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Friday, October 31, 2003

Reader appreciation day.

I'm heading out of town right after work today, so here's almost all of October's stats — minus the trick-or-treaters! SiteMeter counts 1338 visits to the front page in October; AddFreeStats counts 1479. I took down the old Blogger archives this month, which used to be counted with the main page stats; removing them has temporarily confused Google and cut down slightly on the number of counted visits. My site's host, however, counts well over 2400 visits to other pages on the site, including lots of individual blog entries, so it looks to my untrained eye like traffic continues to grow.

Key search phrases this month: Eli Pariser, Hutton Gibson, Episcopal schism, "guugle" (which I meant as a joke!), "define objective" (which I'm sorry to say I can't do, but must have done), "puritanism today," Philocrites (that's me!), "Weber disenchantment," "morality vs ethics," and "biblical unitarians."

And a special thanks this month to readers who have started using the Comments feature on this site. It's great to hear from you — and don't be shy about leaving tips, suggestions, general comments, etc., in that Suggestion Box link up on the top right. Thanks for your support!

Update 10:13 am. Looks like I spoke too soon! Welcome, everyone, from this morning's link at DailyKos. Make yourselves at home. My stats just went through the roof. Thanks, Melanie!

Update 11.1.03 9:51pm. What a difference a day makes: The surge of traffic from DailyKos brought at least 160 first-time visitors to the site in a single day. Amazing.

Posted by Philocrites, October 31, 2003, at 08:48 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Quaker same-sex marriage.

I meant to call attention earlier to my friend and colleague Kenneth Sutton's testimony as a Friend before the Massachusetts House judiciary committee's hearings on same-sex marriage. Here's part — but do read the rest.

Mary Dyer, a Quaker whose statue stands in front of this building, was hanged by the authorities on Boston Common in 1660. She was a martyr for religious freedom. Her statue should stand as a warning against the perils of allowing religious practice, no matter how large the majority, to dictate civil practice for all.

Quakers today are not being hanged, but we still seek equal treatment before the law . . .

[F]or some couples whose marriages have been allowed by Beacon Hill Meeting, our action is sufficient evidence for the state to extend the responsibilities and benefits of marriage to the couple. For other couples, equally in love, equally faithful to one another, equally contributing to our community and to civic life, equally examined by our careful marriage process, our action has no legal effect. How can the Commonwealth of Massachusetts allow us to act as agents of the state in marrying opposite-gender couples and then disregard our careful religious discernment concerning same-gender couples?

An interesting freedom-of-religion argument, don't you think?

Posted by Philocrites, October 30, 2003, at 05:52 PM | 1 comments

'Marauding Unitarian ministers...'

With polls showing more than half the American public now doubting the president's capacity to handle both foreign and economic policy, the administration needs an issue to distract the disgruntled. More pointedly, as Karl Rove himself has noted, 4 million Christian evangelicals did not bestir themselves to vote in the election of 2000. At the rate things are going, Bush will need every one of those votes next year. Time, then, to unveil the real risk to our security. No, not al Qaeda fanatics plotting the deaths of Americans at home or abroad . . .

Happily, Republicans have identified a threat right here at home on which the Democrats lack all backbone: marauding Unitarian ministers, cruising back alleys, threatening to swoop up same-sex couples and, before anyone can think better of it, marry them. Listen closely and you can almost hear the whispers: "Hey, big fellas — wanna tie the knot?"

("New Age Arnold, Old Testament GOP," Harold Meyerson, Washington Post 10.29.03; thanks, Paul!)

Posted by Philocrites, October 30, 2003, at 05:24 PM | 0 comments

Artists as mystics.

A great passage, sent by Julie L. to the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship e-mail list, written by the Universalist minister Kenneth Patton in Man's Hidden Search: An Inquiry into Naturalistic Mysticism (1954):

But there is yet another kind of experience which I would call mystical . . . It comes in many forms, but has the common property of etching experience in a new clarity, a greater significance, a further penetration of meaning than we have known before . . . It is as if we had seen but one side of a statue, and then, seeing it in the round, discover unexpected magnificence in its thousand viewpoints. It is as if we had heard one phrase of a symphony, and then hear the phrase within the whole composition, to have it enlarged and enflowered in its full relationship . . . We have an expanded sense of reality.

The arts, in their serious and creative manifestations, are mystical endeavors. In them imagination, intuition, beauty, subtle and suggestive meanings, the fullness of immediate and concrete experience, the outreaches into the devious and unknown are explored. In the arts [we] live breathlessly on the thresholds of awareness and consciousness . . . The artist feels that his [or her] mystical intuitions and . . . expression of them carry universal significance, and [so the artist] seeks an avenue of communication that will lend his [or her] voice authority. The artist and the mystic of the past had this in the church. The artist of today is an orphan in a wilderness of materialism and antagonism, and the church, no longer emplying the artists and mystics, has grown shallow and prosaic.

Posted by Philocrites, October 30, 2003, at 05:23 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Banner? What banner?

Wesley Clark responded to the president's lie about the "Mission Accomplished" banner with this statement:

I think it is outrageous. He blamed the sailors for that and it is something — an event — that his advance team staged. I guess that next thing we are going to hear is that the sailors told him to wear the flight suit and prance around on the aircraft carrier. This is a president who does not want to take accountability.

To read today's press briefing is to marvel at the audacity of White House spin — because the White House was awfully pleased with the USS Abraham Lincoln extravaganza five and a half months ago (thanks, Tapped!):

White House officials say that a variety of people, including the president, came up with the idea, and that Mr. Sforza embedded himself on the carrier to make preparations days before Mr. Bush's landing in a flight suit and his early evening speech.

Media strategists noted afterward that Mr. Sforza and his aides had choreographed every aspect of the event, even down to the members of the Lincoln crew arrayed in coordinated shirt colors over Mr. Bush's right shoulder and the "Mission Accomplished" banner placed to perfectly capture the president and the celebratory two words in a single shot. The speech was specifically timed for what image makers call "magic hour light," which cast a golden glow on Mr. Bush.

But here's the kicker, for me:

"We pay particular attention to not only what the president says but what the American people see," [White House communications director Dan] Bartlett said. "Americans are leading busy lives, and sometimes they don't have the opportunity to read a story or listen to an entire broadcast. But if they can have an instant understanding of what the president is talking about by seeing 60 seconds of television, you accomplish your goals as communicators. So we take it seriously."

I'm glad the President took such care to let the entire world know just how proud he was of the USS Abraham Lincoln. Too bad he didn't bother showing up to thank all the other units deployed overseas — but at least we now know that their missions are far from over.

Posted by Philocrites, October 29, 2003, at 06:11 PM | 0 comments

The pink cross.

The British on-line magazine Ship of Fools offers ten pro and ten con arguments about the morality of Christians in gay relationships. Both sides are presented fairly and respectfully — and you can vote on the matter, too.

Posted by Philocrites, October 29, 2003, at 05:31 PM | 0 comments

Twenty-five years with John Paul II.

From the New Yorker:

It’s been a long papacy, beginning, a quarter century ago, in a humility so genuine and tender, and so exotically not Italian, that Charlotte the saintly spider could have spun her “humble” over the white cap that Karol Wojtyla put on when he became Pope John Paul II. This pope was the voice of the fall of Communism and much of the moral courage behind it. He was the voice of reconciliation between the Roman Catholic Church and two millennia of excoriated Jews. But for years he’s been ill, and today he is in every way incapacitated, beholden to his oldest obsessions, his harshest dicta, and his most reactionary keepers . . .

Read it all; it's quite good.

("This world," Jane Kramer, New Yorker 11.3.03)

Posted by Philocrites, October 29, 2003, at 08:34 AM | 0 comments

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

The golden chalice.

Head on over to Beliefnet for a discussion of Stupid UU Tricks — i.e., goofy things Unitarian Universalists do while taking themselves way too seriously. Here's part of the opening entry about the ubiquitous flaming chalice:

The way many UUs treat the chalice symbol smacks to me of idolatry, like the phony Golden Calf that Aaron made while Moses was up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments. Other denominations don't make a fetish of their logos the way we do of ours. You won't find Jews ceremonially venerating their Star of David, or Presbyterians their cross-and-dove, or Methodists their cross-and-flame, or UCCers their cross-and-orb, or Episcopalians their coat of arms, the way we do with our chalice. . . .

I could name other UU habits that may have been meaningful in their original context but have become embarrassingly banal through overly lazy acceptance. (The Water Ceremony and Flower Communion spring to mind.) To my way of thinking, such practices ignore the valuable Humanist warning against "idolatries of the mind and spirit", which I understand to warn not so much against any specific supernatural religious beliefs in particular as against irresponsible gullibility in general.

