Category Archives: culture

The other war on Christmas

When I was a kid, my friends and I would occasionally hear adults talk about the pagan origins of Christmas trees. In our Christian homes, churches, and schools, such talk was not merely chat. It was actionable language. Within those overheard snippets was an implicit threat: possibly an end to the Christmas tree at home, and by extension,  possibly an end to all those great things kids love about Christmas.

The anti-Christmas tree mentality never took root in my home or many other homes (although if memory serves, there were rumors some classmates’ parents had forbidden having a tree).

And I think I know why, at least in a broader sense: holiness movements and purity movements and other moralistic movements seem concerned with things the members should not-be and things they should not-do. Rarely is there a concrete, image-based sense of what is being substituted for the not-ness. (By image, here I mean anything that appeals to the perceptions of the five senses.)

The calling in those holiness, purity, and otherwise moralistic movements seems to be to achieve something more or less invisible and essentially unmodeled. Even the word “holiness,” an abstract concept, is hard to experience. But as the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum.

So people remain under control of the images and symbols to which they attach (on varying levels, within community as much as within an individual) significance and meaning.

In most areas of life, abstract ideas cannot drive culture out of a community.

Culture is embodied in things and in relationships.

Indeed, a family Christmas tree, with its handed-down ornaments, can be both an embodiment of the holiday and a symbol for the way a particular family joins together at the same time, year after year.

To change the culture, create new, concrete images with subversive intent, and find ways to embody whatever you might be teaching or communicating.


Here’s a Christmas greeting for you (photo)


The Uncertainty of Science

Colin Foote Burch:

The article in Nautilus reads in part, “Being a scientist requires having faith in uncertainty, finding pleasure in mystery, and learning to cultivate doubt. There is no surer way to screw up an experiment than to be certain of its outcome.” How strange when it seems the less scientific the field, the more certain its scholars.

Originally posted on Saphiophile:

Article:Certainly Not!

Author:Stuart Firestein

Word Count: 2,038

Publisher:Nautilus Magazine

Food for Thought:

  • How is uncertainty/ignorance a good thing?
  • How do certainty and uncertainty work best together?

The article answers the following questions:

  • Why does science advance with questions/ignorance/uncertainty not answers/knowledge/certainty?
  • How are scientists (as opposed to other professionals) different in what they know?
  • How can science’s non-conclusiveness be abused?
  • How can science’s non-conclusiveness be utilized?
  • If facts change, and science’s non-conclusiveness can be abused, how can we argue for the reliability of science?

Don’t forget to read the comments and leave your own.

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Ben Affleck, Others Stumping For Bradley Cooper’s ‘American Sniper’ Performance

Originally posted on Deadline:

EXCLUSIVE: After all the sinister implications of the Sony hacking scandal, a nice story has emerged among the sharp elbows on the Oscar circuit that is enough to make one feel good about actors who simply love the craft.

Even though he was suffering from the flu, Ben Affleck took the time to speak at an event meant to celebrate American Sniper and Bradley Cooper’s performance as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. During a screening of his film Inherent Vice, Josh Brolin could be heard talking about how important Cooper’s performance was. Now, both of them have movies in the Oscar hunt–Affleck having starred in Gone Girl. And yet they were standing up for the strong performance turned in by Cooper, who is at a distinct disadvantage because he is starring on Broadway in The Elephant Man, and got snubbed in both the Golden Globes and SAG nominations…

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William F. Buckley Jr. wanted to lift the Cuban trade embargo: My day at the Firing Line taping

Kristi and I went to Coker College in Hartsville, S.C., on July 20, 1998, to attend the taping of a Firing Line Debate.

The debate, with eight panelists, was entitled, “Resolved: That the U.S. Should Lift the Cuban Trade Embargo.”

The eminent William F. Buckley Jr., founder of National Review and an intellectual leader of conservatism in the U.S., was on the affirmative side. Notice that: Buckley supported lifting the embargo.

