Saturday, April 5, 2008

Separated at Birth?

Actor James Franco (left), best known for his role in the Spider-Man series of movies is the spitting image of influential indie rocker Jeff Buckley (right). I hope that he will one day play him in a biopic. Buckley(1966-1997) died at age 30, drowning in Wolf River Harbor, a tributary of the Mississippi River. No drugs were involved in his death.

As an aside, Buckley's haunting rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is one of my all-time favorite songs. You can listen to it on YouTube here. Buckley's critically acclaimed 1994 debut album CD "Grace" is now on sale at Wal-Mart for only $6.88 and is well worth the investment.

Prayer Blog - 4/5/2008, #2

Family friend and Wisconsin resident is seeking prayer as she seeks a job. She has pursued jobs in Connecticut and Tennessee and the job at the collegein Connecticut did not pan out. She will be bringing her ailing mother with her wherever she moves. Keep this family in your prayers.

Prayer Blog - 4/5/2008

My mother, DLNV, has aggravated a pre-existing leg injury. She did so returning from getting the mail. (Yes, I know she needs a more dramatic explanation). She has been hobbling for the past two days and missed this morning's Memory Walk to support Alzheimer's patients. Pray for a speedy recovery as she will be on her feet often in New Yorj this next week.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Vinson Look-alike Meter

MyHeritage: Family tree - Genealogy - Celebrity - Collage - Morph

Bible Trivia - 4/4/2008

Question: Of what creature does Proverbs 6 say, “Consider her ways, and be wise.”?

Answer: The ant. (Proverbs 6:6)

Comments: The address “O sluggard” indicates that the wisdom gleaned from the ant should relate to work ethic.

Go to the ant, O sluggard,/Observe her ways and be wise, (Proverbs 6:6, NASB)

Ants are one of the oldest living creatures in the world and have not changed much since the time of Solomon. Today, there is a field for those who consider the ways of ants. Myrmecologists study ants as they are model subjects for the study of sociobiology.

Ants are tremendous workers. There are no deadbeat ants as each ant has a specific job. The queen lays eggs to populate the colony. Workers collect food, feed members of the colony, and enlarge the nest. Soldiers are large workers that defend the colony and sometimes attack ants who are strangers. All these hard-working ants are female. Males have wings to fly to another colony, where they mate with a queen and die soon afterwards.

Strong in relation to their size, ants can carry 10 to 20 times their body weight. They work in teams to move extremely heavy things. Sometimes when a catastrophe occurs, the ants respond by quickly adapting their duties to overcome the problem.

Ants are diligent workers but the myth that ants do not sleep cannot be determined. No one knows whether ants "sleep" in the way we do. They do not possess eyelids, so they cannot close their eyes. They do rest, but trying to monitor their brain activity at this time would interfere with it so much that the results would not tell us anything. Ants do look for food only during the day. And in the winter, their breathing and metabolism slows way down.

One of the ways in which ants work that humans can mimic is that each has a function and all work towards a singular goal. The typical ant colony is usually centered around one or more egg-laying "queens." All ant species live in colonies with one to many queens. Whereas ants work for a queen, humans should all be working for a common King.

Word of the Day - 4/4/2008


A cabal is a small group of secret plotters, as against a government or person in authority.

Paul’s nephew alerted him of a Jewish cabal of more than forty men which vowed to fast until they had murdered Paul.

But the son of Paul's sister heard of their ambush, and he came and entered the barracks and told Paul. (Acts 23:16, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 4/4/2008

After seemingly an eternity (i.e. a day and a half) as a sunbaked recluse, I ventured out last night. Naturally, I spent the evening with KJW. JTH, KLTW, and RAW were also there.

I brought KJW a Liqua Toons SpongeBob SquarePants. Ordinarily, I give her selections from a stash I keep in the guest bedroom but it seems she discovered the bag earlier this week while her mother was cleaning. There would be no taking the items back from her. I am fine with this as she was excited and I was low on supplies anyway. Besides, what were the odds of KLTW cleaning the guest room?

I learned that I have risen in status. Earlier in the day while KJW was pretending to have a dinner party, my name was referenced. Cameo appearances at pretend dinner parties are usually reserved for her uncle, so I felt privileged.

At my suggestion we ate at the nearby Gondolier Italian Restaurant. We received some of the worst service ever. We sat minutes without being acknowledged despite the building being virtually empty and every employee on duty walking past us at least once. I literally had KJW yell, “Help!” repeatedly as loud as she could to no avail. (She did, however, enjoy it.) Finally, someone noticed us, but two waiters actually argued over whose responsibility we were - in front of us!

I soon learned that for the second time this week, a restaurant ran out of honey mustard. This should never happen! I was actually more upset about that than I was the atrocious service. I settled for Ravioli. In lieu of a salad, they actually allowed me to substitute a plate of spaghetti that was more than big enough to serve as a meal.

KJW’s pizza arrived at about the moment we had finished our meal. She had enjoyed snacking on bread sticks and especially the rare Coke, so she only ate one piece. We did take it home for her daddy.

Who was the moron who picked this restaurant? I still recommend the franchise, just not this particular location.

We then returned to RAW’s house where we contemplated playing cards. Instead, KLTW and JTH talked in his car for a ridiculously long period and RAW and I watched an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants with KJW. I swear that show is always on.

When the epic conversation ended with RAW flashing the porch lights, KLTW made Jumbo Cones from Food Club. KJW loved hers but was greatly agitated when she was told there was no more when the box of Jumbo Cones was visibly on the table.

In other news of my moronic behavior, my Literature Ministry prank was discovered as I forgot to properly lock the storage unit. LKS discovered my indiscretion and contacted LAC. MLM covered for us by noting that “little elves” did the work. I am glad MLM did not rat us out, but I am not sure how I feel about being ina abnd of “little elves.”

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 4/3/2008

Associated Baptist Press
April 3, 2008 (8-35)

Huckabee, in Ouachita visit, gives campaign-trail insight
‘Peace Committee’ for state proposed by Mo. layman
Fundamentalism & militancy: In world torn by religious history, stereotypes, is peace possible?
Fundamentalism & militancy: Beliefs alone not to blame when faith turns violent, scholars say
Fundamentalism & militancy: Religious violence outside the Abrahamic faiths
Opinion: What Dr. King means to me

Huckabee, in Ouachita visit,gives campaign-trail insight
By Trennis Henderson

ARKADELPHIA, Ark. (ABP) -- Describing some aspects of his recent presidential campaign as “just incredible fun,” former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee recently paid a brief visit to his alma mater, Ouachita Baptist University.

Huckabee, who served 10 years as Arkansas’ governor, put together a run for the Republican presidential nomination that consistently surprised critics, who early on dismissed him as an also-ran.

Huckabee had what he described as a “Final Four” finish in this year’s presidential race. Earning victories in eight primaries and caucuses, Huckabee withdrew from the race in early March after Arizona Sen. John McCain gained enough delegates to lock up the Republican nomination.

A 1975 graduate of Ouachita, Arkansas Baptists’ flagship institution, Huckabee also has served as a pastor, president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and chairman of the National Governors’ Association.

Acknowledging that “the whole experience was, in many ways, surreal,” Huckabee said the pace of a national presidential bid is “so fast that you don’t have time to stop and absorb it or even take it in.”

“At many times, I had to stop and remind myself that I was actually running for president of the United States,” he added. “The schedule was grueling and brutal. … It was early morning to late night and constantly being pushed and pulled -- almost treated like a property as opposed to a person.”

Despite the hectic schedule under the glare of the national media spotlight, Huckabee emphasized that “there were a lot of special times” on the campaign trail, including guest appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and the “Late Show with David Letterman.”

