Wednesday, December 31, 2008

More Perriello Props

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza came out with his list of the best congressional campaigns of 2008, and in line with the increasingly popular Perriello bandwagon, we made the list. Although I have some squabbles with Cillizza's write-up (more later), I am glad that Tom, my fellow co-workers, and our volunteers are getting the national respect they deserve; we were part of something special.

On the same note, The Franklin News-Post considered Tom's victory over Rep. Goode the top story of 2008. For those out of district, this newspaper covers Goode's hometurf, Rocky Mount and Franklin County. Tom ended an era of Goode family politics, as Goode and his father each spent over 30 years apiece in local public office. According to the News-Post, the outcome "is considered one of the biggest upsets in Virginia politics in recent history."

Happy New Year!

Well, our earth has completed another successful circuit around the sun, and tomorrow starts a new orbit cycle. Come, let us celebrate this orbit-beginning - and the derivative and symbolic sense of newness - with profound, alcohol-induced meditation. Come, let us celebrate with attempts at altering our behavior, by shedding our flaws through rarely-kept self-promises.

Okay, sorry. So what are you doing tonight? And, if you have one, what are your New Year's resolutions?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Evolution of Religion

I was going to write a big, brilliant post on this subject, but, alas, my fame-seeking personality supplicated to laziness and sloth. Forgive me if this is scattered or underdeveloped; take it out on me in the comment section.

Evolutionary Biology and Evolutionary Psychology seek to understand how current human processes, among others, developed from way, way before pre-historic times. Early-hominid environmental conditions influenced genetic mutations whose (long-) lasting affects still influence our functioning today. As an outgrowth of these studies, the examination of the Evolution of Religion recently emerged: Is there an evolutionary benefit, among early humans, that could explain biologically and psychologically why religion perpetuated itself? Oversimplified, how and why did religion emerge?


Natalie Angier interviewed Evolutionary Biologist David Sloan Wilson in a NYT article last week. To cut to the chase, Sloan argues that religion evolved because:

it helped make groups of humans comparatively more cohesive, more cooperative and more fraternal, and thus able to present a formidable front against bands of less organized or unified adversaries.
While I haven't read his new book, Darwin's Cathedral – now on my reading list - I find this explanation unsatisfactory. Group cohesion is a sociological factor, not a biological one. Religion might make groups more cohesive, but that affect would be secondary.

Enter a study done at the Missouri University. According to this study, there is a "spirituality spot" found in the brain, more specifically the right parietal lobe. This part of the brain handles self-definition (selflessness, self-criticism, self-awareness, self-focus, etc.). As such, people who are more spiritual have less active right-parietal lobes.

The finding suggests that one core tenant of spiritual experience is selflessness, said Johnstone, adding that he hopes the study "will help people think about spirituality in more specific ways."

Spiritual outlooks have long been associated with better mental and physical health. These benefits, Johnstone speculated, may stem from being focused less on one's self and more on others - a natural consequence of turning down the volume on the Me-Definer.
So, maybe religion evolved because the propagation of a selfless gene - and mental, physical health genes? - one that develops the right parietal lobe. People with this gene mated creating a dominant gene. This selflessness would then manifest socially through deeper, more meaningful relationships, through stronger group cohesion. I'm not an expert, but that seems to fit better.


How does the studies on the Evolution of Religion dialogue with theology? While I think the studies of the Evolution of Religion are important and worthy, I do not think theology should take an accomodationist approach to the subject. It is necessary to have theology dialogue with these findings, especially as most theologians believe the theory of evolution. I am skeptical, however, that theologians are taking the right approach. For example, asking "Where does God fit in?" cedes too much epistemological ground; theology should not be solely reactive to scientific inquiry.

Reading books on the subject I found that Evolutionary Biologists and Psychologists are self-professed atheists, even Wilson. Remember, the questions you ask influence the answers you seek, and the answers you seek influence the questions you ask. With this in mind, as I read books on the subject, I usually found myself thinking the authors asked the wrong questions, leading to potentially – and subconsciously! – preconceived findings. And, if you don't question the assumptions, you are more likely to grant the conclusions. I don't mean to throw the baby out with the bathwater, again, this subject is worthy. There, however, should be a deeper discussion over epistemology, assumptions, and presuppositions when intertwining these studies with theology. This discussion needs to happen, but it must be fruitful not accomodationist.

My $0.02. Ca-ching!