Two things: Is it true, as the writer says elsewhere in his post, that the liturgical chalice — the one we "light" — really grew out of a logo design? Yes, it is.

But what about the Jan Hus martyrdom story? There's a dispute about whether our symbol owes anything historically to the Hussite symbol. Apart from UU sources, I can't find a reference to a Hussite chalice with a flame, and there's no evidence I've seen that links Hans Deutsch's logo for the Unitarian Service Committee (c.1941) to Hus or to a tradition that derives from the Hussites. Which isn't to say that I don't like the Hus story much better, because I'm rather fond of it.

Full disclosure: I don't personally find much meaning in the "flaming chalice." It strikes me as a symbol in a vacuum, attracting disproportionate attention because we were rather too effective at jettisoning symbolism before we realized, "Hey, we need some of that!" I attend two churches (one in the city, one in the suburbs). We only "light the chalice" at one, and in my mind the value there has to do with our repetition of the same responsive reading week to week, but the text we use has always struck me as vacuous. At King's Chapel, on the other hand, there's no shortage of liturgy or symbolism, so igniting a candle in a dish would be superfluous. When I was editing the WorshipWeb, I managed to find some pretty good readings to accompany the lighting of a chalice, however.

Posted by Philocrites, October 28, 2003, at 07:12 PM | 4 comments

Monday, October 27, 2003

What do I like about Wesley Clark?

This snippet from Ryan Lizza's article, "The Pragmatist" (New Republic 11.3.03 sub req'd), gives a pretty good sense of what I like about Wesley Clark:

After West Point, Clark didn't just fight in Vietnam—he came home and was so disturbed by how the war had harmed the military's reputation that he devoted his career to fixing it. "I spent much of my military career helping to rebuild the war-shattered U.S. army," he writes in Waging Modern War. He's not just boasting. In 1986, a superior noted in one of Clark's performance reviews that it is "not possible to overstate the significance of Col. Wes Clark's impact on our Army." War-gaming as the Soviet or North Korean military, Clark revolutionized the training of U.S. forces when he ran the Army's National Training Center. He is credited with helping the Army prepare for the Gulf war. It's only a slight exaggeration to say that Clark's pre-Kosovo career was devoted to helping the United States win the cold war and overcome the Vietnam syndrome. Not a bad vein of experience for a Democrat to mine.

And Clark is beginning to take advantage of it. The parallels between his military career and his presidential campaign are obvious. Once again, Clark says, he sees the country in danger—this time from terrorism—and he wants to serve. Just as he found Vietnam had damaged an important institution he cared about, he wants to repair the damage he thinks the Bush administration has done to our government. He calls it New American Patriotism, but government reform may best describe the overriding theme of his campaign.

Lizza quotes former President Clinton: "They—Republicans—believe in government by ideology, enemies, and attack. We believe in government by experiment, evidence, and argument. We actually think we might be wrong now and again, we might have to change."

Clark makes a similar case: "Traditionally and ideally, we Americans meet our challenges by starting with the facts, analyzing the problem, and reasoning toward a solution—in as public a manner as possible. This administration does things in reverse. They start with a solution, cast about for a problem that 'requires' their solution, and mold the facts to make their case—in as secret a manner as possible." . . .

"I don't oppose the president's policies because they are Republican policies," he said recently. "I oppose them because they don't work."

Posted by Philocrites, October 27, 2003, at 10:02 PM | 0 comments

Sunday, October 26, 2003

From the Suggestion Box: Interfaith marriages.

Here's the first Philocrites discussion topic for Unitarian Universalists, suggested by John B. (Thanks, John!) Is your spouse or partner Roman Catholic? What works and what doesn't work in your interfaith marriage? What resources have helped? What resources would you love to find? And what about the kids: How are you raising — or how do you plan to raise — your children? Click the "Comments" link below and share your stories and insights.

If you have another sort of interfaith marriage, feel free to join the conversation — but we'll probably come back to this topic for UU-Protestant, UU-Jewish, and other sorts of interfaith marriages later.

And feel free to leave other suggestions for topics in the Suggestion Box.

Update: Let's just go ahead and talk about interfaith marriages of all sorts — no Unitarian Universalism need be involved! — since that broader conversation has already started and is so interesting!

Posted by Philocrites, October 26, 2003, at 10:05 AM | 18 comments

Science and its metaphors.

Click here to read my UU World review of two fine books, Mary Midgley's The Myths We Live By and Ursula Goodenough's The Sacred Depths of Nature. I also discuss the "brights" movement and the false choice it poses to religious humanists.

Posted by Philocrites, October 26, 2003, at 09:51 AM | 0 comments

A lesson from the opposition.

Here's an insight that the politically-mobilized Evangelical movement learned through trial and error — and that religious liberals should take to heart — even if there's a healthy dollop of spin in it:

"Evangelicals today are more interested in making a difference than in making a statement," said the Rev. Richard Cizik, the vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 43,000 congregations. "We made a lot of statements in the 1980's and got zip."

Mr. Cizik said that evangelicals were now more willing to work with Jewish and feminist groups on certain foreign policy issues [like slavery, "human trafficking," and AIDS] and that the failure of evangelicals in the 1980's to meet their goals was in part a failure to collaborate. "Evangelicals have thought historically, 'Well, we'll do politics the way we do faith — we'll just convert the opposition,' " he said. "But you can't do politics the same way you do religion."

("Evangelicals sway White House on human rights issues abroad: Liberals join effort on AIDS and sex trafficking," Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times 10.26.03, reg req'd; see also this graphic)

Posted by Philocrites, October 26, 2003, at 09:24 AM | 0 comments

Can humanists 'worship'?

A passage by the Rev. Albert C. Niles, as quoted recently on the UUA's Humanists e-mail list:

Worship is the human mind contemplating the wonders of the universe, and being not afraid. Standing somewhere within a galaxy of stars we ask questions, some to be answered, some only to be asked. Those which lead to truth meld into knowledge, and through our knowing worship becomes enlightened.

Yet always, and always, there remains more mystery to explore, more to be discovered than understood. All this gives substance for worship, and in our outpouring of adoration we hold in reverence even that which may never be part of our understanding.

Posted by Philocrites, October 26, 2003, at 09:11 AM | 0 comments

Friday, October 24, 2003

Is Zeus mad at Mel Gibson?

According to the Associated Press:

The actor who plays Jesus in Mel Gibson's film The Passion of Christ has escaped injury after being struck by lightning during filming.

("Lightning strikes Jesus on Gibson's Christ film set," AP 10.23.03; thanks to Quaker in a Basement, via Calpundit)

Posted by Philocrites, October 24, 2003, at 08:56 PM | 0 comments

Daily Kos and religious liberals.

A great, lively, productive discussion today over at one of the premier liberal Web sites, Daily Kos, about the ways secular liberals and religious liberals often fail to work together effectively. The site's guest editor, Melanie, writes:

Secular liberals, you need to get a clue:  there are lots of deeply religious people out here who reliably pull the lever in the voting booth for the straight D ticket.  We are Christian evangelicals and Main Line Protestants and Catholics like me, from the Dorothy Day-Peter Maurin-Oscar Romero wing of the Church.  We are Jews and Muslims and Sikhs and Buddhists and Jains, pagans, Hindus and, yes, by God, there are even Zoroastrian Democrats in this country.  When you make light of religion, you wound a part of us which is very important to us.  Making light .... hmm, that's very diplomatic, which I rarely am.  What we usually get are outright insults.

My comments are here.

Posted by Philocrites, October 24, 2003, at 06:18 PM | 1 comments

Despite reactionaries, Robinson will be bishop.

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, the [Rt.] Rev. Frank T. Griswold, is planning to preside at [the Rev. Canon V. Gene] Robinson's Nov. 2 consecration; yesterday he sent a letter to his fellow Anglican primates around the world, informing them that the ceremony will go forward. . . .

"I am not the devil one side paints me to be, nor am I the savior the other side paints me to be," [Robinson] said. "I'm just trying to hold on to who I am: Just a follower of Christ trying to discern the will of God for me. . . . While it's intense, and it's a little nerve-racking, inside I'm pretty calm."

("Robinson vows to press on: Planned ceremony draws controversy," Michael Paulson, Boston Globe 10.24.03)

And where does the money come from to paint Robinson as a devil? The Washington Post reports that Robinson believes what many observers have been saying for some time: that a handful of conservative philanthropists are bankrolling the American Anglican Council and its office-mate, the anti-liberal Institute for Religion and Democracy. "Of course it worries me that a few extremely conservative individuals, for political reasons of their own, are trying to manipulate the people of the Episcopal Church," Robinson said in an interview.

