hope to defend in September).
2. To apply to PhD programs (which means taking the GRE, ugh!).
3. To present at least one paper at a conference.
4. To publish at least one paper.
5. To publish at least one book review.
6. To read at least 3 chapters of Greek per week.
7. To read at least 3 chapters of Hebrew per week.
8. To get my French back to reading competence.

Anyone else like to share their resolutions?