Christians choking morality and optimism

December 26, 2007

(Warning: Rant follows, below the fold. It’s a well justified, well-deserved rant; but stand back a bit so the wind doesn’t blow you away.)

WordPress doesn’t do well with music accompanying posts. But if I could put some music on for you to hear right now, it would be the late Madeleine Kahn singing that tune from Blazing Saddles, “I’m Tired.” I can almost appreciate Orrin Hatch’s flogging of the phrase over the last 31 years, “I’m sick and tired of . . .”

What has made so many Christians so irritatingly, depressingly crabby — and can we get them to just shut up about how great achievements are somehow sins instead?

Al Gore won a Noble Prize — for peace, not for science. Get over it. It’s not the end of the world. It’s a great accomplishment, a pinnacle of human acheivement. It’s a cause for great celebration for Americans — Christians, too. It should be a great plum for Christians when Gore, a lifelong, nearly-every-Sunday-in-church Southern Baptist who followed James Madison’s example of leaving study for the clergy in order to answer a clearly much higher calling, gets the call to collect the Nobel medal in Oslo. Instead, Groothuis says (in comments), it makes his head hurt.


What in the heck is this? It makes more sense than Prof. Groothuis’s rant.

Hillary Clinton may not be your choice for president, but that hardly makes her evil. And like Orrin Hatch, I’m sick and tired, of people ignoring Clinton’s 40-years of advocacy for children, and suggesting instead she has no moral roots. Methodists do have moral roots, and the critics should be ashamed of such attempted character assassination. If there is something wrong with Clinton’s advocacy for children, state it clearly. But don’t pretend to be “in the know” about some imagined sins of leadership you think you know she might have committed.

Same for John Edwards, whose “ambulance chasing” established that swimming pool manufacturers and installers can’t suck the guts out of children (literally — I’m not kidding) without paying medical costs. Trial lawyers who help crippled kids don’t deserve to be kicked for doing it. Barack Obama is a remarkable man, especially considering his absentee father. His story is no less inspiring than the rise of Justice Clarence Thomas, except Obama has managed to stay well grounded in manners and keep a sense of humor, necessary to fend off some of the arrows his position and candidacy invite.

Mitt Romney is a religious man, successful businessman and faithful husband. Quit carping that he’s Mormon — it’s not much more odd than Southern Baptist, and they smile a lot more, sing a lot better, and abolished slavery sooner. Romney’s religion won’t make him any worse or better as president than Marie Osmond’s Mormonism makes her a better or worse entertainer. It’s not an issue, and talking about Romney’s faith as if it were an issue detracts from the discussion of the real issues: Romney has no solution for Iraq, either.

We can kick about any of the candidates, but the field in both major parties is as strong as it has ever been, and almost all of the candidates offer significant advantages over the current White House — none of them is running to “restore respect and morality,” which is a good sign they might actually do it. If you’re not out there advocating for one of these outstanding people, you’re a major part of the problem. You’re advocating against quality in politics. Shame on you.

Get a grip on reality, Christians (if you really are Christians), and pay attention to what’s going on in the world.

2007 was not a great year for mankind. Genocide in Darfur continued. Nero-like fiddling while the planet warms continued in Washington and other capitals. Thousands of Americans had their economic futures put at risk while the Federal Reserve Board, President, and others failed to act to fix a mortgage crisis they created. One and a half million people, mostly pregnant women and children, died of malaria, while western governments including the U.S. failed to spend the money they promised to fight the disease.

There was a war between Israel and Lebanon. The Bush administration got the North Koreans back to the position Bill Clinton had the North Koreans in during 1994, which may make South Korea and Japan safer, but we lost 13 years. China has taken over production of a majority of America’s products, it seems, and sells us lead-tainted toys that poison our children. Not that anyone would notice — Bush’s EPA isn’t doing much to eliminate lead paint in U.S. cities, that poisons more children than the Chinese ever could.

Hunger in America is rising. More Americans are homeless. At least 4 million more Americans are without health insurance this year, shortening average lifespans, but certainly killing more poor people, sooner.

Osama bin Laden is still at large. The United States is known more for executing prisoners and torturing people than any other nation.

