Tuesday, December 11, 2007
The man who shot up a training center for missionaries and a church in suburban Denver, killing four people and wounding a number of others, has been identified:
A law enforcement official says the deadly rampages at a megachurch and a missionary training school were believed to have been carried out by the same person—Matthew Murray, a 24-year-old suburban Denver man who "hated Christians."
It is perhaps worth noting that the toll in Sunday's shootings exceeded the combined total in all "hate crimes" against Muslims in the six years since September 11.
The heroine who stopped the anti-Christian was from Sioux Falls.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Macartney, J. (2007). The book they used to burn now fires new revolution of faith in China. Times Online. December 8, 2007. Available online: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article3019026.ece.
Amity Printing, which has a monopoly on legal printing of the Bible in China, is expanding its facilities to keep up with increased purchases:
Demand for the Bible is soaring in China, at a time when meteoric economic growth is testing the country’s allegiance to Communist doctrine. Today the 50 millionth Bible will roll off the presses of China’s only authorised publisher, Amity Printing, amid public fanfare and celebration.
In the past, foreign visitors were discouraged from bringing Bibles into the country in case they received some heavy-handed treatment from zealous Customs officials.
Such is the demand in China for Bibles that Amity Printing can scarcely keep pace. Early next year it will move into a new, much larger factory on the edge of the eastern city of Nanjing to become the world’s single-biggest producer of Bibles.
Most Bibles are for the internal domestic marketing, and are printed both in Chinese characters and minority languages. The hottest selling bibles are small-print, and thus target young adults
New Zealander Peter Dean, of the United Bible Societies, bustles between the humming state-of-the-art presses. Mr Dean, who has been in China at Amity since 1991, said: “This platform has been built as a blessing to the nation. It will print Bibles for China for as long as it takes to do it.” Authorities at the officially approved Protestant and Catholic churches put the size of China’s Christian population at about 30 million. But that does not include the tens of millions more who worship in private at underground churches loyal to the Vatican or to various Protestant churches.
Of the 50 million Bibles Amity has printed, 41 million were for the faithful in Chinese and eight minority languages. The rest have been for export to Russia and Africa. Sales surged from 505,000 in 1988 to a high of 6.5 million in 2005. Output last year was 3.5 million and is expected to rise in 2007.
One of Mr Dean’s bestsellers is a pocket Bible, a version not suitable for the older generation to read and which may indicate a rapid expansion in the number of new, younger believers. He cited a surge in demand during the Sars crisis in 2003, but refrained from commenting. The enterprise has clearly flourished through its discretion and careful adherence to China’s laws that prohibit evangelizing.
Religious freedom is still lacking in China, and the rest of the article describes some of the obstacles Christians face in the country. Yet a paragrpah later in the article provides hope for the faith, too:
Then they are finding that they need to satisfy their spiritual needs, to look for happiness for the soul. In addition, they are seeing a breakdown in the moral order as money takes over. Thus, more and more people are turning to Christianity.”
Christianity is old in China -- one of the patriarchs of the Assyrian Church of the East (Mar Yaballaha III) was even a Beijinger. Yet for the first time, Chinese christians can easily communicate with the rest of the faith, and the Chinese people are no longer forced between emperor worship and local superstitions.
If the 21st century becomes a Christian Century, a big part of the reason why will be because of China.
Monday, July 23, 2007
I read The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Become the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries based on the recommendations from blog friends. I am not disappointed. Rise is an excellent sociological history of the first Christian centuries, beginning roughly with the martyrdoms of James, Paul, and Peter and ending with the conversion of the Emperor Constantine. A must read for those interested in rising religious movements in general, Stark's brilliant application of "rational choice" economics to the field of religion is a must-read.
Rodney Stark is a rational-choice sociologist, who views belonging as a good that people attempt to maximize. Belonging-providers can either be public or private. Examples of private providers are magicians, wizards, heelers, and pagan cults, while public providers tend to demand exclusive committment and accept some degree of alienation from society. Most of Rise of Christianity is an extremely readible exploration of this delving into many aspects of city life.