“Doing ‘Saturday Night Live’ was a real kick,” he noted. “Another fun time was the [Jay] Leno show. … I got to see there were some great people you get a chance to know in a casual way. All that was a lot of fun, and it kind of made up for the days that were anything but fun.”

Reflecting on the political impact of his presidential run, Huckabee said one aspect is that his campaign delivered a clear reminder that “ordinary people really can affect the process.”

“For virtually a dime to the dollar of the other candidates, we took this campaign to the ‘Final Four,’ and most folks didn’t think that could happen. I think it’s a transformational kind of experience in politics,” Huckabee declared. “It was very important as a hallmark of the campaign -- and hopefully future campaigns -- that people will pay attention to the candidates and their message and not just their bank accounts.”

Concerning his decision to seek the presidency, Huckabee said, “I deeply felt there was a need for someone, frankly, to be president who understood the real world where most Americans live. I think there is a disconnect with most people who have been in Washington for a good while.”

As an example, he cited a Republican debate on the economy in which other candidates “were all singing the Republican song of a great economy.” By contrast, he said he emphasized that “for people in the real world, the economy is not doing that well.”

Taking a page from his campaign playbook, Huckabee listed a litany of economic concerns in the speech, such as rising fuel prices, education costs and “health care costs rising at twice the rate [at] which pay was rising. That meant people were working harder this year than they were last year and not getting ahead; in fact, slipping behind.”

A key reason for many voters’ concern over the economy is that “when the economy is prosperous, it has a trickle-down effect, but when the economy begins to go into a recession, it’s a trickle-up effect,” he explained. “It hits the people at the bottom first and the hardest because they have the least margin with which to deal.”

Given his newfound influence in conservative Republican circles, Huckabee said one of his goals is to “continue to make the case that there can’t be a separation between economic conservatism and social conservatism.”

“The most basic form of government is self-government,” he added. “Civil government is the result of the breakdown in self-government, family and community. … The degree to which those structures break down, you’re going to have more civil government whether you want it or not.”

Highlighting the need for individuals, businesses and communities to take greater responsibility for their actions if they want to reduce government involvement, he said, “I think that’s missing out there in the discussion.”

Giving a nod to Ouachita’s influence on both his life and political career, Huckabee noted, “I’ve always said that the education I received here gave me a platform that I never had to be ashamed of or run from. I have held my own with people who had Harvard Law degrees or MBAs from Harvard or Yale. I don’t feel like I ever had to say, ‘Gee, I don’t belong up here.’ Academically, Ouachita was as good of an education as I could have had.”

In 2005, Ouachita named its school of education after Huckabee to honor his education-reform initiatives as governor.

Huckabee, who has served as a trustee of the school, said another benefit of his OBU education “was that it helped me come to deep convictions about principles that I believed in and not just what they were but why -- and the ‘why’ is more important than the ‘what.’”

“The best value that I had from Ouachita was an analytical education, an education that taught me to think critically and to question and to put my own convictions to the test,” he affirmed. “It was truly a challenging education, and I value that a lot.”

Looking to the future, Huckabee acknowledged, “I haven’t really settled on ‘Gosh, here’s what I want to do when I grow up.’ I think I will continue to be involved politically and also from a policy standpoint, helping people to get elected and keeping my own options open for the future.

“I want to affect the discussion of public policy as it relates to the bedrock issue of why individual morality and the structure of the family really does have an impact on the direction of civil government,” he added. “And the respect for human life is fundamental and foundational to our culture.”

Emphasizing that such respect is not limited to the abortion issue, he said, “That’s where people get messed up. It deals at the heart of whether or not we are, as our forefathers said, all equal. If there’s intrinsic worth and value in each person, then one person is not more valuable than another or less valuable than another.”

What about another run for the presidency in four or eight years? “I won’t rule it out,” Huckabee said. “I mean I’m not making an announcement to say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to.’ The circumstances and everything -- who knows what they’re going to be? But it’s not like I’m saying, ‘Boy, I’ll never do that again.’ I won’t rule that out.”

Asked about the possibility of helping her husband conduct another presidential campaign, Huckabee’s wife, Janet, who also attended Ouachita, answered simply, “I’m with him. Whatever he does, I’m there.”

Glancing at the former candidate, she added, “I was very proud of what Mike did. He came from virtually nobody knowing who he was; as we say, he came from being an asterisk to second man standing.

“I’ve always known that if people got to know him, they’d love him,” she concluded. “We just have to get a few more people to know him next time.”


‘Peace Committee’ for state proposed by Mo. layman
By Robert Marus

REPUBLIC, Mo. (ABP) -- As battles between conservatives continue to roil the Missouri Baptist Convention, one prominent layman in the state is proposing a miniature re-creation of the infamous Southern Baptist Convention “Peace Committee.”

But the convention’s president -- cautioning that he had not gotten a chance yet to look at the proposal -- said April 3, “I’d be in favor of everything I could do to promote and bring about peace, but I’m not sure a peace committee is going to be an answer.”

MBC president Gerald Davidson said he had only received a copy of Missouri Baptist layman Kent Cochran’s proposal the night before and hadn’t had time to review it in detail due to travel.

Davidson, the retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Arnold, Mo., noted that he was a veteran of conservatives’ successful efforts on both the state and national levels to take control from Southern Baptist moderates. “I go back to the ‘80s, you know; I was involved in the struggles then, and the [SBC] Peace Committee didn’t solve many problems at that time,” he said.

Cochran -- a Republic, Mo., layman who is also a veteran of the SBC and MBC struggles against moderates -- sent a news release detailing the proposal to media outlets April 1. Cochran’s release said he mailed the proposal to all members of the MBC executive board, which is scheduled to meet April 14-15. He is not a member of the body.

The proposal asks the board to establish a committee of 14 members representing the two “major sides” in a struggle that, since 2006, has divided the convention into warring factions of conservatives. The committee would “research the perceptions, activities, expectations, history, present and future of Missouri Baptists focusing particularly on the three issues of: theology, methodology, political activity and any related matters that involve Missouri Baptist life,” according to the proposal.

Conservatives in Missouri, led by Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association founder Roger Moran, cemented their control of the convention’s governing structures in 2001. Many moderate churches in the state withdrew support from the convention, with some joining a new alternative body, the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. Many of those churches were later kicked out of the MBC because of their ties to the new convention as well as a nationwide moderate group, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

But intramural disputes between Missouri conservatives over the convention’s former executive director, Moran’s control of the nominating process and funding for church plants associated with a nondenominational emerging-church network boiled over in 2006. That year, Moran and allies attempted to force a showdown over then-MBC Executive Director David Clippard. The executive board later fired Clippard.

Moran and his allies accused Clippard and others of negligence in approving a $200,000 loan for a St. Louis church start, called The Journey, that was part of the Acts 29 church-planting network. They particularly criticized The Journey for an outreach activity that involved convening a theological discussion group at a St. Louis-area brewpub. Moran claimed that it -- and all churches associated with Acts 29 -- were out of step with what most Southern Baptists believe about the acceptability of alcohol use.

The conflict eventually led to a group of prominent conservative pastors who had worked with Moran in his efforts against moderates to organize against their former ally. The group, calling itself “Save Our Convention,” held rallies and backed Davidson and a slate of officers for convention posts at the body’s 2007 annual meeting.

Moran -- who ran for first vice president -- and the other MBLA-backed candidates all lost to the Save Our Convention candidates by wide margins. It was the first time in eight years that a slate of MBC officers won without Moran’s backing.

In March, Moran’s organization announced it would gear up and try for a comeback at the next MBC annual meeting, scheduled for October in St. Louis. Along with a press release signed by scores of pastors and laypeople -- including Cochran -- Moran’s group put out a document detailing what it considers the moral and theological excesses of the Acts 29 movement.

