Saturday, January 31, 2009

Super Bowl Sunday, America's High Holy Day

All pastors joke that football, not Christianity, is the true American religion, with, naturally, Super Bowl Sunday being its high holy day. One ReligionDispatches piece argues that there is, in fact, legitimate reasons to believe that Americans do treat the Super Bowl with religious sacramentalization. The article's lede is pretty money:
Indignant responses to the Janet Jackson nipple slip and the somber post-9/11 halftime show reveal glimpses of the sanctity of this yearly ritual, but it’s also in the creation of icons, the reinforcement of rules, and Americans telling themselves stories about themselves.
Kurt Warner is obviously the Pontifex Maximus.

More McAullife press

The New Republic has a decent write-up on Terry McAullife and his gubernatorial run, which highlights, among other things, his energy and enthusiasm and his love of chicken waste. Following McAuliffe to several campaign meet-and-greets, the author, Eve Fairbanks, shows his ability to sway even the staunchest skeptics, while pointing out that his talented ability to fundraise can both help local candidates and organize the electorate at Obama-type levels. The article concludes with an awkward interaction between McAuliffe and a mother of an autistic child.

Two different approaches

In light of the upcoming 200th anniversary of Baby Darwin, the press seems to have an increased interest in evolution-based stories. Heck, I'm even getting tired of them. Yet, I did want to point out two articles on seemingly opposite educational approaches to teaching evolution and creationism. In the first, a Springfield College/Benedictine University and the University of Illinois at Springfield designed a class where students can learn and discuss, in objective fashion, all sides of the issue in order for those students to make a more informed personal decision - all viewpoints are apparently treated fairly and evenly. In the other article, a group, Answers in Genesis, is offering two free conferences in order to "help Christians defend their faith against a theory that the ministry sees as running counter to Scripture."

One approach teaches all sides in a deliberately dialogical context, the other, one side against the other. Said again, one approach teaches people to talk together, the other approach teaches people to talk passed those in disagreement. Of course, I'm not opposed to educational conferences, however one-sided, but I think there is infinitely more value to teaching, even-handedly, all sides of issues and allowing for the discussion and interaction of opposing ideas.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Theology of Sports

An Associated Press article points out the unprecedented role faith is playing in this upcoming Super Bowl:
But the depth of convictions from evangelical Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner to the Steelers who will do their best to plant him face-first into the ground on Sunday has put religion squarely in play this week. All of a sudden the G-word is in vogue.
Tangentially speaking, Jim Evans, in an entertaining opinion piece, points out the theological logic within sports. When an athlete hits a homerun or scores a touchdown, he/she oftentimes thanks the heavens. Yet, when the the athlete strikes out, misses the field goal, or duffs a shot on an open goal, the athlete doesn't rebuke God for God's supposed absence. Therefore, theologically the argument goes:
When you win, God is with you -- but when you lose, you are on your own.
Yet, in light of a recent high school basketball game, this theology needs some nuancing. Two Christian high schools, the Covenant School and the Dallas Academy, played a girl's basket ball game, and the final score was Covenant School 100, Dallas Academy 0. Yes, no typos there, 100 to zero. This led to some public criticism against the un-Christian-like behavior of the Covent School's team for their lack of sports(wo)manship; Jesus, of course, wouldn't run up the score. So, in terms of theology, winning should happen with grace:
If you have success in appropriate portions, God is with you. But if you flaunt your abilities and run up the score, God is not with you. Or: If you lose, you are on your own -- unless you lose in such an egregious fashion as to invoke the oppressed-people syndrome in which case God is with you.
But, as cool as this theology sounds, we truly understand that God doesn't concern Godself with the outcomes of athletic competitions. God is the God of both sides, neither team elevated to an elect status. As such, Evans concludes:
God does not take sides. God doesn't care who wins or loses. Like all things in life, God is mostly concerned about the way we play the game.
It would be fun to see a 100-0 Steelers victory though. Amen.

Most and least religious states

A new Gallup poll surveyed over 350,000 Americans to figure the relative religiosity of every state. They asked respondents, "Is religion an important part of your life?" They concluded that Mississippi is the most religious state (85% of respondents answered yes) and Vermont is the least religious state (42%).

Of course, to me, these results reaffirm previous regional stereotypes. The Bible Belt has the highest incidence of religiosity: Mississippi, Alabama (82%), South Carolina (80%), Tennessee (79%), and Louisiana and Arkansas (78%). On the other hand, states in New England and the Pacific Northwest are the least religious: Vermont, New Hampshire (46%), Maine and Massachusetts (48%), Alaska (51%) and Washington (52%).

Of note, North Carolina is the eighth most religious state (76%) and Virginia is sixteenth (68%).

RNC elects Steele

Today the Republicans chose their RNC Chairman, and after 6 ballots they elected former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. He is an African-American, a moderate, a great public speaker, and a committee outsider - all opposites of recent past chairmen. For a few voting rounds, I thought they might actually elect South Carolina's Katon Dawson, who would have reinforced their "old white dude" image; not insignificant, he was a member of an all-white country club. But the RNC summoned their better angels, bless them. With the election of Steele, the committee obviously is looking to create a more inclusive, forward-thinking party, and now the Republican party can start re-imaging their broken brand.

Steele will have the daunting task of curbing GOP losses nationwide. As I commented last month, the GOP is beholden to Southern conservatism which, as Nate Silver explains, creates a political "death spiral:"
Thus the Republicans, arguably, are in something of a death spiral. The more conservative, partisan, and strident their message becomes, the more they alienate non-base Republicans. But the more they alienate non-base Republicans, the fewer of them are left to worry about appeasing. Thus, their message becomes continually more appealing to the base -- but more conservative, partisan, and strident to the rest of us. And the process loops back upon itself.
Good luck with that, Chairman Steele.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Religious Discrimination and Harassment

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rates of religious discrimination in the workplace have doubled in the last 15 years, most likely due to the increased awareness of religious rights and the willingness to exercise these rights. The nature of these religious discrimination claims has also changed, where more people are demanding the right to religious expression on the job, and there is a low incidence rate of religious bullying and harassment. (h/t Beliefnet via Blog from the Capital)

Yet, here is a local and recent example of religious bullying and harassment. From the Roanoke Times:
A former Blacksburg Middle School library worker is suing the Montgomery County School Board, accusing it of condoning religious harassment.

Judith Scott ... said in a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Roanoke that an unnamed supervisor held Christian prayer meetings in which she turned out the lights and laid hands on people, "anointed" the library and left religious notes around Scott's workplace. When Scott complained, her 14 years of employment came to an abrupt end, the lawsuit said.
The Times article has more background on the case. How sad and infuriating to me.

Obama's Super Bowl pick

Other than the Bears, the Steelers are close to my heart," Obama said.

Rep. Foxx speaks

Now, I disagree with Republican political ideology, but even so, Rep. Virginia Foxx (NC-5) and I have mutually exclusive understandings of the world around us; I just don't get what she is thinking most of the time. Quick background: I was the campaign manager for a congressional race against her in 2006, when she voted against Katrina relief and thought the Iraq War was going swell (when fighting was at its worst). For sports fans, she was the one who made a mockery of the baseball's congressional steroid hearings when she took four random pictures of Roger Clemmons and said, "You look the same size in each of the pictures, therefore you can't have taken steroids."