According to public tax filings, the IRD received $3.8 million in grants from conservative foundations from 1985 to 2002, including $1.7 million from the Carthage, Scaife Family and Sarah Scaife foundations. All three are run by Richard Mellon Scaife of Pittsburgh, who is also a major funder of the Heritage Foundation and who bankrolled American Spectator magazine's $2.4 million "Arkansas Project" to investigate President Bill Clinton.

The AAC's tax filings do not disclose the names of its donors. But a spokesman, Bruce Mason, said that it receives at least $200,000 annually from Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., much of it in matching grants to encourage other contributors. Ahmanson, who lives in Newport Beach, Calif., has been among the largest donors to California Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom McClintock and to the Chalcedon Foundation, a California-based religious movement that calls for a theocratic state enforcing biblical law.

("Conservatives funding opposition, priest says: Groups insist donors don't set agenda," Alan Cooperman, Washington Post 10.24.03)

And while we're on the subject, be sure to read this past week's Anglicans Online essay. The primates' statement, the editors write, isn't just "a remarkable example of Anglican fudge." The conservatives aren't just lobbying to keep faithful gays and lesbians from full participation in the church; they're pressing for a much more radical transformation of the Anglican Communion.

Update 9:15 pm: Conservative Anglicans are getting vindictive toward the Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, who has been an outspoken supporter of Gene Robinson — and openly gay priests in his country. Thanks, Religious Liberal (third item)!

Posted by Philocrites, October 24, 2003, at 09:02 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Elliott Smith.

Mrs Philocrites and I mourn the death of the singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. His October 28, 2000, show at the Avalon in Boston was one of our early dates.

Posted by Philocrites, October 23, 2003, at 05:24 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Unitarian Universalist bloggers.

A round-up of recent blogging by Unitarian Universalists:

  • The Rev. Charlie Ortman, the new UUA trustee from the Metro New York District, keeps a trustee's blog!

  • "Gomi Girl" writes movingly about joining a Unitarian Universalist church in Florida (second item, dated 9.14.03):

    It's not as easy as it sounds. A lot of our members, like me, came from highly religious, structured backgrounds. Years of questioning our faith, wondering if we're going to hell, feeling alone and uncomfortable in our skins. Becoming a UU is a lot like coming out of the closet. It's a painful process of admitting that maybe - just maybe - the "road to salvation" is not what our parents told us. Not what our friends told us. Not what the TelEvangelist with the stereotypical Southern Dialect told us. It's hard to admit that maybe we were mislead by the people who cared about us most.

  • The author of "Across, Beyond, Through" explains the distinctive autobiographical roots of his blog's name.

  • Heather Janules ("The Chrysalis") observes that "some of our [congregational] disconnect with people from a working-class culture might stem from our religious pluralism".

  • David Soliday ("Facilitating Paradox") discovers the rub in the old joke that the UCC stands for "Unitarians Considering Christ".

  • Richard Hurst ("Universalist Sundays") has lots of good stuff: The Jehovah's Witness have Prince, but "all the Unitarians get is ... Pete Seeger." Plus, he launches into an interesting dialogue about homosexuality and Christianity.

  • And what has Will Shetterly been up to? His new novel will include portions set in the time of Jesus!

  • John K. Davis, who says he is now blogging full-time, had lunch with the Rev. Tom Owen-Towle— who I did not know is a magician! — but I'm willing to wager that Davis's Transhumanist Unitarian Universalist Network isn't the next big thing.

    If you are a Unitarian Universalist — or religious liberal — with a blog that discusses your religion, drop me a line — and consider listing your blog at UU Blogs.

    Update.

    I am now maintaining an annotated directory of Unitarian Universalist bloggers.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 22, 2003, at 06:03 PM | 5 comments

  • Sunday, October 19, 2003

    Gini Courter elected interim UUA moderator.

    The Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees elected Gini Courter as the interim moderator of the Association in a special election Sunday morning. Diane Olson (who was elected by the General Assembly in 2001) resigned from the position last month. From the announcement sent earlier today:

    Courter, of Traverse City, Michigan, is currently serving the Association as Secretary of the General Assembly Planning Committee.  In June, she completed eight years as Trustee of the Heartland District and six years as Chair of the UUA Finance Committee.  Courter will serve in the role of Interim Moderator until an election for a one-year term (the remainder of Diane Olson's unexpired term) as Moderator is held at the 2004 General Assembly in Long Beach, CA.

    The other candidates for the position were Dr. Elizabeth McGregor, the Rev. Calvin Dame, Patsy Sherrill Madden (who had run against Diane Olson in the General Assembly election), and the Rev. Douglas Morgan Strong. More information will appear on the UUA Web site on Monday.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 19, 2003, at 12:34 PM | 1 comments

    When is a liberal no longer a liberal?

    James Atlas is apparently not an "intellectual." In an article about the liberal writers who have supported (or not entirely opposed) the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Atlas writes that "a mandate of intellectuals is that they be open to changing their opinions. Skepticism, the weighing of options, 'the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind simultaneously,' in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, are the tools of the trade." Unfortunately, Atlas doesn't seem to have these tools in his belt, and concludes that a pro-war liberal is really a neoconservative.

    He identifies the basic dilemma, though:

    Why should a liberal be required to be a liberal at all costs? What if historical events demand a revision of beliefs?

    How could liberalism be liberal if it were immune to history? Historical events always demand the refinement of our ideas — but Vietnam so haunts Atlas that he can only define liberalism as the consensus that emerged in the anti-war movement in the late-1960s and early '70s. Stranger yet, Atlas defines neoconservatives as thinkers who "had discovered the limitations of liberalism." Does that mean that a liberal is someone who can't see (or refuses to look for) limitations in her own worldview? And what are we to make of the ideological rigidity of the neoconservatives themselves, who haven't shown much inclination to examine the limitations of their own worldview?

    A key difference between neoconservatives and the writers Atlas discusses — Michael Ignatieff, Paul Berman, Christopher Hitchens, and Michael Walzer — is that the liberals are trying to develop liberal principles for the use of American power. They have certainly identified limitations to the popular formulations of liberalism today, but they haven't abandoned their principles. At the moment, the clearest difference between neoconservatism and the liberals Atlas discusses is that neoconservatives defend the use of American power almost entirely in terms of American interests, while the liberals defend the use of American power in the service of liberal ideals. Sometimes, these coincide; at other times — as in Kosovo, Rwanda, Liberia, etc. — they do not.

    James Luther Adams, the liberal social ethicist and theologian, would undoubtedly perplex James Atlas. In the early 1940s, Adams wrote, "Liberalism is dead. Long live liberalism!" and proceeded to distinguish liberalism's "general idea" from its various historical manifestions, or "specialized notions." (Click here for more.) At a minimum, liberalism's general idea expresses opposition to "tyranny, arbitrariness, and oppression." Vietnam-era liberals recognized that opposition to tyranny, arbitrariness, and oppression sometimes required opposing American policies and perhaps even some American interests. Some liberals today recognize, however, that liberalism cannot become a synonym for anti-Americanism — and that there are forms of tyranny, arbitrariness, and oppression that require the use of American power.

    For more on this topic, I recommend the anthology The Fight Is for Democracy, edited by George Packer.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 19, 2003, at 09:51 AM | 0 comments

    Saturday, October 18, 2003

    Bright vs. bright.

    Remember the brights? Cullen Murphy notices a religious dimension to the proud-to-be-free-of-religion movement — and predicts a schism!

    Meanwhile, Chris C. Mooney, a fine writer on science and politics, thinks the rebranding effort could have used some polling and message testing first. Writing for the "Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal" Web site (as reputable a group of skeptics as you could ask for — and prime candidates for the "bright" movement), Mooney says:

    [T]hough [Richard] Dawkins and [Daniel] Dennett may know a lot about evolutionary biology, the packaging and marketing of ideas — what we might call the science of "framing" — might not be their strongest suit. A basic lesson of framing is that you have to avoid promulgating messages that reinforce negative stereotypes, because these stereotypes tend to be too deeply held to defeat head-on. . . .

    It doesn't matter whether Dawkins or Dennett or anyone else actually is claiming to be super smart. Simply by announcing the label "brights," the damage has already been done. When people — most of whom are religious believers — hear that word, the vast majority will likely revert to the stereotypical atheists-as-arrogant frame, which has already been burned into their psyches. That means the "brights" label will have failed. In fact, it will have backfired, making the anti-atheist stereotype even harder for future atheists to defeat or dislodge in the future.