David Sheppard, the informal leader of the Save Our Convention group and pastor of First Baptist Church in St. Charles, Mo., released a statement decrying Moran’s tactics.

“Roger’s whole approach has always been guilt by association,” Sheppard said. “He has identified about 10 churches in the Missouri Baptist Convention that are questionable on these matters. I am absolutely positive that every one of us could find that many churches in this convention that we have serious concerns about their practices and perhaps their beliefs. If we go after everybody’s list of 10, pretty soon we can narrow the convention down to those 10 that agree with us.

“This is about the legalistic powerbrokering of a few people who want absolute control of this convention,” Sheppard’s statement continued.

Cochran’s proposal is modeled after one that established the SBC Peace Committee in 1985. The committee was charged with finding a resolution to the moderate-conservative war that had been raging in the SBC since 1979. It conducted interviews and presented several reports, including a final one that SBC messengers approved at the convention’s 1987 meeting.

However, many moderates denounced the report, saying its conclusions were inaccurate and biased in favor of the conservatives’ rhetoric. Most eventually left the SBC for other groups, including the CBF and the Alliance of Baptists.

Moran, reached by telephone April 3, said he had only heard about Cochran’s proposal the night before and had not yet seen a copy.

“Generally, Kent talks to me, but he didn’t mention anything to me about it,” he said. Moran declined to discuss his reaction further, citing a policy of only answering questions from the MBC’s and SBC’s in-house news organs. But he directed an Associated Baptist Press reporter to the anti-Acts 29 manifesto on the MBLA website. “The stuff you’re talking about is on the website and you can probably draw some logical conclusions about that,” he said.

Kerry Messer, MBLA’s president and a lobbyist from Festus-Crystal City, Mo., said April 3 that he had not heard of the proposal or received it as of the evening of April 2. “This is brand-new news to me,” he said.

Davidson said April 3 that he didn’t know if the proposal would even get a hearing at the April 14-15 meeting.

“Well, I don’t even know that we’ll bring it up at the executive board meeting,” he said. “You know, the agenda was already pretty well set. I’ll just seek a little counsel about this.”


Fundamentalism & militancy: In world torn by religious history, stereotypes, is peace possible?
By Greg Warner

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (ABP) -- Is it possible in today’s world for religions to live at peace? It is if they are true to their natures, according to world-religions expert Charles Kimball.

“Peace is a central feature of all of the world religions that have stood the test of time,” said Kimball, author of the seminal book When Religion Becomes Evil. To warrant long-term devotion, he said, a religion “has to provide hope, guidance, serenity and a way to be at home in the world.”

But in a country at war with militant Islamic terrorists, interfaith understanding is at a premium today.

“Some people think that Muslims wake up and think, ‘What am I willing to destroy today?’ But that’s not how most Muslims think,” said Kimball, professor of comparative religion at Wake Forest University and an expert on Islam. “They’re not plotting anything. They’re trying to feed their family….”

But, as in other faiths, peaceful intent can be distorted. “In Islam there is always a responsibility to defend yourself when attacked,” continued Kimball, who recently was hired by Oklahoma University to direct its religious-studies program. “In the hands of a[n Osama] bin Laden and others, this is an open license to do anything.”

And, he added, Muslims aren’t alone in that tendency.

“The two religious traditions that have the most to be ashamed of are Christians and Muslims,” Kimball said, noting both are also both monotheistic and “missionary,” and the largest and most global religions.

“By numbers of persons killed,” said Bruce Knauft, an anthropologist and director of Emory University’s Institute for Comparative and International Studies. “Christianity has very likely been the greatest perpetrator of violent religious extremism during the past 1,000 years, including the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Thirty Years’ War, and the wars of the French Reformation. Like current violent religious extremism, these deaths were linked with political disputes and rivalries.”

“If you ask which [religious] empire provided a more hospitable environment for [other] religion[s], it was the Muslims,” said Kurt Anders Richardson, a Baptist who teaches comparative religion at McMaster Divinity College, an evangelical seminary in Hamilton, Ontario. “Sure, Jews and Christians became second-class citizens, but you never had the Inquisition or [Nazi] pogroms of eradication.”

Christianity’s violent past is not lost on Muslim audiences. Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, an American ally, called the 20th century’s world wars Christian-on-Christian violence, noting both German and Allied armies were full of chaplains who prayed for victory.

Similarly dangerous, several scholars said, is the belief that politicians with the right beliefs are more capable of moral leadership. “What got us into this war [in Iraq],” said Richardson, “was a belief that sanctified leadership is not only possible but realized and deserving of extraordinary trust.”

The overwhelming percentage of the world’s extremist violence is Muslim-on-Muslim, Richardson said. While many Muslims are struggling to cope with the encroaching demands of the modern world, he said, “most Muslims believe it is possible to be faithful and modern.”

“The vast majority of educated and politically responsible Muslims in the world want stable governments, peaceful co-existence among religions, and control of all forms of religious extremism,” Richardson said. “That’s not bad.”

Some Westerners fear “a global Islam,” Richardson said, but the only Muslims who envision such an empire are in the least developed countries. “They imagine people on horseback and camelback getting this done. What are we really afraid of here?”

The threat of an “expansionist Islamic nation” is unrealistic, and a “transnational militant Islamism will not provide a standing army anywhere,” he said. “There’s nothing even workable.”

Shlomo Fischer, who has spent his career teaching democratic principles to Israelis, said viewing other faiths as enemies has “terrible consequences.” He advised seeking common ground with potential adversaries. “When I go to conferences, I almost always sit with my Muslim colleagues,” a Jewish scholar at Israel’s Tel Aviv University. “We have a lot in common. We don’t eat meat and don’t drink wine.

“I don’t think of myself in a worldwide war with Islam. And I don’t think it would be right for Christians to view themselves as in a worldwide war with Islam.”


Fundamentalism & militancy: Beliefs alone not to blame when faith turns violent, scholars say
By Greg Warner

ATLANTA (ABP) -- Every faith group has its extremists, but not all extremists turn violent. What makes the difference?

While most religious violence follows common patterns, faith seldom turns violent except in response to social oppression, say experts who study extremists.

“In most cases, it’s not a religious thing as much as frustration in an encounter with society at large,” said Graham Walker, a Baptist theology professor who studies religious violence in Asia. “But it takes just one imam, one leader or pastor to trigger a group -- one authoritative person who speaks for God and who can establish a [group’s] identity or paint a scapegoat. Then the rage within the [faith] community can be projected outside the community.”

When that happens, religious doctrine is distorted to rationalize violence, Walker and others agree. And no faith system is exempt from that danger.

“Religious extremist violence is a potential in all major religious faiths, including even Buddhism,” said Bruce Knauft, an anthropologist and director of Emory University’s Institute for Comparative and International Studies, which recently hosted some of the world’s top religion scholars for a conference on extremism.

But religious-inspired violence is relatively uncommon, said Knauft. Instead, the worst violence is “secular and political forms of large-scale killing and brutality,” such as World Wars I and II, he said.

While 9/11 has come to symbolize religious violence for Americans, that attack is the exception that proves the rule, said Kurt Anders Richardson, a Baptist who teaches comparative religion at McMaster Divinity College, an evangelical school in Hamilton, Ontario.

“In the major faiths, there is not a single case where violence in God’s name is accepted,” said Richardson, who taught at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1987 to 1995.

Some Christians tend to see al Qaeda, the Islamic terror group responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, as typical of all hard-line Muslims. Ironically, they do so the same way Osama bin Laden labels all 2,603 people killed in the World Trade Center as “infidels” and all Westerners as oppressors.