So I came across this one sentence post by Andrew Sullivan:
Noam Scheiber points out the faulty financial logic of a GOP congresswoman.
My heart dropped and I thought, "What did Foxx say now." I mean, there are plenty of Republican congresswomen, but if one of them is getting negative national attention there is a heightened chance it is Foxx. The link takes you to The New Republic, and sure enough, they are criticizing Foxx and her "breathtaking" understanding of the economic meltdown:
This tidbit from the Times story on the House stimulus vote just bowls you over:

Representative Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina, said that former President George Bush’s signature tax cuts in 2001 had created years of growth but that the nation’s problems started when Democrats regained majorities in Congress in the 2006 elections.

Really? So the Democrats came into office and a housing bubble retroactively inflated and began to pop? Mortgage-backed assets worth trillions less than their stated value just magically appeared on bank balance sheets and in hedge fund portfolios?

Just to clarify, did all this happen on election night 2006, or was it not until January of 2007, when Nancy Pelosi officially became Speaker?

Ugh. Too bad that district is so gerrymandered (PVI R+16). She is an embarrassment.

Atheist advertising campaigns

Driving throughout rural Virginia, you can easily find many religious signs and billboards, from the unnerving anti-abortion messages to the traditional "Jesus saves" script. My favorite in Henry County says something along the lines of "Abortion is the ultimate child abuse." In the same vain, a couple atheist groups have recently decided to advertise using similar campaign strategies.

In light of Darwin's upcoming 200th birthday, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is advertising on billboards in specific cities, localities that hosted past religion-science debates: Dayton, TN (Scopes Trial) and Dover, PN (Dover trial). The billboards say "Praise Darwin -- Evolve Beyond Belief" on them. The article has other amusing messages that were considered.

In a currently on-going campaign, the British Humanist Association, funded by Richard Dawkins, is advertising their message on buses throughout England. Their message states "There probably is no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." Here is Dawkins' over-the-top justification:
Religion is accustomed to getting a free ride - automatic tax breaks, unearned respect and the right not to be offended, the right to brainwash children.

Even on the buses, nobody thinks twice when they see a religious slogan plastered across the side.

This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think - and thinking is anathema to religion.
Whether brainwashed or unthinking, over time I would be just as annoyed seeing these atheism-thumping messages - however cute or amusing initially - as I am with the religious ones.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Quote of the Day

I'm speechless.

Says Joseph Farah:
Many a coward has been bolstered in his conviction against challenging tyranny by not reading too deeply into the Scriptures. Yet, nowhere does the Bible ever suggest evil rulers are to be obeyed. When the rule of men conflicts with the commands of God, the Bible leaves no doubt about where we should stand.

That's why I do not hesitate today in calling on godly Americans to pray that Barack Hussein Obama fail in his efforts to change our country from one anchored on self-governance and constitutional republicanism to one based on the raw and unlimited power of the central state.

It would be folly to pray for his success in such an evil campaign.

I want Obama to fail because his agenda is 100 percent at odds with God's. Pretending it is not simply makes a mockery of God's straightforward Commandments.

(h/t Steven Waldman)

Evolution Sunday

Michael Zimmerman, the Dean of Rutgers University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has started a strong grassroots effort to have religious leaders teach their congregations about the science of evolution. He has had over 10,000 leaders sign on, and his work has culminated in the establishment of Evolution Sunday, where every year pastors teach the contributions of evolution from the pulpit on the Sunday nearest Darwin's birthday.

Within this article, I think there are several other points worthy of our discussion. First, according to the author:
Zimmerman thinks the best way to change this mindset is for scientists to step back from the debate and hand the reins over to religious leaders.
Since the debate is about the religious implications to these existential origins, leave that discussion to theologians and religious leaders. Science should not be distracted by this religious in-fighting.

At the same time, certain atheist arguments premised on evolution actually are harmful to science in the long run, and in this manner, Zimmerman takes issue with Richard Dawkins' approach to atheism. Against Dawkins, Zimmerman believes that a strong understanding of evolution does not inevitably lead to atheism - it can be reconciled within theology - and, he worries that Dawkins' needless pitting of science against religion forces many otherwise receptive people to reject science all together:
And while he respects Dawkins, he believes his message—understanding of evolutionary processes inevitably leads to atheism—has done more harm than good for scientific literacy.

“He has a polarizing effect on the debate with his argument that science must lead you to atheism,” Zimmerman said. “He is a proselytizing atheist, who uses his position as a scientist to discuss atheism.”

Did I mention that Zimmerman is an atheist and, by training, an evolutionary biologist?


Gubernatorial (not so) deep thought

Bill Clinton is headlining our J-J dinner next week, the big fundraising event for the Democratic Party of Virginia. Bill Clinton is Terry McAuliffe's BFF. With a large group of Democratic activists in one place at one time, that seems like one heckuva advantage.

Starting points for lasting peace

I have been hesitant to launch into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, as I am in over my head. I am not knowledgeable enough to offer creative or practical solutions to the conflict, and my background knowledge of the entire situation is elementary and incomplete. But one Dem Bones' reader passed along a great NYT op-ed piece, by Scott Atran and Jeremy Ginges, that I thought was helpful. Atran and Ginges conducted a survey of 4,000 Israelis and Palestinians - including political heavyweights - and found one possible way in which to start peace negotiations.

Peaceful negotiations between Israel and Palestine are fraught with complexity, as both sides have legitimate grievances against the other. The anger on both sides is transcendent, real, and sacred. According to the writers, peaceful negotiations premised upon the rational calculations about quality of life miss the point; they are misguided Western understandings of what constitutes peaceful settlements. The two-state solution is a tough sell for both sides, as both have sacred beliefs that confound this solution. And to force a deal with huge economic incentives only fosters resentment, as neither side believes money can redress their greivances; you can't buy peace. Yet, according to the survey, when one side makes difficult symbolic gestures, the other side was more inclined to accept peace-making deals. For Israel it means to admit they were wrong in displacing civilians in the 1948 war, and for Palestine it means to recognize Israel's right to exist.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rush, the GOP, and Obama (updated)

Last week, Rush Limbaugh exclaimed that he hopes Obama fails as a President. Regardless of any person's political ideology, that was disgraceful. Obama responded by asking the GOP leaders to lay off the Limbaugh kool-aid: "You can't listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done." Limbaugh attacked in-kind, saying Obama is:
obviously more frightened of me than he is Mitch McConnell. He's more frightened of me, than he is of, say, John Boehner, which doesn't say much about our party.
To which one GOP Representative stood up for his leadership team against Limbaugh:
“I think that our leadership, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, are taking the right approach,” [Rep. Phil] Gingrey [R-GA] said. “I mean, it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks. You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party. You know you’re just on these talk shows and you’re living well and plus you stir up a bit of controversy and gin the base and that sort of that thing. But when it comes to true leadership, not that these people couldn’t be or wouldn’t be good leaders, they’re not in that position of John Boehner or Mitch McConnell."
With Republican leaders stepping into the fray, hopefully Obama can now stop giving Rush a platform.