The great Michael Kinsley was the moderator. Kristi and I were his fans (if not always his compatriots) from his time on CNN’s older form of “Crossfire.” At the time of the debate, he was editor of Slate.

Obviously, this experience with Firing Line comes to mind because President Obama has moved to normalize relations with Cuba — for stated reasons quite similar to Buckely’s reasons.

That remains true even if Obama’s move might differ in details from Buckley’s support for an end to the trade embargo. (I admit I haven’t analyzed real or imagined differences in the details.)

Obama, at today’s press conference, said, “I don’t anticipate overnight changes. But what I know deep in my bones is that if you’ve done the same thing for 50 years and nothing’s changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome…”

Buckley, in 1998, after describing his opponents’ claims that the U.S. embargo will change Cuba, offered a deep, sonorous, “When?

In July 1998, and certainly before, the embargo’s failure was obvious to Buckley.

(I recalled a few personal details from that day in a blog post published shortly after Buckley’s death in 2008.)

So as some Republicans lash-out at Obama’s decision, with the notable exception of Sen. Rand Paul, they should recall William F. Buckley’s position and realize Obama made a decision that, in spirit if not in details, had some support among conservative and libertarian intellectuals.

Dog shoots man after being told to move from front seat to back seat

Colin Foote Burch:

You can’t make this stuff up.

Originally posted on National Post | News:

SHERIDAN, Wyo. — Police in northern Wyoming say a rifle discharged after a dog apparently stepped on it, injuring a 46-year-old man.

Johnson County Sheriff Steve Kozisek says the bullet struck Richard L. Fipps, of Sheridan, in the arm on Monday.

The injury is not life-threatening but Fipps is being treated in a hospital in Billings, Montana.

Kozisek told The Sheridan Press that Fipps and two others were in a remote area trying to move a vehicle that had become stuck. Fipps was standing beside his truck when he told his dog to move from the front seat to the back seat.

The sheriff says a rifle was on the back seat and it discharged toward Fipps.

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This Advent season, a very long wait: ‘Christians around world under siege’ – Chicago Sun-Times

Steve Huntley, in the Chicago Sun-Times:

During this season of joyous religious celebrations and especially the holiday cheer enjoyed with family and friends during Christmas time, we should not forget that in too many corners of the world Christianity is under siege with Christians abused, brutalized and murdered.

Ghastly crimes like the kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian Christian school girls by the Islamist terrorists of Boko Haram, the beheadings of Christians by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the flight from riot and murder by Coptic Christians from Egypt during the Muslim Brotherhood reign make headlines….

ICC’s website and organizations and individuals such as Open Doors and the Gatestone Institute’s Raymond Ibrahim do the good work of trying to keep the plight of Christians in the public eye. Their reports, easily accessible on the Internet, make for disturbing reading.

Ibrahim wrote of a Christian convert from Islam in Uganda who established a Christian school. Hassan Muwanguzi was beaten by Muslims, hauled into court on trumped-up charges of “defiling” a Muslim girl, saw his home burned by arson, was sickened by poison, and survived an attack by four Muslims that left his 12-year-old daughter dead.

In a crime that “has shaken Pakistan’s Christian community to the core,” ICC reports, a mob accused a Christian couple of burning pages of the Koran, beat them and burned them alive in a brick kiln. The woman was pregnant; the mob left the couple’s four children orphans.

Open Doors reports that a Christian convert in Egypt faces a five-year prison sentence and that an Anglican church in Nigeria shut down after 11 members were killed in attacks by al-Shabaab terrorists. Open Doors says that in India, Christian pupils and teachers won’t have a Christmas holiday because the government declared Dec. 25 “Good Governance Day” with a student essay competition that day. Furthermore, a Hindu nationalist group says the day should be devoted to “re-converting” 4,000 Christians to the Hindu faith.

via Christians around world under siege – Chicago Sun-Times.


Most major theaters pull “The Interview”

Colin Foote Burch:

And now the terrorists have won.

Originally posted on CNN Newsroom:

Brooke talks with Journalist Kurt Loder about Sony’s new movie “The Interview” being pulled by theaters one week before release due to hacker threats.