I first heard of The Rise of Christianity after a commentator noted its similarity with my blog series, Jesusism-Paulism. Because this has been mentioned before, I will now address how his 1997 book relates to 2000s series.The similar is clear, and the posts that overlap most with Stark's book (in particular, "Love Your Enemy As You Would Have Him Love You," "Caiaphas and Diocletian Did Know Better," and "the Fall of Rome") clearly share a similar orientation, though Stark's methods and focus are different. As Rise ends with Constantine, the claims of my last two posts, "The People of the Book" and "Embrace and Extend," are not addressed at all. Finally, while both Dr. Stark and I view women as vital to the success of Christianity, my focus on harmonious deconfliction contrasts with his more feminist interpretation.
The Rise of Christianity is an excellent book. Strongly recommended.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
As a Catholic, I view the Protestant churches as essentially loyalty militias, forces that by-and-large assist the Christian correlation-of-forces but nonetheless escape any accountability from the earthly hierarchy. Thus, the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) is to the Holy See as the Badr Brigades are to the Republic of Iraq.
However, in this model there should be another category -- death squads -- of those who might be classified as loyalty militia except that the blowback from them is roughly as bad as the good they do. Death squads differ from other actors in that they are ideologically motivated and focus on the same concepts as the larger insurgency.
The most visible Christian ideological death squad is Islam, for obvious reasons. However, evangelical secularism or Ultracavlisnism, may form a Christian intellectual death-squad as well. Unqualified Reservations has more, courtesy of gnxp:
The "ultracalvinist hypothesis" is the proposition that the present-day belief system commonly called "progressive," "multiculturalist," "universalist," "liberal," "politically correct," etc, is actually best considered as a sect of Christianity.
Specifically, ultracalvinism (which I have also described here and here) is the primary surviving descendant of the American mainline Protestant tradition, which has been the dominant belief system of the United States since its founding. It should be no surprise that it continues in this role, or that since the US's victory in the last planetary war it has spread worldwide.
In fact, they are so unusual that most people don't see ultracalvinism as Christian at all. For example, on the theological side, ultracalvinism is best known as Unitarian Universalism. (It's an interesting exercise to try to find any conflicts between UUism and "political correctness.") Ultracalvinists are perfectly free to be atheists, or believe in any God or gods - as long as they don't adhere to any revealed tradition, which would make them "fundamentalists." In general, ultracalvinists oppose revelation and consider their beliefs to be pure products of reason. And perhaps they are right in this - but I feel the claim should at least be investigated.
And when we look at the real-world beliefs of ultracalvinists, we see that ultracalvinism is anything but content-free. By my count, the ultracalvinist creed has four main points:
First, ultracalvinists believe in the universal brotherhood of man. As an Ideal (an undefined universal) this might be called Equality. ("All men and women are born equal.") If we wanted to attach an "ism" to this, we could call it fraternalism.
Second, ultracalvinists believe in the futility of violence. The corresponding ideal is of course Peace. ("Violence only causes more violence.") This is well-known as pacifism.
Third, ultracalvinists believe in the fair distribution of goods. The ideal is Social Justice, which is a fine name as long as we remember that it has nothing to do with justice in the dictionary sense of the word, that is, the accurate application of the law. ("From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.") To avoid hot-button words, we will ride on a name and call this belief Rawlsianism.
Fourth, ultracalvinists believe in the managed society. The ideal is Community, and a community by definition is led by benevolent experts, or public servants. ("Public servants should be professional and socially responsible.") After their counterparts east of the Himalaya, we can call this belief mandarism.
In fact, the four points are very common and easily recognizable tenets of Protestant Christianity, specifically in its Calvinist or Puritan strain. You can find them all over the place in the New Testament, and any subject of Oliver Cromwell's saintly republic would have recognized them instantly. Rawlsianism is definitely the last of the four to develop, but even it is very common in the 17th century, when its adherents were known as Diggers - a name that, not surprisingly, was later reused. Ultracalvinism fits quite neatly in the English Dissenter and low church tradition. (Note the blatant POV of the latter page, with loaded words like "reform," a good indication that Wikipedians incline to ultracalvinism.)
Ultracalvinism's camouflage mechanism is easy to understand. If you are an ultracalvinist, you must dispute the claim that the four points are actually Christian, because you believe in them, and you believe they are justified by reason rather than faith. Therefore they are universal and no one can doubt them, whether Christian, Muslim or Jew.
