Saturday, July 26, 2014

On science and faith, again

A profile of physicist-turned priest John Polkinghorne, from a few years ago.

 I love this analogy!!
Science and religion are not mutually exclusive, Polkinghorne argues. In fact, both are necessary to our understanding of the world. “Science asks how things happen. But there are questions of meaning and value and purpose which science does not address. Religion asks why. And it is my belief that we can and should ask both questions about the same event.” 
As a for-instance, Polkinghorne points to the homey phenomenon of a tea kettle boiling merrily on the stove. 
“Science tells us that burning gas heats the water and makes the kettle boil,” he says.
But science doesn’t explain the “why” question. “The kettle is boiling because I want to make a cup of tea; would you like some?
How vs why.  Nicely explained.

I don't know that religion per se is necessary but as a species, we clearly have a desire to explain the "why" of the world in some way. But I've realized I have a real tin ear on philosophy and why-ness.  Some scientists may get all philosophical these days, but all i really care about is which recepter is doing what, so to speak.  I'm too much of a literalist.  The rest is just too woo-woo for me!
As to the question of which has the clearer view of reality—faith or science?— Polkinghorne answers that it’s a false question. “You have to be two-eyed about it. If we had only one eye, then we could say it’s religion, because it relates to the deepest value of being human. Science doesn’t plumb the depths that religion does. Atheists aren’t stupid—they just explain less.” 
Put another way, atheists explain what can be explained by facts and observation, and don't try to explain what cannot.

i like this next bit, too.
Ultimately, people of faith should not be afraid of science because both pursue truth. “Because people of faith worship the God of Truth, they should welcome truth from whatever source it comes,” Polkinghorne says. “Not all truth comes from science, but some does. It grieves me when I see Christian people turning their backs on science in a willful way, not taking seriously the insights it has to offer. All truth interacts with each other, and all truth is helpful.” 
Likewise, people of science do not need to be afraid of faith. “Science doesn’t tell you everything. Those who think it does take a very diminished and arid form or view of life.”
For Polkinghorne, science made his faith stronger, and that faith made him a better scientist. Both approaches fulfill one of his favorite verses in scripture, I Thessalonians 5:21, which the esteemed physicist paraphrases: Test everything. Hold fast to what is true.
My kind of guy.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Freedom to discriminate?

Yesterday, President Obama signed an executive order adding LGBT people to the list of those who cannot be discriminated against by federal contractors. Several prominent Episcopalians were there to say "Amen" including our friends the Rev. Susan Russell,and Bishop Gene Robinson.

It didn't take long for the right wing to yell and screech. You see, apparently it is a deeply embedded Christian moral value to take taxpayer dollars but refuse to hire some of those taxpayers.

Um, no, not so much. If your "religious freedom" requires you to discriminate against fellow citizens in the public square, it's not freedom.

Besides, I'm not sure it says anywhere in the Bible, "thou shalt be a federal contractor."

Francis DeBernardo writes in the Advocate,
Faith is about developing an intimate relationship with a personal God and reflecting that relationship in my attitudes and practices toward other people. Faith is about sacrificing some privileges because of wanting to live in accord with principles. Faith is not about having access to government contracts. Faith is not about forcing people to live by an employer’s personal beliefs, no matter how sincerely those beliefs may be held. ....

Political conservatives are not the only ones who have religion. So, it should be no surprise that one of the strongest groups asking that religious exemptions not be included in ENDA and the executive order are religious leaders themselves. In one letter sent to President Obama by 100 religious leaders, their request to exclude exemptions came from a religious belief in nondiscrimination and human dignity. They stated, “Increasing the obstacles faced by those at the margins is precisely the opposite of what public service can and should do, and is precisely the opposite of the values we stand for as people of faith.”

Moreover, not all religious people feel that their faith is threatened by policies that promote LGBT equality and reproductive health for women. In fact, for many religious people, it is indeed their faith that motivates their advocacy for these principles. So, we are left with the question: Just whose religious liberty is being protected and whose is being infringed upon when we allow for broad exemptions?
More analysis here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What's wrong with being called "progressive Christians"?