    Mooney says Dawkins and Dennett were naive to think you just launch a "meme" and watch it catch on. That's certainly true. But Dawkins wasn't naive; he was deliberately provocative. Here's the key passage in his original column on the subject:

    "I am bright" sounds arrogant. "I am a bright" sounds too unfamiliar to be arrogant: it is puzzling, enigmatic, tantalising. It invites the question, "What on earth is a bright?" And then you're away: "A bright is a person whose world view is free of supernatural and mystical elements. The ethics and actions of a bright are based on a naturalistic world view."

    "You mean a bright is an atheist?"

    "Well, some brights are happy to call themselves atheists. Some brights call themselves agnostics. Some call themselves humanists, some free thinkers. But all brights have a world view that is free of supernaturalism and mysticism."

    "Oh, I get it. It's a bit like 'gay'. So, what's the opposite of a bright? What would you call a religious person?"

    "What would you suggest?"

    Oh, I don't know. How about "a dim"? That oughta win friends and influence people.

    And what was so awful about the "humanist" brand? Oops. The American Humanist Association wants to be bright, too. I thought they were focused on disseminating their new manifesto, "Humanism and Its Aspirations."

    Mooney is focused primarily on the most effective way to guarantee the civil rights of nonreligious Americans, an agenda I fully endorse. (See also fellow-atheist Kevin Drum's comments.) But as a religious person in a denomination that already embraces and promotes the dignity of people who don't believe in God, the issue isn't only whether "bright" is the best way to make religious people respect irreligious people. You can be smart, committed to science, and religious — a combination that seems to baffle Dawkins and Dennett.

    You can read the rest of my commentary on the "bright" campaign in my UU World review of Mary Midgley's The Myths We Live By and Ursula Goodenough's The Sacred Depths of Nature. The magazine is in the mail now, and I'll add a link when the review is on-line next week. [Done!]

    Posted by Philocrites, October 18, 2003, at 07:27 PM | 0 comments

    Friday, October 17, 2003

    Suggestion box.

    Introducing the Philocrites Suggestion Box! Suggest a topic, pose a question, demand an answer, or share a link to something I and my readers might appreciate. I'll put a permanent link to the Suggestion Box comments window on the main page, up by "About me" and "E-mail me." (I will weed out the list as I incorporate or respond to suggestions, and to keep things manageable. If your comment is too far outside the scope of this site, I'll delete it.) Think of yourselves as Philocrites' contributing editors — and for this feature, please do leave your name and an e-mail address where I can reach you to follow up.

    Click to continue . . .

    Posted by Philocrites, October 17, 2003, at 05:27 PM | 6 comments

    Technical questions.

    I'd appreciate some feedback on the readability of this site. I use Apple's Safari browser on Mac OS X, and I know that many things turn out a bit differently on other browsers on other kinds of computers. So, loyal readers, leave a comment and tell me:

    Do you see blank spaces between paragraphs or do they appear to run together? Do blockquotes appear indented on your screen? (This paragraph should appear as a blockquote.) Have you stumbled onto anything else that makes reading this site frustrating?

    Please mention what kind of browser you use — Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, AOL, or some other — and whether you're a Windows or Mac user. If you'd rather not leave your real name and e-mail address, just leave a comment as "Reader" and leave "reader@philocrites.com" in the appropriate fields. Thanks for your help!

    Posted by Philocrites, October 17, 2003, at 05:09 PM | 5 comments

    Oepidus Sox.

    How can Aristotle help us Red Sox and Cubs fans make sense of our suffering? From John Savant's "The Saving Grace of Sports":

    In his Poetics, he describes the role of drama, especially tragedy, in Greek culture. Rising out of religious rites celebrating, among others, the god Dionysius (whose mysterious association with both violence and vitality touched something deep in the common psyche), drama provided the Greeks with not only entertainment but with a powerful spiritual experience that Aristotle called “catharsis.” This emotional process, he asserted, had for its object the evocation of fear and pity. Fear because audiences were exposed to the perils of being human: the instability of the will, the deceptiveness of appearances, the fallibility of human judgment, the flip indifference of fortune. And pity, because they came to identify the fate of the play’s protagonists with their own lives. As ritual rather than mere entertainment, these tragedies were meant to be moral engagements—not diversions designed for momentary escape from reality, but formative experiences exposing audiences to the awesome and extraordinary realities underlying their ordinary lives.

    Fallibility of human judgment: ouch! Flip indifference of fortune: ouch! Identifying with the fate of others: ouch! It's all so true. Sophocles must have scripted this season.

    That's it for the Philocrites Red Sox theology watch. Past entries are here, here, here, here, here (my favorite), here, here, and here.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 17, 2003, at 04:59 PM | 0 comments

    Wednesday, October 15, 2003

    Red Sox: theologians watch!

    Earlier this evening, the Philocrites family stood in the brisk wind in Harvard Square, watching the bottom of the sixth and top of the seventh innings on a TV in the window of Cardullo's. (Now that's customer service.) With us in the crowd of anxious fans was the most dedicated theological librarian in Red Sox Nation. After we saw the Red Sox tie the game, we scurried home. Here in the Philocrites household, we're thrilled for the Red Sox and biting our nails for the Cubs.

    Folks, even Mrs Philocrites is excited. The last time she was a baseball fan — rooting for the Mets in '86 — her team went all the way. That bodes well for the Sox, that's all I have to say.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 15, 2003, at 10:28 PM | 0 comments

    The false 'West against South' divide.

    As conservatives manipulate the media covering the Anglican primates meeting as a clash between the secular, post-biblical West (U.S., Britain, and Australia) and the faithful, biblical South (Asia, Africa, and Latin America), let's reiterate once again: not true.

    A senior African cleric has described the exclusion of gays as a "heresy" comparable with apartheid as a crisis summit of Anglican leaders over homosexuality got under way.

    South African-born the Most Reverend Walter Makhulu, the former Archbishop of Central Africa, said his experiences under apartheid had led him to oppose an "exclusive church". . . .

    "The notion of an exclusive church is utterly abhorrent to me. It denies the very character and nature of God, God who loves us so fully, God who invites us to the heavenly banquet, God whose wisdom is boundless, God who transforms his people into his likeness," said Rev Makhulu. "The notion of exclusivity is abhorrent. It is a heresy in the same way as apartheid was described as heresy."

    ("Cleric slams church on gay 'apartheid'", Reading [U.K.] Chronicle 10.15.03; thanks, Religions Liberal!)

    Posted by Philocrites, October 15, 2003, at 10:26 PM | 0 comments

    Tuesday, October 14, 2003

    Discernment.

    Listening — especially to an adversary, real or perceived, and especially to an opponent who will not listen to you — is one of the hardest spiritual disciplines. Will the Anglican primates actually listen to each other, or will they only speak? I hope Rowan Williams insists that conservatives listen to liberals, that liberals listen to conservatives, and then that all sides listen for the voices that they haven't heard before.

    I bought The Essential Jesus: Original Sayings and Earliest Images in an airport bookstore after I opened it to page 37, and read this verse:

    To listen to you
    or to listen to me
         is not to hear us
         but to hear the God who sent us both.

    I thought it was a version of Matthew 18:20 — "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" — and that is certainly the passage it has illuminated for me ever since. (The verse is actually Matthew 10:40 recast.) And it gave me a new way of understanding the famous verse about the location of the kingdom of God. (Is it "within you," "among you," "in your midst," or "at hand"? Or perhaps, as one theologian suggested, is it "available"? Or perhaps the Greek is best for suggesting all these possibilities at once.)

    It's impossible to be the church by oneself; it's impossible to hear God's voice only by listening to oneself. But to listen to you — to listen to each other . . . now that would be something revelatory. Here's to the bishops' discernment — an outcome I almost have too little faith to hope for.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 14, 2003, at 08:28 PM | 1 comments

    Who is funding the Anglican reactionaries?

    According to the British Observer, California multimillionaire Howard F. Ahmanson Jr has bankrolled a number of controversial right-wing causes over the years:

    These include a magazine called the Chalcedon Report, which carried an article calling for gays to be stoned [this one?]; a think-tank called the Claremont Institute which promoted a video in which Charlton Heston praises 'the God-fearing Caucasian middle class'; and a scientific body which rejects the theory of evolution.

