Ever Old, Ever New: The Call for Peace

Latin Patriarch calls for ‘genuine, long-lasting peace’

Latin Patriarch calls for ‘genuine, long-lasting peace’

By JONAH MANDEL (from the “Jerusalem Post”)

With Christmas and the year 2011 around the corner, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem relayed his seasonal wishes to the public on Tuesday….

Speaking to the press in the capital’s Old City, His Beatitude Fouad Twal thanked the pope for convening the recent Synod of Middle Eastern Bishops, which “condemned violence, religious fundamentalism, anti-Semitism, anti-Judaism, anti-Christianity and Islamophobia, and called on religions to assume their responsibilities in promoting dialogue among cultures and civilizations in our region and in the entire world.”

Let the people say, “Amen.”

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Begging the Question

“Begging the question” means assuming as true that which is being questioned. It’s a way to avoid potentially uncomfortable, or even crisis-producing, learning and reflection. Fundamentalisms– be they religious OR scientific OR political– beg questions. They assert as true, that which is being questioned.

In “What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs”, Ken Ham neatly begs the question of “What counts as ‘really happening?'” by assuming that any account of what “really happens” is a literal, materialistic account. This leads him to read Genesis backwards, projecting the modern fascination with literalism and materialism onto a text that doesn’t share the same assumptions about what counts as “real:”

According to the Bible: Dinosaurs first existed around 6,000 years ago. God made the dinosaurs, along with the other land animals, on Day 6 of the Creation Week (Genesis 1:20–25, 31). Adam and Eve were also made on Day 6—so dinosaurs lived at the same time as people, not separated by eons of time.

via What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs? – Answers in Genesis.

Dinosaurs: from the "Answers in Genesis" website

The mistake of this fundamentalism is, that in its haste to achieve (a false) certainty, it assumes as true that which is up for question: namely, Is what “really happens” in the world only that which can be accounted for literally?

The Atheism of Fundamentalism

Christian fundamentalisms like Answers in Genesis are at root atheistic because they reduce all discourse– all ways of speaking and knowing– to the scientific. Instead of approaching the world with God as the location of all coherence, they approach the world with the particular way that Western, post-Enlightenment humans understand the physical world– science– as the location of all coherence. God is then forced to fit into that schema: the Creation story in Genesis has to be “scientific,” in order to be true.

The first move out of this impoverished misapprehension is to recognize multiple ways of making meaning. The way the words of a poem “mean” something, for example, is different than the way the words of your owner’s manual for the microwave oven “mean” something– and the way the words of your marriage vow (“I do”) “mean” something, is even different still. It’s a mistake to read an instruction manual as poetry; it’s a mistake to read poetry as a promise; and it’s a mistake to read Genesis as science.

God is surely no worse off for that– and we’re better off, because we can then find a faith for the twenty-first century, that is intellectually honest.

The Disintegration of the Modern World, American-Style

There’s too much to learn about the disintegration of Western culture simply to ridicule the worldview behind the new Noah’s Ark Theme Park in Kentucky, and the “Answers in Genesis” group behind it. (I mean “disintegration” not in its general meaning of “disappearing into little bits” or “dissolving,” but in its more specific meaning of “not being whole; split; fractured.”) There’s too much to learn about the world we live in, simply to dismiss these people as crackpots: like you and me, they’re trying to make meaning in a world where meanings are elusive. That doesn’t mean we have to accept nonsense: it just means we can learn something about ourselves and our time, by shining the searching, sympathetic light of God-given reason on this fundamentalist worldview.  The following is from Howard Friedman’s “Religion Clause,” which you can track back for more on this story:

Kentucky Gives Tax Incentives To New Noah’s Ark Theme Park

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear announced yesterday that, subject to approval by the state Tourism Development Finance Authority, the state will grant tax incentives that could total more than $37 million to developers of a new theme park, Ark Encounter. The park’s centerpiece will be a 500 foot long replica of Noah’s Ark, and will also feature an ancient walled city, a petting zoo, live animal shows featuring giraffes and elephants and a replica of the biblical Tower of Babel. The day-to-day operation of the park will be handled by Answers in Genesis, the group that operates the successful Creation Museum in northern Kentucky.

Mike Zorvath, co-founder of Answers in Genesis ministry, says the mission of the new park is to dispel doubts that Noah could have fit two animals of every kind on his ark. The Lexington KY Leader-Herald reports that the Governor at a news conference yesterday rejected church-state concerns about the state subsidies, saying that the law does not allow the state to discriminate against a non-profit business on the basis of subject matter.

via Religion Clause.

Crucial issues regarding how we know what we know, are raised by “Answers in Genesis” and their ideological relatives. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a deep breath and read about what really happened to the dinosaurs. I will be trying to clear a path through this epistemological underbrush in the days ahead.

An Adult Conversation

Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of President Obama's deficit commission, hope their final report will start an 'adult conversation' about the national debt. But members of Congress might have too much to lose politically to back the report.

The final report from the debt commission is out. (Previous posts on the debt commission here, here, and here.)

Marks of maturity (requirements for an “adult conversation”) include the ability to defer short-term gratification in exchange for greater rewards in the long-term; and the related ability to make sacrifices and give of oneself, for the benefit of others. (Healthy parenting would be a prime example of this kind of sacrifice, where we give up certain things for ourselves in order to meet the needs of our children.)

I don’t think our political life can support or sustain the “adult conversation” that Simpson and Bowles are hoping for.

If that’s true, and if projections of fiscal ruin are true, then to avert disaster, leadership on this question (and by “leadership” in this context I mean both the ability to support and sustain an “adult conversation,” and the will to take appropriate action) will need to come from somewhere other than the political arena.

via Why Obama’s latest bid to control national debt might not change anything – CSMonitor.com.