It cedes the norm (the unmodified description) to those who are not progressive, that's what. 
Stop calling broad-minded, non-exclusivist movements “progressive” or “moderate” religion. Stop asking individuals who are deeply devoted to their religious traditions to qualify their religious identity in political terms that over-simplify who they are, what they believe and what they do as a result. 
Moreover, stop ceding the rhetorical high ground to groups that have no claim to it, whether they are the most conservative of evangelicals or the most radical of violent extremists. The idea that to be American is to be religious, and that to be religious is to be conservative, has been embedded in our culture for too long. Progressives must realize that this warped playing field will be leveled only when the idea that religion is inherently “conservative” ceased to go uncontested in our public discourse. Fight for the middle, not the edges of the religious landscape. 
....If religious folks start staking a claim to the centrality of moral traditions that transcend the red vs. blue, us vs. them divide, we may start to see a cultural shift in which being a Christian means that you speak out for the oppressed, or that being a Muslim signifies that you are someone who cares for the orphan and the widow.  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Tolerance on both sides

My last post addressed the attempts by some conservative Christians to be able to separate themselves from contact with LGBT people, in particular by asking for religious exemptions from pending employment non-discrimination rules regarding gay employees,  that would apply to federal contractors.

This comes on the heels of several efforts at the step level to codify the right of businesses to refuse service to anyone -- broadly written, but intended to target gays.  The most prominent one, in Arizona, did not pass.

I wrote,
But the cost of this separatism in the public square is a fundamental attack on the tolerant pluralism that is supposed to undergird our social contract.
You might reasonably ask, how is my scolding of the right-wingers any different from the politically correct purges by the left?  Yes, it is, I think--in many, but not all cases.

Part of it is because active discrimination against fellow citizens is wrong. I may be a gay businessperson but I have no right to discriminate against Christianists in a secular business role any more than I can discriminate against Republicans, blacks, Jews, or women.

But I agree, a few of these knee-jerk reactions  are very troubling.  You may recall that I argued against the hounding of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, reasoning that his advocacy for a ballot measure 6 years ago was not relevant today.  I don't think that someone's private political views from years ago, at a time of great social change, should be relevant to whether or not he can function today.  Now, if he were actively advocating against equality NOW, or discriminating against his gay employees,  my views would be different.  But he's wasn't.   I'm a big believer in letting people evolve.  Or at least have the sense to stay quiet.  And Eich was being quiet.

There's another case that is also troubling, up in Portland, where a store owner opening an organic market got nailed for writing on her facebook that she disagrees with marriage equality for religious reasons.  And then she wrote that she thinks businesses should be able to discriminate against people they don't want to sell to.

Well, not surprisingly, people in Portland are a little upset. They would prefer not to buy from someone who would prefer not to sell to them or their gay friends.  Awkward, given that liberals are more likely to be going in the organic market.

This one is a little more nuanced for me.   I'm less troubled by someone saying they aren't personally in support of marriage equality, than someone who actively campaigns against it, or who actively supports discrimination. On the one hand, she's entitled to disagree about equality, since we're all evolving. On the other, she's also supporting active discrimination (the "religious freedom to sell to whom I want" meme), which is an expression of unwillingness to tolerate others. Marriage equality just recently arrived in Oregon by judicial decision, and if it hadn't would have been a ballot initiative this fall, so it's still quite raw.  I assume she would have worked to prevent equality.  Would she have expected gays and allies to patronize her store if she were funding an anti-gay campaign?

We saw that in California, where the attitude of the community was  "I'm not paying you my money to campaign against my rights."  No businessman has the right to anyone's business.   I didn't have so much of an issue for this with owners (like hotelier Doug Manchester) but I did NOT agree when businesses were boycotted for the private act of an non-owner employee.

 How is this any different than a store owner writing on his facebook that he won't serve blacks or Jews?  We would be outraged at that, wouldn't we?   We wouldn't want to patronize him. Yet somehow, being publicly anti-gay is still justifiable, especially if you claim a religious motivation.

Is she entitled to her bias?  Of course she is.  But her mistake is putting it out in public, especially the part that she should be allowed to discriminate. We haven't got to the point where it is recognized that being publicly anti-gay is like being publicly racist.  You can be privately racist -- no one can police your thoughts, nor should they-- and you can decide not to vote for the black guy, as clearly many do.  But we recognize that being publicly racist , or anti-semitic, is not acceptable. Why is being anti-gay still okay?  Just because she can point to her idea of God?  I'm sure white-Christian identity groups and fundamentalist Muslims can point to their idea of God to justify their bigotry as well.

Here's the thing for practical peace in the polis.   If you have a socially discriminatory instinct, have the good sense to keep it to yourself. I don't live in the gayborhood and I don't care if the people I do business with are gay or straight, atheists, or Mormons.  But even  I won't pay my money to someone who i perceive actively works against my equality.  On the other hand, I'm unlikely to ask them if they are pro- gay rights.   If you want to make a Thing out of it, you are expecting to be a martyr.  So, anti-gay photographer, or baker,  why not just tell the gay couple that you're already booked that weekend?  But if you make an Issue out of it, especially in the face of anti-discrimination laws, don't be surprised if you get pushback.