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‘Church Sex Scandals Are Rooted in Theology’ – The Daily Beast

More about Bob Jones University and sexual abuse:

The fact pattern is by now familiar—though a little different in the BJU case, which covers counseling for all reported sexual abuse, not just abuse perpetrated by members of the Bob Jones community. Of the 166 respondents to the BJU survey who reported sexual abuse, about half of the abuse took place before they came to the university; this particular report is more about counseling victims than prosecuting perpetrators. This is not another cover-up.

The university’s responses, though, were depressingly familiar. Only 7.6 percent of victims were encouraged by BJU staff to report their abuse to the police. Forty-seven percent were actively told not to do so and 55 percent said the university’s attitude toward abuse reports was “blaming and disparaging.” Women were invited to confess what they had done to entice the abuser—the wearing of revealing clothing, for example. And if their bodies “responded favorably,” then they, too, had sinned.

Indeed, even if their bodies hadn’t “responded favorably” to being raped or abused, abuse survivors were still regarded as “damaged goods,” according to the report, because virginity is prized above all, and any illicit sex—consensual or not—is sinful. That may be hard for non-religious people to wrap their heads around, but remember, if sex is bad and virginity is good, that’s true no matter the circumstances, no matter the presence or absence of consent.

Interestingly, the Bob Jones University report is, itself, a kind of religious document. Produced by an organization called GRACE, whose mission is “to empower the Christian community through education and training to recognize and respond to the sin of sexual abuse,” it is full of biblical citations and theological argument. For example, the report argues against victim-blaming by citing Matthew 5:28 (“Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart”) and stating that “If a dress code encourages men to see women for their bodies—whether they dress modestly or not—then women become objects, and often, mere objects of lust.”

via Church Sex Scandals Are Rooted in Theology – The Daily Beast

Solicitor to look into Bob Jones University

Colin Foote Burch:

Justice afoot?

Originally posted on WJCL News:

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) – A South Carolina solicitor says he will look into how Bob Jones University handled sexual abuse reports from students to determine if state law was broken or if there was obstruction of justice.

The Greenville News reports Solicitor Walt Wilkins also hopes anyone who wants to prosecute abuse will contact his office.

Wilkins’ investigation stems from a report issued Thursday by a Lynchburg, Virginia, group that works with churches and other Christian organizations on the proper ways to prevent abuse and how to work with victims. According to GRACE, the teachings of the university as well as counseling served to re-victimize students.

An independent report on how Bob Jones University has dealt with sexual abuse over several decades concluded that university employees weren’t properly trained to handle such cases.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or…

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Jonathan Merritt sees an ideological mode among Reformed Christians

The blogger and author on Twitter:

Do you think he’s right? Why? Or, why not?

(“Xians” is short for Christians.)


‘Bob Jones University Told Sex Abuse Victims It Was Their Fault: Report’

Yet another example of Bible-proclaiming right-wingers undermining law-and-order by hiding sexual abuse.

“Nearly half of the sexual abuse survivors at Bob Jones University who replied said staff discouraged them from making a police report or told them directly not to report the abuse.”

Read the full article: Bob Jones University Told Sex Abuse Victims It Was Their Fault: Report.

*More examples of Bible-proclaiming right-wingers undermining law-and-order:

Justifiable Skepticism: What did C.J. Mahaney really know, and when did he really know it?

Bill Gothard, Sexual Predator

How Purity Culture Kept Me Silent About My Sexual Abuse As A Child: Dinah’s Story

‘Instead of calling the police, they prayed the Lord would make it stop’

Here’s what three Reformed / Calvinist scholars say about the variety of views within Christianity

If anything gives me a bit of hope for evangelicals and Calvinists and self-identified Reformed folks, it’s this kind of honest, clear-headed assessment from three leading scholars:

…Most of our theories of the world — philosophical, commonsensical, or even scientific — are underdetermined by the evidence that supports them. They are consistent with the facts, but the facts are not so compelling that their competitors can be shown to be logically inconsistent with the facts. When two such theories are in competition, no appeal to evidence, therefore, could determine the winner.