Blago and Burris

When Blagojevich's response to his caught-in-the-act federal corruption charges is "I will fight. I will fight. I will fight," it shouldn't come as a surprise that he would take the defiant move to name Obama's Senate successor despite public and political outcry. I mean, wow! This guy just doesn't care about what is right. He is itching to brawl.

His pick, Roland Burris, seems like an honorable man, a former Illinois Attorney General and, apparently, the Dean of African-American politicians within the state. I haven't heard or read a bad word about the guy, except regarding the super-awkward press conference today. From what I gather, Burris is almost unreproachable, a sign of the devious political calculation on Blagojevich's part.

The Senate Dems are not amused. The are threatening not to seat Burris in the Democatic caucus. They constitutionally might not be able to do anything about the appointment, but they don't have to accept Burris into their ranks. Not seating Burris, however, could also be problematic:
But Burris could be a tough appointment to reject. Any appointment other than Blagojevich himself, or someone directly and obviously connected with his troubles would be, really. ... Yes, Democrats pledged as a block to do exactly that -- and by blunt force they could try it, though there's precedent to the contrary -- but will they do it? Even if the person appointed has no apparent connection to Blagojevich's entanglements, and no record of questionable activities of their own?

And more importantly, even if it means pitting a body of 98 mostly white people against one African-American who at least so far appears to have done nothing wrong?

I would hate to live in Illinois right now.

Obama's statement agreeing with Senate Democrats.

Monday, December 29, 2008


It appears that "virginity pledges," promoted by the Religious Right and abstinence-only activists, are ineffective according to a new study done at Johns Hopkins University. Duh. The Washington Post has a good article on it, very much worth the read. Money quote:
Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.

The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a "virginity pledge," but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers.

"Taking a pledge doesn't seem to make any difference at all in any sexual behavior," said Janet E. Rosenbaum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, whose report appears in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics. "But it does seem to make a difference in condom use and other forms of birth control that is quite striking."

While these results shouldn't be surprising to us, we should remember that methodologically speaking, teenage self-reporting on the subject isn't that reliable. That issue aside, one of these days we will grow up when it comes to matters of sex and sexuality. Hopefully, we now can start to take sex education more seriously, but why do I still doubt?

The Bible goes green

Apparently there is a new version of the Bible, the Green Bible, which "embraces environmentalism and the need to protect the earth," (h/t Huffington Post). New versions of the Bible spring up all the time, depending on new interpretations, translations, or hermeneutics; so this should not be surprising. Naturally, more progressive institutions have backed the new version, while it has split the evangelical community. Of note, this short article only gives voice to a biblical literalist hater - no balance required. If you are interested, you can purchase your copy here.

I was struck by the fact that the Bible goes green before the Detroit automakers do.

Top 10 Tom

The Politico has an article up on the Top 10 political upsets of 2008. There were a couple other congressional races on the list (IL-14, LA-2), but one was a special election and the other a runoff, respectively. I guess if we wanted to be technical we could say that Perriello over Goode was the biggest Election Day congressional upset in the entire nation - nevermind that recount thingy.

Thanks to Politico for noticing, and thanks to the exhaustive work of our volunteers, fellow staff, and Tom who made it possible.

Beer and meditation

Who knew that drinking beer could be a meditative practice? (h/t Religion News Blog)

Southside Political Round-up

Reader Doug on my post, Goode Reflects:
I just went back and read the Goode interview. Thanks for pointing it out- I'd missed it somehow. Other than the things you pointed out, the other thing that was very interesting to me was the "laundry list" of things he'd do different in the campaign if he could go back. I'm sure I know what some of them are. I'd love to hear what Virgil thinks they are, though. I would hope that his #1 would be to tone down the negativity and false ad hominem attacks. It made the incumbent, who was up 34 points, look desperate and frantic.
Well said. I guess I somehow overlooked that part, because I was stunned by some of Goode's comments.

The biggest factor in this upcoming gubernatorial contest: Terry McAuliffe's fundraising prowess. He believes he can raise $80 million. Freakin' amazing. Unfortunately, money does matter in politics, but the Democratic base is skeptical of McAuliffe; can that money translate into activist enthusiasm?

Sen. Jim Webb is planning on introducing legislation to help create prison reform:
... Webb describes a U.S. prison system that is deeply flawed in how it targets, punishes and releases those identified as criminals.

