Archive for May, 2007

Evangelicals and Sex

Evangelicals and Sex


Here is a fascinating article about premarital sex and religion.  Some snippets I found compelling:

Teenagers who identify as "evangelical" or "born again" are highly likely to sound like the girl at the bar; 80 percent think sex should be saved for marriage. But thinking is not the same as doing. Evangelical teens are actually more likely to have lost their virginity than either mainline Protestants or Catholics. They tend to lose their virginity at a slightly younger age—16.3, compared with 16.7 for the other two faiths. And they are much more likely to have had three or more sexual partners by age 17: Regnerus reports that 13.7 percent of evangelicals have, compared with 8.9 percent for mainline Protestants.

How is that possible? What happened to all those happy, young Christian couples from the ’90s swearing that True Love Waits? Partly, the problem lies in the definition of evangelical. Because of the explosion of megachurches, vast numbers of people who don’t identify with mainstream denominations now call themselves evangelical. The demographic includes more teenagers of a lower socioeconomic class, who are more likely to have had sex at a younger age. It also includes African-American Protestant teenagers, who are vastly more likely to be sexually active.

….

Regnerus’ ultimate conclusion is not all that surprising. What really matters is not which religion teenagers identify with but how strongly they identify. After controlling for all factors (family satisfaction, popularity, income), religion matters much less than religiosity. Among the mass of typically promiscuous teenagers in the book, one group stands out: the 16 percent of American teens who describe religion as "extremely important" in their lives. When these guys pledge, they mean it. One study found that the pledge works better if not everyone in school takes it. The ideal conditions are a group of pledgers who form a self-conscious minority that perceives itself as special, even embattled.

I recently spent a year among some evangelical teenagers who belong to this elite minority, and I can attest to the inhuman discipline they exert over their hormones. They can spend all evening sitting on the couch holding hands and nothing more. They can date for a year, be alone numerous times in a car or at the movies, and still stick to what’s known in the Christian youth literature as "side hugs," to avoid excessive touching. Muslims have it easy compared to them. At least in Saudi Arabia the women are all covered up, so there’s nothing to be tempted by. But among this elite corps of evangelicals, the women are breezing around in what one girl I know called "shockingly slutty conservative outfits" while the men hold their tongues.

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Just watch me

Just watch me


The Prairie Wrangler has this clip on his blog.  It really brings you back to an age where at least some politicians had guts to call things as they saw them.

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So you don't want to go to church anymore

So you don’t want to go to church anymore


I discovered a freely downloadable book by Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman written under the name Jake Colsen. I read "So you don’t want to go to church anymore" in a couple of days. It is nice being able to read and review a book that I really enjoyed and it wasn’t sent to me by a publisher.

I was challenged by this book because it takes a completely different track than the typical emerging church fare I’ve absorbed in the last few years. The central theme is less about church and more about our relationship with Jesus. Most of the book is written as conversation between two people, not unlike MacLaren’s "A new kind of Christian." I’ve always enjoyed this style of writing as it puts theology in a real world context and it presents more than one point of view at the same time.

I believe the authors make several good points in this book. They do a good job revealing how seemingly innocuous practices can manipulate people in to religious performance. These methods mould us in to performance driven people pleasers. We get subtly deceived in to playing a game rather than building God’s kingdom.

Every time we use an external system to motivate people towards a spiritual end we run the risk of obscuring the spiritual reality. For many spiritual growth isn’t much more than establishing positive habits based on biblical principles. We use awards and social approval to reward these good habits. Unfortunately when we do this people end up serving the ideals of a sub-culture when they think we are serving Jesus. When circumstances become difficult or the influence of that sub-culture is removed the whole framework comes down like a house of cards. Given this pattern it is easy to see how a church culture can become hypersensitive about certain kinds of sin but completely complacent about others.

The book keeps pulling the reader towards a more sincere and substantial relationship with Jesus.

