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From the Kansas City Star newpaper, link courtesy of Religion Headlines: "A religious cult leader convicted of killing a family of five from Independence in 1989 will be executed Oct. 10, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Jeffrey Lundgren, 56, was convicted of shooting to death a man, his wife and three daughters. The family had moved from Missouri in 1987 to follow Lundgren’s teachings. He referred to the killings as “pruning the vineyard.”

The case riveted the Kansas City area for months, and memories remain strong with many people today.

Lundgren formed a religious cult after he was dismissed in 1987 as a lay minister of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, today known as the Community of Christ." Read entire article.

More below.

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Bill McClay's absolutely brilliant recent essay for First Things is a must read (linked here).

McClay deals a powerful blow to the facile convention of portraying our current philosophical and political division over life issues as a contest between "right to life" partisans and "culture of death" proponents.

McClay's position: advocates of "[a]bortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide [and] the cannibalization of not reflect a desire to promote death...." Specifically, "biotechnological enthusiasts are nothing if not partisans of life, infinitely extensible." The real danger, McClay argues, is that they reflect the common "overwhelming desire of the sovereign individual will to have its way, and to order and manufacture a world it can live in without let or hindrance;" this is "the value that trumps all others." These advocates don't value or promote death; they "trivialize death...because [they reflect a culture that] fails to understand what life is."

McClay also offers an incredibly articulate and concise rationale for valuing the natural and "organic interdependency" of humanity over the culture of individual rights. Consider this sample: "An ailing elderly parent has the right not to be killed, but he does not have the right to be loved. Yet it is one of the central tasks of our humanity that we care lovingly for him and not merely be instructed by the law that we must resist killing him." McClay asserts that "rights-talk" clouds the issue of responsibility.

McClay does not cite the Sermon on the Mount, but, in essence, seeks to release us from the law of entitlement at the same time preaching a much more binding and encompassing Higher Law of duty, interconnectedness and overarching reciprocity.

If you can only read one thing today, I implore you to read this essay in its entirety.

(Thanks to "Tocqueville" for making sure this essay did not slip by me.)
Some Thoughts on Same-Sex Practice from Scripture

One of the issues roiling mainline Christianity in the United States is same-sex practice: should it be condemned, tolerated, celebrated? Should those who participate in such practice be disciplined, tolerated, ordained to leadership office? Even my own denomination, the Reformed Church in America (RCA), after disciplining a prominent minister and seminary president for performing a same-sex “wedding” ceremony, voted to conduct a three-year study of the issue.

I wish to offer a few thoughts on same-sex practice from my engagement with Scripture. Traditionally the Bible has been regarded as authoritative by Christianity; even today most mainline denominations have some sort of statement recognizing Biblical authority. So, some thoughts on same-sex practice. (I am refraining from using the terms “homosexual” and “lesbian” because the Bible does not operate from modern psychological assumptions; rather than speaking of homosexuality, it speaks of same-sex sex.) All biblical quotations are from the NRSV translation.

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A few more words of analysis in re my previous post on the Cost of Free Speech.

Ranking the transgressions in discourse:

1. Absolute Worst: Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic tirade. Mel Gibson has the right to assert "Jewish conspiracy" (j'accuse), but he seems at least a century removed and an ocean away from a culture receptive to that line of argument. In fact, his accusations are so apart from any contemporary conversation, he, as I argued previously, faces less severe consequences than George Allen and Andy Young (the other two examples I explored).

2. Pretty Bad: George Allen's verbal engagement with S.R. Sidarth, a twenty-year-old volunteer for Allen's opponent for governor, was not so damning in content. Allen could have called Sidarth "lacaca" or "pacaca" or "zacaca," and the actual meaning (or meaninglessness) of the phrase would have been the same.