With 2.3 million people behind bars, the United States has imprisoned a higher percentage of its population than any other nation, according to the Pew Center on the States and other groups. Although the United States has only 5 percent of the world's population, it has 25 percent of its prison population, Webb says.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


I am a sucker for watching history, especially in the sports arena. I fell for McGuire and Sosa's trip past Roger Maris and Bonds' run past them - asterisks aside, the history watching was exciting. I loved Cal Ripken's historical consecutive games started streak. I rooted for the Patriot's in last year's Super Bowl so we could see a historic perfect-season. This year we watched history again, albeit the sadistic-type: The Detroit Lions are the first ever NFL team to go 0-16!

GOP's Southern dilemma

When the GOP takes severe losses within their ranks, they become more and more beholden to the ideology of Southern conservatives. The South is the only remaining area with solid Republican entrenchment, and losses throughout the rest of the nation increase the proportion of Southern representation in the GOP's congressional caucus. The ideology of these Southern conservatives is increasingly out of sink with mainstream America, creating a potentially perpetuating cycle. To which today David Broder asks:
Will congressional Republicans again sacrifice their political interest to satisfy their Southern-baked ideological imperatives?

Goode Reflects

The Martinsville Bulletin has a post-election interview with Rep. Goode. Goode is proud of his legislative independence, and he hearts Tom Tancredo and Ron Paul. But, this struck me:
Goode said he thinks his lack of support for immigration measures prompted people nationwide who favored the measures to contribute to Perriello’s campaign.
I am glad he could finally admit that, a refreshing difference from his previous scary-New-York-liberal-lawyer-money-out-to-steal-an-election stance.

Goode also said that being govenor is the "best job you could have" in Virginia. He said he is not interested in the position, but I don't like to hear Goode throwing out such ideas. I pray that this isn't a trail balloon. I don't think so, but still.

Unshackling the Governor

Virginia is the only state in the nation that will not allow its governor to run for consecutive terms. Today's Roanoke Times editorial argues that it is time for a constitutional amendment to allow governors that second consecutive term. Their main point:
... Virginia is not better for [one term governors]. Governors are forced to plot short-range, tactical advances in pursuit of what they think should be the state's long-range, strategic goals. The chance that a succeeding governor will build on the work of the last can be hindered by partisanship and each executive's desire to leave his own imprint on the office.
When I last met gubernatorial candidate Brian Moran in Martinsville a couple weeks ago, he seemed to believe that such a potential amendment could garner enough legislative support to pass for a public vote within the next several years. Virginians, he thought, would vote for this constitutional change. Moran noted that if such an amendment were to pass, it would not benefit the then-sitting Governor.

Sounds good to me. And, I'm okay with the idea of a Gov. Moran too.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Not a good day for the home team

I bet a moon-sized asteroid hitting Earth would make one of my Top 5 crappiest days.

Americans and eternal life

The Pew Forum of Religion and Public Life just released a poll surveying Americans and their views on eternal life.

65% of "religiously affiliated" Americans believe people of faiths other than their own can also obtain eternal life (down 5% from 2007, 11% from 2002). Salvifically speaking, this number shows that Americans are more pluralistic and less triumphalistic; there are multiple paths up the mountain. I love that 42% of respondents think that athiests can make it. Also surveyed, the actions/behaviors leading to eternal life: 30% of those polled believe that faith alone will earn eternal life, and an equal amount (29%) believe that actions alone will earn eternal life; 10% believe that both faith and actions are required. Read the poll analysis for more thorough ... uh ... analysis-y stuff.

Charles Blow, op-ed columnist for the NYT, today tried to explain these results. Professor Alan Stegal, Barnard College, said in the article that our multicultural society (my take: exposure to a diversity of people of different faiths) makes it "hard for us to imagine God letting [those of other faiths] go to hell." I mostly agree with that, but whatever. The last paragraph of the op-ed is both insightful and hopeful:
Now, there remains the possibility that some of those polled may not have understood the implications of their answers. As John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum, said, “The capacity of ignorance to influence survey outcomes should never be underestimated.” But I don’t think that they are ignorant about this most basic tenet of their faith. I think that they are choosing to ignore it ... for goodness sake.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Gallup: Religion losing influence in public life?

A couple days ago, Gallup posted the results of a study in which they asked the public whether religion was gaining/losing influence in American life. According to the results, 67% of adults believe that religion is waning in influence while 27% believe that its influence is gaining - a number continuing the downward trend since early 2005. Read the link for a more thorough analysis.