The Portland company made a small donation to a gay charity as a fig leaf, to say they are sorry.  Is this repentence? Redemption?  But the buycott continues.   I don't like political correctness, and I might be inclined to accept the token at face value and let them off the hook at this point,  if I lived there, in the interest of the social contract.  If they keep their bias private.

But any more anti-gay eruptions and I'm outta there.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Christian separatists?

In the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision, there has been some discussion of what they really won.
[T]he majority of religious Americans ... insist that today’s pro-Hobby Lobby decision isn’t about protecting “religious liberty.” Instead, it’s just a victory for one kindof religion, specifically the (usually conservative) faith of those privileged enough to own and operate massive corporations. That might be good news for the wealthy private business owners like the heads of Hobby Lobby, but for millions of religious Americans sitting in the pews — not to mention thousands working in Hobby Lobby stores — their sacred and constitutional right to religious freedom just became compromised.
Of course, it didn't take long for a group of 14 faith leaders to ask for religious exemptions from any pending executive order banning federal contractors from discrimination against LGBT people.  Because nothing speaks to the inclusive love of Christ like refusing to hire a homo at your food bank.

Remember, we aren't talking about churches being forced to hire gay folks, but rather, organizations that take taxpayer money (including that of gay taxpayers) who want to ensure they can still discriminate against gay people.  Since no one is forcing them to apply for federal grants, they have a clear either /or decision.

Fortunately, a group of 100  progressive faith leaders has written their own letter, saying "NO, exemptions to the order would promote discrimination!".  And a large group of LGBT groups have now pulled their support from the languishing ENDA (Employment NonDiscrimination Act) because its religious exemptions are too broad, leaving the increasingly marginalized HRC as the only supporter.

Some commentators think that this push for exemption under the misnomer "religious freedom" is the rearguard action of the anti-gay right, because they can see the writing on the wall re. marriage equality.

They want to separate themselves from the presence of gay people, the way an anti-semitic businessman might want to be excused from dealing with Jews, or a racist wants the right to refuse to serve blacks, or a devout Muslim doesn't want to have to deal with women who are uncovered.  After all, it's their faith.  What's the problem?

Jonathan Rauch calls it The Great Secession 
The problem is that what the social secessionists are asking for does not seem all that reasonable, especially to young Americans. When Christian businesses boycott gay weddings and pride celebrations, and when they lobby and sue for the right to do so, they may think they are sending the message “Just leave us alone.” But the message that mainstream Americans, especially young Americans, receive is very different. They hear: “What we, the faithful, really want is to discriminate. Against gays. Maybe against you or people you hold dear. Heck, against your dog.” 
I wonder whether religious advocates of these opt-outs have thought through the implications. Associating Christianity with a desire—no, a determination—to discriminate puts the faithful in open conflict with the value that young Americans hold most sacred. They might as well write off the next two or three or 10 generations, among whom nondiscrimination is the 11th commandment. 
There is, of course, a very different Christian tradition: a missionary tradition of engagement and education, of resolutely and even cheerfully going out into an often uncomprehending world, rather than staying home with the shutters closed. 
Andrew Sullivan agrees.
A Christianity that seeks to rid itself of interacting with sinners or infidels is not a Christianity I recognize. A Christianity that can ascribe the core religious nature of a human being to a corporation is theologically perverse. Corporations have no souls. They do not have a relationship with God, as Jonathan Merrittpoints out here. And a Christianity that seeks to jealously guard its own defenses rather than embrace the world joyfully and indiscriminately is not one that appeals to me.
Taken to its logical conclusion, it isn't just the gays, but the Jews and the blacks and the women who can be discriminated against.  Oh, but we have laws to protect the Jews and the blacks and the women.  Just not the gays.  Because we haven't got there yet.  So we're supposed to tolerate people who are anti-gay, in a way we won't tolerate anti-semites or racists or sexists.  So it's okay for the baker to refuse to bake the cake for the gays, as long as he bakes it for the Jews, the blacks, and a woman.

Therefore, what's supposed to happen if the grocery clerk in the tiny town doesn't want to sell vegetables to the gays? Back in 2013, in the marriage battles in Washington State, we had an answer.  After a bill was introduced in the state senate to allow business to deny services to individuals based on religious or philosophical differences,
...a reader of Seattle-based blog The Stranger called up one of the bill's co-sponsors, ask why he was supporting the bill. Castro asked a staffer at Hewitt's office a simple question: "What are rural gays supposed to do if the only gas station or grocery store for miles won't sell them gas and food?" The staffer, who refused to identify himself, reportedly told Castro that if such a scenario were to unfold, "gay people can just grow their own food." [Needless to say, the bill did not pass....and the staffer backtracked.]
 That is the logical unfolding of exemptions in the civil polis.