But Douglas Groothuis, a philosophy prof in a Denver, ivory tower, fundamentalist Christian seminary, is blind to all of that. He’s crabby instead about trivialities. Al Gore got an award. Hillary Clinton is taken seriously as a candidate for president. People, tired of such hypocrisy among the religious, are actually reading atheists’ books. The courts won’t let woo into science classes to make American kids stupider.

That’s what makes Douglas Groothuis grumpy.

Groothuis makes me grumpy.

No kidding; here’s his list, verbatim, from his blog — there is nary a mention of Darfur, nor Guantanamo, nor Bosnia, nor bin Laden (terrorism has to share an angst point with abortion); no mention of our failure to eradicate hunger, or our failure to provide even decent health care to all Americans:

Top Ten Bad Events of 2007

Near the end of the year, we are assaulted with a number of lists concerning noteworthy events of 2007. Here is my curmudgeonly list of obnoxious realities from 2007. These items by no means are meant to exhaust the list of “bad events,” nor are they the most evil things that happened in 2007. They are simply things that really ticked me off. Since my sensibilities are not perfectly calibrated to objective reality, I cannot claim too much for the list. Please add a few of your own.

1. Hilary Clinton running for president. She is the quintessentially unprincipled politico: all political machine, no character, no vision.
2. Bill Clinton writing a book on giving. This beggars belief. It is like the Marquis de Sade writing a book on abstinence. Clinton has no shame, but plays a mean game of narcissism.
3. The on going media fascination with stupid, sex-crazed, and drug-addled celebrities. Don’t expect this to change any time before the millennium.
4. The baseball steriod scandals. “Take me out to the drug game, take me out to the show…” Here is another evidence of the death of character in America.
5. Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron’s home run record. I don’t like tatoos, but an asterisk on Barry’s head would be just fine.
6. The growth of “the new atheism” perpetuated by writers like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. They don’t give the best arguments for atheism, but they have raised the volume, sharpened the knives, and gone for the heart of religion–all religion. There errors are legion, their books best-sellers. (I have reviewd recent books by Harris and Dawkins in The Christian Research Journal. I have a review of Hitchen’s God is Not Great forthcoming there as well.)
7. The continued ideologically rich, but intellectually poor, pummelling of Intelligent Design by the established media and educational mandarins, particularly Iowa State University’s denial of tenure to the stellar scholar, Guarmo Gonzalez. Read about this at:
8. The major television networks air the video of the evil ramblings of a mass killer, who devestated his university. He became the postmorten celebrity he desired. The national addiction to video continues–without shame, without knowledge of the truth, without respite.
9. There seems to be no presidential candidate who is both pro-life and has a realistic view of international terrorism–the two greatest issues facing the country.
10. Of lesser consequence: I was given a free Kenny G CD when I ordered a Jack Bruce recording on line. It remains unopened in my office–an object suitable for hurling across the room during a lecture on aesthetics.

(Al Gore doesn’t really get it until the comments.)

Wake up, Groothuis! Wake up, Christians. Trim your wicks and oil your lamps.