    Among his projects is the American Anglican Council:

    Leading the backlash is the American Anglican Council (AAC) based in Washington. Until recently the AAC's chief executive officer, David C. Anderson, ran St James Church in Newport Beach, California, where Ahmanson is often to be found in the congregation. The AAC's vice-president, Bruce Chapman, is president of the Discovery Institute, on whose board Ahmanson sits and which publishes research insisting Darwin was wrong.

    AAC stalwart James M. Stanton, Bishop of Dallas, admits that Ahmanson gives $200,000 a year, although many observers believe it is considerably more. An internal memo from the vice-president makes fascinating reading. 'Fundraising is a critical topic ... But that topic itself is going to be affected directly by whether we have a clear, compelling forward strategy. I know that the Ahmansons are only going to be available to us if we have such a strategy and I think it would be wise to involve them directly in setting it as the options clarify.'

    The AAC's influence is bolstered by its close links to another right-wing religious organisation, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), which operates out of the same Washington office as the AAC, and on whose board Ahmanson's wife, Roberta, sits.

    Between 1997 and 2002, the IRD, set up during the Cold War to fight the spread of communism, spent at least $2.5 million to monitor and resist the liberalisation of America's churches.

    Much of the IRD's money comes from the conservative philanthropist Richard Scaife, heir to a banking and oil fortune and owner of the Greensburgh Tribune Review, the Pittsburgh newspaper that became the bane of President Bill Clinton's life, with a series of allegations surrounding the Whitewater affair.

    ("US millionaire bankrolls crusade against gay Anglican priests," Jamie Doward, Observer 10.12.03)

    Posted by Philocrites, October 14, 2003, at 06:23 PM | 6 comments

    Red Sox foreign policy watch.

    Andrew Pulrang finds in Game 3's ugly brawls a key to George W. Bush's behavior:

    What support he got for the Iraq adventure was, I believe, mostly from people's desire for payback. A bunch of Arabs threw a pitch at our head, and automatically, everyone in our dugout came out spoiling for a fight. As ballplayers know, we all knew it was against the rules. We also knew, as ballplayers do, that fighting never results in any change in the circumstances, but useful change is never the real objective. We responded because that's what you do when the other team insults you.

    Sox hormones.

    Meanwhile, my friend David Ropeik writes in the Boston Globe:

    If you're rooting for the Red Sox these days, the team may be doing more than driving up your expectations. They may actually be affecting your testosterone levels, pushing them up when they win and down when they don't, changing all sorts of behaviors in the people who consider themselves part of Red Sox Nation. . . .

    Sociologist Robert Cialdini of Arizona State believes testosterone may play a role in another set of behaviors that increase our chances of survival. "People feel victorious themselves by basking in the reflected glory of others," he says. "If your surrogate warriors win a battle, you feel like you are personally better than a member of the tribe that lost."

    ("Hope and testosterone, rise and fall with Sox," David Ropeik, Boston Globe 10.14.03)

    Posted by Philocrites, October 14, 2003, at 05:34 PM | 0 comments

    Monday, October 13, 2003

    Red Sox theology watch.

    They're all kidding, right?

    With Saturday's loss to the New York Yankees just the latest chapter in the tortured history of the Red Sox, religious leaders of all stripes are praying for the team, saying they still sense "a little bit of godliness" in Pedro, Nomar, and Ortiz.

    "It's an Old Testament lesson about Job," said the Rev. Chris Hickey of St. William's Church in Dorchester. "He's teaching us patience."

    A Duxbury church is flying the Red Sox flag underneath the flag of the pope. In Dorchester, a Pentecostal minister theorizes that the team's red socks represent the blood of Jesus.

    "Them being the Red Sox, as long as they wear the blood of Jesus on their feet, they'll be victorious," said David Thomas, a youth minister at Grace Church of All Nations.

    At the Boston City Council meeting last week, the Rev. Clifton Thuma prayed that God would not "smite the New York Yankees as if they were Pharaoh's army," but would instead help the Sox win.

    "I think I just heard the good father say, 'Cowboy up,' " Council President Michael Flaherty rejoined.

    Among religious leaders, the theological underpinnings of the Red Sox are hotly disputed. A local priest claims that baseball is a Catholic sport, while Jeffrey Sirkman, a rabbi in Larchmont, N.Y., likens the curse of the Bambino to the centuries of suffering by the Jews. "As a Jew, being a Red Sox fan makes perfect sense," he said. "You don't expect the world to be redeemed in your lifetime."

    But Sox faithful agreed that the Yankees have an important lesson in store: "God would want them to share," Hickey said.

    ("A rivalry of divine proportions: Religious leaders catch the spirit," Sasha Talcott, Boston Globe 10.13.03: B4)

    Posted by Philocrites, October 13, 2003, at 08:32 PM | 0 comments

    'Love is God's mafia.'

    Real Live Preacher needs a book contract. This story — which begins, "Love is God's mafia. Children are her hit men. And just the other day I got whacked" — ought to be in print.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 13, 2003, at 04:12 PM | 0 comments

    Religion in the voting booth.

    Beliefnet's Steven Waldman examines seven myths about God and the American voter for Slate:

    1) Evangelicals all vote Republican . . . 2) The religious right flooded the polls for George W. Bush in 2000 . . . 3) Bush's religion talk has appealed to his base but has alienated swing voters . . . 4) In this era, no candidate would lose votes just based on his or her religion . . . 5) Most religious extremists are in the GOP . . . 6) Hispanics are conservative . . . 7) The key to the Catholic vote is abortion.

    ("How Prayers Poll," Steven Wildman, Slate 10.10.03)

    Meanwhile, UUA President Bill Sinkford wants Unitarian Universalists to promote get-out-the-vote efforts in 2004. A good idea — but this sentence in his appeal seems wholly unmerited: "We will have only ourselves to blame if the only effective voter participation campaign between now and next November is organized by the religious right." There are, after all, dozens and dozens of highly effective get-out-the-vote campaigns that won't be organized by the "religious right" — most notably those organized by political parties, political action groups, unions, professional associations, mainline churches, the League of Women Voters, MTV's Rock the Vote, and on and on. We're not nearly so lonely as we sometimes think we are.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 13, 2003, at 04:01 PM | 1 comments

    Apotheosis of George.

    DailyKOS posts an alarming bit of iconography.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 13, 2003, at 03:42 PM | 0 comments

    Friday, October 10, 2003

    Sarah McLachlan, Universalist?

    Richard Hurst says "Building a Mystery" may be "the only pop song ever about process theology" — and that "Fallen" embraces a Universalist doctrine of salvation.

    While I'm gone for the weekend, feel free to click the comments link below and discuss pop songs that express your liberal theology.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 10, 2003, at 02:56 PM | 3 comments

    Red Sox theology watch.

     Photo: Episcopal nuns watch the Red Sox

    The Sisters of the Episcopalian Society of St. Margaret's in Roxbury, Massachusetts, above, represent 240 combined years of Red Sox devotion. The Philocrites household, on the other hand, represents a mere seven years of devotion — but we sure do join the sisters in New England's favorite petty idolatry:

    Evidence that they may be getting carried away: when they arrived 20 minutes late to 8:30 p.m. chapel Wednesday, after watching early innings of Game 1, Sister Grace Gallant remarked, "God will understand, God is a Red Sox fan."

    ("Sisters in convent keep faith in Red Sox," Donovan Slack, Boston Globe 10.10.03)

    Posted by Philocrites, October 10, 2003, at 02:53 PM | 0 comments

    Wednesday, October 8, 2003

    The church of brights.

    In the November Atlantic Monthly, Cullen Murphy appraises the effort to rebrand atheists as "brights." (For some background, read Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins, who came out as "brights" in the New York Times and the Guardian this summer.) Here's my favorite part of Murphy's essay:

    Any religion worthy of the name needs a bitter schism, preferably over something that in retrospect seems trivial — and brightness is proving to be no exception. Some atheists have already sought to distance themselves from the brightness movement. "It's a cop-out," the president of the American Atheist Association told The Sacramento Bee. "It seems like a way to hide who you are to please other people. I'm not ashamed of my beliefs. Plus it's a silly name." No one should be surprised if a further schism develops, between the modest, mainline Nominalist camp (which holds that bright should be used only as a noun, as in "I'm a bright") and the in-your-face Descriptivist camp (which holds that bright should be wielded aggressively as an adjective, as in "I'm bright" and "You're not bright").

    In time a bright liturgy will surely develop, perhaps starting with the adoption of an official hymn. Far be it from me to meddle in sectarian affairs, but thoughts turn naturally to one of the great spiritual epics of our time. Yes, I'm thinking of Monty Python's Life of Brian, about a man who is not the Messiah but gets put to death anyway. In the final scene, as Brian and his many followers hang on crosses, the crucified men start to whistle and then break into robustly good-natured song. It begins, "Always look on the bright side of life."