To the religious haters out there, please note:
... this measure of public perceptions about religion has been quite volatile over the forty-plus years of its existence, with shifts in perception often corresponding to major political events.
Economy anyone?

Baby Jesus wept

Nothing like mixing the birth of Jesus - Emmanuel, God is with us - and racial bigotry.

Chip Saltsman, former campaign manager of presidential aspirant Gov. Mike Huckabee, is seeking the headship of the RNC. Saltsman sent out a racist Christmas CD to RNC committee members, I assume to garner their support. On the playlist is "The Star Spanglish Banner" and the Limbaugh-approved song, "Barack the Magic Negro."

Ta-Nehisi Coates' take:
Get it? Negroes!! Spanglish!! No?? Clearly your [sic] too PC. Seriously, where do people get this idea that the GOP is racist? It really is one of the great mysteries of our time. Oh well. Saltsman's got my vote. Even if he doesn't [sic] believes I shouldn't have one. He's still got it.
Adds Josh Marshall:
... it really does seem like the RNC chairmanship race is down to a straight-up match between the black candidates and the racist candidates.
Baby Jesus wept.

Republicans, Democrats, Happiness, and Fulfillment

My friend, Sammy, passed along this editorial by Joel Stein on why Republicans blindly love things and Democrats have more errant tastes. The editorial, partially meant for comedic purposes, unfortunately pigeonholes all Republicans - well, Republican talk show hosts, really. I, however, found parts of his conclusion provocative. Money quote (emphasis mine):
... I still think conservatives love America for the same tribalistic reasons people love whatever groups they belong to. These are the people who are sure Christianity is the only right religion, that America is the best country, that the Republicans have the only good candidates, that gays have cooties.

I wish I felt such certainty. Sure, it makes life less interesting and nuanced, and absolute conviction can lead to dangerous extremism, but I suspect it makes people happier. I'll never experience the joy of Hannity-level patriotism. I'm the type who always wonders if some other idea or place or system is better and I'm missing out. ...
A couple of days ago, I argued that absolute certainty increases the likelihood of violence, but it is the argument that certainty correlates with happiness that intrigues me here. Without a study or a happiness-o-meter, this smells of "grass is greener on the other side" speculation. While Stein may be right, I think that there can be profound fulfillment by living into the mysteries of life, in recognizing the complexities and ambiguities of both Truth and the world around us. That fulfillment might not necessarily manifest itself as immediate emotional happiness but, possibly, as a deeper sense of holism.

Post-Christmas Political Round-up

The Franklin News Post actually had positive things to say about Congressman-Elect Perriello; hopefully this is more than just Christmas goodwill, and this editorial will be emblematic of future coverage. For those of you out of district, this newspaper is located in Rep. Goode's hometown. Needless to say, its coverage (or non-coverage in some cases) of the congressional campaign was wanting. To the editorial's point, yes, Jody Brown and Florella Johnson are excellent picks to represent Franklin County on Tom's transition team.

On a different note, according to Perriello, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the most brilliant shows ever written."

My thoughts and prayers go out to the friends and family of Delilah Magnum, 58, who passed away this past weekend. Although I did not have the honor of working closely with Ms. Magnum, I do know that she worked tirelessly for both Tom and Obama in the Danville area. Her dedicated activism and humanitarian selflessness will surely be missed.

Jindal, 2012? Earlier in the month, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said that he would not seek the presidency because he was happy with his current post. Jindal is now reserving judgment about a presidential bid, depending on how popular Obama will be at the time.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Peace and Goodwill

I pray your Christmas is filled with joy and cheer.

Drop a comment and share with us some yuletide goodness.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Goode, the nominee!

Every year TPM hands out their annual Golden Duke awards. This year Rep. Virgil Goode is a finalist for the Sleaziest Campaign Ad Award for his "Met Tom Perriello" ad. Any ad that makes you simultaneously hate Tom for being both Muslim and Jewish is its own kind of clever.

I can tell you first hand that this ad had a negative affect on his campaign ... well, couple that with Tom's positive ads.

Update: As Darren Staley reminds me, our sisters and brothers to the South are also represented in this contest: soon to be ex-Sen. Dole's "Godless" ad against now Senator-Elect Kay Hagan.

Coal in their stockings!

Disgraced Gov. Rod Blegojevich named the naughtiest politician of 2008 according to a new CNN poll. He beat out former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and former presidential hopeful John Edwards.

History of Christmas traditions revealed

Curious to know how Christmas traditions started? Why Christmas trees and Christmas Cards? Why reindeer? Why December 25th? Santa Claus and chimneys? Those answers and many more here (h/t AMERICAblog).

