Princeton Students Debate Limits of Free Expression – FIRE

‘Last Monday, the Princeton faculty voted to approve a statement on free expression to be published in the university’s “Rights, Rules, Responsibilities” document, which governs student conduct on campus. Math professor Sergiu Klainerman, who was born and raised in communist Romania, brought the motion. He told The Daily Princetonian that he appreciated the need for free speech in part due to his experience living under a dictatorship:

‘“I learned how easy it is to pervert seemingly good intentions into a repressive system in which free speech is banned,” Klainerman said. “No other impression was more powerful to me than the sense of freedom I experienced during my first weeks and months in U.S.”’

via Princeton Students Debate Limits of Free Expression – FIRE


Following Frank Viola’s ‘Shocking Beliefs of John Calvin’

This is a more or less affirmative response to Frank Viola’s Patheos post, “Shocking Beliefs of John Calvin.”

William F. Buckley once asked, “What scruples about human beings did Stalin have that Hitler didn’t? Anything?” Now I’m wondering, “What scruples about human beings did John Calvin have that the popes didn’t? Anything?”

With Calvin and other religious leaders, followers believe something like this:

The man was a product of his time and culture, so we must see him in context, yet he was chosen by God to communicate counter-cultural wisdom and godly insight. The unfavorable elements of the man are assigned to culture and the favorable elements are assigned to God. (Why isn’t the “godly insight” more readily assigned to culture?)

This is not a new observation or argument. I just don’t understand why so many are at peace with a guy who allegedly was chosen by God to communicate an allegedly godly intellectual system while God didn’t care also to offer counter-cultural, godly insights into the problems of an ISIS-style regime. Morality doesn’t change, unless we’re being moral relativists, right?

To be sure, Frank Viola includes important context from a seminary prof, Owen Strachan, Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College.

Strachan notes in part:

“Geneva was a place ruled by law, even theological law, but so were most every other European cities. This was not a nice era. It was rough. Life, as Hobbes said, was nasty, brutish, and short. Calvin’s Geneva provided all kinds of pastoral help to the city, and the city thrived under Calvin. It was also a place of refuge for Protestants from all over Europe. Geneva was not the exception in having tough communal strictures. It was the rule.”

But if John Calvin is so important to the cause of Christianity today, why did not God enlighten him with counter-cultural leadership rather than just counter-cultural ideas?

Like one nasty Internet meme essentially says, “God could have outlawed shellfish or slavery. He chose shellfish.”

It’s easy to see why someone would conclude we’re alone.

The griffins of San Marco Basilica

Griffin at San Marco Basilica, Venezia, Italy -- Venice

A griffin on the exterior of Basilica di San Marco in Venice, Italy, October 2014

Photography of a griffin on the exterior of San Marco Basilica in Venezia, Italy -- Venice, Italy

A companion griffin at Basilica di San Marco, Venice, Italy, October 2014

Learn more about Saint Mark’s Basilica here.


Colin Foote Burch:

Exactly what Maggie Messitt says:

Originally posted on BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog:

Maggie Messitt Maggie Messitt

I am an MFA dropout.

I’d been a journalism major by default—rejected from the undergraduate creative writing program—and minored in an interdisciplinary human rights program in which I was given the freedom to use the tools of longform, literary, and immersion journalism to complete my thesis. This program gave me a home. It supported my curiosity, research, and writing in a way no other department would at the time. They listened to me. And they responded with guidance based on my developmental needs and not limited to their preconceived ideas of what I should be doing.

Still, I was convinced that graduate school was my next step. I wanted to tell true stories. After broadcast and newspaper internships, I knew these paths didn’t feel quite right. I could only describe: I want to produce documentaries on paper. I leapt from undergrad to a successful MFA program on the…

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The Image booth at AWP

One way to attend an event these days: through social media. I’m not at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference and Bookfair (AWP), taking place in Minneapolis right now, but I can snoop thanks to Instagram.

Here’s an image from Image, the acclaimed journal of “Art, Faith, Mystery” edited by Gregory Wolfe.

It better! #awp15 Booth 514

A photo posted by Gregory Wolfe (@gregory__wolfe) on

Christianity’s Hell: Born in paganism, raised in Judaism

Candida Moss, professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Nortre Dame, writes in The Daily Beast:

“Chronologically speaking, hell didn’t always feature in conceptual maps of the afterlife. In the Hebrew Bible there are frequent references to Sheol, a place of shadows located physically beneath us. This is where everyone goes when they die, because people are buried in the ground. Upon occasion, Sheol opens its jaws and swallows people—a phenomenon we probably know as earthquakes, but which can in part explain why death is described as swallowing people up. Without a doubt, Sheol is a generally dismal place where people are separated from God, but it isn’t reserved for the especially wicked.

“In Judaism, the idea of post-mortem judgment, reward, and punishment seems to have gathered strength in the second century BCE. During this period Israel was again a conquered land, ruled by a succession of oppressive Greek empires. Along with high taxation and cultural colonialism, Alexander the Great and his successors brought the ideas of post-mortem punishment in the underworld to the Holy Land. There were many other potential religious groups envisioning post-mortem destruction, but the Greeks appear to have been the most influential. Think Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill, Tantalus being cursed with eternal thirst, and Prometheus having his liver eaten on a daily basis. For beleaguered and oppressed Jews, the idea that the injustices levied on them in the present would be rectified in the afterlife held a lot of appeal. And that kind of justice involved punishing their tormentors as well as rewarding the righteous.”

Read Moss’s entire article here.

Also see Emil Brunner on fear, The Judgment, and the Kingdom of Heaven.