    ("The Path of Brighteousness: Godless Americans Launch a Semantic Crusade," Cullen Murphy, Atlantic Monthly 11.03:173-174.)

    Posted by Philocrites, October 8, 2003, at 08:20 PM | 0 comments

    Schism bias watch.

    Here's the latest example of egregious bias disguised as fair and balanced religion reporting: UPI religion editor Uwe Siemon-Netto's "analysis" of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams's audience with the Pope, "A Rift Worse than Schism?"

    But a ranking prelate in Rome made it clear that the Vatican was in no conciliatory mood concerning Anglicanism's "American problem." "What's happening here is in many ways worse than the great schisms 1,000 and 500 years ago," he said.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines schism as "the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him." That applies to the Eastern Orthodox and the Protestants . . .

    But in the eyes of the Catholic hierarchy — and others, including the majority of the world's Anglicans - the Episcopalians' decision to consecrate an active homosexual as overseer in his denomination and to bless same-sex unions points to a much deeper question: what coordinates must the Church follow — Scripture or the mushy postmodern obligation to canonize any form of human desire, even when it is utterly unbiblical?

    Clearly, the liberal-revisionist wing of contemporary Christianity, including many Western Catholics, is at the losing end of this global struggle within the Body of Christ.

    Whoa! Let's look at this amazingly even-handed, well-informed, historically-nuanced, and completely unbiased passage again:

    What "coordinates" can the Church steer by? Apparently, only two, and they are diametrically opposed: Scripture — capitalized and clear, always easy to understand, independent of history and culture, and indisputably dedicated to "traditional family values" — and, on the other hand, "the mushy postmodern obligation to canonize any form of human desire, even when it is utterly unbiblical." Now that's a freight-train of opprobrium and innuendo, wouldn't you say? Oh, and just in case you think there might be a scriptural argument on the liberal side, our writer clears that right up. Not only are the liberals "mushy" and "postmodern"; they're "utterly unbiblical."

    Nonsense. The Bible always requires interpretation, in light of the cultures in which the texts were written, the witness of the church over time, and the culture and experience of people living now. (Or who would need a sermon?) The Bible isn't a blank slate for us to write our own values and priorities on; it does genuinely challenge us. But it isn't so much a final court of appeals as it is an instrument through which the discerning church listens for God's word. And the gift of interpretation is given to us, the living church, living today. Fidelity to scripture is not the opposite of interpretation; it is only the beginning of interpretation. Conservatives, however, like to pretend that they are not interpreting the Bible when they discover chapter and verse for their own values and biases.

    More than anything, though, I'd like to point out the absurdity of defining the ecumenical danger posed by liberal developments in the Episcopal Church in terms that presuppose the primacy of the Pope. Think about it: The only schism in the news is the threatened one within the Anglican Communion, which took leave from Rome several centuries ago. Are conservative Anglicans planning to realign themselves with the Vatican? Don't bet on it. But Uwe Siemon-Netto thinks there's a big story in the umbrage the Pope is taking over the Episcopal Church's approach to human sexuality. That's rich.

    You're not being "ecumenical" if you're dedicated to convincing Protestants, Orthodox, and heterodox Christians to give up their various disagreements with the Vatican. That's called apologetics. UPI's religion editor needs a refresher course in biblical criticism and the history of Christianity.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 8, 2003, at 05:52 PM | 0 comments

    Episcopal schism watch.

    Best line in Michael Paulson's unusually good Boston Globe article on Sunday about a Southern Episcopal church's uncertainty about how to express its displeasure with the election of a gay bishop in New Hampshire:

    "I've heard people say they don't know if they still feel comfortable taking Communion, and I think to myself, 'Give me a break,'" said [Cecil H. Nelson Jr., the chair of Christ Church's $15 million capital campaign]. "Is it Bishop Robinson in the Communion, or Jesus Christ?"

    In today's Globe, Paulson reports the most telling fact about the gathering of outraged conservative Episcopalians in Dallas this week. If you thought they were looking for solutions rather than trying to generate a media circus for the culture war, read this:

    In a clear sign of their alienation from the national church, the organizers of the Dallas conference refused to allow the denomination's presiding bishop, Frank T. Griswold, and the president of the denomination's House of Deputies, George Werner, to send a delegation of observers, which was to include two bishops, a seminary president, and a priest . . .

    Conference organizers said they were not allowing any observers other than the news media.

    A photograph accompanying the article provided a delicious example of false consciousness, too: A woman priest at the conference, applauding a speaker who was attacking the Episcopal Church's deviations from tradition. For her sake, I hope the schismatics don't elect one of the bishops from Dallas to head up the break-away traditionalist church, or she'll have to give back her collar.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 8, 2003, at 05:52 PM | 2 comments

    Red Sox theology watch.

    "The Red Sox are the team God dislikes; the Cubs are the team God merely forgot about." Thus sayeth Allen Barra in a Slate article otherwise dedicated to baseball statistics.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 8, 2003, at 05:44 PM | 0 comments

    Tuesday, October 7, 2003

    Pardon the dust.

    If you're visiting Philocrites on Tuesday evening, you may think the site looks strange. I'm trying to clean up my templates, and I promise things will look better than ever — as soon as I figure out what I've just broken . . .

    Posted by Philocrites, October 7, 2003, at 09:34 PM | 0 comments

    Creation's table.

    A bit of Unitarian Universalist liturgy:

    Pull up a chair: You have a place at creation’s table — whether you come in celebration or in sorrow, in hunger or in fulfillment, in the company of friends or in the solitude of a new and uncharted course. Creation’s table — life’s table — is set for all.

    In our worship we remember that creation’s table is endlessly generous. Love is here; friendship is here; the promise of children is here; and new discoveries; and communities of freedom and honesty; and paint, a bolt of cloth, clay; a new melody; wood and metal and tools and blueprints; an untold story — all of it bread and wine for living.

    But there are also empty chairs at this table, and our cups are sometimes bitter. In our worship we remember that life is not easy. At the very moment that someone has just tasted one of life’s great joys, someone else at the table is grief-stricken. In our worship we remember these things together — we join ourselves together — for life holds us all.

    O Thou who beckons us to renewed life, who is in this feast and in the heart of every guest, bind us together with honest words, with kindness, with justice and delight. Amen.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 7, 2003, at 05:17 PM | 0 comments

    Monday, October 6, 2003

    Red Sox theology watch.

    The seventh game of a Sox vs. Cubs match-up goes into extra innings. Both teams quickly exhaust their postseason pitching rosters, and eventually play enough pinch runners and hitters so that they're both down to just nine men.

    With one out and Johnny Damon on third, Nomar pops a shallow fly to right field, which Sammy Sosa catches and relays straight to Cubs catcher Damian Miller. Johnny comes into the plate hard, trying to knock the ball loose from Miller's glove, but instead he just knocks both men out cold. Each team now has eight players; the rules state that if you can't put nine men on the field, you must forfeit. Clearly no one wins, but who loses?

    In such an event, says Major League Baseball spokesman Dominick Balsamo, "Decisions would have to be made at a higher level than anything that's written down right now."

    That, my friends, is how the apocalypse Stephen King described just might come about.

    ("End-of-the-World Series," Joscha Hoffman, Boston Globe 10.5.03.)

    Posted by Philocrites, October 6, 2003, at 05:42 PM | 1 comments

    Sunday, October 5, 2003

    Power? What power?

    A great passage from a post to the UU Christian Fellowship e-mail list:

    Many UU's are political liberals, which (contrary to what they assert) does not predispose them as a whole, to effective political action. As a local grassroots political organizer (whom I would characterize as leftist according to the conventional political taxonomy) explained to our congregation from the pulpit several months ago,

    "The problem with liberals is that they think nobody should have any power. Well, people do have power, and the question is which people and to what ends. In my experience, having to work out a deal with conservatives is better than negotiating with liberals, because conservatives understand power. When forced to come face to face with it, they're able to reason their way to a compromise, and then to stick to their end of the deal."

    Thanks, Dave! The next issue of UU World will have more to say on this very topic.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 5, 2003, at 05:40 PM | 0 comments

    Saturday, October 4, 2003

    Philocrites for Clark.

    After reading Josh Marshall's blog interview (pdf) with Gen. Wesley Clark and Clark's long essay in the New York Review of Books, I'm happy to regard Clark as this site's favorite candidate for president.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 4, 2003, at 02:39 PM | 0 comments

    Too much C Major.