The authors view church organization as a huge culprit in distracting people from a real life giving relationship with Jesus and others. They even deconstruct some of the unhealthy motives behind the house church movement. While I enjoyed the book I see a disconnect between the picture of church they paint with that I see in scripture. There does seem to be a little more organization in the New Testament than the completely relationship based fellowship they present in the book.

The challenges I’ve taken from the book are found in the following to questions: When I structure things am I facilitating sincere devotion to Christ or am I steering people to perform religious exercises to meet others expectations? Will people come out of this with a sincere devotion to Christ and a pure love for others or will they be motivated by guilt or fear?

I recommend that people read the book. I enjoyed the freshness of the perspective. They keep bringing things back to Jesus and I really appreciated that. It can be downloaded for free from here.  One of the authors can be heard regularly at "The God Journey" podcast.

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The promises of religious environmentalism

The promises of religious environmentalism


The following is a guest essay from Roger S. Gottlieb, Professor of philosophy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. His books include A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and our Planet’s Future and This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment.

I found it on grist.

—–

If you’re not depressed, a friend of mine has been saying, it’s only because you haven’t been reading the newspaper. And indeed we live in a frightening time of fundamentalist violence, aggressive wars, ethnic conflict, starvation amid plenty, and pervasive environmental problems.

Yet the tradition-changing creativity, passionate commitment to social activism, and spiritual openness of the astonishing new movement of religious environmentalism should cheer us all up a bit. A profound new respect, even love, for the natural world can be found in definitive statements by the Pope and institutional commitments by the world’s Sikhs, in interpretations of the Koran that forbid dynamite fishing in Tanzania and of the Torah that question whether or not low-mileage cars are kosher, in the way the World Council of Churches challenges the "prevailing economic paradigm" and the way Buddhist monks have organized against Asian deforestation. These and literally thousands of more examples show that the oldest of human institutions can face the demands of the present; and that human beings from around the world can see beyond what divides us to what we share.

Religious environmentalism includes vital new theologies which have reinterpreted scripture and demanded that, as theologian Larry Rasmussen puts it, we think about God "from the standpoint of earth community." Institutional commitment has been expressed in powerful declarations about global warming, pollution, and species extinction from leadership councils of virtually every faith in the world. And environmental action is now considered an essential component of the social justice commitments which are essential to the way people of faith express God’s teaching in their everyday lives.

This bold new movement arose for a number of reasons. Like other people, those of faith value clean air, healthy water, and the aesthetic value of oceans and forests. From the 1970s on, therefore, religious environmentalism has grown for the same reasons as secular environmentalism. More particularly, people of faith have seen the use of nature as a sign or symbol of the divine put into serious question. When the heavens, which according the psalm 19 "declare the glory of God," are instead obscured by debilitating smog which makes it necessary for children and the aged not to go outside, a key element of faith is rendered doubtful. Indeed, even the most basic of religious rituals can be called into question by the environmental crisis. How are we to take the communion wafer or bless the Sabbath wine if both may be riddled with cancer causing pesticide residues?

As religions become greener a number of other things happen as well. First, the global nature of environmental problems helps bridge the gap between different names for God, spiritual truth, or simple human goodness. As a result effective interfaith coalitions become increasingly more commonplace. The Interfaith Global Climate Change Network, for instance, has chapters in eighteen states and includes Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Native Americans in its membership.

Alliances reach beyond the world of faith as well. Well publicized statements signed by religious and scientific leaders have challenged the environmental consequences of America’s energy policy, and the Sierra Club and the National Council of Churches cooperated on a television ad in defense of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Indeed, the Sierra Club now spends over $100,000 a year to partner with religious groups on local issues of pollution and conservation.

Finally, religious environmentalists have had to develop a comprehensive social and ecological vision of the interconnection of all of life. The "eco-justice" task forces of several major denominations assert that every kind of political oppression has a role in ecological degradation; and that social inequality makes groups more like to suffer from pollution. In short, they believe that we cannot heal injustice without transforming our relations to nature — and vice versa.