The incident itself was much more telling. Allen allowed himself to be drawn into an embarrassing exchange with an expendable representative (a pawn) of the opposition. In distance races, sometimes an opposing team will send out a "rabbit," which is a runner who has no chance of winning the race but who sets a blistering pace in hopes that the other team will run with the decoy and burn themselves out. Senator Allen chased the rabbit. Even if he had made Sidarth look foolish, there was no advantage in it for him.

Is there a double-standard for Republican politicians? Of course. But that is beside the point. Do Republican candidates understand these unique rules of engagement crafted especially for them? They should, if they are going to win. George Allen showed us something: poor political judgment and a lack of discipline. And he is likely to do it again at a more critical moment. Remember the old courtship rule: if the person you are dating reveals who they are, believe them! Allen is out.

3. Also pretty bad: the "niggardly" incident Tocqueville introduced into the conversation (see comments). Again the content is not so damning (not damning at all), but the lack of awareness speaks volumes about one's social IQ. Also, in re my conjecture, it is extremely difficult to reconcile an intellect large enough to encompass such a vocabulary with the lack of foresight as to how the adjective "niggardly" would be received in certain circles.

If Pamela Anderson ever becomes the honorary president of PETA, let's refrain from calling her the "titular" leader of that organization.

4. Impolitic but more sad than outrageous: Young and his comments singling out Jews, Koreans and Arabs. As I said before, it will be very difficult to disprove Young's assertions historically. Of course, it is illuminating that Young chose not to stand and fight when caught and confronted with his violation of the new code of civility. He backed up immediately. Also, it seems noteworthy that this story, of the four mentioned, made, by far, the least-felt impact on society and the news cycle. Did Young's race inoculate him to a degree from a major cause celebre?
I don't recall it making much of a splash here in the US when a month ago a ranking Anglican bishop called environmentalism a moral issue, and pronounced holiday flying a sin. Read Article. But, his comments deserve wider attention, I think.

As a Christian I understand that I have a responsibility to consider the consequences of my actions. Prudence traditionally has been regarded as a Christian virtue. I must ask myself, is this action itself sinful, and, will this action have evil consequences. [For example, urinating on an empty sidewalk at midnight is probably not a sin, but, one consequence of that action may be to endanger the health of those who may walk barefoot, an evil, so I don't urinate on public sidewalks even if no one is around.] If I know that certain consequences of my action will be evil, then I must ask myself if I am under necessity to perfom the action (whether sinful in itself or not). [An example of necessary evil: giving vaccinations will result in harm to a very small fraction of those vaccinated, an evil, but not vaccinating will result in larger numbers suffering harm, a greater evil, so I continue my action of vaccination as a necessary evil.]

I am not sure that flying, in and of itself is a sin, and perhaps the bishop does not either since he seemed to specify holiday flying. However, I think he is correct in that I must ask myself what the consequences are of my flying. One of those consequences will be the addition of carbon molecules to the atmosphere, and consumption of petroleum fuel. I think both of those are evil. Result, as a Christian I probably should not fly unless I must. Driving an automobile probably has a similar logic.

Some related posts. Here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here
A few observations on three recent episodes of offensive speech:

Mel Gibson's drunken anti-Semitic ravings from a few weeks ago belie his myriad denials of anti-Semitism over the years.

The cost: very little for Mel Gibson. He is not a studio contract player subject to powerful bosses. Mel Gibson is Louis B. Mayer. He is the boss. He is a power player in Hollywood; that is, he has demonstrated the ability to make pictures that make big money. Power in Hollywood is always popular. Even though Hollywood remains disproportionately Jewish demographically, the community has limited recourse in expressing its disapproval of Gibson.

A thought for another day: most Americans don't really understand anti-Semitism anymore. They are not merely decreasingly anti-Semitic, they are increasingly unaware of Judaism as a separate religious or ethnic category. Most Americans watched nine years of Seinfeld without recognizing it as "Jewish" comedy. Anti-Jewish sentiment is more and more something of a mystery to Middle America and, therefore, in this case, hard to digest and easy to forget.