    I mocked Andree Seu's overwritten diatribe about Unitarian Universalist worship last night. Now for some further commentary. Strip away the precious anachronisms in Andree Seu's prose, ignore the fact that there isn't much of a thesis holding the essay together, and overlook her triumphalistic Christian superiority complex. Is there still a valid bit of criticism in her critique of Unitarian Universalism?

    Yes, there is. But it doesn't quite have to do with Jesus.

    The flaw in liberal religion as it is widely practiced in Unitarian Universalist churches can be characterized in many ways, but since I'm working on a sermon about the art of worship this weekend, I'll call it "C Major idolatry." Our worship style, which we tend to regard as intellectually sophisticated and rational, is usually thematically and aesthetically unmodulated. We seem happiest practicing our religion in the bright, confident key of C Major ("Joyful, joyful!") while belittling anything that doesn't sound quite so chipper. D minor, on the other hand, is not our cup of tea — so morose, so medieval, so "original sin."

    William James poked at what he called "once-born" faith (and the footnotes in The Varieties of Religious Experience make it clear that he's talking about Unitarians): "I mean those who, when unhappiness is offered or proposed to them, positively refuse to feel it, as if it were something mean and wrong. We find such persons in every age, passionately flinging themselves upon their sense of the goodness of life, in spite of the hardships of their own condition" or — he might have added — in spite of what they hear in the news and see around them. Some religious liberals strike me as desperately optimistic, eager to believe in the inherent benevolence of nature or themselves or rationality. We like C Major and clear glass.

    We often pick a topic, a theme, and then run it into the ground in our worship services, selecting liturgical texts, hymns, readings, and sermon illustrations all to make a single point. (Moral: It is very good to be good. Voting is important to democracy. Hooray for community!) Last month I attended a service where all three hymns were "gathering" hymns — 358, 360, and 361 — which struck me as just a bit much. There's a rhythm to worship, which Von Ogden Vogt regarded as a dramatic art alternating between inward and outward motions. Or, to stay with the musical analogy, good worship includes major and minor and modal keys, loud passages and soft passages, staccato and legato passages, moments of tension and moments of resolution. The problem with a lot of what passes for Unitarian Universalism isn't just that it's naively optimistic, cheerfully syncretic, or blissfully ahistorical — although these are usually my complaints — but that it's often tone-deaf to the variety and complexity of our actual lives. That's what blinds us to the Christian tradition, because we have identified several basic dilemmas in the human condition as distinctive flaws of Christianity; we don't recognize B-flat minor as anything remotely related to us, you might say, but we see it in the story of Jesus, and so we work to keep the text and the tune out of our churches.

    If our churches approached worship more thoughtfully and multi-dimensionally, we'd have much less difficulty coming to terms with the Bible and with our own Christian roots. We also do better at reaching people in a wider range of life experiences.

    Incidentally, I'd offer a similar critique of conservative Christianity, which often thinks that the gospel is a praise song (G Major!). "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind" is a tall order, because we're a lot more complex than any tradition I've encountered quite knows how to dramatize.

    Correction: I erroneously assumed that Andree Seu is male. I have corrected the pronouns here and on an earlier post about her essay.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 4, 2003, at 02:28 PM | 5 comments

    'What if the Koran isn't perfect?'

    "As a Canadian Muslim, Irshad Manji never eats pork, never drinks alcohol and regularly reads the Koran. Otherwise she is Osama bin Laden's worst nightmare," writes Clifford Krauss in the Times. Manji, a "lesbian intellectual with spiky hair and a sharp tongue," says that although every religion has its fundamentalists, "only in Islam is literalism in the mainstream." Her book, The Trouble with Islam, is scheduled for release in the U.S. in a few months.

    ("An Unlikely Promoter of an Islamic Reformation," Clifford Krauss, New York Times 10.4.03, reg req'd)

    Posted by Philocrites, October 4, 2003, at 10:11 AM | 0 comments

    Schwarzenegger for enlightened despot?

    So that's what Arnold Schwarzenegger admired about Adolf Hitler (NY Times, reg req'd):

    In many ways I admired people — It depends for what. I admired Hitler for instance because he came from being a little man with almost no formal education, up to power. And I admire him for being such a good public speaker and for his way of getting to the people and so on. But I didn't admire him for what he did with it. It is very hard to say who I admired and who are my heroes. And I admired basically people who are powerful people, like Kennedy. Who people listen to and just wait until he comes out with telling them what to do. People like that I admire a lot.

    But the print edition of the New York Times this morning includes several paragraphs I can't find on-line, including these passages from the transcripts of the "Pumping Iron" interviews released by the Schwarzenegger campaign:

    Elsewhere in the transcript, Mr. Schwarzenegger said, "We can't live without authority. Because I feel that a certain amount of people who were meant to do this and control, and a large amount, like 95 percent of the people who we have to tell what to do and how to keep order. That is why I am all for it."

    Mr. Schwarzenegger also reflected on the use of power in Germany during the war. "Yes, in Germany they used power and authority but it was used in the wrong way," Mr. Schwarzenegger said. But he added, "I feel if you want to create a strong nation and a strong country you cannot let everybody be an individual, because everybody has his own opinions and you can't just stick together as a strong nation. Then you have to tell people what to do and you can't just let them float away. In Germany there was a lot of unity. The German soldiers were the best, and with the police force and everything."

    Still he said, "It was misused on the power. First, it started having, I mean, getting Germany out of the great recession and having everybody jobs and so on and then it was just misused. And they said, let's take this country, and let's wipe out this country, and let's wipe out whole Europe, and let's get America, and so on. That's bad."

    Asked what system of government he preferred, Mr. Schwarzenegger said, "America," but he continued: 'Except there's only one thing I don't like here and that people go on their own little trips too much. The unity isn't there anymore. And I don't think it's too much the people's fault. I think it's because we don't have a strong leader here."

    Well that clear everything up! We might even have Schwarzenegger's economic plan in its germinal form. Schwarzenegger is running for Strong Man, not governor of a democratic republic.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 4, 2003, at 09:34 AM | 0 comments

    Friday, October 3, 2003

    Losing my religion.

    Richard Hurst sticks mostly to liturgical writing for the Universalist National Memorial Church in Washington, D.C., at his blog, Universalist Sundays, but he also has a sympathetic post on the way rapid changes in a church can disorient "liberals" and "conservatives" alike:

    Every 20 or 30 years or so, a large portion of every UU congregation seems to look around and say ... where has my church gone? What have these interlopers done with my faith and my religious home? . . . These people legitimately feel as if they are losing their church. They actually feel disoriented when at General Assembly our President Sinkford says "let us pray" and addresses his remarks unapologetically to God. They roll their eyes when they read about communion services and healing services, and when we sing "Amazing Grace" at the opening of Plenary Session. As post-modern and liberating and progressive as it all seems to me, as Emersonian as it seems to me to shake off "cold-corpse Unitarianism," they view it as a return to superstition of the past. Their feeling that their church is disappearing before their eyes is real.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 3, 2003, at 10:26 PM | 0 comments

    Betook her own theology.

    What happens when you fill your quiver with verses from the Old and New Testaments and head off to do battle with the modernist-New Age cabal at the Unitarian Universalist "church"? Quoth the brave reporter:

    I betook myself to see the end of the road of the Christian church's trolling for love . . . The preacher was a young lesbian, the sermon an enthusiastic report on the feminist "Omega conference" she'd attended. Its highlights seemed to be the invoking of the Nigerian goddess Oya and a wave across the room from Jane Fonda. Buddha and Alice Walker were given an appreciative nod, but the name "Jesus" (I was paying attention) was absent.

    The writer, astride her high horse, shoots sharp little arrows of scripture and "methinks" himself into a fine frenzy. The other World magazine puts the fun back in fundamentalism! ("'Build Your Own Theology': A look at what happens when a church drifts away from God's love," Andree Seu, World 10.11.03)

    Update 10.14.05: It only took two years for the famously "self-correcting blogosphere" to correct itself, but I stand corrected: Andree Seu is in fact a woman. This post had erroneously used male pronouns for her, but I've now corrected the mistake.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 3, 2003, at 06:32 PM | 2 comments

    UUA Moderator resigns.

    Diane Olson, the elected moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association, has resigned. An election to replace her will take place next June at the General Assembly in Long Beach, California; early details about the process and the UUA Board's transition plan are here.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 3, 2003, at 02:21 PM | 0 comments

    Thursday, October 2, 2003

    Sport as ritual.

