Philocrites : Scrapbook : August 2006 Archive

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

'Tradition and change': Conservative Judaism is torn

Quoted 08.29.06:

Earlier in this century, the common wisdom was that Orthodox Judaism would die out in America, outmoded and irrelevant. Instead, it's the American Jewish center that's eroding. Conservative Judaism, once the most popular Jewish denomination in the United States, has recently taken second place to the more clearheaded Reform movement. About 33 percent of American Jews affiliate with Conservative Judaism, down from 38 percent 10 years ago. And interestingly, as the Reform movement swells, to a lesser degree, so do the numbers of Orthodox. And as sociologist Samuel Heilman shows in his recent book, Sliding to the Right, the form of Orthodoxy that's on the rise is the more extremist and isolationist sort — the congregations and movements that are deliberately at odds with American norms.

Samantha M. Shapiro, Slate 8.28.06

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Stained-glass ceiling limits ordained women's options

Quoted 08.27.06:

Whether they come from theologically liberal denominations or conservative ones, black churches or white, women in the clergy still bump against what many call the stained-glass ceiling — longstanding limits, preferences and prejudices within their denominations that keep them from leading bigger congregations and having the opportunity to shape the faith of more people.

Women now make up 51 percent of the students in divinity school. But in the mainline Protestant churches that have been ordaining women for decades, women account for only a small percentage — about 3 percent, according to one survey by a professor at Duke University — of pastors who lead large congregations, those with average Sunday attendance over 350.

Neela Banerjee, New York Times 8.26.06, reg req'd; responses by Christine Robinson, Marilyn Sewell

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Debunking the 9/11 conspiracy theories

Quoted 08.26.06:

Debunking 9/11 MythsTo investigate 16 of the most prevalent claims made by conspiracy theorists, Popular Mechanics assembled a team of nine researchers and reporters who, together with PM editors, consulted more than 70 professionals in fields that form the core content of this magazine, including aviation, engineering and the military.

In the end, we were able to debunk each of these assertions with hard evidence and a healthy dose of common sense. We learned that a few theories are based on something as innocent as a reporting error on that chaotic day. Others are the byproducts of cynical imaginations that aim to inject suspicion and animosity into public debate. Only by confronting such poisonous claims with irrefutable facts can we understand what really happened on a day that is forever seared into world history.

Popular Mechanics 3.05; buy Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts, ed. by David Dunbar and Brad Reagan, from; listen to a Popular Mechanics podcast with the editors of the book (mp3; 8.22.06)

Social change prompts religious change more than most churches acknowledge

Quoted 08.26.06:

Along with the G.I. Bill of Rights' giving many working-class Catholics access to higher education and the professions, the move to suburbia probably did more to break up the highly defined, tightly organized and ethnically rooted Catholic subculture than did the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960's. That reality gets lost in the continuing dustups among Catholics about the council and its aftermath.

Likewise, in the endless debates about the shrinking of mainline Protestant denominations and the growth of evangelical ones, comparative birth rates and population movements may be as significant as theological doctrines or pastoral strategies. You learn that only by reading sociologists, not theologians or church leaders.

The importance of such sociological and economic developments for religious life ought to be obvious; but it is striking how often they are ignored in the theological wrangles that divide religious groups.

Peter Steinfels, New York Times 8.19.06, reg req'd; see also A Driving Force in Jewish Life (Jenna Weissman Joselit, Jewish Daily Forward 8.4.06) and Remembering the Sabbath (Martin E. Marty, Sightings 8.14.06)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Review: 'The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By'

Quoted 08.22.06:

From the evidence he has collected over decades of such study [Dan P. McAdams] concludes that the life stories Americans tell — the unwritten autobiographies we carry about in our heads — reflect both cherished and contested themes in American culture. Whether or not we are descended from folks who arrived with the Puritans or fought the Civil War, our life stories are apt to display narrative strategies that reflect this cultural context. Narrative identity is always culturally informed.

Our life narratives reflect our national legacy because storytelling is a culturally acquired skill: we acquire effective narrative strategies by hearing popular stories and learning how to tell a tale that will engage our listeners. Anyone who has ever had to write a spiritual-journey narrative for an admissions committee or a discernment commission has no doubt felt the exquisite power of audience. That's merely a special instance of a more general, less conscious process.

Catherine M. Wallace, Christian Century 8.8.06; buy The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By by Dan P. McAdams from

Review: 'Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice'

Quoted 08.22.06:

Freedom RidersThe Freedom Riders prevailed against all odds. Their almost unimaginable courage changed the face of the American South. "Within six months of the first Ride," [Raymond] Arsenault writes, "travelers of all races were sitting side by side on buses and trains all across the nation without fear of arrest, the WHITE and COLORED signs that had blighted the walls of Southern bus and train stations for decades were gone, the nation's major civil rights organizations had undergone significant transformations, and the Justice Department had been pushed into a deepening engagement in civil rights matters."

Eugene Winkler, Christian Century 8.8.06; buy Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Raymond Arsenault from

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The divided mind of the religious left

Quoted 08.15.06:

It appears that the more conservative one is religiously, the more one's religious beliefs inform one's political views; conversely, the more liberal one is religiously, the more one regards politics as a distinct sphere of activity. (This contrast is all the more remarkable given that a generation ago it was traditionalist evangelicals who wanted to keep religion out of politics.)

Given this hesitation, the religious left enters the political field with contradictory impulses. To some extent, the left wants to oppose the religious right with its own set of vigorous religious claims. When the right thunders, "God condemns gay marriage," the left itches to retort, "God condemns a system that lowers taxes on the wealthy, cuts aid for the poor and ignores the 45 million people who lack health insurance." . . .

But another element within the religious left is deeply uneasy about bringing religion directly into the political sphere. It doubts that a knock-down political fight about what God wants is good for religion or politics.

David Heim, Christian Century 8.8.06

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Megachurch pastor challenges 'myth' of Christian America

Quoted 08.10.06:

The Myth of a Christian NationIn his six sermons, [the Rev. Gregory A.] Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek "power over" others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have "power under" others — "winning people's hearts" by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

"America wasn't founded as a theocracy," he said. "America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn't bloody and barbaric. That's why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.

"I am sorry to tell you," he continued, "that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ."

Laurie Goodstein, New York Times 7.30.06, reg req'd; buy The Myth of a Christian Nation by Gregory A. Boyd from

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Liberal and conservative tendencies both deeply embedded in the Church

Quoted 08.09.06:

If there is a single question that underlies what we might term the "liberal" tendency within the Church, it would be "Is the Gospel being heard?" Are we surrounding the message of Jesus with so many human traditions and prohibitions that it is no longer intelligible in the culture in which we live? . . .

If there is a single question that underlies what we might term the "conservative" tendency within the Church, it would be "Is the Gospel being heard? Is the faith that is being preached the faith of the Apostles? . . .

So while I can imagine a day when we will cease using the terms "liberal" and "conservative" to describe these two tendencies, I think the tendencies themselves are a permanent — and necessary — part of ecclesial life. As both a community and as individuals, we need to be skilled in asking both questions.

J. Peter Nixon, dotCommonweal 7.31.06