George Allen and "Macaca" (Washington Post story).

I believe the Senator when he pleads ignorance as to the meaning of "macaca" (I did not know what it meant either), but such casualness in thinking and speaking is not a habit worthy of an American president. Michael Dukakis illustrated the "never wear an army hat and drive around in a tank" rule for presidential candidates. Perhaps Allen now owns the "think before you speak/never use a word in public that you cannot define" political commandment.

The cost: we now know that George Allen is a glib but excruciatingly imprecise speaker. One can presume that Americans have had their fill of that brand of leadership, and his 2008 presidential chances are greatly diminished.

Andrew Young and "Jews,...Koreans and...Arabs" (Washington Post story).

Of the three, this case strikes me as distinct and infinitely more tragic. First of all, if you back off from the generalization that poisons Young's statement, you can defend most of the independent assertions. Historically, businesses operating in African American communities have charged higher prices and higher rates of interest for inferior products. Historically, Jewish Americans at one time, then Asian Americans and now Arab Americans have figured in disproportionate numbers as inner city entrepreneurs. Are there complicated (and not always sinister) reasons for all of this? Of course. In addition to racism and greed, the cost of doing business is higher in depressed areas, which gets passed on to minority consumers. Since that particular slice of the commercial pie is not especially appealing, inner city businesses often attract ambitious people from oppressed classes looking for an on-ramp to the American Dream. Ironically, oppressed Americans find opportunity exploiting even more oppressed Americans.

Andy Young immediately apologized in a Mel Gibson-like fashion: denying that he had ever really entertained such thoughts and, presumably, would commence an inner search to uncover from what undisciplined area of his mind these unacceptable remarks might have emerged. He has promised a more thorough explanation this coming Monday.

The cost: Andy Young loses a cushy and lucrative corporate spokesman gig. In addition to the humiliation of a series of forced public apologies in his future, Young loses a bit of the luster off of an impressive career as civil rights leader and statesman.

The 74-year-old Young offered a serious assertion, which deserves serious consideration. Yet, in the current atmosphere in which blunt speech that causes offense loses all credibility no matter the content, Young will face a harsh punishment.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
This story makes the point that suicide is higher among old white males. This fact is fairly old news, but rarely makes headlines. Interesting to me is the juxtapositon of this article and the news of Bill Clinton turning 60. What connection do I see?

I predict the following: we will see an increase in suicides among the elderly as the Boomers move past 65. No generation in American History has been less inclined to age gracefully. Boomers from their youth have expected the world to cater to them. Boomers do not resign themselves to unalterable facts of nature. Boomers have made a cult out of youthfulness. When arthritis and osteoporosis and circulation problems and functional-problems-that-Viagra-can't-solve become Boomer reality, several will take the only step of control and protest remaining to them and commit suicide. I hope I am wrong, but that is my prediction.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
From Britain, the Anglican Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali, writes a searing critique of British multiculturalism and the harm it has created over there. Most of what he has to say applies here as well. Hat tip Michael Barone.

A sample: "It is clear, therefore, that the multiculturalism beloved of our political and civic bureaucracies has not only failed to deliver peace, but is the partial cause of the present alienation of so many Muslim young people from the society in which they were born, where they have been educated and where they have lived most of their lives. The Cantle Report, in the wake of disturbances in Bradford, pointed out that housing and schools policies that favoured segregation, in the name of cultural integrity and cohesion, have had the unforeseen consequence of alienating the different religious, racial and cultural groups from one another."

Read article
Category: American Culture
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Watching the C-SPAN call-in show last Friday, I was struck by the level of contempt for the Bush administration and government in general. One call from Texas typified the tone of many, insisting that the Bush and Blair governments, desperately in need of a PR victory, manufactured the terror plot and staged bogus arrests. However, if the plot turned out to be true, the Texas caller asserted, the United States merited punishment of this magnitude, at least, for past and continued misdeeds.