In reality, violent extremists of any faith have more in common with other violent groups than with the majority within their own faith, added Shlomo Fischer of Israel’s Tel Aviv University. He presented a paper on violent Jewish Zionist groups during the Emory conference, called “The Wrathful God: Religious Extremism in Comparative Perspective.”

“Violent extremists may be different from us in crucial ways,” he said. On the other hand, violent extremists are “not far removed” theologically from mainstream believers. “We tend to see fundamentalists as irrational totalitarians, while we are rational. That’s probably not true.”

Extremists -- whether Eric Robert Rudolph, Mohammed Atta, or the Zionists who tried to blow up Islam’s Dome of the Rock shrine in 1981 -- see themselves as part of a “revolutionary vanguard” whose violent tactics are in the best interest of the public, Fischer said. “It’s rational within its own terms.”

He added: “We’re not talking about people who are from the moon.”

So what’s the difference between Jerry Falwell -- the late Religious Right leader who prayed for the death of pro-choice Supreme Court justices -- and Rudolph, the fundamentalist Christian whose anti-abortion views drove him to bomb the 1996 Olympics, a Birmingham abortion clinic and other targets, killing two and injuring dozens?

Charles Kimball, author of the seminal book When Religion Becomes Evil, identifies five major warning signs of religion gone awry:

-- Claims of absolute truth. “When people absolutize their truth claims, they can justify anything,” said Kimball, professor of comparative religion at Wake Forest University. “We should always have a measure of humility.”

-- Blind obedience. “When any religion tells you, ‘We’ll do the thinking for you,’ something is terribly wrong.”

-- The end justifying the means. Even the recent Catholic child-abuse scandals bore this symptom, Kimball said. “They saw protecting the ministry of the church as an end” that justified lying about sexual abuse by priests.

-- Declaring holy war.

-- The pursuit of the “ideal” time. Much of the violence associated with Christianity is linked to eschatology, or end-times theology.

Violent extremists see themselves as “avant-garde catalysts” ushering in “a utopian order,” added Fischer. When such a socio-political goal appears achievable, Richardson added, “it will lead to this kind of theologizing,” where the extremists’ goals are identified with God’s will.

Perhaps the deadliest example of such an episode relatively unknown to many modern-day Christians: the Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864 in southern China. Christian convert Hong Xiuquin, claiming to be the brother of Jesus, established an army to overthrow China’s Qing dynasty. His apocalyptic theology identified the dynasty as the dragon in the book of Revelation. The rebellion and government retaliation claimed between 20 and 30 million lives -- more than World War I.

The tragic chapter is often blamed for the Chinese government’s continued distrust of Christianity. “The Chinese government is realistically terrified of this apocalyptic power,” said Walker, professor of theology at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta.

Walker, a former missionary and seminary administrator in Southeast Asia, is studying Christian tribes of northern Myanmar that have been largely cut off from outside Christian influence for years because of government restrictions. In that vacuum, “two different eschatologies” have developed among the tribes, Walker said. Those with an apocalyptic interpretation of the faith are inclined toward revolution and violence; those with a present-world interpretation of eschatological scriptures have remained peaceful under a repressive government, he said.

But, Walker added: “Christian fundamentalists are not more prone to violence than other faiths. It is possible in any faith community.” He cited fundamentalist Hindu rioters in India who have killed Muslims in recent years and the quasi-Buddhist sect Aum Shinrikyo, an apocalyptic cult that committed the 1995 sarin gas attack in Tokyo’s subway that killed 12.

Despite the prominent role of religion in the world’s violence, Knauft said in an e-mail interview, it must be kept in perspective. “During the last 150 years at least, the tally of those killed by secular political causes -- and in massive response to extremist political violence -- far drawfs the number killed in religious extremism.”

For example, while almost 3,000 people were killed in the Islamic-inspired attacks of 9/11, Iraqi deaths attributed to the American-led invasion are estimated between 200,000 and 1.2 million.

But there’s often a connection between secular oppression and violence and subsequent religious violence.

“Most extremist religious violence has occurred in tandem with political antagonism and the perception of social injustice from those who are powerful,” said Knauft, who has written extensively on social inequality, politics and violence.

“During the last 50 years, political disempowerment, disenfranchisement and discrimination have greatly increased the possibilities and likelihood of extremist religious violence,” he continued. “This pertains to Sikhs in India, Christians in eastern Indonesia, and perhaps even Buddhists in Tibet, as well as Palestinian Muslims and many of those in Iraq.”

Other scholars agreed religious violence almost always comes in tandem with social and economic conflict. “I’ve seen that over and over again, all over Asia,” said Walker, the former missionary.

“There often is a nexus between religion and power,” added Kimball. “When the two get interwoven, religion is used to justify power.” It occurs more often in Islamic countries and Israel, he said, where religion and the state are joined.

Fischer, the Israeli scholar, agreed most violence is more political than religious, particularly when social conflict exists first. But sometimes those factors are hard to sort out. Zionism is “a nationalist movement,” and “Zionists believe the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people,” he said. “Still there is a violent conflict going on with the Palestinians that need not have anything to do with religion.”

When religion comes into political power, said Richardson, the McMaster theologian, even a non-violent faith “can be complicit with extremism” by providing the rationale and opportunity for merging religious and political might. When that happens, Christians lose all influence in advancing peace, he said.

Despite the tensions between religion and politics, most of the scholars did not predict a worldwide wave of violence in the future.

Knauft said Christianity tends to be peaceful in the developing countries of the Southern Hemishere, where it is expected to grow fastest.

“Violent confrontations between Christians and Muslims in Africa and Asia are mostly confined to limited areas were land and political disputes, and ethnic differences, have a long history of sowing discord -- such as northern Nigeria and eastern Indonesia,” he said.

“Violent polarization between Islam and Christianity is not inevitable or even likely,” Knauft continued, “except where state discrimination, disenfranchisement and disempowerment render people few options of counteraction or resistance except through religious extremism.”

But the greater threat, said Knauft and others, is that the military superiority of the United States, the sole superpower, would “increase resentment and frustration of disempowered peoples.”

Still, the wild card in the violence equation, most scholars said, is the possibility that terrorists would acquire a nuclear weapon or other weapons of mass destruction. “Today,” Kimball said, “the world is so much more interconnected that a small group of people can affect the whole world.”

So what can be done to reduce the risk of extremist religious violence?

More and more people are becoming aware, said Mercer’s Walker, that the solution is “to reduce the sources of anger and frustration” in less powerful countries and regions. Work for “sustainable economic development,” he advised.

And Kimball suggested America export one of its best inventions – separation of church and state. “In our world, we have to have freedom of religion, freedom from religion, and respect for diversity,” he said. “America has some experience that can help the world. The rest of the world desperately needs that kind of modeling.”


Fundamentalism & militancy: Religious violence outside the Abrahamic faiths
By Graham Walker and Greg Warner

(ABP) -- The three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – are the most violent of the world’s religions, scholars say. But all faiths can resort to violence on occasion, even the normally peaceful Hindus.

A common characteristic of violence among the Abrahamic religions is radical end-times expectations. The apocalypticism of the Taiping Rebellion in China (1845-1963) was taken directly from the book of Revelation and led to more than 20 million deaths. But apocalypticism also surfaced in the syncretistic beliefs of the contemporary Aum Shinrikyo cult, which also borrowed from Revelation.

-- Aum Shinrikyo

Aum Shinrikyo was a destructive doomsday cult centered in Japan. Their name was a combination of Aum, which is a sacred Hindu syllable, and Shinri Kyo, which means "supreme truth." It appears to be a syncretistic religion combining elements of Buddhism with Christianity. As an illegitimate Buddhist group, it has been rejected by Buddhist leaders in Japan.