Biblical interpretations and theological statements are underdetermined by the biblical data. Scripture is a mix of history, myth, poetry, moral instruction, praise, hyperbole, prophecy, and so forth. Sorting through this array of genres requires some sort of hermeneutical [interpretive] method. The inerrancy or infallibility of Scripture are of themselves incapable of delivering God’s truth. Without a hermeneutical method, the inerrant or infallible biblical data cannot communicate truth claims…..

Underdetermination may account for the apparent intractability of theological disputes…. Theologians on both sides of these disputes believe their doctrines to be the only adequate explanation of the biblical data. However, if their competitors also adequately account for all of the biblical data, no appeal to the evidence could resolve the dispute.

Those are excerpts from the entry entitled “Underdetermination” in 101 Key Terms in Philosophy and Their Importance for Theology (Westminster John Knox, 2004) by Kelly James Clark and James K.A. Smith of Calvin College (at least at the time of the book’s release) and Richard Lints of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (ditto).

Reading this assessment from top-notch scholars helped me exhale. Of course, I imagine Clark, Smith, and Lints have strongly held points of view, and I don’t think they’re saying all systematic interpretations are equal. Then again, they seem to be saying the available data does not lend itself strictly to one point of view.

I’m especially appreciative of the authors’ definition of “Underdetermination” and, as I’ve noted previously, “Aesthetics.”

St. Sebastian’s Burns in India, Christians Protest

Colin Foote Burch:

Tense and sad:

Originally posted on Steak and a Bible:

My latest article for WORLD is about a church fire in India Christians are saying was arson.

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Newborn Baby Found In Trash Can, Hospitalized « CBS Atlanta

Should the mother be granted some leniency considering she told a relative? The relative then called the police. Newborn Baby Found In Trash Can, Hospitalized « CBS Atlanta.

via Newborn Baby Found In Trash Can, Hospitalized « CBS Atlanta.

Robert Heinlein with the counterpoints

Here’s an interesting set of quotations from famed sci-fi writer Robert A. Heinlein, as found on Lifehack:
Robert A. Heinlein Quotations on Lifehack
Heinlein quotations on Lifehack
Robert A. Heinlein quotations from Lifehack
Quotations from Robert Heinlein on Lifehack

‘Dear Lord, if only I had a simple faith in the Bible…’

“…I would be an Appalachian snake-handler.”

Salvation on Sand Mountain

Snake-handling: Not just the distant past.

 "Handling serpents at the Pentecostal Church of God. This church is not on company property, nor have any company funds been used towards its building or upkeep; most of the members are coal miners and their families. Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky., 09/15/1946." Photo from The National Archives via Wikimedia

“Handling serpents at the Pentecostal Church of God. This church is not on company property, nor have any company funds been used towards its building or upkeep; most of the members are coal miners and their families. Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky., 09/15/1946.” Photo from The National Archives via Wikimedia

Stolen Crucifix Returned To Bronx Church; Thief Forgiven

Originally posted on CBS New York:

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A crucifix has been returned to its rightful place in a church in the Bronx, five days after it was stolen.

Police said the 5-foot tall, 3-foot wide crucifix was stolen from the lobby of Saint Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church on East 166th Street in Morrisania on Wednesday night.

The crucifix was stolen while church services were in progress, according to authorities.

[cbs-audio-player title=”Stolen Crucifix Returned To Bronx Church; Thief Forgiven” artist=”WINS” download=”false” image=”” url=”″ station_name=”Al Jones reports” station_logo=””]

As 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported, parishioners from nearby Saint Anselm placed the stolen crucifix back where it belonged Monday. One parishioner could not hold back her tears.

“I’m very happy; very joyful, and thank God, you know,” she said.

The crucifix, worth $5,000, had been around as long as the church, since 1903.

Members of the congregation said the crucifix had appeared a little…

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