Here is a Brit blogger with a similar theme (sent to me by an earnest friend).

Conspiratorial thinking is not new for us. Political opponents of George Washington charged him with a secret plot to surrender the Republic back to Britain. GEORGE WASHINGTON! Some of our coutrymen still believe FDR complicit in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (in order to fulfill his desire for US entry into the world war). If the Republicans were out of power, and a Clinton were in the White House, our black-helicopter brigade would be on red alert about these same issues.

But still...

This persistent belief that our government is lying to us on this scale is an alarming cultural sign post. We have two unappealing possibilities. Dupes like us are fiddling while Rome burns. Or we are quickly approaching a crisis in which a critical mass of Americans no longer possess the requisite faith in government to make self rule practicable.
After any terrorist strike or plot, once more the "Muslim community" goes before the cameras, proclaiming themselves innocent victims of bigotry. yada, yada, yada link

Here's a suggestion to the "Muslim community" in the West. If you really want to convince us you are with the good guys: 1) denounce terrorists with no equivocation, publicly, no buts, no attempts to explain or rationalize, do it in English and in Arabic, buy media time in the old countries denouncing terrorism; 2) don't whine about profiling, instead show your anger at those in your midst who conduct terror in the name of Allah, quit acting like you are always the victims; 3) drive terror supporters from your community, publicly, expell them from mosques, ostracize them, purge them from community organizations; 4) publicly confront those passages from the Quran and Haddith calling for war against unbelievers and explain to the world how you interpret them, same with passages about the dhimmi status of Jews and Christians; 5) have patriotic rallies with American flags, endorse freedom of religion, burn some posters of Osama and company.
"Some years ago William Tenn wrote a science-fiction short story entitled "The Custodian," in which a man, prior to the earth's destruction, gathered only what could fit into a small spaceship from all earth's cultural and artistic treasure. What to choose? Sometimes I have day-dreamed of myself in a similar role. What would I choose to save, what paintings, sculpture, poetry, music, etc. would I choose to represent each area of human artistry?"

Several months ago I wrote this paragraph at the beginning of a post in which I argued that to represent the essence of rock-and-roll I would flip a coin between the Rolling Stones Jumpin Jack Flash and (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction. I then tried to explain the success of the Stones. Link to post here. Hoping to start a series of posts, I challenged Farmer to name the Country song to put into the spaceship. Link to his response. He chose George Jones' He Stopped Loving Her Today.

Well, one thing led to another and to another and none of them led back to this series of questions about material for the spaceship. Till tonight. Below is my choice of the jazz recording to put into the spaceship, the one to represent the essence of jazz. (cont. below)

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Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
I was a huge science fiction fan growing up in the 60s and early 70s. Asimov, Heinlein, Anderson, Clarke, et al not only entertained me, but helped to shape my view of the world. (That is not true today. When science fiction took its turn toward fantasy writing, I did not go with it; I also read one too many dystopian future stories in the 70s.) I not only read stories and novels written in the 60s and 70s, but also devoured sf written in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

One of the things that strikes me in retrospect about the science fiction I read is this fact: of the hundreds and hundreds of imaginary futures I read about in stories and novels written in the 40s and 50s and into the early 60s, very very few imagined a society in which men and women were equals. Not too many imagined a society in which traditional sex roles were no more. These writers anticipated a lot of things, but seem to have been taken by surprise by the women's lib movement of the 60s.

Perhaps a lot of us were. Born in 1956, growing up in a rural area, I do not remember any women ministers then; female doctors were the exception; high school principals and school superintendents seemed to be all men. I think now that I assumed that was the way it would be.

Now consider our society. Lots of changes in 50 years in the role of women. Society is not static; things can change radically in a relatively short period of time.

This realization, that unexpectedly radical change can occur rapidly, is part of what gives some of us concern about redefinitions of marriage.

Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
Years ago Poul Anderson wrote a science-fiction story entitled "The Horn of Time the Hunter." (Great story, check it out.) In the story Anderson has a line of poetry something to the effect (I'm going from memory): he heard the Horn of Time the Hunter, pursuing a quarry that weeps as it runs. I've often thought of this title, and the imagery it creates in the mind.

Many in the West regard time as a hunter to be eluded; perhaps with enough gym time and the right hair coloring we can fool ourselves, and others, into believing we still are young. In the increasingly deperate flight from aging some are willing to do anything to look a bit younger, even make use of death to continue a semblence of younger life. This article tells of clinics that use stem cells harvested from aborted babies to give clients a younger look. (Scroll down the linked page for this part of the article.) Humans, trying to retain the bloom of youth, becoming ghouls.

For my argument against abortion, see this post.
This study (report here) affirms a relationship between sexually themed music and teens having sex. While distinguishing correlation and causation is difficult in the social sciences, this study helps confirm what many of us think: that ours is a culture inimical to raising healthy, resposible, moral children and young people. (On the degradation promoted by MTV see this column by Crouch.) Links from Drudge.

In 1996 Bob Dole responded to Hillary Clinton's slogan of "It Takes a Village" by countering that it took a family. While by "village" Hillary meant a larger more intrusive federal government, Dole's answer was simplistic and wrong. We do not raise children in a vacuum. As a parent I needed churches, 4H, Scouting, summer baseball with responsible coaches, good schools with mature, responsible teachers. I needed neighbors who would watch out for my kids (and watch my kids). I needed good families with good kids for my children to play with. And I needed family-friendly entertainment. (When my children were growing up, Friday was TV night with Perfect Strangers, Family Ties, etc.) In other words, I needed a village to support my wife and I in rearing our children.

The sad part is that Bob Dole knew better. He is the product of a small town in Kansas. His personality and his values were shaped by that village.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
The performer Madonna has made a career by mocking traditional values. Her shows cross the boundaries of good taste and morality, shocking or titillating audiences. She first came to national attention during her slut phase, dressing like a cheap hooker and performing post-modern burlesque. But, the problem with building a career out of crossing the line is that the very process helped move the line. Trangression became harder and harder for Madonna as mall stores in mainstream America sold slutty outfits in imitation. So, she incorporated more simulated sex in her shows, including bisexuality and sadomasochism. But now it's 2006. MTV, which she helped to popularize, has helped obliterate any sexual lines to cross, any boundaries to transgress. What is a can't-sing performer to do? Find another line to cross. Her recent show, now causing the uproar she needs, mocks Christianity. See this article. How original. But, still with the power to shock. What next Madge? Is there another line to cross beyond this one? You know you need one. Transgression is your only talent. You've helped create a culture that can't be shocked by sex any more, no matter how depraved. You tried offending Hindus a few years ago, but I guess that did not sell enough CDs. What will you do when the furor over your latest show dies down. Why don't you try building your next show around images sure to offend Muslims? Now there's an audience that can still be shocked into response.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
Once again, wise and winsome words from Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sidney, Australia. This speech from the Groundbreaking Ceremony of St. Vincent’s Research & Biotechnology Precinct.

Contrary to popular false mythology, Christianity is not the intrinsic enemy of progress, nor the roadblock of science.

04/08: nervous fowl

Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
This article from Reuters is about followers of Santeria in Miami buying birds to sacrifice for Castro's demise (some on the island itself may be sacrificing for his health).

In addition to its intrinsic interest, this article indirectly raises the issue of church-state in the U.S. I was living in Texas during the big controversy over prayer before public school football games. My usual comment was that a lot of minds would change the first time some student (or teacher or minister/priest) in Houston brought a chicken to the fifty yard line and made a Santeria sacrifice before the game. In discussing church/state issues we are not just talking Protestant v. Catholic any more.