Christmas Congratulations

My uncle just landed a pretty sweet gig. Hopefully I get a stocking full of nepotism this Christmas.

On a more serious note, TCU's announcement of my uncle's new employment galvanized and energized the #11 Horned Frogs to hand #9 Boise State its first loss of the season in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Burn the heretic!

My classmate and friend, Chad Crawford, is a heretic, because he wants church congregations to become energy efficient and lower their carbon footprints (h/t Homebrewed Christianity). Anathema!

Hopefully, this should comfort Chad. The Vatican's stance on Galileo is changing. Seems that 400 years - and an undeniable body of evidence - have softened the hearts of the Catholic Church. They are even considering granting Galileo "Patron" status for the dialogue between faith and reason.

Chad, give it time. You might not be in the eschatological in-group right now, but you will be a cool kid again someday.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Robertson grades Bush and Obama

Susan Malveaux interviewed Pat Robertson on CNN's "The Situation Room." Robertson reflects on Bush's legacy and on Obama's transition. I couldn't find a synopsis on CNN's website, but thankfully The Huffington Post came through in the clutch.

Robertson on Bush:
Well you know, history may accord him a higher grade than his contemporaries and I think he's hoping for that, and we are.

But I believe I would look at about a C-minus right now if I were grading him.
He claims that Katrina, rebuilding Iraq, and the handling of the economy were terribly mishandled, yet he only gives Bush a C-?!? Sounds like grade inflation to me.

But when he talks about Obama, Robertson glows:
I am remarkably pleased with Obama. I had grave misgivings about him. But so help me, he's come in forcefully, intelligently. He's picked a middle of the road cabinet. And so far, if he continues down this course, he has the makings of a great president.

So, I'm very pleased so far.

Fair to say Obama earns an A+. I just hope that Robertson's warm embrace of Obama isn't a kiss of death.

My VA Political Round-up

Today's Martinsville Bulletin has an article in which local supporters urge Rep. Goode to run again in two years. Goode is not ruling it out: "I'm not saying yes, and I'm not saying no." I could be very wrong here, but I just don't see it (Update: see 220South's more thorough analysis, to which I agree). Part of this election was a repudiation of his negative campaign and out-of-touch stances, especially on illegal immigration (anchor babies, anyone?). And it is even crazier to think that he would take a step backward and run against State Senator Roscoe Reynolds (D - Henry County), a rumor I have heard; he would have to wait an extra year, as Reynolds isn't up for re-election until 2011.

Terry McAuliffe is in
. I already knew this, because one of my friends is going to work for him in January. But now the Democratic Gubenatorial field is set with McAuliffe, State Sen. Creigh Deeds, and former State Delegate Brian Moran. Now that the 2008 election cycle is over, people are focusing on this race and starting to choose sides. Take for example the discussions over at BlueCommonwealth: a diarist against McAuliffe; a diarist for Moran; an ex-Deeds supporter turns Lean Moran.

"Spiritual but not religious" and rigid truth claims

We have all heard someone claim that they are "spiritual but not religious." I cry inside every time I hear it. At Faithful Democrats, one blogger, Wilson Thomas Payne - interestingly, an Obama Field Organizer - believes this Spiritualism is "detrimental to the future of Christianity." Rebelling against "societal thinking," Spiritualists resist the stigmatism and dogmatism of both organized religion and political ideology. Because of these characteristics, the younger generations are moving away from Christianity and towards spiritualism. Payne concludes that Christianity, in order to sustain and re-grow its membership, must move away from rigid dogmatism and take ownership of scriptural ambivalence, where scripture can be/has been used to argue both sides of a moral issue.

Payne might be on to something here, even though his presentation is both alarmist and anecdotal (show me some stats, please). I, however, don't want to belabor that point. I think that his point about ambivalence is spot on (i.e., the biblical justification for and against slavery), but his point about rigid truth claims provides a soapbox that I cannot pass up.

Deep breath. Begin rant.

Every religion (and non-religion) has truth claims, without which religion (and non-religion) could not provide a coherent existential worldview (a necessity for individual and communal identity formation and a necessity to function, behave, and relate within the world). Whether Christianity, Islam, athiesm, or secular humanism - to name just a few - these worldviews have an organized epistemological framework in which to interpret reality. Truth claims are foundational in this framework; truth claims are necessary and good.