On a related note, Chris Cilliza wonders if Limbaugh is the new face of the GOP. But as left-leaning bloggers point out, Limbaugh has always been a face - one of many - of the GOP (see here and here)

Update: Rep. Gingrey, inundated with calls from angry conservatives, was forced to give an apology to Limbaugh.

White Sox-Obama cap

In another example of the all-encompassing Obama brand, the Chicago White Sox have made a baseball cap with Obama campaign insignias and are aiming to release the cap to the public by spring training. Proceeds will go to local charities, but the baseball organization needs Obama's approval before they can start selling it. Interesting quote:
While team officials said there is not a concern about upsetting conservative-leaning White Sox fans, pointing to baseball’s historic role as a political unifier, they are aiming to draw a careful line about how much they do in connection with the president.

“We don’t want to be overly opportunistic and exploit this,” [White Sox Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Brooks] Boyer said.

Just mildly opportunistic and exploitative.

(h/t Huffington Post)

It has started

Earlier in the month, I wrote on Moran's call out of money McAuliffe raises from out of state. I said that Moran is going to cry foul when it happens, but McAuliffe won't listen. And, I questioned if the out-of-state/district-money meme really resonates with average voters in the first place.

Well, it has started.

Last week, McAuliffe held a fundraiser in Park Avenue in New York, one attended by Pres. Clinton. At that fundraiser, McAuliffe raised a hefty $350k. Today, the Moran campaign has fired back. Saith Moran strategist Mame Reiley:
"Last week, Terry McAuliffe was up on Wall Street at a glitzy Park Avenue location, collecting money while Brian Moran was announcing the boldest environmental plan of any candidate," Reiley wrote. "Yesterday, McAuliffe announced he's spending that Wall Street money on high-priced TV ads in Virginia."
On a side note, generally when a campaign attacks your campaign, your communications director should always parry with "Candidate X is focused on getting down to the issues and solving our problems." Right on cue, McAuliffe Communication's Director, Lis Smith responded:
"We know that Brian and Creigh are both good Democrats and that they both understand that Virginians aren't interested in the old way of campaigning," Smith said. "That's why Terry is staying focused on important issues like getting the economy back on track. We look forward to a discussion about these issues in the coming months."
The only part left of my initial theory is whether this will resonate with Democratic activists. I am skeptical, but we are about to find out.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Does the press understand religion?

From misunderstanding basic tenets of faith to failing to reflect, or properly weight, the diversity of religious thought, the press does not understand religion. On the subject of press coverage and religion, I found this article by Les Sillars and was blown-away (h/t RNS Blog). This article is so rich with sub-topics of discussion, that I am unsure how to fairly approach the overall topic: the press doesn't understand basic Islamic tenets of faith; how the press' coverage of religion influences support for public policy on the Hill; the press unfairly stereotypes conservatives; the press has a "bigoted" approach to religion; the press won't get better anytime soon on the topic of religion, if it doesn't get worse. Each of these topics is worthy of exploration and discussion. If you have time, please read the article.

To me, the article missed one important issue. I am most bothered by how the if-it-bleeds-it-leads conflict-generating media elevates certain (more extreme) views into the public discussion creating the general misperception that those views are both normative and majority; their skewing or mis-weighting of the plurality of theological voices leads, cognitively, to a fallacious availability heuristic. In this light, lost is the respect for the vast diversity of religious and theological thought, dismissed by the oversimplified - and perhaps dumbed-down - fault lines of conservatism versus liberalism. And when the press is only willing to cover a very narrow set of hot-button issues (i.e., abortion, homosexuality, environmentalism, school prayer), this supposed ideological binary perpetuates and exacerbates the divisiveness already inherent within those discussions. Healthy theological diversity is out, and unhealthy theological disagreeableness is in.

Non-profits and the stimulus bill

In response to the economic downturn, many nonprofit organizations on the front line of emergency relief are being stretched too thin. The Christian Science Monitor has an article in which they argue that this nonprofit sector should get part of the economic stimulus package. Money quote:

As Congress digs in this week for negotiations on President Obama's $825 billion economic stimulus bill – with funds targeted to tax cuts, infrastructure, and state aid – people in and outside the nonprofit sector say it ought to be part of that package. Not only would this preserve jobs and shore up a crucial part of the US service-delivery network, they say, but would employ it most effectively in spurring an economic recovery.

"By including this sector we can take advantage of a huge network of institutions that work hard ... to improve the welfare of communities and individuals, that will spend the money quickly, that have the capacity to spread the dollars widely, and that in the absence of such help will need to shrink and thus become another drag on the economy," says Isabel Sawhill, senior fellow in economics at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

(h/t Faith In Public Life)

Lynchburg News & Advance defends Tom

The Lynchburg News & Advance yesterday published an editorial in which they actually came to the defense of Rep. Perriello. (For those out of district, it is a pretty conservative editorial staff.) As the NRCC is already attacking Perriello, the News & Advance has had enough of ultra-partisan hacks, on both sides of the isle, putting politics over solutions:
Shame on them.


They do a disservice to the nation they profess to love.

America is in desperate need of politicians, nay, of statesmen, who can put aside their philosophical disagreements and work with each other for the good of the country.


Gone is the concept of getting into politics out of a belief in public service. It’s been trampled under foot by goose-stepping hacks of all political stripes who believe that they, and only they, have a lock on the truth.

And America suffers because of them.

All of them.

McAuliffe on the tele'

This ad is currently airing in the Hampton Roads market. I am interested to see how the early air time pressures both the Moran and Deeds' campaigns.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama, me, and the Myers-Brigg (updated)

According to some dude's non-scientific assessment, Obama and I share the same Myers-Brigg type: ENTP (extravert, intuition, thinking, perceiving). If I remember correctly, us ENTP'ers make up approximately 1% of the population.

I would like to believe this guy's assessment is 100% accurate, because by air-tight and flawless logic, it means I too am charismatic and presidential.

Update: Chad of Homebrewed Christianity, in a buzz-killing-like fashion, found an unscientific assessment in which Obama has his personality type: ENFP.

Danville Amtrak and other Perriello press

With the new push for infrastructure investments, Amtrak has proposed adding a additional lines within the state, including a new line from Lynchburg to D.C. This new line has the possibility of hurting overall service in and out of Danville, which of course would negatively effect the city's economy. Sen. Webb and Rep. Perriello wrote to Amtrak expressing their concerns for and requesting assurances against the effects of the new line on Danville's economy and asked for other considerations to make it easier for residents to use the railroad system.


These other two stories are a couple days old but still worth passing on.

Rep. Perriello broke from the party line and voted against the releasing of the rest of the $350 billion in bailout funds. He was concerned with the lack of accountability measures in the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). In a press release, Perriello stated:
“Citizens of the 5th District elected me to help replace the era of blank-check bailouts with a new era of accountability in our government, in our corporations, and in our personal lives. We must move from quick-fixes to solutions based on investment and recovery in order to turn our economy around,” said Perriello. “If the TARP funds are released over my objections, I am urging President Obama to adopt these new, stringent accountability measures to make sure our taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely, effectively, and transparently to create jobs. Compared to last year’s bailout, these common-sense accountability measures represent the change that voters demanded and that Virginia’s working families deserve.”