    In "The Saving Grace of Sport," John Savant writes:

    It is precisely because of its relative inconsequence that sport allows us such freedom of emotional commitment: should the home team lose, “it’s a shame” (as the song goes)—but the buses still run, the bills get paid, water leaks are repaired, children will phone home at roughly the same anxious intervals, and the body is more or less what it was before. Vicariously, we have risked, we have dared, we have struggled, we have won and lost. Imaginatively, we are authenticated: warriors, generals, strategists, acrobats, contenders, victorious (even fallen) heroes. That master of paradox, Chesterton, might have called this exercise an inconsequence of consequence.

    The essay provides an especially helpful account of what ritual is, and how "sport" is like dramatic tragedy and religious ritual.

    [S]port, unlike tragedy, belongs more to the realm of amusement than artistic or religious ritual. The latter is marked by ambiguity, paradox, and irony—necessarily so, because life itself is replete with such qualities at every turn. We live to die; power is both necessary and corrosive; knowledge is both alluring and perilous; true love approaches fulfillment in loss of self; wisdom seems inseparable from suffering; the spiritual beckons even as the flesh demands; success is often the beginning of the fall; and so on. While it is true that, at the level of action—that is, of melodrama—sport evokes some of these themes, great art, drama, and literature plunge us morally and intellectually into their murkiest and most disturbing depths.

    As for the ritual of sport:

    The formalism of Greek tragedy—its masks, its costumes, its act and scene divisions, its choral commentary, its elevated language—emerged out of religious ritual as conventions setting the tragic “action” both apart from ordinary reality and interpretive of it. Sport is similarly formal. The uniforms and equipment (sometimes even jersey numbers) signify distinctive functions; the playing boundaries, time or period segments, pregame ceremonies; the emergence and adulation of heroes, the distinctive jargon; and, especially, the intensive, focused, and goal-driven “action” with its elements of chance, surprise, excellence of execution, suspense, and resolution: all these conspire to become ritual, to set the game and its players apart from ordinary life even as they somehow satisfy one of its needs.

    ("The Saving Grace of Sport," John Savant, Commonweal 9.26.03; see also "America and the Church of Baseball," Chris T. Hall, San Francisco Chronicle 9.29.03; thanks, Holy Weblog!)

    Posted by Philocrites, October 2, 2003, at 09:38 PM | 0 comments

    Channing vs. Ballou.

    Don't miss Matthew Gatheringwater's comment following up on his excellent post about the seminarians' retreat with Thandeka. This is only an excerpt:

    During most of my first year at Meadville Lombard, whenever I had a theological question, people would say, with an almost Messianic fervor, "Thandeka is writing a book about that." Well, I can't wait to read the book, because I have yet to hear Thandeka recognize the danger inherent in the physiological effects of religion or describe a system of ethics by which this power can be used responsibly.

    All this having been said, however, I must point out that one year of theological school doesn't make me a theologian. Thandeka is an obviously brilliant professor with much to teach. After I read her book, I may find that I have been mistaken but for now, if she means to replay the fight between Ballou and Channing, I'm rooting for Channing.

    Meanwhile, for enterprising Unitarian Universalist seminarians wanting to get a handle on just what is liberal theology, do pick up Gary J. Dorrien's two books, The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion, 1805-1900 and The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, and Modernity, 1900-1950.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 2, 2003, at 05:49 PM | 0 comments

    The Rev. Garrison Keillor?

    It's the fantasy of more than a few Unitarian Universalists — charmed by the knowing Prairie Home Companion jokes about us — that Garrison Keillor would be, could be, should be a UU. Lo and behold, this bit of correspondence on the Prairie Home Companion Post to the Host page:

    Dear Garrison,
    I'm a member of a Unitarian church located in a soybean field a few miles north of Bowling Green, Ohio. Even though we're lay-led, some of the members would like to hire a minister.

    If this radio thing doesn't work out, would you be interested?

    Steve Israel
    Maumee Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation
    Bowling Green, Ohio

    Steve,
    I am honored to be considered, even if you're joking, but I wouldn't fit in. Beneath this cool tolerant exterior beats the heart of an old reactionary and pulpit-pounder and if you ever put me in front of Unitarians with a microphone, I'd be hollering about man's inherent sinfulness and unworthiness and singing "Are You Washed In the Blood". I'd be roaming the aisles, poking people, baying like a dog. It wouldn't be a pretty sight. The radio thing isn't working out, as a matter of fact, and probably in a few weeks I'll be unemployed, but I would be a piss-pour minister. Trust me on this.

    Okay, we'll negotiate: What if we added "Are You Washed in the Blood" to our hymnal? We could asterisk "blood" and suggest that people substitute "bath" as their personal theologies required — you know, like we did by offering "soul" instead of "wretch" in "Amazing Grace"!

    Posted by Philocrites, October 2, 2003, at 05:05 PM | 2 comments

    Wednesday, October 1, 2003

    Wilsongate digest.

    Too busy to follow all the news about the CIA agent scandal simmering in Washington? Romanesko digests it in mini-reviews of the Wilsongate coverage here and here. For people with time on their hands and an abundance of curiosity, Talking Points Memo and Calpundit are providing exceptional coverage.

    Posted by Philocrites, October 1, 2003, at 05:15 PM | 1 comments

    Red Sox theology watch.

    Before a pitch is thrown, long-suffering Sox fans (are they ever described any other way?) have scripted the ultimate October scenario: The Red Sox beat the A's in Round 1, finally overcome the hated Yankees in the ALCS, then beat the longer-suffering Chicago Cubs in the World Series. The Sox have not played the Cubs since 1918, when Babe Ruth and friends bagged Boston's last championship.

    Stephen King has offered that a Sox-Cubs World Series might trigger the apocalypse because it would pit two teams incapable of ultimate victory, but fans in both cities won't have anything to do with negativity this week. All are convinced the long drought is over.

    Whoa. I better get my rapture insurance policy paid up. Go Sox! ("Red Sox ready in Oakland," Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe 10.1.03)

    Posted by Philocrites, October 1, 2003, at 08:39 AM | 2 comments

    White House betrayal.

    From the Boston Globe's lead editorial today:

    The important point is that it is illegal to reveal the identity of undercover intelligence officers, as members of the administration seem to have done. The columnist Robert Novak reported on July 14 that "two senior administration officials" had told him that the wife of former US ambassador Joseph Wilson was an operative of the CIA. The column ran eight days after Wilson had written an op-ed article in The New York Times suggesting that the Bush administration had exaggerated the nuclear threat from Iraq.

    Whether it was intended as payback, or as a warning to others who might question administration policies in public, or had some other motive, the naming of an undercover agent is a reprehensible, dangerous, and disloyal crime. Former President George H. W. Bush said in 1999: "I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious of traitors." Even if the senior Bush was talking about people who give the names of agents directly to enemies, the point is the same: The exposure of one agent threatens intelligence operations everywhere. It is crime against national security.

    ("Betrayal under Bush," editorial, Boston Globe 10.1.03)

    Posted by Philocrites, October 1, 2003, at 08:35 AM | 0 comments

    Wolfe watch.

    From Rich Barlow's review of Alan Wolfe's new book, The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith:

    American culture is the world's teenager, vibrantly exuberant if often crass. It has remade all in its path, homogenizing everything from the food we eat to the TV we watch to foreigners' clothing and movie tastes. No wonder God never had a chance against this juggernaut.

    . . . This most modern of nations has reshaped the most ancient of faiths, from Judaism to Buddhism, says Wolfe; a country of multiple ethnicities, multiple opinions, multiple get-rich-quick schemes, multiple marriages, and, for numerous converts, multiple religions sees God as a celestial Stuart Smalley, a benign figure reassuring believers that they're good enough, they're smart enough, and doggone it, people like them.

    And this:

    There's another part of Wolfe's message that may discomfort secular progressives. If most believers are not bug-eyed fanatics, the liberal intelligentsia nevertheless clings to that outmoded image, and Wolfe addresses them: Believers' "views may be different from yours on abortion or prayer in school, but we expect people in a democracy to have different views on major questions of public policy. As modern Americans with distinctly tolerant sensibilities, you pride yourselves on your willingness to change, yet religious believers, even the most conservative among them, have adopted themselves to modern society far more than you have changed your views about what they are really like. You have made the whole country more sensitive to the inequalities of race and gender. Now it is time to extend the same sympathy to those who are different in the sincerity of their belief."

    ("'Transformation' a thoughtful analysis of US culture's impact on religion," Rich Barlow, Boston Globe 10.1.03)

    Posted by Philocrites, October 1, 2003, at 08:30 AM | 0 comments

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