Aum Shinrikyo terrorists released the nerve gas sarin in a Tokyo subway station March 20, 1995. The gas killed 12 passengers and injured over 5,000. Over 100 Aum members were charged, including its leader, Shoko Asahara.

Asahara was born partially blind in 1955 as Chizuo Matsumoto. He was trained as an acupuncturist, operated a folk-medicine shop, and opened a yoga school. He traveled to the Himalayas to study Buddhism and Hinduism. This led him to organize the Aum Shinrikyo in 1987, which reached a peak membership of about 20,000 worldwide, many drawn to the group's rejection of Japan’s corruption and materialism.

Using the book of Revelation and the writings of Christian astrologer Nostradamus, Asahara predicted major disasters for the final years of the last millennium. He called for the group to fight in a final world revolution against the enemies of Japan, including the United States. The group established chemical factories and stockpiled various chemicals, as preparation for this Armageddon, and launched at least nine biological attacks on different Japanese targets, including the legislature, the Imperial Palace, and the U.S. base at Yokosuka.

After the arrest of Shoko Asahara and others for the sarin attack, Aum Shinrikyo changed its name to Aleph in 2000. Rika Matsumoto, third daughter of Asahara, has now taken charge of the cult.

-- Sikhism

Sikhism combines elements from Bhakti Hinduism, Advaita Hinduism and Sufism, with an emphasis on tolerance and coexistence between Muslims and Hindus. Sikhism grew on the borders between Islamic and Hindu regions of India, which have been violently contested areas for centuries.

Between 1981 and 1994, thousands of young men and perhaps a few hundred women were initiated into secret fraternities of various rival radical Sikh organizations. Their enemies were secular politicians, police, Hindu journalists and community leaders.

In June 1984, Sikh terrorists seized a Sikh holy shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar. When Indian security forces retook the temple, 500 or more people were killed, including many innocent worshipers. Six months later, India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards as revenge for this act of profanity. On the following day, more than 2,000 Sikhs were massacred in Delhi and elsewhere.

In 1991, over 3,000 people were killed during disturbances in the Sikh-dominated province of Punjab. Sikh extremists then attacked the Indian ambassador to Romania. The Romanian government helped to capture the Sikhs. Later that year militant Sikhs kidnapped a Romanian diplomat in Delhi in retaliation.

-- Hinduism

Hinduism is generally viewed by outsiders as a peaceful religious system. However, there have been violent incidents, such as the 1948 assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, a champion of non-violence, by Hindu fundamentalist Nathuram Godse.

Believers in the doctrine of Hindutva asserts that Hinduism, as the ‘indigenous’ faith of India, must be dominant and that all ‘foreign’ religions must be subject to the will of the majority. For a time, a certain form of fundamentalism has exerted considerable impact on Indian mainstream politics. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was formed in 1980 as the political expression of Hindutva.

Hindu fundamentalism is manifested in the family of Hindu nationalist organizations known as Sangh Parivar. In 1992, Sangh Parivar activists stormed and destroyed the 16th century mosque in Ayodha, India. The act sparked riots between Muslims and Hindus, which killed thousands.

In late 2007 and early 2008, Hindu fundamentalists in the India’s rural region of Orissa attacked Christian churches and villages, burning many and forcing thousands of people to flee into the forest. Hindus in the region say Christian mobs responded in kind. Some people blame anti-Christian rhetoric of politicians and residents; others say it is a social and not religious problem.

-- Buddhists and Hindus in Sri Lanka

Tamil Tigers are fighting for independence for the Tamils, a mostly Hindu ethnic population in north and east Sri Lanka, the island nation southeast of India. Tamils have suffered persecution by Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese Buddhist majority for decades. An estimated 70,000 people have died since 1983, 5,000 in the last 18 months. Violent opposition to the Tigers is now led by hard-line Buddhist monks.

-- Christian-Muslim violence in Indonesia

While Christians have been persecuted in other parts of Muslim-dominated Indonesia, they were once the majority in the island chain of Maluku because of settlement by colonial Dutch, Portuguese and English traders seeking valuable nutmeg and other spices of the islands. More recently, deep fear and mistrust between Muslim and Christian residents of Maluku’s main island, Ambon, has led to violence on both sides.

The history of Ambon is very similar to what has taken place all over Southeast Asia after the collapse of colonial rule, including conflicts in Nagaland, India, and the situation of the Karen people in Burma. While the violence is often dubbed religious sectarian, there are larger political and economic issues at stake. In many cases, “religious identities” are simply ways to mark identities and form alliances between tribal and ethno-linguistic communities.


-- Graham Walker, a former missionary and seminary administrator in Asia, is professor of theology at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta.

Opinion: What Dr. King means to me
By David Gushee

(ABP) -- This week marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. In this column I want to honor Dr. King by offering reflections about what his life and work mean to me today. I aim to be appreciative -- but unsentimental -- in reflecting on one of the Christian leaders whose work has had the deepest impact on my own moral vision.

King was murdered when he was not yet 40 years old. It is bracing for me to think that Martin King was an exact contemporary of my father. With good health he might even be alive today, just like my own beloved father. Think about what he could have done with 40 more years!

Jesus was right in saying that we kill our prophets and then honor them after they are dead. I am very glad that the United States honors Martin King with a holiday and a street named after him in most every major city -- but that cannot erase the hatred and contempt that he experienced during his actual lifetime. I am sure that Dr. King would have much preferred a positive response to his message in his lifetime rather than posthumous sanctification.

Any who would seek to follow the example of Martin Luther King should expect fierce opposition. Their presence brings not peace but division, because their message exposes injustice and challenges the status quo. That opposition can take a variety of familiar forms, from rejection to assassination. If our stance as Christians in a brutal and unjust world evokes no opposition, we are playing it too safe -- not living as we ought to live.

King teaches that these often-hateful responses to a fight for social justice should be expected as a kind of structural consequence of such advocacy, almost like a law of nature. When you push against wrong, it stirs up the hornets.

This reaction is so predictable that there is no need to over-personalize it, and certainly no need to respond in kind to the hornets themselves. This realism about how social change happens contributed to King’s ability to remain in the fight for justice without giving in to despair or hatred of those who hated him.

I have learned from King to appreciate the difference between platitudes and concreteness in ethics. Just about everyone now says they are “for peace,” or “for justice,” or “for reconciliation” -- platitudes all. But when the conversation turns to the concrete -- like provisions requiring that all public schools offer quality education through redistribution of tax revenues -- then you have a fight on your hands.

The lesson is that if you want praise, offer high-sounding words in favor of universal platitudes. But if you want justice, tackle specific wrongs, propose specific remedies, and resist the move to platitudes so often employed as a deflection strategy. Then the praise will soon end and the real fight will begin.

The recent flap over Jeremiah Wright, Sen. Barack Obama’s controversial pastor, raised, among other issues, the question of patriotism. Can you love your country while also criticizing it intensely?

Of course you can. King already showed us this during his lifetime. He loved America –but he opposed America’s racism in the name of what he loved about the United States. That was the genius of the “I Have a Dream” speech. This dream, in part, was that America “would rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.”

King had not given up on the creed despite the many cruel ways Americans had violated it over the years. There was a kind of eschatological expectation in King -- surely shaped by his Christian faith -- that this nation could one day reach its own professed values.

There is a difference between criticism of a community from within or from without. If I criticize, say, Saudi Arabia, I do so as a foreigner and stranger. If I criticize the United States, I do so as a citizen who loves this country and wants what is best for it. King loved America enough to criticize it and to work for its internal reform. Somehow, there is a brittleness about our patriotism that often seems unable to accommodate both love and critique. King can help us do better.