Reps. Perriello and Doggett's CLASS Act bill is headed to the House floor, funded for $13.5 billion. According to their press release (Jim White has the full text here):
U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and Congressman Tom Perriello (D-Virginia) today welcomed House Ways and Means Committee approval of a tuition and textbook tax credit in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009. (H.R. 598). This higher education tax credit is drawn from legislation they filed earlier this year.
They also offered a concise description of their bill in the release:
For 2009 and 2010, H.R. 598 provides taxpayers with a new American Opportunity Tax Credit of up to $2,500 of the cost of tuition and related expenses paid during the taxable year. The American Opportunity Tax Credit would replace the Hope Tax Credit and the above-the-line tuition tax deduction for the next two years. For the first time, textbooks would be included in the higher education expenses that would be eligible for the tax credit. Forty percent of the tax credit – up to $1000 – would be refundable. This tax credit will be subject to a phase-out for taxpayers with adjusted gross income in excess of $80,000 ($160,000 for married couples filing jointly). This will provide an estimated $13.5 billion in tax relief.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Obama brand used for heroin

You know the Obama brand is all-encompassing when heroin dealers use the name for their product.

I guess that's change you can trip to.

(h/t I Had No Right)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Papal double-take (updated)

The Huffington Post today has two interesting articles on the Pope and the internet. In the first, the Pope cautions against the overuse of social networking sites, like Facebook and Myspace:
Benedict welcomes as a "gift" new technologies such as social networking sites, saying they respond to the "fundamental desire" of people to communicate.

But he also warns that "obsessive" virtual socializing can isolate people from real interaction and deepen the digital divide by excluding those already marginalized.

Yet, the Vatican just announced that it has launched a YouTube channel, so you can watch HD videos of important papal ceremonies:

... the pope fully approved of the Vatican YouTube channel, saying Benedict was "a man of dialogue" who wanted to engage with people wherever they were.
Kinda like the internet ... and social networking sites.

So the Pope, a "man of dialogue" with the "fundamental desire" to communicate, starts a website to communicate with people where they are - in effect "virtually socializing." We should hope that the Vatican doesn't become "obsessive" about updating their website or they could potentially "exclude those already marginalized."

Or did I get that wrong. I'm a little confused.

Update: Obviously, this is the type of story the Pope is talking about: A British man murders his wife over her "single" relationship status on Facebook. (h/t Huffington Post)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Campaign sacrifices

Taken way out of context, Nate Silver today offers a glimpse into the hard work and dedication that campaign staffers put into their job:
Young people generally perform paid campaign work, because the hours are absurd and the pay is marginal. For the vast majority, no job sits waiting at the end of the rainbow. Only the few make it through multiple “cycles,” the term for a campaign period. It is grueling on the body. Other areas of life are suspended or simply dropped. A campaign becomes all-encompassing. From the day you start until at least Election Day, it’s an all-day, every-day job. The sacrifices are sometimes hidden and private, little things you did that only you or maybe one or two who were right there will ever know or appreciate. And it all happens with the possibility that you won’t ultimately win.

What sustains most who elect this work is two things – the intense bonds of friendship one develops, and the connection to a larger sense of meaning. ...
Spot on.

Even if you are on different sides of the political divide, please always remember the sacrifices and the nobility of these rockstars.

Obama's approach to religion

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the role of religion in an Obama administration is about inclusivity and coalition-building. Money quote:
For Obama, the broad outreach into the faith community isn't confined to ceremonies but is emerging as a key element in his approach to coalition-building, say religious leaders who worked on the transition.
Another noteworthy excerpt:
"Rick Warren and Gene Robinson are symbols and represent large constituencies – and were in that sense daring choices," says Charles Haynes, a scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington. "But I think the mood of the country is to say: This is what we want. People want to see the president trying to represent the country as a whole. If there ever was a moment when we have to have a cease-fire in the cultural wars, it's now. Given the nature of the problem the country faces, we cannot afford to demonize each other, to tear each other down."

Many presidents have tried to build coalitions, including those involving religious leaders, but Obama is working from an exceptionally inclusive template.

You, dear reader, and I already suspected this (here, here and here).

VA Tech tragedy

This makes me so sad. My thoughts and prayers go out to the friends and family of Xin Yang.

Teaching science in Texas (updated)

Apparently, the Texas Board of Education is considering teaching the strengths and weaknesses of the scientific theory in their public schools. Now, as you know, I am a big fan of thoughtful dialogue, but public school isn't the proper forum for such a discussion - especially since it is on the public dime and a foil for religious ideology. Teach science - not social debates, however well-intended - in science class.

I guess, since the Dover case, this is the new line of attack.

Update: The Baptist Joint Committee, a leading organization on the separation of church and state, just reported that the proposed changes were narrowly defeated, 8-7. Sweet.

Bucking the trends

Tim Craig points out a couple trends that Democratic gubernatorial candidates need to overcome. Since 1976, in partisan terms, the winner of the gubernatorial race returns to the party opposite of the newly elected President. Given the election of Pres. Obama, if history repeats, Virginia will vote for a Republican Governor (Bob McDonnell). And, for Moran and Deeds, since 1957, no candidate has won the nomination for Governor as a state delegate or state senator, without first seeking another higher office.

I generally approach these types of trends with curiosity and amusement. It's always a cool trend until it's not. For example, we only elect white dudes for President until we don't. Virginians (and North Carolinians) always vote for the Republican Presidential nominee until we don't. Americans and Virginians are not beholden to historical patterns and precedent.

Super Bowl tickets

Not even the NFL is insulated from the current economic struggle. The slumping economy has effected Super Bowl ticket sales, as outlets are reporting both reduced interest and reduced ticket prices. Pobrecitos.

Apparently, this has nothing to do with the doozer match-up between Arizona and Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Presidential Oath

Needless to say that the Presidential Oath yesterday got flubbed. According to Article II Section I of the Constitution, the Presidential Oath of Office should be:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Here is a transcript of the part in question:
ROBERTS: I, Barack Hussein Obama...
OBAMA: I, Barack...
ROBERTS: ... do solemnly swear...
OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...
ROBERTS: ... that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully...
OBAMA: ... that I will execute...
ROBERTS: ... faithfully the office of president of the United States...
OBAMA: ... the office of president of the United States faithfully...
Apparently, some on the Right have said that Obama might not actually be President because he wasn't sworn in correctly. I wondered this yesterday, but I didn't think that someone would give voice to this absurdity; I mean, it was administered by a Republican appointed Chief Justice - and he was the one who screwed up! Yet, last night, the oath was re-administered out of "an abundance of caution." From White House Counsel Greg Craig:
We believe that the oath of office was administered effectively and that the President was sworn in appropriately yesterday. But the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of an abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time.

Obama's religiously minded inauguration

According to the Los Angeles Times, Obama's religiously minded inauguration has strong historical precedent. Money quote:
Like so many presidents before him, Barack Obama has invited a revered guest to his inauguration: God.