  • Like her or not, Hillary Clinton has more guts and a more consistent application of high morality than carping Christians. She held her family together and crusaded to help abused children when the churches were still denying abused children are a problem. There may be good reasons not to vote for her. Claiming she is unprincipled, however, only shows your own lack of moral compass. Don’t like her? Vote for somebody else. But you’d better be out there, at the caucus meetings, at the county and state conventions. You’ve sat on your hands long enough.
  • Bill Clinton was right about giving. Listen to him. Quit withholding, and get out there and give.
  • Don’t carp about a fascination with celebrity culture while you campaign against PBS and NPR, against Huck Finn as a key book kids need to read, and while you argue that the problem with the lack of quality television is that Democrats over-regulated it, when the Democrats haven’t regulated it in 40 years. It’s your votes for people who claim to be moral that bring us the celebrity culture. Your guys work to kill libraries, and you blame in on liberals. Satan, get thee behind me (and out of my library and city council).
  • Barry Bonds and steroids? When Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich ran Congress, Congress didn’t care. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid got action; Congress held hearings, steroids were outed. It was not an accident that it was a Democratic former senator who headed the commission that spotlighted the trouble. You called him “immoral” when he was in the Senate. Need a recipe for crow?
  • Don’t worry about Dawkins and Hitchens — they are just celebrities (your own fascination with celebrity gets you in trouble). You rail against the social gospel as evil, forgetting that it brought us an end to child labor, safe food and drug laws and regulation of addicting drugs for the first time, a Federal Reserve Board and a 40-hour, family-friendly work week. Of course, you complain about each one of those miracles, now. You don’t smell the brimstone? The question is, when do we return to Christians ministering in neighborhood churches, instead of in mega-media auditoriums? Its in your hands, and you’re applauding a celebrity culture in another way. Thousands of Americans follow their noses on Sunday to the biggest congregations with the most Starbucks coffee brewing, and you applaud it. You didn’t notice the dust devil where you sowed those seeds?
  • Don’t tell me you want to lie about science to innocent children, and ever, ever claim to be a moral man again. Intelligent design is a scam; it’s fruitless, as science. (Jesus had something to say about fruitless trees, remember? No, I didn’t think so.) It’s hollow as theology. America’s leadership in science and technology are critical if this 218-year-old republic is to go for another 100 years (no republic has ever made it much past 300); your advocacy of intelligent design over evolution hammers at both our science and moral foundations. Woo is not equal to science, and your claims that it is show how much you’ve adopted moral relativism. Never mention “firm standards of morality” again, you hypocrites. Moral relativists have no more right to teach our children than anybody else. If they don’t teach, and at the university level, if they don’t practice their discipline, they don’t get tenure. That’s called “high academic standards.” High academic standards means no creationism or intelligent design, but it’s the moral way to maintain our education system.
  • Don’t complain about post-modernism as the villain when a mentally-ill man kills innocents. Where was our mental health care system? Where were the churches? It wasn’t philosophy that killed kids at Virginia Tech. It was a massive failure of our social safety nets, private and public. You’ve hammered at the mental health care system for years, and the churches couldn’t compensate. All we had left was television, and all it can do is expose the problem. This failure is no orphan, even if the father doesn’t want to admit paternity.
  • Nobody knows what to do about international terrorism . Torturing nationals from other countries has been proven to aggravate the problem. Join us in calling for a closure of Guantanamo? No? There’s a story about this in Genesis; you interpret it to mean a loving relationship between two members of the same gender is wrong; Ezekial tells us it means Abu Ghraib is wrong. There is a moral divide here, and you’re on the wrong side. Also, we know how to reduce abortion: Eradicate poverty, make meaningful work, provide people of child-bearing age with accurate information about family planning, meaning birth control. Seven years of “abstinence only” and the teen birth rate and STD rates all rise. You’re asleep with your lamps out of oil. No presidential candidate agrees with you? That’s why the rest of us are hopeful.
  • You wouldn’t have to order your music on-line if your president didn’t let Clear Channel ruin the radio waves as an outlet to sell music — then the neighborhood record shops might still be in business, selling little on vinyl, but catering to local tastes. The spy software that your president uses to track down the trysts of your preachers also tells the CD people that someone who likes Jack Bruce, also likes Kenny G. If you needed a reason to oppose the PATRIOT Act, that would be one more clue. You’ve taken none of the others, and you’ll probably blame this one on Kenny G. I hope you wake up in a cold sweat some night, and ask this question: If the software claims you need a free shot of Kenny G, what does it tell our U.S. KGB about who to arrest to stop terrorism? Either you’re a great fan of Kenny G and don’t know it, or you just realized one more benefit of defending civil rights.

Dr. Groothuis, Ezekiel told us why God smoked Sodom and Gomorrah. It had nothing to do with homosexuality. Sodom failed to look after the widows and orphans, and it tolerated sexual humiliation of people who should have been guests. Look at our present social safety net, review the circumstances of Abu Ghraib, and tell me why we shouldn’t be bracing to run and not look back, will you?

Millions are hungry, you worry about celebrity. Millions are unclothed, you want to teach children woo instead of good science. America’s moral leadership has been surrendered, and you worry when people read books by atheists that talk about moral leadership.

It’s a tired whine. I’m tired of it, anyway.

2008 can be a great year. We’re electing leadership — new leadership — in federal, state and local elections. We’ve got a foreign policy that recognizes there is a problem in Palestine, and that the North Koreans will be a bigger threat with nuclear weapons than without them. We still need an international solution in Darfur, to make the “never” in “never again,” now.

I don’t need a crabby Pharisaic look at 2007; I need someone with realism in their veins and brain to look to 2008 and pledge to make it better. Refusing to engage, whining about great acheivements, yammering about the old dividing lines, will not get us to 2009 in good shape.