Interestingly, religions have not only adopted the environmental justice perspective, they helped create it. The United Church of Christ commissioned the first comprehensive study of environmental racism in the U.S. and organized the 1991 conference of people of color environmental activists which formulated the Principles of Environmental Justice. These actions have had profound effects on all the leading environmental organizations and even on the federal government: President Bill Clinton ordered that environmental justice be taken into account in all national policy decisions.

This comprehensive perspective of eco-justice offers hope for a new kind of politics that will transcend both blind faith in the "market" and a moribund liberalism of separate and competing interest groups. We have seen that in Sri Lanka and Mongolia, for example, religious leaders and grass-roots organizations emphasize Buddhist values in their commitment to human centered, ecologically sound economic development.

While it would be a good thing for people of faith to join secular environmental organizations, religions also have some distinct resources to offer the global environmental movement. For one thing, religious environmentalism offers the secular environmental community a language in which to express the depth of its anguish. When we read, for instance, that the placental blood of newborns contains on average one hundred and ninety toxic chemicals, it will not do simply to say that this is unhealthy, inconvenient, or a damn shame. This violation of what should be a human being’s safest place calls forth a more powerful, more visceral, response. In this context most people would find even a language of rights inadequate, and one of "consumer preferences" patently absurd. And thus we might turn to Bartholomew, head of the 300 million strong Eastern Orthodox Church, who stated flatly that "To pollute the environment is a sin."

Of course the language of sin may be alienating to many, especially since it seems to come so easily from the mouths of religious conservatives eager to cast the first stone. Yet along with a complete commitment to democracy and human rights another characteristic of religious environmentalism is a refreshingly critical stance about religion’s own moral record. Catholic priest and leading ecotheologian Thomas Berry states bluntly: "After dealing with suicide, homicide, and genocide, our Western Christian moral code collapses completely: it cannot deal with biocide…. Nor have church authorities made any sustained protest against the violence being done to the planet."

Religions also offer a spirited alternative to the way secular environmentalists sound when they rail at out-of-control consumerism. Instead of coming off like shrill spoilsports religious people can appeal to the simple (and comparatively non-polluting) pleasures of religious community as alternatives. The joys of Sabbath rest, or the emotional comfort of a familiar congregation, provide alternatives to the mall and Amazon.com. Of course one need not be religious to appreciate the nurturing aspects of friendship and rest. Yet these values are perhaps most familiar to us as presented by the culture of religion — one which, as Bill McKibben puts it, offers something other than accumulation as the highest goal of life.

No one can know what the future of religious environmentalism — indeed of any environmentalism whatsoever — will be. It faces the economic juggernaut of globalization, which sees the natural world only as potential commodities, and human beings only as consumers. It must separate itself from violent, repressive fundamentalisms which are too concerned with making sure everyone has the "right" beliefs to worry about the dwindling rainforests or the polluted rivers. Finally, it must prove to its erstwhile allies in the secular environmental community that religion can function responsibly in politics.

Happily, such proof is not hard to find. Heir to a host of important spiritual social action movements from Gandhi and King to ministers who were leading Abolitionists or who were integral to the peace movement, so today’s religious environmentalists are expressing devotion to God in the pursuit of justice and care for the earth and all who dwell upon it.

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I'm about to drop the hammer

I’m about to drop the hammer…


…and dispense some indiscriminate justice.

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Book Review: Furious Pursuit

Book Review: Furious Pursuit


Last year I received a book I was supposed to review in a few weeks. It took more like a few months just to finish the book. If I enjoy a book I’ll finish it in a few days. Slugging through a book that doesn’t engage me takes a lot longer. Because of this I’m afraid that my thoughts on this book aren’t going to be comprehensive or well formed. 

 Tim King and Frank Martin offer a pleasant journey through the nature of God’s grace and his love for you and me. It walks along similar themes as Ragamuffin Gospel but without the depth and insight of a recovering alcoholic. The author’s communicate well and the content is easy to digest. Perhaps that is one reason why it was hard to get in to this book. They attempt to be heartfelt and poetic but come away looking more manufactured. It is almost as if the book was designed for church cell groups. 