Martin Luther King keeps in front of me the issues that he dealt with most directly -- racism, poverty, war -- while training me to attend to other expressions of social evil. Those who would honor Dr. King should oppose – concretely -- particular instances of racism, economic injustice, and needless wars. And so I, for one, want to talk about racism in our criminal justice system, our cruelly flawed health-insurance system, and the misbegotten war in Iraq.

But I also want to try to stretch to think about which victimized peoples might have caught Martin Luther King’s attention if he were with us today. I personally think that they would include aborted, abused, abandoned, and neglected children; people who can’t get basic health care; homosexuals who have been rejected and loathed by society; victims of environmental degradation here and abroad; our mistreated terror detainees; Darfur’s refugees and so many more.

Finally, Martin Luther King teaches me about what it means to follow the real Jesus rather than the culturally comfortable Christ. So often we turn Christ into little more than “my atoning Savior” or “the object of my doctrinal speculations” or “the one who makes me happy (and rich)” or “our national God” or “my personal friend.”

There is certainly a place for atonement, doctrine, happiness, and intimacy with Christ. But the Jesus of Martin King was the one who, in his actual ministry, advanced justice, loved the loveless, attacked social evil, taught peacemaking, and was met with crucifixion.

I want to adore Jesus Christ. I want Jesus to be absolutely central in my life. But not just any version of Jesus.


-- David Gushee is distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University.

Separated at Birth?

While watching ESPN highlights, I noticed that Dirk Nowitzki looked like a really tall Philip McKeon (right), who played Tommy Hyatt on the TV series "Alice" (1976-1985). McKeon was 6'2" to begin with. McKeon's sister Nancy also starred on "The Facts of Life." Both also shaved off their long hair and both were wrong in doing so.

While I do not know many people familiar with both people, I do think Dirk is a throwback to the 1970s.

A Veiled Tell: Nil Soli - 4/3/2008

Gone Baby Gone (2007)

On Wednesday, I watched Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck's major motion picture directorial debut. The movie is based upon a novel by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River). Affleck also penned the screenplay in tandem with his friend Aaron Stockard.

The movie begins with a 4-year-old girl missing from a tough working class Boston neighborhood (Dorchester). The girl's aunt enlists private investigators Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angela Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) to assist in the investigation as they know the neighborhood. As the case progresses, Kenzie and Gennaro face drug dealers, gangs and pedophiles.

The movie brilliantly depicts Kenzie facing two moral dilemmas, one in the middle of the movie and one at the end. Kenzie's opening monologue sets the stage for these choices. Kenzie narrates, "When I was young, I asked my priest how you could get to heaven and still protect yourself from all the evil in the world. He told me what God said to His children. 'You are sheep among wolves. Be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves.'"

This quote from Matthew 10:16 sets up a morality play pitting Catholic (Christian) ethics against a world whose morality is governed by different guidelines. As with any good dilemma, there are personal consequences involved and the viewer views the film's world through Kenzie's eyes and as such must choose with Kenzie.

The movie has been lauded for its authentic feel. Affleck, a Boston native, shot on location. His brother Casey may or may not have been hired due to nepotism, but performs beautifully in one of his first leading roles. Amy Ryan was so convincing as a low class Dorchester mom that a security guard mistook her for a fan on the first day of location filming, and would not let her on the set.

I could tell the movie was authentic Boston as many of the characters, including Affleck, seemed like they would fit into New Kids on the Block.

In addition to the obvious moral dilemmas presented, the film also subtly critiques the media’s role in horrific stories such as abductions as well as accentuating the overlooked subject of children's rights.

The movie should stimulate a good ethical debate as the questions asked are left for the viewer to decide for herself.

As far as inapproprate content, there is excessive cursing (though it appears this is an authentic part of the culture depicted), some drug use, and some gun violence. Otherwise,I highly recommend this film for adults.

Current IMDB rating: 8.0/10. Chanalysis: 9/10.

Bible Trivia - 4/3/2008

Question: Complete Paul’s advice to Timothy by putting one word in each blank: Take a little _______ for thy _______ sake.”?

Answer: Wine; stomach’s. (I Timothy 5:23)

Comments: As evidenced by this New Testament passage, wine has historically been used as a digestive aid. There are historical examples of wine’s health benefits such as the Paris cholera outbreaks of 1832 and 1849 when it was noted that wine drinkers had been spared from the disease.

The purported health benefits of wine are now being touted by the scientific community as well. In a 1995 study published in the British Medical Journal (BJM), Dr. Martin E. Weisse of West Virginia University conducted research suggesting one to two glasses of wine in conjunction with meals may help prevent food poisoning, dysentery, and so-called traveler's diarrhea. His research shows that wine is even better at wiping out bacteria better than bismuth salicylate (Pepto-Bismol). In the study, wine also outperformed solutions of tequila and ethanol.

Weisse contends that there is a compound in wine released during fermentation that kills bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, and shigella. (Weisse M, et al. Wine as a digestive aid: Comparative antimicrobial effects of bismuth salicylate and red and white wine. British Medical Journal, 1995; 311:1457-1460.) The article can be read here.

Dr. Weisse explains, "for thousands of years, people have been saying that drinking wine with dinner aids digestion. . . and here we have an explanation why."

Critics claim Weisse’s study is flawed as it was limited to in vitro (test tube) antibacterial activity. The Center for Science in the Public Interest argues that the results from test tubes inadequately parallel the reaction within a human's digestive system. The group asserts that all the West Virginia doctor has proven is that wine in a glass kills bacteria, not that wine in a human being kills bacteria.

It is worth noting that the benefits are for moderate, not excessive, wine drinking. Even so, I have filed these facts under "Biblical facts that will never be preached in a Baptist church."

Word of the Day - 4/3/2008


Tessellated means arranged in or having the appearance of a mosaic.

One of the Aaron’s priestly garments was a tunic made of tessellated linen. (Exodus 28:39)

You shall weave the tunic of checkered work of fine linen, and shall make a turban of fine linen, and you shall make a sash, the work of a weaver. (Exodus 28:39, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 4/3/2008

I spent the majority of my Wednesday in the house in an effort to avoid my arch rival - the sun. It is a good thing that I got a haircut as I would have looked very much like a clown with the old Bozo hair and blood red skin.

KLTW called me in the morning with an investment opportunity. It seems NBC’s “Today Show” is giving away a house for $100. Owners J.J. Rodgers and Wes Ludlow launched an essay contest to dispense their two-story Red Feather Lakes, Colorado home. The contest comes after the home had languished on the market for three consecutive summers. They are hoping for a minimum of 2,000 entries by the May 25 deadline. Rodgers last listed the property at $169,000 after cutting the price three times. With national exposure, they may make a fortune on the house.

We may all chip in $20 and team up on an essay as KLTW is the luckiest person I have ever met in regards to contests. Besides, the essay topic is up the writer. I could write about Moe Howard and Adolph Hitler being one and the same, that Crispin Glover is sane and the rest of us are crazy, or simply expound upon my left big toe. Unfortunately, the contest is limited to 500 words and I would clealry need far more space to due my toe justice. The possibilities are still limitless. Actually, if I am shelling out $20 that could otherwise be spent on books, I will do a background check on the owners and steer my essay towards their interests. It will be like being in school again.

It would be ironic to own a vacation home but not have the money to get there or pay its taxes.

It would still be a better investment than my NCAA Tournament Bracket. Speaking of which, I am in a good position to repeat in last place in my Yahoo Pick ‘Em "Potty Trained & Potty Mouthed" bracket. After the first round four rounds I was in fourth, fifth, fourth and now eleventh place respectively out of 25 entries. This would be respectable except for the fact that none of my teams remain in the field, ensuring me a low finish. All I had to do was pick the top seeds. That would have been far too easy though.