I don't care what they do or say in their churches.  But the cost of this separatism in the public square is a fundamental attack on the tolerant pluralism that is supposed to undergird our social contract. Wanting permission to discriminate against LGBT people is no different than wanting permission to discriminate against Jews, blacks, or women. Regardless of whether your religion calls you to do it.  

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Quote of the day

"Men tend to have the beliefs that suit their passions. Cruel men believe in a cruel God, and use their belief to excuse their cruelty. Only kindly men believe in a kindly God, and they would be kindly in any case."
-Bertrand Russell in London Calling (1947), p. 18  (H/T Andrew Sullivan)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fear and the Religious Right: a role for liturgical practice?

BP and I were chatting on the way home from Church this morning as I told her about Bp Gene Robinson's latest article in The Daily Beast, Even After Hobby Lobby, the Religious Right is still terrified.     Bp Gene begins with a description of attending a service at the mega church of Pastor Jim Garlow, whom we know in San Diego as one of the biggest proponents of Prop H8.
I get my latte and am assured that I am welcome to take it with me to my seat in the church. I find a seat, which is plush and comfortable, and sure enough, there’s a cup holder for my coffee. 
Latte?  Really?
I am struck by the starkness of the worship space: no windows, all black, no cross or stained glass, and not a single sign that this is a place of worship. ... It’s hard to tell, really, when the service starts; it just seems to grow organically, with additional people coming onto the stage over the course of 15 minutes, everyone dressed in jeans and comfortable clothing. The sense of expectation grows minute by minute. 
....Although there is a brief prayer early on, the service seems oddly devoid of any mention of God, much less Jesus. ....  soon, the mood turns dark. In between the uplifting songs, the message is: they’re coming to get us. One by one, the speakers lay out the parameters of the siege under which Christians live, attacked by liberal and godless forces on every side. ....Every message, action and gesture seems calculated to ratchet up the anxiety of those who are listening. And then it’s over. Just like that.
Bishop Gene goes on:
I honestly don’t know how typical such a service is among evangelicals, bent on making people fearful, but if you left that service feeling hopeful, at peace with God, and eager to help the poor and needy, then you weren’t paying attention. It is no wonder to me that many conservative, Christian people are fearful, and believe that there is a war on religion (especially Christians) in this country. After all, it is drummed into them every week. ....
Within only a day or two after the Hobby Lobby ruling, prominent evangelicals called upon President Obama to declare broad religious exemptions to his upcoming executive order banning discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people by federal contractors. Just stop and think about the image of religious people pleading for the “right” to discriminate against certain fellow citizens. What would Jesus do, indeed?!
One of the most striking things in his article is not just the fear-mongering-- we know that one of the biggest concerns expressed by Evangelicals is the idea that they will be forced to marry LGBT people.  (You know, the way Roman Catholics are forced to marry divorced people. Yeah, right.) But the description of that service, coming on a day when we enjoyed a full throated chanted service with clouds of incense and Latin anthems--it seemed completely foreign to us.

We're liturgical people, BP and I, born Roman Catholics, and now high Episcopalians.  I've never been to an evangelical church (heck, I found the Roman Catholic guitar mass a bit trying) and it sounds like it can be whatever the pastor wants it to be. Not the pattern of the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Table, not the rhythm of the first and second readings and then the Gospel, not the A-B-C triennial cycle of whose Gospel is read, not the commonality across mainline protestant and Roman Catholic churches all engaging the same verses.  Part of the appeal to me in attending Mass is that ancient liturgical rhythm and the structure it gives.  And the discipline that structure gives the preacher, too.

Formerly-evangelical blogger Rachel Held Evans has with some sorrow left her evangelical roots and is worshiping with Episcopalians these days.  And that means, she is not only in a liturgical community, but one that uses the daily lectionary.  It's not up to the pastor to pick and choose a verse to preach on. Again, a discipline and a  structure.  She writes 
Suddenly, I like[d] the idea of having an “assignment,” a sort of spiritual and creative challenge that kept the focus on the text and not on me.....I discovered this whole world of online collaboration happening among clergy from Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist, and Lutheran churches (and more!) all working through the same few passages in preparation for their services that week. And they weren’t just thinking about their sermons. They were joining with artists and musicians and liturgists and Sunday school teachers and writers and laypeople to think about how Luke 17:5-10 might translate into art, worship, poetry, children’s messages, even bulletin designs. (Even after the sermon was finished, I loved checking the blogs and sermon podcasts of some of my favorite pastors to see their “take” on the passage.)