The problem comes when these truth claims are absolutized and held with non-negotiable certainty. Truth then divides the world into right and wrong, and logically, good and evil; those who disagree with the truth claim are wrong, and depending their tenacity, evil. Rigid truth claims transcend the realm of human discussion and argumentation, a retreating and entrenchment from dialogue. This creates a high potential to marginalize dissenters and outsiders. The trampling of human diginity (my definition of violence), on one level or another, is inevitable. Said again, rigid truth claims then increase the likelihood that a religion (or non-religion) will become violent.

Assume for the sake of argument that you could hold Truth in your hand. You have to be very careful, it is fragile. The harder and harder you try to grasp at truth, the more broken and incomprehensible it becomes. As such, you lose Truth when you clinch your fist at an unbeliever. (h/t Tripp Fuller)

So not only does Christianity increase the likelihood of violence when it adheres to rigid truth claims, but it possibly loses membership to the growing "Spiritual but not religious" phenomenon. Sounds lose-lose to me.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Warren good for the Democratic Party?

In the midst of all of this Rick Warren hoopla, a friend passed along this article. Juan Cole, the President of the Global Americana Institute, met Warren at the Muslim Public Affairs Council. He was very impressed with Warren, even within the current maelstrom. This quote, however, was worth sharing with you:
If Warren is the future of the American evangelical movement, then many more evangelicals might end up Democrats, since it is Democrats who care about poor people, illiteracy, and AIDS victims. And if any significant proportion of evangelicals can be turned into consistent Democrats, the party would more regularly win elections in some parts of the country and even nationally.
Pretty sure winning over a significant portion of evangelicals is part of the plan, but I am not sure if Warren will/should be that standard-bearer. By "not sure," I mean, "I hope not."

Martians, religion, and fertility

Here is an interesting article that you should read (h/t Andrew Sullivan). In this article, Anthony Gottlieb is doing several things. He argues that we generally take the religion of our parents (or about 3/4s of us do), and that there is a strong link, beyond the obvious, between religion and fertility. More conservative religions maintain larger family sizes, and at the macro-level, these conservative religions are outstripping their liberal, secular, and atheistic counterparts in population growth around the world.

All of this to answer why a (male!?) Martian would care about the geographical loci of religions.

The Vicar of Christ needs a Mulligan

The Pope needs a do-over on this one. Likening saving the rainforest to saving humanity from homesexual and transexual behavior is pretty absurd. (h/t Huffington Post)

Aside: Whether it be in jurisprudence or religious explication, again and again, the notion of choice seems to be the central presupposition.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Religion und Gewalt

A couple days ago, one of my old professors, Craig Atwood, told me that my article, "Religion and Violence," was translated into German. I don't know any more details than that, but its pretty sweet.

My theory: Germany hearts me.

Religious Story of the Year

According to the Baptist Standard, the Religious Story of the Year is the prominence of religion during the 2008 election cycle (h/t Blog from the Capital) .
Barack Obama chose Joe Biden, and John McCain turned to Sarah Palin, but in the end, the most sought-after running mate in the 2008 campaign never appeared on a single ballot.

God, it seems, couldn’t be entirely wooed by either party.

The unprecedented and extraordinary prominence of religion in the 2008 election was easily the year’s top religion story. Both parties battled hard for religious voters ...
I was in Divinity School during the 2004 election, naturally a hyper-religious environment. Through that lens, I remember 2004 to be an uncommonly religious election: Terrorism and Islamic Extremism, Abortion and Gay Marriage.

In terms of religious stories, however, 2008 dwarfed 2004. Jeremiah Wright. John Hagee. Rod Pasley. The Saddleback Forum. The Compassion Forum during the Democratic Primary. Proposition 8. Barack Hussein Obama and his "secret Muslim worldview." Madrasas. Mike Huckabee's religious education. Mitt Romney and Mormonism. Sarah Palin and conservative evangelical elation, no exceptions on abortion whatsoever, witch-doctor blessings, creationism, God blessing Alaskan oil pipelines, etc. We could cite examples ad nauseam.

Even in our local congressional race, religion was prominent. Congressman-Elect Tom Perriello never shied from his religion: "Called by his faith." Sierra Leone, Darfur, genocides and civil wars. Volunteer tithing initiatives and Habitat for Humanity. Listening tour with pastors. Pastors for Perriello. "United Sunni caliphate."