Lives damaged by Bill Gothard’s teachings; insights into fundamentalist child abuse

Please Note: Home-schooling can be a great thing. My wife and I home-school our three daughters. Unfortunately, home-schooling  too often has been a veil behind which the worst elements of fundamentalism have festered. To be clear, nothing in that statement is meant to advocate any other form of childhood education.

I’ve occasionally reblogged posts from the Homeschoolers Anonymous blog. A new post worth reading is “Man Shares Personal Testimony of How Bill Gothard Used Bible Verses Which Led to the Abuse of Children.” Actually, the post first appeared on Spiritual Sounding Board. (Background on Bill Gothard here.)

The man goes by the name “Dash,” and he tells Homeschoolers Anonymous what Gothdard’s teachings did in his family. Here are two excerpts (the second is from Part 2):

“The beatings were delivered to the buttocks, thighs, and lower back, and sometimes the hands, fingers, and forearms (defensive injuries), in response to any perceived slight, offense, or rules violation.

“Depending on the severity of the punishment, anything from a wooden spoon to a 3/4″x2′ dowel rod was used. My parents actually had an array of dowel rods to choose from (at least a dozen) ranging from a thin one about 1/8″ thick to the 3/4″ terror previously described. Occasionally my dad would use his belt, a heavy leather belt with a weighty brass buckle. Not often, though, because the belt would leave visible bruises.

“My sister and I would go to school with huge black and purple welts across our buttocks, carefully placed so that they were covered by our clothes, and we would sit at our desks in excruciating pain with tears streaming silently down our faces. This was during our initial participation in [Gothard’s program called] ATI, but before we enrolled full-bore in home-schooling….

“As our family began to seriously decay and slide toward doom, punishments extended to include: making a salad incorrectly, accidentally dropping a dish or a milk bottle, getting the bathroom floor wet during a bath, not setting the table for dinner quickly enough, forgetting to put clothes in the laundry basket, putting a book back on the bookshelf in the wrong place.”

And that post is far, far, far from the only one testifying about the impact of Gothard’s degrading philosophies — and, of course, Gothard’s philosophies aren’t the only venomous ones snaking their ways through American home-schooling circles.

So, really, the entire site is worth reading for anyone who wants to be aware of how the Christian Right packages genuinely poisonous thinking.

The problem is more substantial than religious discussions about child-rearing.

The problem comes down to destroyed lives.

The Mayo Clinic identifies child abuse as a typical source of dissociative disorders, which are especially difficult mental-health problems, damaging to even basic functionality for some people.

According to the Mayo Clinic:

“Dissociative disorders usually develop as a way to cope with trauma. The disorders most often form in children subjected to long-term physical, sexual or emotional abuse or, less often, a home environment that’s frightening or highly unpredictable. The stress of war or natural disasters also can bring on dissociative disorders.

“Personal identity is still forming during childhood. So a child is more able than an adult is to step outside of himself or herself and observe trauma as though it’s happening to a different person. A child who learns to dissociate in order to endure an extended period of youth may use this coping mechanism in response to stressful situations throughout life.”

The rigidity and specificity of Gothard’s teachings make abusive scenarios likely. People who were raised with Gothard’s teachings for long periods of time likely experienced long-term abuse, thus making them likely candidates for dissociative disorders.

Personal testimonies of fundamentalist abusiveness make clear the reality of dissociative disorders.

For example, according Lana Martin’s recovery testimony:

“Fundamentalist Christians often avoid psychiatric help and effective talk therapy due to their skepticism of scientific and humanistic thought. Learning disorders are seen as malevolent inventions of the public school system. Violence toward women and children can be normalized and justified with authoritarian, patriarchal ideology….

“Adolescent depression is perceived not as a medical condition or experiential phenomenon, but as a sinful teenage rebellion. The imposed isolation characteristic of many abusive homeschooling situations only worsens these problems for both parents and children who are struggling to identify and manage a mental illness….

“And, so I thought, my depression, anxiety, insomnia, hypervigilance, dissociative episodes, panic attacks, persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, and explosive anger might be easily resolved once removed from the toxic home in which I grew up. I should be able to get over the past and move on with life once free, employed, and college-educated. But it didn’t work out that way.

“Ten years later and 1500 miles away, I still felt like an awful person, permanently damaged, incomplete. “I still drowned in shame when I thought about my past, but couldn’t shed a tear over my injuries and losses. And I still experienced quite a few undesirable symptoms of unresolved stress and trauma. I judged myself harshly for this perceived failure.”

Compare Lana’s story with the Mayo Clinic’s list of symptoms of dissociative disorders:

  • Memory loss (amnesia) of certain time periods, events and people
  • Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and attempts
  • A sense of being detached from yourself
  • A perception of the people and things around you as distorted and unreal
  • A blurred sense of identity
  • Significant stress or problems in your relationships, work or other important areas of your life

Worse yet, the Mayo Clinic says, “People with a dissociative disorder are at increased risk of complications and associated disorders, such as… Post-traumatic stress disorder…”

And here we have a testimony from “Susannah,” entitled “My Mind Wasn’t Lost, I Had PTSD.”

The site has so many more similar stories. Only by the fallacy of special pleading can someone ignore such evidence. (“Special pleading is often a result of strong emotional beliefs that interfere with reason,” says Bo Bennett.)

A little more than a year ago, Bill Gothard got into substantial trouble with his own board. The only reason this happened is because people were courageous enough to share their stories.
What shepherd repeatedly forgives the wolf?

What lamb gives the wolf a second chance?