What are the adaptive advantages of crypto-Christianity? Why did those Unitarians, or even "scientific socialists," who downplayed their Christian roots, outcompete their peers?
Well, I think it's pretty obvious, really. The combination of electoral democracy and "separation of church and state" is an almost perfect recipe for crypto-Christianity.
As I've said before, separation of church and state is a narrow-spectrum antibiotic. What you really need is separation of information and security. If you have a rule that says the state cannot be taken over by a church, a constant danger in any democracy for obvious reasons, the obvious mutation to circumvent this defense is for the church to find some plausible way of denying that it's a church. Dropping theology is a no-brainer. Game over, you lose, and it serves you right for vaccinating against a nonfunctional surface protein.
Several intellegent and well spoken atheists, including Adam of The Metropolis Times, frequent this blog. I would love to hear their opinion
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
I am a big fan of Mark Shea. I read his blog regularly, and yesterday I finished listening to every episode of his podcast, Rock Solid. I'm also proud to say that he reads tdaxp. A bit ago we talked about my analysis of early Christianity as a political movement, and we agreed that because grace perfects nature, the rise of Christianity is an appropriate subject for scientific study.
However, Mark is less enthusiastic about my recent post on Mike Nifong, the disbarred prosecutor who knowingly, falsely accused three youths of rape. He writes:
Blog Entries Like This Are Why I am *So* Glad We Do Not Live in a Pure Democracy
The blogosphere is a daily reminder of the sinister moody mercurial power of the bloodthirsty mob.
Specifically, Mark objects to my contention that, had the laws allowed, Mike Nifong should be executed by the State of North Carolina. Or more generally, what is the appropriate Catholic view of the death penalty?
The answer: Catholics should support the use of the death penalty to the extent that it reduces crime. Christians not only may, but must, advocate the use of lethal punishment by the State.
Many Christians are bothered by the State's penal apparatus. We pray to Our Father in Heaven that He "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who tresspass against us." And certainly we should forgive: not just those who ask for it, and not just those who deserve it, but especially forgive those who do not seek and do not deserve forgiveness.
This shouldn't keep the State from killing them.
It is prideful to confuse yourself with the State, but many Christians do just that when they confuse individual forgiveness with State clemency. We cause no harm when we forgive, aside from the odd Jonah perturbed by grace. But the State causes great harm when it releases criminals: it sacrifices the health, safety, and lives of innocents to criminals.
A prideful Christian, who forces the State to release a criminal because he has confused himself and the State, is condemning an innocent and releasing a criminal out of a misplaced feeling of self-righteousness. The prideful Christian who sacrifices the innocent out of concern for the guilty answers Pilate's question, "Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" the same way the question was answered two thousand years ago.
This is why the Bible (Romans 13:1-7) supports capital punishment.
Now that capital punishment is supported, the next question is: should Mike Nifong be executed, if the laws would allow such a thing? The answer is yes. Corrupt officials are a particularly odious form of criminal, because they use the machinery and offices of the State to do their evil. Nifong attempted to condemn innocent youths into decades of captivity, rape, and misery, bankrupt their family, and inflame divisions in the community, and while ordering the police to do his bidding.
If the laws would allow Mike Nifong to be executed, Christians must ask themselves: Do we prefer to condemn guilty men or innocent men? Are we as grand as the State?
Sin (Guilty, Yes) and virtue (Innocent, No) give different answers to this question.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Races are large groups, the members of whom are more closely related to each other than to outsiders. Races can be thought of as large-scale families. While race mixing can and does occur, the historical norm appears to have been for in-breeding within races. (It is through this inbreeding that genetic drift can ultimately lead to trouble.) Where there has been race-mixing in the past, it tends to be the males of one race interbreeding with females of another. Thus the United States has a "black" population that tends to be maternally African but often with distantly British paternity, and Mexico has a "mestizo" population that tends to be maternally American Indian and Iberan.
Some doubt the factual reality of race. That is, some claim that racial differences are only skin deep, and that the mere fact that one person has darker or whiter skin (facial features, bone structure, enzyme collection, etc) says nothing about ultimate ancestry. These skeptics would say that only a very small number of traits very among human groups in the first place, and that if one's ancestral home is nearer the equator, then it makes sense that one's ancestors evolved darker skin to avoid the sun's harmful rays.