Although the Constitution forbids the government from establishing religion, faith is once again figuring prominently into the nation's grandest political pageant, just as it has over the course of American history.

Whether Republican, Democrat or Whig, presidents from the nation's beginnings have invoked the Almighty's powerful hand to convey their visions in times of calamity and contentment alike.

Quote of the Day - Inaugural Speech edition

With yet another brilliant speech, it is difficult to praise only one quote. Many have proposed their favorite excerpts, from commentator to commenter to history-bystander. Here I offer my mine:
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

Terminator and Jesus

Speaking of Terminator Jesus, you should watch this clip on the Terminator and Jesus. The Last Supper scene is ha-larious.

Your thoughts on yesterday

I wanted to post some of the comments on yesterday's thread on what Obama's Inauguration meant to you. I took the liberty to excerpt the comments for a more compact post here, so I apologize if this does injustice to your comment. Great comments from all of you. Thank you. I am glad that you participated!

Matt F and Darren were astonished by Obama and his speech. First, Matt F says:
I got chills. That's our President now, and one everyone can be proud of.
Then Darren adds:
This is "ask not" plus "the only thing we have to fear" times 10.

This is what I voted for.
Jesse was moved by a profound interaction between Obama and a soldier:
Something about that moment - realizing the responsibilities and the duties that he has assumed; seeing that this human being whom we have become intimately familiar with over these past few years is now at once the President, the Commander-in-Chief, and yet still Barack Hussein Obama, professor, author, organizer, husband to Michelle and father to Malia and Sasha - something about that moment got me more than any speech, prayer, performance, or image of the day.
Yet, several of the comments surrounded the theme of renewal, a fresh start for the nation. From A Faithful Reader:
A new beginning! All things are new again. For me hope returned to our people.
Adds Tripp, regarding his one year old child:
My little one year old boy is growing up in an America more beautiful than the one I was born into.
The inauguration of Obama represents American strength and ingenuity. From Charlottesville Fan:
When a nation sets it's eyes on change, it can be done.

We have moved from "Yes we can" to "Yes we did" on to "Yes we will."
Importantly, we were all proud of inaugurating our first African-American President. According to JCWhite we have much to be proud of, but he says this well:
Today, I watched as Americans of all nationalities, cultures, religious backgrounds came together to show their support for this nations first African-American President. I shared their tears of joy, and their sense of pride as President Obama gave his first speech.
Despite a bad day in D.C. and some quibbles with the inaugural event, Roland the HTG says:
That said, the spectacle was truly something. The impact this day had on so many ordinary, hard-working people should never be forgotten, and never be diminished. Despite my displeasure with certain aspects of the ceremony, the fact that it was being held for a black man truly is a wondrous thing.
Last but certainly not least, Kent H, while also proud of the inauguration, finds beauty in our democratic process:
Today was a good day --inaugurations are. No one transfers so much power with so little tension. May we pray now that the days following this one will be good as well.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

I want to fully appreciate the historic nature of Inauguration Day, so this will be my only post today.

I, however, would like to hear from you about what this day means to you. Please drop a comment, as I would also like to highlight some of the responses in a follow-up post.

Enjoy history.

(photo AP/Scott Andrews)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Danville editorial

The Danville Register & Bee chimes in on Tom's fast start and his committee assignments:
People who drive cars, served in the military or are worried about the cost of sending their children to college should be pleased with U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, D-5th.


But his committee assignments and his first bill reflect the needs and problems of the 5th District. Together, they show Perriello listened far more than he talked during the recent campaign. He is off to a great start in Congress.

War on Terror

Mark Jurgensmeyer is top-notched, credible scholar on terrorism, and he has spent years in the field interviewing notorious religious extremists. So, I was excited and intrigued when I saw this article yesterday about our current War on Terror. The article is definitely worth the read. With the incoming Obama administration, Jurgensmeyer offers five ways in which we could drastically reduce the spiral of violence done in the name of the "War on Terror." Each of his five points of advice have a thorough rationale, which I have perhaps oversimplified - in a teasing manner - for you here.

1.) We must recognize that we are not confronting war but a war mindset. - The us/them - good/evil mentality forces everybody to take sides (i.e., poor teenagers predisposed to anti-Americanism) and treats potential allies like enemies.
2.) Accept that America is the enemy [in the eyes of extremists] because of what it does, not what it is. - Terrorists still have an idealized understanding and appreciation of American principles, but our military actions abroad, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, breed agitation.
3.) Stop acting like an enemy. - Our military presence fosters discontent, and a quick end to military action - especially in Iraq and Afghanistan - would neutralize most anti-American and jihadi logic.
4.) Become a problem solver not a problem maker. - Our one-sided relationship with Israel colors Islamic perceptions of American interaction in the Middle East. Our strong support of Israel should not come at the expense of security and autonomy for Palestinians, and helping to broker a fair-minded peace negotiation between Israel and Palestine would assist in our efforts overseas.
5.) Take the moral high ground and adhere to international standards of justice. - We must restore our moral standing in the world by repealing the most "pernicious" anti-terrorism legislation (i.e., torture, Guantanamo).

Jurgensmeyer admits that this likely won't eradicate all terrorist activities, as there will always be a small group of people disaffected with authority somewhere. This advice, however, would go a long way in reducing the spiral of violence in this war. Some of this advice would be difficult to achieve, but other parts, could be relatively easy.

Uptown Martinsville

Blogger Jim White passed along this article to me pointing out the economic potential in Uptown Martinsville. Turning some of the upstairs in the uptown buildings into apartments would help bring retail shops into the area ... oh yeah, and it would make uptown a hip place to live, retaining some of the migrating youth. Duh.

I've been saying this for awhile, but in fairness, not on this blog. I saw the deliberate restoration of downtown work in Winston-Salem, and it could work here too.

Quote of the Day

From today's E.J. Dionne editorial entitled, "Why the Uniter Divided Us:"
A hyper-partisan domestic politics of us vs. them followed naturally from Bush's instinct to confuse moral certainty with moral clarity. In his farewell address, he declared yet again that "good and evil are present in this world, and between the two, there can be no compromise."

Yes, but the hardest moral decisions are usually not between good and evil but between competing goods (security vs. liberty) or lesser evils (a draining war in Iraq vs. a messy, long-term strategy to contain Saddam Hussein).

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Arizona Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

I'm an NFC fan by nature, and I've admired Larry Fitzgerald since his days at the University of Pittsburgh. But, I just don't see how the Cardinals can beat the Steelers. The Steelers defense is too good.

Who you got in the Super Bowl?

CLASS Act part of the stimulus bill

Early last week, Rep. Perriello co-authored his first legislative bill, the CLASS Act - a bill that makes it easier to receive tax credits for college tuition. A couple days ago, Perriello learned that his bill is going to be wrapped into the upcoming economic stimulus bill (American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan) and funded for around $12.5 billion. He announced this news yesterday at his swearing in ceremony in Martinsville last night. In a press release, Perriello stated:
“This is a great victory out of the gates, showing that the new Congress is all about moving quickly and producing tangible results for middle-class families. In this tough job market, any American who wants to become more competitive by attaining more education and training should be able to do so, and this bill will make that education more affordable. Investing in education and workforce development is what we need to do to regain our advantage in the global economy. We will make sure that this recovery package is working to benefit working families.”
Again, he has been our congressman for just two weeks. Two weeks.