Tangentially, are we seeing a trend here, the religification of national elections? Two times does not a pattern make, but it will be fun to watch.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Obviously, the more people are strained economically the more likely they are to reach out to charitable organizations for assistance. 220South has a heartbreaking post on how the current economic recession has affected local food pantries in Martinsville/Henry County. Read and donate.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

On Obama and Rick Warren: Annoyed and Comfortable

Yesterday, news emerged that Obama tapped conservative evangelical pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the Inauguration. Social progressives, the LGBT community, and the Left are livid. Of importance to the discussion at-large, Obama and Warren have chasmic differences in their understandings of gay rights.

I am of two minds on this.

Emphatically speaking, I find Warren noxious and odious on many theological fronts. At the very least, his belief that homosexuality is analogous to pedophila, incest, and polygamy is shameful. He sadly misconstrues the life and ministry of Jesus, a ministry that was inclusive, inviting, loving, and embracing. To pick Warren to give the invocation provides unfortunate symbolic consequences, especially after the disappointing loss on Proposition 8. The prayer-giver is front and center to the entire nation and world, and, on this stage, to have a person who preaches exclusion and division is problematic. On this day, Warren's dehumanizing beliefs have a platform and a position of honor. The fact that disagreement over gay-rights is still vitriolic highlights that the pick was mishandled in and of itself. I empathize with the anger.

On the other hand, let's focus on the notion of inclusivity. In my mind, inclusion is a constitutional characteristic of progressivism, and inclusion was an important principle within the Obama campaign. Notably, Obama field organizers had a mantra: "Respect. Empower. Include." To cross-mix the ideas here, inclusion does not preclude respectful disagreement. That is self-evident to me. I thought of this as I watched Obama's press conference today. Obama:
... It is important for Americans to come together even if we have disagreements on social issues. ... We are not going to agree on every issue, but what we have to do is be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans. ... Part of the magic of this country is we are diverse, noisy, and opinionated. ... [my transcription]
Sure, it is trasparent that Obama extended an olive branch to moderate and conservative evangelicals, perhaps even as a cheap policitical ploy. In terms of gay rights, America is bitterly divided. Remember, however, Obama is the President of the entire country, not just 52-53% of the electorate. Remember also, progress happens in dialogue. Obama in effect stated, "Sure, I ardently disagree with you, but, as a fellow American, I respect and value you and your opinion. Welcome." Respect. Empower. Include.

Interestingly, we applaud Obama for creating a bipartisan cabinet, one that both values the discussion of ideas and abhors group-think. We think it great that cabinet Democrats and cabinet Republicans can put solutions over partisanship. We applaud Obama for his willingness to dialogue with countries and regimes that hold anti-American sentiments. Dialogue is disarming, and high-level diplomacy can depress counter-productive and dangerous behavior. Yet, dialogue and inclusivity die when they cross certain Democratic ideals?

Which is more important to us: Being the inclusive, big tent party? Or being issue driven? The Rick Warren pick underscores the tension between the two. I would argue that inclusivity should, in many cases, trump issues, but there is a threshold in which, if crossed, a principled stand is necessary and non-negotiable. As my friend, Doug Williams mused, "How would we feel if David Duke were picked?" To his point, universal rebuke would naturally ensue. But, is this one of those threshold-crossing events? Yes. No. Perhaps. Throughout the course of the day, I have come down on either side of the question.

I guess, I am both annoyed and comfortable with the pick - annoyed because of the newfound prominence of dehumanizing beliefs on a historic day; comfortable because of the underlying notion of inclusivity.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

VA-5 race officially over

Sorry to have been absent the last several days. I have been taking care of personal business, and I have been involved with the recount (in Henry County) for Tom Perriello the last couple days.

On that note, today the recount is over. Tom Perriello has been officially elected to the House of Representatives. Cvllelaw states that Goode gained 18 votes during the recount, leaving a 727 vote margin. Money quote from his campaign's press release:
"I'm gratified that after an exhaustive democratic process, we now can say with certainty that this election is over, and the fifth district has asked me to fight for jobs and economic relief in Washington. I am humbled that the voters have entrusted me with this sacred duty, and I am eager to represent the entire district as we work together to put our communities back on the path to economic revival."
Waldo Jaquith's take and his money quote:
The Fifth District is Democratic. The majority of Virginia’s congressional delegation is now Democratic. Goode has lost. Hell has frozen over. Life is good.
I'm perfectly okay with both Goode losing and Hell ceasing to function, although I am more excited that Tom won.

