Friday, 31 December 2004

Charity & Media Attention

As the enormity of the devastation caused by the great slosh of the Indian Ocean unfolds, the world looks on in horror, while many respond with their pocketbooks or their service to the impacted shorelines. This story IS getting the attention it deserves, displacing the inanities that usually get top billing on the local TV news. I still remember the last such enormous tragedy, the 1991 typhoon in Bangladesh, which must have received much less attention, as I've been surprised by how few remember it today. Though the death toll of 138,000 was comparable, the devastation was confined primarily to Bangladesh, which likely contributed to its having received less attention.

Recognizing that tragedies need a response regardless of how much media attention they receive, for my own donation to Mercy Corps I chose the "Where Most Needed" category, allowing the organization to funnel the money to Sudan, for instance, if the overwhelming response to the tsunami has left it or other tsunami-unrelated efforts underfunded.

Journalist Mathew Maavak, near the scene of the tragedy in Southern India, gives a mixture of on scene reporting and insightful reflections in its aftermath. His home page also accidentally pointed me to the writing of David Brin, who another friend coincidentally had just been telling me about in the previous week. But that's fodder for another post.

Monday, 27 December 2004

America's Theological Complexion

With the election behind us, I've wondered what direction to take this web log. While the election was a prime motivator in pushing me to start it, I have no wish to abandon the effort, though quiet periods will likely punctuate it, as other foci intervene.

No it will not become primarily a theological blog, but theology is clearly an area of interest, and one which contributes strongly to the political debate which continues in America. A recent article by Tim Appelo in the Seattle Weekly caused me investigate further the religious, and in particular the Christian, challenges to the doctrines of the religious right which have garnered such attention lately. I bought Bruce Bawer's Stealing Jesus; How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity, and have almost finished it. While it can serve as an excellent primer on the most radical elements of the fundamentist, evangelical, and charismatic movements in today's American culture, it falls short of examining in detail (at least so far) those portions of the conservative Christian movement which still buttress the main parts of conservative evangelicalism while distancing themselves from the most simplistic, doctinaire, or hate-laced portions of the movement.

A visiting relative brought into my home a book from that very perspective, Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey. Thumbing through its pages, I quickly became skeptical of its scholarship, as the Apologetics therein, defend Intelligent Design as the truthful alternative to a Darwinistic worldview of the emergence of life. Intelligent Design is generally thought of by liberals and those who revere church/state separation as a buzzword created to mask "Creationism" in fancier clothing to give it greater legitimacy in the public classroom of the future. The ACLU is currently involved in a case challenging its introduction in a public school in Pennsylvania.

Unlike 6-day creation literalists though, Pearcey accepts what she differentiates as micro-evolutionary principles, and writes with considerable force and intellect, though I have yet to read even close to all of the 400-page tome. While I doubt she will convince me that macro-evolution is less likely than the theory which she proffers, I've decided to give it a read and decide if the ACLU would do better spending its energy elsewhere. The book deals with other general cultural considerations, and is subtitled "Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity". Pearcey is largely informed by the theology of Francis Schaeffer whose L'Abri Fellowship in Switzerland she visited in her youth.

What troubles me most about Apologetics is that it is shamelessly referred to as the intellectual backing for the more extreme forms of fundamentalism, which Bawer and others such as John Shelby Spong correctly note distort the teachings of Jesus into something legalistic and hateful. I am speculating that Pearcey and others who advance Apologetics realize that their theories need the backing of the religious right establishment, and refrain from highlighting their differences with these natural allies in order to avoid alienating them. References to her book on the Web are almost uniformly supportive and associated with right leaning sites, this critique being the sole exception which I found. The absence of reference to it by liberal theologians may be in large measure simply due to the newness of the book. I wonder, though, if there is not a strategic element in liberals' avoiding analysis of more intelligent writing from Christian conservatives, as it is much easier to dismiss the excesses of Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell and the like, and then dismiss others such as Pearcey, simply by association.

Given the huge proportion of the population of America which identifies itself as Christian, it strikes me that greater public conversation about the faith and its many faces is sorely needed, perhaps a rare point on which Pearcey and Bawer could agree. As important as the separation of church and state is to the running of the government, we lose much if we translate that principle into keeping matters of faith entirely private. To do so is to grant the religious right the title of the standard bearers of Christianity, which is the danger Bawer so urgently seeks to avert.

Having delved into this area at all, has reminded me of the extraordinary theological diversity within Christendom, just as having examined the foregoing election exposed the extraordinary political diversity in America. And yet in both politics and Christianity a deep bifurcation has developed which results in unfortunately simplistic analysis of what the "two" sides believe, when in fact the question is so multi-faceted.

Friday, 3 December 2004

Tragedy and Tears

When a personal tragedy befell someone in my wider circle of friends eleven days ago, blogging was but one activity which was interrupted for me. Tears were more effective than words, and public comment felt inappropriate. I'll be back, but now I do have other things to catch up on, so will likely be scarce through the end of the year.