This is where I have to be honest about my potential bias’. I’ve never found much depth in the spiritual writings of evangelicals. Instead of painting a picture of a transcendent God, God is all together too imminent, too plain, too easily explained. An over abundance of words and poetic sounding talk almost limits the potential experience.

 Despite this I do agree with the author’s central points. Our relationship with God is more His story than ours. Many Christians often struggle in vein to overcome specific sin or experience God. The book offers hope to those stuck in a form of Christianity that saps more power than it provides. For me the books that did this for me were Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.  

The book is better than I expected but largely unsatisfying. However I anticipate many people would enjoy the book more than I. The reviews on Amazon are all very positive.

I’ve decided to be a little more picky about the books I accept.  I’m afraid I just don’t have the discipline to stick with a book I’m not actually interested in reading.  It is flattering when someone offers you a free review book.  I think I’ve letter that flattery cloud my judgment a little on the the decision to read these books.

 

 

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Global Warming and Climate Change: Be informed

Global Warming and Climate Change: Be informed


One of the great issues of our day is global warming. In January I watched Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and subsequently researched both sides of the global warming debate. It did not take long before I was convinced that global warming and climate change is a reality and that it caused by human activity. I realize that many who might read this are still skeptical of the all the hype. The following is the evidence that convinced me.

There is no debate that the earth is heating up. On record the average temperature across the world has risen about .6 degrees celcius. At one point people claimed these records were flawed because we recorded temperatures in cities which tend to be warmer because of all the concrete and asphalt. Cites are urban heat islands. However the increase in temperature is observed in non-urban locations and scientists have factored out the influence of cities.

Most glaciers are melting. The arctic ice cap is melting. The ice in the Antarctic is also melting. I did my own research on climate in Saskatoon. Saskatoon was half a degree warmer from 1996-2005 than it was from 1930-1939. This issue is settled.

The warming of the earth is a problem. If it continues unchecked it will cause some major shifts in our climate, increase the intensity of storms, and the sea levels will rise. One of the major concerns is that as ice melts at the poles more heat is absorbed by open oceans and land. The melting ice causes what is called a positive feedback causing things to warm up even more. The increased melting will melt the artic permafrost releasing more CO2 and methane in to the air causing another positive feedback. Too much of this and glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica melt and we see a catastrophic increase in sea levels.

Here are a bunch of recent articles about the impact of climate change in the world today.
Arctic Ice melting faster than expected
Acidic Oceans affecting Food Fish

South Africa: Climate Change hits west coast fishers
Amphibians losing race with climate
Caribbean: Famous Caymans coral reefs dying, scientists say
Vietnam: Floods and Droughts

Italy: Rivers to run dry
Sweden: Beetle-infestation

Bangladesh: The first refugees of global warming
Australia: Severe Drought

UK: Hotest April since records began [in 1659]
Canada: Forests threatened by plagues of insects

The million dollar question is are we doing something to cause the rise in temperature or are we in the midst of a natural cycle. The most common theory is that certain green house gasses like CO2, methane, ozone and water vapour trap heat in the atmosphere. Water vapour is the most dominate of these gasses with CO2 coming in second. The vast majority of scientists believe that CO2 is the main culprit. We know that since 1960 the amount of the CO2 in the atmosphere has increased considerably. We release CO2 in to the air primarily by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. Scientists are concerned that if we don’t stop releasing CO2 in to the air the earth will warm up considerably causing some major problems.

There are a number of vocal critics who disagree with the prevailing thought on the issue. They believe that the warming we are encounting is a normal part of the earth’s climate cycle. Eventually the temperature is going to go back down. The question for them becomes what cyclical natural variation is causing the warming. Some global warming skeptics point to the sun and sunspot activity. However when one examines the data there is no correlation between sunspot activity and temperature. The most plausible alternative theory is that cosmic rays from the sun cause changes in cloud cover thus change our climate. This theory is unlikely to be true because there is no long term trend correlating cosmic rays and temperature. Nor has there been a change in cloud cover. If we were to consider only the influence of the sun on our climate things should be getting cooler, not warmer.