Like toothpaste and toilet paper

American Protestants are just as loyal to their denomination as they are loyal to their toothpaste brand. In a survey conducted by Ellison Research, church goers were asked their specific denomination and, hypothetically if the respondent had to find a new church, they were asked what role of their current denomination would play in the decision-making process. The results:
Just 16 percent of Protestants surveyed said they are exclusively loyal to one denomination, while half (51 percent) preferred one denomination but would be open to another. By comparison, 22 percent of Protestants said they would use only one brand of toothpaste and 42 percent indicated a preference for one brand while being open to others.

Similar levels of brand loyalty exist for bathroom tissue (19 percent would consider only one brand and 40 percent had a preferred brand), pain reliever (16 percent and 42 percent, respectively) and soft drinks (14 percent and 56 percent).

Rod Sellers, head of Ellison Research argues that denominations have poorly developed their brand loyalty:

"Church denominations certainly are not the same as hotels or soft drinks, but some of the same rules apply," Sellers said. "The brands that develop stronger loyalty tend to do a better job of differentiating themselves from other brands and demonstrating key elements of the brand very clearly."
To which Bill Leonard, the Dean of my Wake Forest Divinity School, opines:

"Fewer religious Americans think of their primary religious identity in terms of a denominational identity," Leonard said. "Loyalty to local congregations as the primary source of religious identity seems to be increasingly normative."

He added, "Many folks can switch denominations as readily as toothpaste, I suspect."

Exactly. The other day, I argued that hyper-denominationalism had its hand in the American individualization of theology. Here is another consequence. Denominations over-fragmented during the last century and a half, and this has caused theological confusion among the laity. The average church goer cannot tell the difference between their denomination's theology and another denomination's theology. Without strong theological and denominational differentiation, the average church goer approaches church-finding with a consumeristic mentality: i.e., who has the best church music, the best children and youth programs, the best community atmosphere, and the like.

For unto us a child is born

Meet my niece, Hayley Marilyn, born yesterday, 6 lbs, 1 oz.

Greek lesson

The word "hypocrite" is an ancient Greek word used to describe an actor, someone who wore many faces or masks on stage. Etymologically speaking, today we use this word to describe a person who's actions contradict their professed beliefs ... like perhaps, a former head of a state's faith-based initiatives program getting busted for promoting prostitution.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Farewell to Bush and his Apocalypticism

Apocalypticism is a world view holding that good and evil are embattled in a cosmic struggle. This struggle is decided in an ultimate battle, one that ushers in a new end-time reality. For a real life example of apocalyptic thought, one just has to look at last night's farewell address by Pres. Bush. Saith Bush:
As we address these challenges -- and others we cannot foresee tonight -- America must maintain our moral clarity. I've often spoken to you about good and evil, and this has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two of them there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere. Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense -- and to advance the cause of peace. (emphasis mine)
While this is just one paragraph in eight years of work, there are markers in this paragraph pointing to apocalyptic ideology.

There is a logic to apocalypticism. The cosmic struggle between good and evil is played out in history and realizable in human terms. The struggle is realized in the here and now and happens within the social plane - the struggle is present now, and sides are chosen. Believers personally and internally identify with the cosmic struggle - the believer chooses sides, of course, the side of the good. The struggle is at a point of crisis, and acts of violence have cosmic meaning. Importantly, apocalyptic worldviews increase the likelihood that group will become violent. Having an apocalyptic worldview does not mean that that group will necessarily become violent, just that the presence of this factor correlates with violence.

Us: liberators; "the side of the right." Them: Axis of Evil; terrorists and Islamo-facists. 9/11. Rid Iraq of WMDs. Regime change. Spreading freedom and democracy. Fight them over there, so they don't attack us over here. Smoke them out of their holes. Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo. Harsh interrogation techniques. Torture.

Reread the paragraph in Bush's speech one more time for other examples. Us: good; freers from oppression; eternally right. Them: evil; murderers of the innocent; wrong everytime, everywhere. There can be no compromise between us and them. We must speak justice and truth. We must not hesitate to act in defense of the good. We must advance the cause of peace.



Come'on Terry McAuliffe! Where's your head at? It's not just that you didn't wear the right color blue to a UNC/UVA basketball game, a game in Charlottesville. I mean, that wasn't smart either. It is that you sold out, sent your lackey to quickly buy UVA gear, and most offensive, you put it on.

Note to McAuliffe: Never stop wearing the Orange and Maroon.

Faith in sports

Reader Darren sent me a great article on sports, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, and faith. My initial reaction was to write a fun post, but I think there is something deeper there. First, the writer believes that faith-full athletes possess a built in psychological advantage during competition:
And I can't help but think that the religious guys are, well, blessed with an advantage, a big one at that.

Actually, the issue isn't really religion. It's faith. I don't care what or whom a ballplayer believes in: Jesus, Moses, Buddha, L. Ron Hubbard. I don't care what his position is on stem cell research, abortion, gay rights. But a system of belief — any system, really — that stills the mind and quells doubt is of obvious benefit, particularly if you're an athlete.

In this light, the writer argues that Warner's faith has allowed him to overcome the long odds - from grocery store clerk to Super Bowl MVP, from down-and-out backup to another chance at starting a Super Bowl. Money excerpt:

"It's an advantage for any individual, when you have faith and believe in something," Warner told our Greg Boeck Thursday after the Cardinals broke practice. "In my case, it's the power of Jesus ...

"I walk by faith and not by sight. I walk according to what I believe, and what I believe the power of God is, as opposed to what the world tells us, or what circumstances appear to be."

Put another way, belief can liberate you. You need not dwell on the long odds. You're free of the thoughts that crush so many comebacks — the assortment of self-involved, self-inflicted self doubts.

"So much of this business is 'Me, me me,'" Warner told Boeck. "... My faith has allowed me to step back from that and say, 'Hey, this isn't about me.'"

We've talked about how faith has a self-less component - losing the self in a transcendent power - and some of the possible benefits therein. Kinda cool to hear the argument in the context of sports. Maybe more football athletes should give themselves over to the Football God(s).

Now if only Christian sports stars like Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow won't wear John 3:16 on their eye strips while getting unsportsmanlike conduct/taunting penalties.

Inaugural Oath Update

It is as we all thought: A federal judge rejected the injunction from Michael Newdow and Co. to stop the phrase "So help me God" from being used during the Inaugural Oath. According to the Baptist Joint Committee's blog - a leading separation of church and state group - the case is still alive, as the judge did not dismiss the overall case, just the injunction.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

American individualism and theology

The Christian Science Monitor landscapes two recent religious surveys and argues that American individualism has finally infiltrated theology. According to the article, we have become our own "theologians-in-residence" and "Cafeteria Christians." In the first study, conducted by the Barna Group, 71% of Americans say they are more likely to develop their own religious beliefs rather than accept the teachings of a particular church. For examples, nearly 50% don't believe in the existence of Satan, nearly 33% believe Jesus sinned while on earth, and nearly 40% don't believe in the necessity of evangelism. The other study by Pew Forum of Religion and Public Life we discussed earlier - a study in American's views on the afterlife, to which 65% of Americans believe that other religions can lead to eternal life.