I watched Gone Baby Gone in the afternoon. I loved it and not just because I am an Affleck fan either. My review is posted under a “Veiled Tell: Nil Soli.”

Two recent stories of note: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) was in my neighborhood investigating a potential attempted murder. It seems First Assistant U.S. Attorney MEW had been receiving death threats when his gardener noticed what could be bomb paraphernalia in his yard. The neighborhood was abuzz with police. The culprit turned out to be my next door neighbor! Teenager ZG shoots off rockets periodically and while usually very responsible, lost one of them. When it was found in MEW’s yard, chaos ensued. It was ironic as ZG is universally regarded as a great kid and neighbor. It was, however, disheartening to hear that one of my neighbors was receiving death threats.

The other story may be interesting only to those who know both employers involved, which admittedly is few. One of MoFoS “suppliers” recently got a new job with our good friends at the Witt Building Material Company Inc.. He came in the store and told JTH how much he loved wood working and was pleased with his new job. Witt is a great company and I would not think of going elsewhere for my vast lumber needs, but I think this is a sign that they really need to pay their employees more...

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Bible Trivia - 4/2/2008

Question: How long had Lazarus been in the tomb when Jesus brought him back to life?

Answer: 4 days. (John 11:17)

Comments: There has been some speculation that the significance of the four days relates to the rabbinical tradition that the soul hovers around its former body for three days in hopes of a reunion, but takes its final departure when it notices that the body has entered a state of decomposition. (e.g. William Hendriksen (1900-1982), Exposition of the Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1961), II, p. 146.) If this is the case, the four day interval would force the religious leaders to attest of an actual resurrection.

This belief is first documented in the early 2nd century but could have existed at the time of Jesus. It is attributed Bar Kappara, a Jewish rabbi who was active in Caesarea from around 180 to 220 CE, during the period between the tannaim and amoraim. It is recorded in Leviticus Rabbah 18.1:

"Bar Kappara taught: Until three days [after death] the sould keeps on returning to the grave, thinking it will go back [into the body]; but when it sees that the facial features have become disfigured, it departs and abandons it [the body]." (Leviticus Rabbah 18:1)

Some scholars also cite Mishnah Yevamot 16:3 to support this belief.

"They must not give evidence [of identity in respect of a dead man] except on [proof afforded by] the full face with the nose, even though there were also marks on its body or on its clothing. No evidence [of a man's death] must be given before his soul has departed, even though they saw him with his arteries cut or crucified or being devoured by a wild beast. They must give evidence [of identification] only during the first three days [after the death. After this period the decay of the corpse makes identification impossible or uncertain.]. . ." (Mishnah Yevamot 16:3).

Word of the Day - 4/2/2008


Friable means easily crumbled or reduced to powder; crumbly.

At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus equates those who hear his words but do not practice them to a friable house built on the sand. (Matthew 7:26-27)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 4/2/2008

Naturally, I spent my April’s Fool’s Day working on an elaborate prank.

The background: The church’s Literature Ministry meets on the second Saturday of each month. LAC, who supervises the endeavor always complains that young people do not help with the project. When I have helped, I have observed that he gripes about everything else. So, with MLM’s permission, I attempted to complete the entire ministry project in a day, so that when he arrives at the warehouse, there will be nothing to do. This way, God directly benefits from my prank.

My accomplice was my Bible Study friend CMU, with some morning help from my mother, DLNV. MLM thought it would be feasible to complete the project as to his knowledge there had been few donations thus far this month. So, at 10 am, MLM unlocked the vault and left without checking its contents.

Surprise! There had been numerous donations since then. Undaunted, we started anyway. Fortunately, the rain that had been predicted never materialized giving us a full day to work. We worked straight through to 5 pm with 20 boxes still remaining! This is impressive as the ministry usually has a dozen volunteers. All of the remaining boxes had been sorted which should make our next shift easier (hopefully with MLM’s help). I will be in New York when the work has been discovered and will have a perfect alibi. (Even when doing a charitable act as part of a prank, an alibi is a prerequisite.)

The really bad thing is that the weather cooperated and it was a beautiful day. I had not planned on being outside all day, and I believe I now have a 37th degree sunburn! I honestly did not know people could be so red. The things I will do for a prank...

This backfired almost as much as the Great New China Inn Heist of ‘05. God willing, an unplanned pregnancy will not somehow come out of this.

On the plus side, I did receive several complimentary books. God knows I need more books.

Despite the burn, it was actually a great day. It finished with me eating dinner with my parents at Calhoun’s and then buying massive quantities of Solarcaine.

In other news, SQP, whom I once served as nanny, was in the local paper’s survey of Prom. He spent a whopping $800! More amazingly, he spent more than his date! How is that even possible? Somehow, he still managed to look happy in the photo.

The bike I listed for PAT on eBay sold for $76 + $50 shipping minus our listing charges. That was not a bad stipend for living at the complex. I wonder if the bike's original owner repurchased it...

In closing:

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. (Originally written by Mary Schmich and “sung by Baz Luhrmann)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 4/1/2008

Associated Baptist Press
April 1, 2008 (8-34)

Supreme Court to hear case pitting 10 Commandments vs. ‘7 Aphorisms’
Fundamentalism & violence: Fundamentalists of all stripes want to turn back the clock
Fundamentalism & militancy: Defining ‘fundamentalism’
Missouri Baptist Convention faces $10 million countersuit
Home sweet home: Chaplain uses cookies to reach out

Supreme Court to hear case pitting 10 Commandments vs. ‘7 Aphorisms’
By Robert Marus

WASHINGTON (ABP) – It’s the Ten Commandments versus the Seven Aphorisms, and it’ll be coming to the Supreme Court sometime in its 2008-09 term.

The justices agreed March 31 to hear a case involving a 47-year-old monument to the Decalogue in a Utah city park. The justices will consider whether its presence in the park as the gift of a private organization gives a local sect -- itself younger than the Judeo-Christian monument -- the right to erect a tribute to its own religious code.

In Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, the court will reconsider a lower court’s decision. A panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the sect, called Summum, has as much right to erect a monument in the park as the Fraternal Order of Eagles did in the 1960s, when it donated the Decalogue monument.

Leaders of the sect asked the city to display the monument to its “Seven Aphorisms of Summum,” which the 32-year-old group says were also handed to Moses on Mount Sinai along with the Decalogue. Pleasant Grove officials had earlier adopted a procedure for private groups wishing to donate a monument or statue to the park.

The Aphorisms include such sayings as, “Everything flows out and in; everything has its season; all things rise and fall; the pendulum swing expresses itself in everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compensates.”

City officials refused the group’s request. Summum’s leaders sued, and a federal district court ruled in the city’s favor. But a three-judge panel of the appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision, saying it was discriminatory to allow the Fraternal Order of Eagles monument but to deny Summum the same privilege.

City officials appealed for a re-hearing, but the full 10th Circuit deadlocked on the question, meaning the three-judge panel’s decision stood.

The city, with the help of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that forcing Pleasant Grove to allow the monument meant other government entities would also have to allow all sorts of monuments on public land.

“Effectively, a city cannot accept a monument posthumously honoring a war hero without also being prepared to accept a monument that lampoons that same hero. Nor may a city accept a display that positively portrays Native American culture unless it is prepared to accept another that disparages that culture,” said attorneys for the city, in their brief asking the high court to review the 10th Circuit’s decision.

In the second half of the 20th century, the Eagles organization donated similar Ten Commandments monoliths to scores of other communities across the nation. Several have been the subject of important court decisions on government religious expressions.