And it struck me: This is exactly how the Bible is meant to be engaged—collaboratively, in community, with a diversity of people and perspectives represented.
So, the question I ask here is whether the Evangelical Protestants, by abandoning that liturgical structure, have made themselves targets for fear-mongering that blocks out the message, There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.  

You know, maybe they should try preaching on that verse.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Republican Christianity: a counterfeit?

With the defeat of Eric Cantor (who is Jewish), all the Republicans in Congress identify as Christian of one sort or another.  All of them.

Now think about that.  Think about the >16% of Americans who are not affiliated. And another 5-6% who are of other faiths e.g., Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu...  (Data here)  Just another way that the ruling Republicans do not reflect America, ethnically, economically, or religiously.

From Religion Dispatches
The Republican Christians who now inhabit Congress have in most cases assertively presented their Christian faith as the glue that binds together their public service, their connection to their constituencies, and their policy thinking. It also frames the way they understand both collegiality and political compromise or the lack thereof. Like it or not, the Republicans in Congress are now a kind of congregation, a reality of church, a particular church, but still a church. Inescapably, now they present a Christianity in total power.
This is a perfect storm for Christianity. We now have a political party that deeply dislikes the first African American president (who is also a Christian), clearly opposes significant cooperation with him or his party, is reactionary on most issues from taxes to the environment to women’s health to full equality for LGBTQ folks, is wedded to a neo-conservative economic fideism, and is unapologetically Christian. It will be difficult to convince anyone that this Republican Christianity is not authentic Christianity because a religion reveals itself when it has political and economic power. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014


You may have seen the news reports this week of a band of tea-partiers in Murietta, CA, who were outraged that the Border Patrol was sending several buses of immigrant children to be processed at a facility there.  The mere presence of the children is an affront to Real Amuricans.

Not just immigrant children.  Refugee children, who had endured an almost incomprehensible journey away from unimaginably violent states.   Terrified while white racists screamed and shouted at them. USA.  USA.  Sure, that's what we stand for--xenophobia and lack of compassion.  Real Christian values.

Oh, I know the arguments.  They are here illegally.  We can't solve the world's problems.  Freeloaders.  Deport them.  Except.... we are the richest country in the world.  We built it on the backs of hard-working immigrants. Every white American is an immigrant.  We could save these children.

This op/ed in the Dallas News lays it out. 
Exactly 75 years and one month ago the St. Louis, a German trans-Atlantic liner carrying 938 Jewish refugees, was turned away from the United States, forced to return to Europe. U.S. law didn’t allow them sanctuary. 
Today we are preparing to send 45,000 children back to Central American countries controlled by drug cartels that routinely torture, rape and kill children who refuse to work for them. So routinely, so often are children menaced that their families sent them away, alone, across thousands of miles on just the slimmest of hopes that they might be safe. U.S. law doesn’t allow them sanctuary. 
The St. Louis is famous now as a failure of compassion that haunts American history. It is so easy to imagine the despair of those passengers, forced to return to countries that would soon be overrun by the Nazis. It is difficult to imagine an America that would be so cruel and insensible to the terror of others. President Franklin Roosevelt is still held accountable for his failure to respond. 
And now we have President Barack Obama promising to send the children back. We have an America demanding that he do so, and in fact, blaming his administration for not securing the borders more tightly so that those desperate Central American families would have had no hope at all that their children might find sanctuary. 
But, in fact, the border is secured. The children are in custody. They will be turned back. . ...
Our hearts are not touched by these children. We want the law enforced. This is our country. Ours. And we don’t have to share it. Not now. Not 75 years ago. 
We haven’t changed at all. 
Why? It’s simple, really. A matter of us and them. Yes, these are children whom we’ll send back to be raped, maimed and killed. But they aren’t our children. Our children are precious. 
These children. They simply aren’t. Not to us.

Shame, for shame, America.

Episcopal Relief and Development is helping here. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Why am I not surprised? First attempt to use Hobby Lobby against gays

From the Atlantic,
This week, in the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court ruled that a religious employer could not be required to provide employees with certain types of contraception. That decision is beginning to reverberate: A group of faith leaders is urging the Obama administration to include a religious exemption in a forthcoming LGBT anti-discrimination action. 
Their call, in a letter sent to the White House Tuesday, attempts to capitalize on the Supreme Court case by arguing that it shows the administration must show more deference to the prerogatives of religion. 
"We are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need," the letter states.
Because nothing speaks to the love of God like refusing to hire a homo.