American individualism, to me, is not the only factor at play here. Hyper-denominationalism is also a factor, where the severe fragmentation of church denominations during the last century have muddied the theological waters. With different churches on every corner preaching different theological emphases, the American public has murky understandings of theological orthodoxy. Let's also not forget our global and technological interconnectivity, where the exposure to different ideas and religions is a click away. I am sure other factors are at play, but these are off the top of my head.

This theological relativism can't be good for Christianity in the long-run.

Update: Tripp has some contempt for the surveys and argues for a theological conversation at the grassroots level.

McAuliffe and the VA Netroots

I read this in my Google Reader earlier today and was shocked at a coffee-out-my-nose level: the Virginia Netroots hearts McAuliffe apparently. According to the article, gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe has won over our blogosphere; we all are fawning. Nevermind the problematic logic: to win a blogger over, the blogger has to be impressed, yes; but an impressed blogger, doesn't mean the blogger is won over.

I've seen McAuliffe twice in Martinsville. I was impressed at his knowledge, energy, and his dedication. I am, however, still skeptical. And even before he announced his candidacy - during the presidential primaries - I saw McAuliffe's Hawai'ian shirt and rum fiasco on television as embarrassing to our party.

Was I impressed? Yes. Am I won over? No, still a lot of work to do there. And, I think the rest of the blogosphere is still relatively cool on him also.

Update: Quoted in the article, Not Larry Sabato has this sarcastic quick-post.

Quote of the Day

From Thank God for Evolution:

So here's traditional religion's God problem in a nutshell: Religious people of all faiths know that none of this is true. God is not tribal and petty. God does not have multiple personality disorder. And God is not a cosmic terrorist. Yet as anyone who has carefully read their Bible or Koran can testify, some passages of Holy Writ undeniably portray God this way. That is traditional religion's God problem. That's the elephant in the living room that no one other than atheists are willing to talk about. It is why millions are embarrassed by scripture (though they'd never admit it), and why millions of others are leaving organized religion altogether.

A meaningful, science-based worldview solves this problem once and for all. A sacred evolutionary understanding of the universe, and of human consciousness and culture, evaporates this problem because it helps us see what an inevitable yet illusory view of 'the Creator' this is. ...

(h/t Tripp)

Quick Perriello points

Rep. Perriello gave his first floor speech today, a minute speech on the economic stimulus package. Jim White has the full text here. Money quote:
I believe our nation's economy will recover only through a visionary strategy for rebuilding America's competitive advantage. That means real, committed investment in our workforce, investment in our infrastructure, and investment in innovation and energy independence. This investment will be the guidance that our constituents need.
Of interest dear NC-5'ers, Rep. Foxx gave her minute speech immediately afterward. Hopefully some of Tom's non-craziness rubbed off.

Also, the SCHIP bill passed the house (289-139), and along with the bipartisan majority, Perriello voted for the bill. Afterwards Perriello released a statement, which you can read at Democratic Central. Vanquishing my aforementioned hopes, Foxx voted against the bill ... again.

Not a bad day.

Intoxicated Peruvians

This just seems like a bad idea:
Peru's top court has ruled that workers cannot be fired for being drunk on the job, a decision that was criticized by the government on Wednesday for setting a dangerous precedent.

The Constitutional Tribunal ordered that Pablo Cayo be given his job back as a janitor for the municipality of Chorrillos, which fired him for being intoxicated at work.

The firing was excessive because even though Cayo was drunk, he did not offend or hurt anybody, Fernando Calle, one of the justices, said on Wednesday.

I can't tell who was more drunk on the job: the janitor or the justices.

(h/t Huffington Post)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Spirituality and happiness in children

According to a new study on pre-teen children, higher levels of spirituality correlate with higher levels of happiness. This link is already well established in adults and teenagers. Interestingly, religious practice has little to no effect on a child's happiness.

I would take exception with the study's metrics of spirituality: a sense of meaning and value in one's life and the development of quality relationships. These factors seem quite lacking, don't they? A sense of a transcendent power, perhaps?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

GOP dead?

If you read the intertubes lately, it would appear that the GOP has already lost in 2010. Read this CNN article or this Washington Post article. To a Republican these articles must be absurdly alarmist and to a Democrat, perhaps too pie-in-the-sky.

To their main point: with the newly announced retirement of Ohio Senator George Voinovich, the Republican party now has five open Senate seats to defend next cycle: Bond (Missouri), Brownback (Kansas), Martinez (Florida), and Hutchison (Texas). Missouri, Florida, and Ohio are notorious swing states, and Gov. Sebelius could easily win in Kansas if she runs. Democrats, on the other hand, think that only one seat is competitive: Reid (Nevada). Couple this with 59 current Democratic seats, and the GOP is understandably nervous.

Today former Rep. Tom Davis (VA-11) offers an all-is-not-lost approach to Republicans, a way for them to rebuild their party. Calling for a more moderate approach, Davis believes that returning to past ideas of conservativism is disastrous, as the electorate thought Republicans were exactly true to their conservative principles. Yet Ben Smith argues, Democrats have purged all swing-district moderate Republicans, and you will not hear calls for moderation in Republican circles, especially in the race for the RNC Chairmanship.

Let's not get excited (or depressed, if you are so inclined) here, folks. In political real-time, two years is an eternity. Take the two years between the Republican beat-down of 2004 and the Democratic tsunami of 2006 as an example (i.e., the fall-outs from Terry Schiavo, Scooter Libby, Hurricane Katrina, et al.).

Terminator Jesus

Andrew Sullivan pointed out a NYT piece on a hip and macho Calvinist preacher, Mark Driscoll. Sullivan took exception with this excerpt:
What bothers Driscoll ... is the portrayal of Jesus as a wimp, or worse. Paintings depict a gentle man embracing children and cuddling lambs. Hymns celebrate his patience and tenderness. The mainstream church, Driscoll has written, has transformed Jesus into “a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that . . . would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell.”
Naturally, Sullivan is disgusted with the derogatory and homophobic sentiments here, especially when portraying the Christ. While Sullivan is right to be upset in these terms, I think there is something more disturbing here.

Driscoll, and apparently other evangelical ministers, blame the consumerification of Christianity for the "effeminate Jesus," where churches preach upbeat, lovey-dovey messages - over and against talk of hellfire and brimstone - to grow and maintain church numbers. I can't adjudicate that theory one way or another, but I do know that I hate hearing sermons on sin and damnation. I would argue, however, that the image of Jesus Christ, rightly or wrongly, is influenced by our sociological self-perceptions.

Interestingly, cultures re-image Jesus from his socio-historic Middle Eastern identity into an identity that characterizes the (ethnic) norm of that culture. For example, you can see pictures of an Asian Jesus in Asian cultures, an African Jesus in African cultures, and statues of a white, blonde, blue-eyed Jesus in Sweden. America is guilty of this transformation too; we have a white, bearded Jesus with long brown hair. I would argue that this inculturation of Jesus is generally a good thing. This re-imaging allows us to more easily identify with Jesus and relate with his humanity. In doing so, we create a deeper understanding of the Divine, one that fosters and strengthens an intimate relationship with God.