A problem exists if we claim that race only effects skin: race as a variable explains variation. Fatality rates from a host of diseases, intelligence, and other factors are better predicted if we take race into account than if we don't. If race is not real below the skin, that means something besides biology is causing this variation. The race-skeptics answer that race is "socially constructed," that society has decided that people should be fit into this-or-that racial category based on skin color. In other words, if we would ignore race, it would go away.
However, there is another way that race can be "socially constructed": perhaps culture can cause genetic evolution. Indeed, it appears this has happened. gnxp notes an article from the Proceeds of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) entitled " Linguistic tone is related to the population frequency of the adaptive haplogroups of two brain size genes, ASPM and Microcephalin." The article notes how the long-standing view that humans are language-neutral -- an infant from any population can learn any language equally well -- appears to be false. Children whose parents come from populations that historically have a tonal language (Latvian, Chinese, etc). have a different sort of gene than children whose parents come from a tone-neutral language (English, Spanish, etc)...
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Razib over at Gene Expression pens an encyclopedic review of Philip Jenkins' God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis. Razib is a scienceophile atheist and rightist -- an admirer equally of Nicholas Wade and John Derbyshire. The review is in some ways a repudiation of his earlier, alarmist writings on the rise of Islam in Europe. After pointing out interesting facts, such as the cycle of reconversions in European history...
The Mizo peoples of northeast India were originally converted to Christianity by Welsh Protestant nonconformists, but with the decline of fidelity to organized Christianity in Britain they have now sent missionaries back to Wales (in some ways one might contend this is an expanded recapitulation of the evangelization of Anglo-Saxon Britain from Ireland during the late 6th and early 7th century, as the Irish themselves were converted to Christianity by the Romano-British).
He spends most of the post on two highly visible minorities: Europe's secular elite and Europe's Islamist underclass. Much has been written about the microstates before, so a word on the elite and their governments:
Though American elites are often accused of being "out of touch," Jenkins argues that European elites exhibit a far greater distance from their "hinterlands" in terms of outlook and world-view (he suggests that the small size and low number of cultural capitals results in a far greater centralization in terms of elite socialization). Dutch elites in the immigrant filled cities no doubt find it easy to forget that their nation is host to a "Bible Belt" of Calvinist believers. Nations as disparate as Norway, France and Scotland have regions of elevated Christianity commitment. But these concentrations of organized Christianity highlight the second trend: the reemergence of the ancient classical pattern where Christianity is simply a major cult within a religiously diverse landscape.
A reminder of Europe's anti-Christian past is also useful, for putting the most recent Dawkins atheist-tirade into perspective:
in 1798 the Pope was held captive as anti-Christian revolution swept Europe. Many savants of the age predicted the death of Christianity and the ancien regime. Despite the restoration after the fall of Napoleon, the ancien regime did fall and transform into the modern era of nation-states, but Christianity did not die. It is also important to remember the power of anti-clericalism throughout much of the 19th and early 20th century, and the allure and appeal of radical politics for the European working classes. In 1881 Italian nationalists attempted to seize the body of Pius IX and throw it into the Tiber river. In France the Catholicism and laicism have been at tension for two centuries.
Read the whole review.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Barnett ponders Brave New War...
One thing Robb's book made me realize: Core states tend to be bottom-heavy (more government below and thinner on top--e.g., the U.S. police structure), whereas Gap states tend to be top-heavy (and capital-centric to boot). The former structure disincentives the insurgent (the locals have vibrant local government), the latter is far more vulnerable to their penetration and supplanting.
Federalism (states rights, whatever you call ti)is an example of political defense-in-depth. By making it possible for insurgencies to win local vicotires, it discourages them from attacking the entire system. Further, the fact that the insurgents might actually win forces the local political elite to actually care about defeating them. Otherwise, regional governors will think that "I will leave, then this place will be someone else's problem."
Two fate of variations of Christianity, early Christianity as preached by Jesus and Paul and the Ku Klux Klan as devised by Nathan Bedford Forrest, show this well. The Christians were attacked by a centralized system where no limited victory was possible. However, their local opponents were only lukewarm in their opposition. This attitude went back to the Crucifixion, with both Governor Pilate and King Herod generally unconcerned about Jesus's fate. The centralized nature of the Roman state meant that Christians would be persecuted until they took over the whole country. So they were persecuted for a long time. And then they took over the whole country.