The global warming skeptics keep rehashing old arguments that have already been worked through at the peer review process.  Despite the fact that what they say has been proven wrong they keep saying the same things over and over again.  Unfortunately they get traction in the media and they give the impression that there is a consequential scientific debate about this issue.

What cyclical phenomenon is causing the warming if it isn’t the sun or a change in cloud cover? The earth has warmed and cooled in the past but that doesn’t prove the warming we have now is part of a natural cycle. What we know about these cycles indicates they are not the cause of this warming.

We all know science isn’t perfect. New discoveries often contradict old assumptions. The climate of the entire planet is a very complex thing. 100% certainity would be unatainable In the latest IPCC summary for policy makers they state that global warming is very likely caused by human activity.

Is there a real debate on this issue in the realm of science? Not really. This is like asking whether there is a theological debate on the validity of the prosperity gospel among evangelical scholars. Among active credible scientists the vast majority believe global warming is caused by human activity. The vast majority of the actual debate isn’t among the experts but in the media and among politicians.

What about these climate change experts that claim this whole global warming thing is a hoax? Take a hard look at their credentials and their funding and that might shed some light on the situation. Tim Ball, for example, is a retired Geography professor who wrote a Ph.D. Thesis on climate records in the Hudson’s Bay Company. He used to be part of the Friends Of Science, an organization well funded by the oil industry. Tim Ball continually reiterates points that have been proven wrong. Like many others he continues to use misleading information, irrelevant points and half-truths to muddy the waters on climate change. He is one of many that you can research here. This CBC documentary makes some very interesting discoveries about climate change skeptics, who funds them, and how some are linked to the same folks who worked for the tobacco industry trying to convince the public there was no danger to smoking. You can research links at exxonsecrets.org, and desmogblog.

The main tactic of the global warming skeptics is to sow seeds of doubt in people’s minds. They don’t have a compelling alternate theory, so they try to poke holes in the scientific consensus. Because this issue has become politicized there are some crazy theories floating around.

One of the most influence vehicles for climate change skepticism is found in the documentary Global Warming Swindle. Video. Compare the assertions made in the video to the responses here, here, here and here.

In a debate as complex as this be sure to read both sides on each point. Here is a great site operated by a “layman” that does a good job answering the skeptics in plain language. RealClimate.org is an excellent resource written by scientists so it can get a bit technical sometimes.

In the realm of politics opinions often come down to a personal choice. The debate between the levels of taxation, the best programs to run, the best way to elect people are largely subjective. There are no serious moral consequences if I remain ignorantly skeptical about the integrity of the Liberals or the Conservatives commitment to fiscal restraint. Global warming is a different kind of debate because we are all partly responsible for what is going on and the consequences are real.

The global warming debate is complex but at its heart it is a scientific issue and a moral issue. Either human activity is causing global warming or it is not. If it is and we choose to do nothing there are dire consequences for hundreds of millions of people. The rise in sea level alone will affect millions of people in developing countries like India, China and Bangledesh. Given the potential consequences of climate change remaining ignorant is not an option. Doing nothing and remaining vaguely skeptical is not an option either. Unless we are informed and are absolutely sure that the vast majority of experts on climate are wrong we must act now.

If someone told me there was a 90% chance I was going to be in a car accident tomorrow I better be very sure they are wrong before I decide to not wear my seatbelt.

Coming up next – what you do can about climate change.

 

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Seeing through industry spin

Seeing through industry spin


Here is a fine example of how big industry seeks to muddy the waters on a scientific issue. In 1982 the issue was tobacco. Today it is climate change.  For more go here.

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Ever have one of those days

Ever have one of those days


Ever have one of those days where you want to curl up in a comfy chair and listen to melancholy Fleetwood Mac songs all day? 

[well...., a big part of the day]

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An Interview I did won an award

Award winning interview


Last year I was interviewed by the Mennonite Brethren Herald about dealing with online pornography in a bible school context.  I just received word that the interview won an award.  The Evangelical Press Association picked it 2nd overall in the interview category!  Wahooooo! 

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