Christians, now is the time to practice your faith, hard.

Three U.S. flag burnings around Northampton, Massachusetts

December 26, 2007

An Associated Press story in the Boston Herald notes three recent incidents in which U.S. flags were burned, in what appears to be a protest of some sort.

Police say a flag-burning incident in Northampton may be the work of an anti-American anarchist group.

The 5-by-9 foot American flag that hung from a birch tree outside of Eamon Mohan’s house on Bridge Street was reduced to ashes in the Friday night blaze.

A typewritten note left at the home and signed by the “American Patriot Liberation Front” claimed the United States was oppressing millions of people around the world. But police say they are unfamiliar with the group.

Police are investigating whether the flag burning is linked to two other incidents in western Massachusetts this month. A post office flag was thrown in a Dumpster and burned in Greenfield earlier this month and an American flag was stolen last week from outside a home in Amherst.

Notes similar to the one in Northampton were found in both cases.

U.S. flags should not be displayed at night, unless lighted, or unless the site is specifically exempted from that condition of flag display by an Act of Congress.

The Boston Globe reported the family harmed in the latest incident was honoring a child in the military:

Mohan’s family did not appear to be targeted, police said.

Mohan’s daughter, Megan, 19, is a US Marine, currently in training, and his son, Eamonn, 17, plans to join after his 18th birthday next month.

“I’m extremely proud of their serving this fine country,” said Mohan, 43. “No country is perfect, but we do a lot of good around the world that isn’t publicized.”

The note was signed by the “American Patriot Liberation Front.” Police said they were unfamiliar with the group. The group is not listed in the telephone directory, and no contact information could be found for it on the Web.

The protesters appear able to write: Why not a letter to the editor of the local newspaper? Such protests, to the point and to a greater audience, are part of what the flag stands for. The flag burners probably don’t note the irony.

Stupid protests give a bad name to protest.

More information:

Uganda health ministry slows use of DDT against malaria

December 26, 2007

All reports local councils in Uganda approve the use of DDT in a carefully managed integrated pest managment program where DDT is used for some indoor locations — but the Uganda health ministry slows the program.

Want to bet the Chronically-Obsessed With Rachel Carson (COWRC) will blame “environmentalists?” Three . . . two . . . one . . .

Eagle recovery still on, since DDT halt

December 26, 2007

One-paragraph in a story in the Philadelphia Daily Inquirer with a lot of impact:

A record number of bald eagles soared past Hawk Mountain in Berks County this fall, continuing a comeback that began with the banning of DDT in 1972. Then, 18 eagles were counted during the typical migration. The count this fall: 230. – Don Sapatkin

Caption from blog: Visitors and staff gather on the South Lookout at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, near Kempton, Berks County. (HAWK MOUNTAIN SANCTUARY PHOTO)

Caption from blog: Visitors and staff gather on the South Lookout at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, near Kempton, Berks County. (HAWK MOUNTAIN SANCTUARY PHOTO) (Photo substituted here for previous photo noted below, which has gone missing in DatedLinksLand)

 South Lookout at Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania

South Lookout at Hawk MountainThe view from a rocky ledge near the entrance at Hawk Mountain provides a spectacular view of the countryside and is a good vantage point for watching migrating raptors in the fall. This photo was taken the afternoon of 10-16-2006.  Public domain photo, via

The white area at upper center is the “River of Rocks”. According to, this formation is a mile-long boulder field, up to 40 feet deep, which was deposited 10,000-12,000 years ago (the end of the last Ice Age), when glaciers stopped 40-50 miles to the north of this location. Repeated freezing and thawing cracked boulders from the ridgetop that gradually slid to their current position.

Quote of the moment: Newton, giants

December 26, 2007

Newton, by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1689

If I have seen further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.*

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), letter to Robert Hooke, February 5, 1675/1676. Newton was born on December 25 by the Julian Calendar, at a time when it mattered which calendar was used.

[*] Newton’s giants: Nicolaus Copernicus, Giordano Bruno, Johannes Kepler, René Descartes. Bartlett’s 16th Edition phrases the letter to Hooke a little differently: “If I have seen further than (you and Descartes) it is by standing upon the shoulders of Giants.” Others attribute the quote much earlier; it was a saying of the times, it appears, and this is one of the most famous uses of it.

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