The United States government, however, abandoned its war against the Klan after about a decade. While militarily defeated, the political wing of the Ku Klux Klan (in the form of local Democratic Parties) soon gained power across the South and were able to implement their policies. Then the violence against the State stopped. This was unfortuante for the victims involved. However, while the centralized Roman persecution of Christians meant that time was on the side of the insurgents (just wait long enough and some mircale will happen), the decentralized American system meant that time was against the insurgents (the nothern states merely waited until they were politically powerful to reinvade with minimal bloodshed).
Read the rest of Tom's thoughts on his blog.
Friday, April 13, 2007
Phoicon has joined the team over at Amendment Nine, and his second post takes a shot at this humble blog:
Dan, the author of the blog TDAXP, was a favorite of Federalist X's. I have no idea why. I've visited Dan's blog often. The vast majority of what he has to say is completely incomprehensible, though there is a good deal of the Catholic guilt thrown in so it isn't all incomprehensible to me I suppose.
and, more interestingly, at my Easter message
Phoicon's critique is direct, and well thought out:
The drawing is in fact a mockery of Christ. It is laughing in the face of the resurrection. The artist undoubtedly was amused, like most easterners so cynically are, at the notion that the dead were raised. The Buddha-like hand gestures again show disdain for Christianity and certainly for the Orthodox faith. The whole thing is an abomination. One must wonder whether Dan posted the picture as an insult to Christians intentionally or just naively?
Phicon seems to prefer a more Greek form of iconography:
Here is no faceless godhead, but a man. A strong man victoriously lifting the dead from their tombs. He has conqured death and is unblemished. Everyone is beneath him as he lefts the dead from their eternal slumber. This is Jesus, son of Man, winning the fight.
Again, Phoicon chose is thoughts well. He is correct in his condemnation of the Byzantine artwork. But, I think, wrong in his negative criticism...
Monday, April 09, 2007
Wright, R. 2007. An easter sermon. New York Times. April 7, 2007. Available online: http://select.nytimes.com/gst/tsc.html?URI=http://select.nytimes.com/2007/04/07/opinion/07wright.html&OQ=_rQ3D1Q26pagewantedQ3Dprint&OP=62b582bfQ2FQ26Q24XnQ26)d.00)Q26Q23Q5EQ5EQ2BQ26Q5EYQ26Q5EQ2BQ2603jHj0HQ26Q5EQ2BQ24.jNQ7B)wQ7B)Q5Dt.
Eddie of Hidden Unities (who is currently cut off from the blogosphere because of naval censorship) kindly sent me an article by Robert Wright entitled "An Easter Sermon." The article is a perfect example of the phony devotionalism that is currently in vogue on the left.
Jesus knew viral marketing.
In the Gospel of Mark, the disciple John complains that nondisciples are selling bootlegged copies of Jesus’ miraculous powers. “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
Jesus tells John to quit obsessing about the intellectual property and to focus on getting the brand out. “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.” Jesus adds, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
Fast-forward two millennia. Weeks after 9/11, George Bush says roughly the opposite. His famous “You’re either with us or against us” means that those who don’t follow his lead will be considered enemies. The rest is history. Today, Jesus has more than a billion devoted followers. Mr. Bush has ... well, fewer than that.
One gets the feeling that if Mr. Wright was an antisemite he would randomly open the Torah, by chance flip to Numbers, and proceed to criticize the Judaism as nothing more than a religion of accountancy.
The accusation of Bush saying "roughly the opposite" is Jesus is aggrevating because Bush said nearly the same thing as Jesus. For instance:
"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. *Matthew 12:30-322
Certainly, one may criticize Bush for using rhetoric intended to condemn "blasphemy against the spirit" to instead condemn states that sponsor terrorism. But to say that Bush uses antibiblical rhetoric is bizarre -- it misses the entire point of Bush's rhetorical style and displays a too-arrogant-to-even-google view of editorial journalism.
I mentioned to Eddie upon reading this that "saying 'Robert Wright is a pharisee fraud' would be too kind. The pharisees at least knew the text of the scriptures." Certainly that's true.
More is below the fold...