Driscoll is actually pointing to a subtle transformation in the image of Jesus within our culture, a movement away from the parental, relational Jesus towards a divinely muscular Jesus. Take for example, the title of the aforementioned NYT's piece: "Who Would Jesus Smack Down?" Jesus is becoming more manly, less feminine, able to take an earthly beating and provide an eternal one. Think Passion of Christ. In an age of cowboy diplomacy and unilateral militarism, this Jesus stands behind us, intimidating demon and unbeliever alike. Joe Six-pack has six-pack chiseled Jesus.

What does it say about us that a portrayal of Terminator Jesus is emerging?

Monday, January 12, 2009

God and gays: Gene Robinson and Ken Blackwell

In light of the Left's outcry against the asking of Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation, the Obama Inauguration Committee today announced that Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal priest, will give the invocation at the opening inaugural event. According to Politico - quoting and anonymous Obama source - this selection apparently preceded the Warren announcement and was not a reaction to the public backlash. Hmmm. Really?? This, however, should teach us patience towards Obama, as this does underscore Obama's positive commitment to GLBT issues.

On a tangential note, Ken Blackwell, vying for the Chair of the RNC, believes that homosexuality is a compulsion that can be restrained.
"You can choose to restrain that compulsion," Blackwell told radio host Michelangelo Signorile, a gay and lesbian advocate, this summer during the Republican National Convention. "And so I think in fact you don't have to give in to the compulsion to be homosexual."
I know there are major theological differences here, but the RNC election seems like a game of one-upsmanship in bafoonery; remember Chip Saltsman?

Double-shift: Tom's a legislatin'

During his campaign, Rep. Perriello promised to work a double-shift in Congress, as hard as we work to put food on the table for our family. Today we are starting to see the fruits of that labor. Less than one week as a Congressman, Perriello has already co-authored his first bill, the College Learning Access, Simplicity, and Savings (CLASS) Act. This bill would make it easier for "students and parents to claim tax credits for college expenses." Perriello stated:
“A cornerstone of my economic revival plan is workforce development and education, so I am proud that my first piece of legislation will aim to provide new avenues for funding higher education. Fifth District families need all the assistance they can get in this tough job market, and this bill will go a long way in helping those seeking more education and training,” said Perriello in the news release. “One in four eligible taxpayers do not claim any higher-ed tax provisions because of their complexity. The CLASS Act will consolidate some of these provisions into one easy-to-understand tax credit so that more can benefit. I will fight for this tax credit to be included in the economic stimulus package to make college more affordable for working families,” Perriello added.

We already knew that Perriello was appointed to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a super-sweet assignment for us Southsiders. Today, Perriello received another committee assignment: the House Veteran's Affairs Committee. Hopefully this seat translates into bringing a new VA hospital to the area. Of note, 13% of 5th District residents are veterans.

Keep on, keepin' on, Tom!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Football God(s)

As this year's playoff performances demonstrate, apparently God does care about football. Here's a teaser:
As someone who has intensely followed sports for all of my life, I am convinced that there is often some greater force at work that transcends the people involved, and these chiastic patterns are evidence of it. Call it karma, call it football gods, call it fate, call it destiny, call it whatever you want: there's something there.

"24," torture, and a new political era

If you want an example of how life imitates art, which then imitates life, check out this article in the NYT about "24," torture, and a new era in politics. The show's unabashed use of torture as an intelligence gathering tool has (mournfully) influenced the actions and beliefs of West Point cadets and Iraqi soldiers. But in an age of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and the increasing public backlash of toture, producers of the show have become somewhat apologetic of their show's effects. In the upcoming season, the show's main character, counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer, is going to have a more reflective, nuanced worldview, one that understands the complexity of the world and the consequences of actions. This apparently may not totally influence Bauer's actions, but I applaud any effort to demythologize torture and its results.

I never really watched the show, but because there is no playoff football tonight, I will be watching the season's premiere with this in mind.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Unemployment factor?

After the November unemployment rates came out for Virginia (4.6% overall) and several Southside localities, I was curious to see how these unemployment rates compared to Tom Perriello's performance gains. Below is a table with unemployment rates and their state ranking, along with the Democratic percentage gains between the 2006/2008 congressional races and the rankings of those gains within the district.
County/City Jobless rate Jobless rate state-wide rank 2006/2008 Net % Gain Net % Gain district-wide rank
Danville (City) 14.4% 2 14.1% 2
Henry 9.6% 5 13.5% 3
Martinsville (City) 14.9% 1 20.8% 1
Pittsylvania 10.1% 4 8.2% 18 (tied)
Total 4.6% -- 10.2% --

Martinsville has the highest unemployment rate in the state (14.9%) and our campaign made the highest percentage gains (20.8%) there. While you can't make a statement of causality here, our campaign did make large percentage gains in locations with the highest rates of unemployment, except perhaps Pittslyvania County.

Obama on the BCS BS

In a press conference yesterday, President-elect Obama reiterated the need for a college playoff system. After congratulating the Florida Gators on their national title, Obama stated, "If I'm Utah, or if I'm USC or if I'm Texas, I might still have some quibbles. ... That's why we need a playoff."


Religious diversity in Congress

The religious make-up of the new 111th Congress generally reflects the religious diversity of the American electorate. Protestants make up the majority of Congress with 54.7% (compared to 51.3% of the American population) and Catholics make up 30% (compared to almost 24% of the American population). Jews make up 8.4% (1.7%) of Congress while Mormans make up 2.6% (1.7%). There are two elected Muslims and two Buddhists, but only one admitted atheist, Rep. Pete Stark (D - Fremont) - professed atheism or agnosticism is still considered political suicide.

Diversity, to me, is always a good thing, as the exposure to different people and ideas increases dialogue and progress. Keep in mind, however, that the diversity of the overall population is most likely different than the demographic breakdown of each district/state. And when Representatives of districts with overly unrepresentative samples team together to write or vote on religiously-implicated legislation, someone is going to be upset, even marginalized. As the last decades have shown, religious diversity in Congress does not mean tolerance in legislation.

Friday, January 9, 2009


The Franklin News-Post:
Political pundits will debate for a long time to come the reasons why [the Perriello v. Goode] upset happened. Most agree it was a combination of several factors -- the Wall Street collapse, the popularity of Pres.-elect Barack Obama, tons of money pouring into the district to help Mr. Perriello and a general dissatisfaction with incumbents (as evidenced by many incumbents losing around the country).
Swing State Project:
Finally, we were caught off guard by the magnitude of the Obama coattails in Virginia, where we left Glenn Nye (VA-02) and Tom Perriello (VA-05) at Lean R. The polls just weren't there for them, in GOP-leaning turf, but the bluening of Virginia lifted them far enough. (If there's one candidate I'm personally shocked that won, it's Perriello; I was miffed to see the DCCC pouring money into a guy who seemed way too progressive for such a rural and downscale district. Here's one race where I'm super-happy to eat some crow.)
Where do I even start with these?