Congratulations Congressman-Elect Perriello! Tonight we celebrate ... literally. There might be a fisty dance.

Update: Jim White talks with Tom shortly after the announcement.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

If you have one second and need to smile ...

... here is a fabulous quick post from my friend, Tripp Fuller.

Quote of the Day

"Sometimes people don't need the truth; sometimes people need more; sometimes they need to have their faith rewarded." - Batman, The Dark Knight (2008)


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Partisanship and Prayer

This graph has caused some interesting speculation, or lack thereof, around the intertubes in the last couple of days (via Secular Right). On Andrew Sullivan's blog, Patrick Appel isn't quite sure what conclusions to draw, but, in a later update post, he notes that his most common response to the graph is:
The more willing you are to "believe" in anything, the more likely you are to "believe" in something else.
Over at Street Prophets, pastordan is completely unsatisfied with this understanding and posits his own explanations:

Whatever the case, and whatever else you want to say about the subject, two things are definitely true:

  1. Using frequency of prayer as anything more than one data point in assessing religious practice is completely boneheaded; and

  1. This is absolutely wrong:

    There is also the problem of the very first lesson every statician is taught - correlation is not causation. Nor are they necessarily related just because there is a high correlation. Hey, I’d guess that the number of people who voted who also have teeth is pretty high. Are we to assume that the ability to eat is predictive of the act of voting? Only if we are incredibly stupid.

    Au contraire, mon frere. People who can't eat typically have more important things to worry about than voting. For instance, staying alive. Q.E.D.

So, what does this graph mean to you? Care to take a stab at it?

Bush doesn't take the Bible literally

Thanks for clearing that up, W. (CNN's take on the subject)

We know that you are on your legacy tour right now, interviewing with the national television syndicates (ABC's Nightline in this case) to repair your damaged image. We know that you and your party were (and still are) beholden to the Religious Right and social conservativism. Now that your administration is over, we know that you can speak more freely, unaffected by electoral consequences.

But, did you have to lead us into eight years of culture wars, founded on literal interpretations of the Bible? If you don't interpret the Bible literally, why did you govern so?

On another note, with abysmally low approval ratings, I am sure that you just upset probably the only group that still holds you in esteem.

Update: I love this part of Paul Raushenbush's response (
It is worth noting that his beliefs on biblical literalism, religious pluralism, and evolution are just coming out now. Contrary to popular belief, George Bush is no dummy. During the last eight years Rove and Bush have cynically allowed fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals to project their world view onto the president [sic]. In his last month in office, he may be seeing that fundamentalism, while useful to him in office, is not something he wants to carry with him into civilian life, or believes should be promoted within American society.

... This interview reveals that someone can have an authentic religious experience without the burdens of Biblical literalism, anti-science suspicions and Christian triumphalism.

Dem Bones - The Namesake

The title of this blog, Dem Bones, comes from an African-American spiritual with the same namesake. We all learned this song as a kid to teach us a generic and simplistic make-up of a skeleton. You can find the full lyrics here. Of course, this spiritual was based on Ezekiel 37:1-14, where Ezekiel, at God's command, prophesies to bring to life the skeletal remains littering the Valley of Dry Bones - a symbolic reconstitution of Israel.

It doesn't hurt that this title contains a (witty? cheesy?) play on words, where politics and religion interplay. But, now that I had to point that out, it loses coolness points.

Dem Bones - Introduction and Purpose

Welcome to Dem Bones!

My name is Drew Lumpkin and I am a theological and political junkie. I graduated with my Masters of Divinity degree in 2006. Among other subjects, my educational focus centered on the examination of the Separation of Church and State, Christian Ethics and Public Policy, and the relationship between religion and violence. Immediately following my graduation, I entered the realm of politics and managed a congressional campaign in NC-5 (Roger Sharpe). Just this past year, I worked as a Regional Director for Tom Perriello, our new Congressman in VA-5, in his electoral upset of Rep. Virgil Goode!

I am a Progressive Democrat, and Dem Bones will present this political ideology. Because of my brief history in congressional campaigns, I admit a small bias towards the politics within Southside Virginia and Northwest North Carolina. I was born and raised in the Christian tradition and attended the progressive Wake Forest Divinity School; although my writings are influenced by my background and experiences, I am a strong advocate for religious openness and dialogue.

This weblog is devoted to exploring religion, politics, and their interaction - with, I am sure, many diversions and sidetracks along the way. I hope that you enjoy our journey together in this endeavor.