Unlike many other cases regarding such monuments, however, this one does not turn on the First Amendment’s bans on government endorsement or suppression of religion. Instead, it is a free-speech question that animates the case.

“These cases happen to involve Ten Commandments monuments, but it could work the other way. A city that accepted the donation of a statue honoring a local hero could be forced, under the panel’s rulings, to allow a local religious society to erect a Ten Commandments monument -- or for that matter, a cross, a nativity scene, a statue of Zeus, or a Confederate flag,” wrote 10th Circuit Judge Michael McConnell, dissenting from his colleagues’ decision not to review the case.

Pleasant Grove officials contend, in their brief for the case, that the city has the right to discriminate between monuments. The Decalogue statue and other monuments in the park, they reason, have become government speech -- even though they were donated by private entities.

But other 10th Circuit judges and attorneys for Summum said that argument is off base because the city originally considered the monuments private speech and treated them as such. Therefore, they said, the appeals panel ruled against the city on the basis of the facts of the case and its own policy allowing other private groups to erect monuments.

“Because the narrow and fact-specific decision [by the 10th Circuit] … turns on the city’s own treatment of the Ten Commandments monument as private speech, it does not implicate, and would not give this court a chance to address, any broader issues concerning the line between government and private speech under the free-speech clause,” said attorneys for Summum, in their brief asking the Supreme Court not to review the case. “Likewise, because the [lower] court held only that the government may not discriminate among private speakers in a traditional public forum, the decision does not raise any broader issues.”

Pleasant Grove City v. Summum (No. 07-665) will be heard by the court after it begins its 2008-09 term in October.


Fundamentalism & violence: Fundamentalists of all stripes want to turn back the clock
By Marv Knox

(ABP) -- Despite all their theological and cultural differences, fundamentalists of every faith share at least one common characteristic: resistance to modernity.

That’s the assessment of scholars and firsthand observers who have evaluated the varieties of religious expression.

“Fundamentalism worldwide is religious anti-modernism,” noted Roger Olson, professor of theology at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary.

“Fundamentalism reacts against various types of modernity,” echoed Bill Leonard, a church historian and dean of the Wake Forest University Divinity School.

Whether it’s Baptist preachers J. Frank Norris and Jerry Falwell calling America to return to pre-scientific Christianity or Ayatollah Khomeini and Muqtada al-Sadr calling Muslims to resist the intrusion of Western decadence, fundamentalism finds a home in most major faith groups.

“In Christianity and Judaism, the battle with modernity in terms of elaborate militancy is the battle against pluralism -- the idea there are multiple ways to come to faith and that a given religion must come to terms with, and indeed conform to, society,” Leonard explained.

The battle extends all the way back to 17th-century England and “a very painful process in the struggle between religious establishments and religious dissenters,” he said, an observation affirmed by Olson.

The battle raged on American soil about a century ago, when Protestant fundamentalism resisted “the liberal modernist effort to change theology in light of new scientific and rationalist theses,” Leonard added.

So, the more recent rise of Islamic fundamentalism is neither unique nor surprising in the relatively younger faith, he added. “Militant action against dissent and pluralism and certainly modernity has worked itself through major elements of Christianity worldwide. … The Muslims are just now confronting that.”

And Muslims aren’t alone, said Rick Shaw, a former missionary who now is dean of Wayland Baptist University’s Kenya campus. He has seen radicalism not only among Christians and Muslims, but also Hindus.

In addition to the common denominator of anti-modernity, multiple factors or impulses transcend theological boundaries and propel adherents toward fundamentalism or militant religion. They include:

-- Dogmatic faith: “Fundamentalism begins not with militarism, but with a particular dogmatism about defining the nature of faith over against heresy and secular unbelief,” Leonard stressed. “That then often, though not always, can lead to militant terminology and sometimes militant action.”

It’s like a theological call to arms, added Rob Sellers, professor of missions at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon School of Theology.

“When the guardians of orthodoxy begin to feel as if ‘heretical’ views are growing in popularity, the defense mechanisms begin to set in place,” the Baptist professor said. “One has to defend one’s own interpretations or faith and, consequently, one has to speak with certainty to the point of ‘unassailable’ authority.”

Entitlement to authority is easy to justify if you’re defending the Lord of the universe, noted Dan Stiver, a theology professor at Logsdon.

“God is an ultimate value that calls for ultimate commitment,” he explained. “If this ultimacy becomes focused outwardly rather than inwardly, it can easily be seen as divine permission to attack and destroy someone else.

“Ironically, the faith that should elicit a higher form of morality easily descends into giving one permission for the ends to justify the means, because one is fighting for God.”

The distinction between healthy faith and militant religion is narrow, Stiver acknowledged. “There’s a fine line between someone who’s a crusader for a cause that we see as healthy and admirable and someone who is single-minded, has a target and [is] determined -- and how that could turn into being militant and fundamentalist.

“A healthy crusader is focused and aggressive but is not so willing to let the end justify the means, keeps loving the enemy at the forefront -- like Martin Luther King, Jr. -- and more quickly can identify with and have compassion even for the opponent.”

Religious people who make the shift toward extremism often do so based on how they read their holy writings, Shaw observed.

“A common element is hermeneutics -- interpretation of scriptures,” he said. “I’ve seen this in radical Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. It’s how they interpret the Bible, the Quran or the Vedas.”

Ironically, moderate followers of those religions consider themselves no less faithful to their scriptures, he said. But the distorted, extreme interpretations propel some adherents to radical faith.

That’s not so surprising, given the power of faith on people’s lives, Stiver reported.

“One of the aspects of religion is it’s very powerful, and people come to religion because they have legitimate needs that are met,” he said. “You would want to fill the God-shaped void in a positive way and not in a way that looks like hating your enemy instead of loving your enemy. But it can get circumvented.”

-- Identity: People of faith often gravitate to extreme positions because of what they seek in and for themselves, the scholars stressed.

An external focus on “being against something” provides longed-for identity, Stiver noted. “It’s a defensive posture in the sense of often ‘circling the wagons.’

“It’s usually defined by a pretty tight system of labeling what’s right and wrong -- black-and-white thinking. There’s good, and there’s evil,” he said. “Out of that comes a great deal of energy that motivates one to fight. The sense is you get a lot of fulfillment, identity, purpose and meaning in one’s faith from fighting this good fight.”

That reflects a “separatist mentality,” Olson added. “If you’re authentic … you’re with us,” he said.

Shaw saw this firsthand in Eastern Europe, most specifically ministering in Bosnia. Islamic extremism is “an identity people take upon themselves in contrast to another religion, in this case, [Eastern] Orthodoxy,” he recalled. While extremism represents a relatively minor segment of the Islamic population, “it is present-- but not part of mainstream Muslims.”

And although such behavior manifests itself as theological, Stiver asserted, “it’s more psychological or sociological.”

“Such an outwardly aggressive orientation contrasts with those with an inner peace, who are more secure within themselves,” he said, addressing the psychological dimension. Secure people of faith who are not radical “trust in God ultimately to be vindicated, and … because of that faith are less likely to cut corners and let the end justify the means.”

Similarly, Shaw pointed to one dimension of psychology – personality -- as a contributor to radical religion.

“Among Muslims and Hindus, there is one subpopulation attracted to [radical] faith disproportionately: young men,” he explained. “It is rare that I’ve ever met a young woman who is a radical Muslim or Hindu.”

In the United States, young African-American males are disproportionately attracted to militant forms of Islam, he added.

In all the groups, “young men are attracted to masculine structures and disciplines that have been absent in the clan or extended family,” Shaw observed.

In a related way, defining itself in opposition to a prevailing culture also provides a dimension of radical religion’s identity.

“The culture clash is a major issue,” Leonard said. “That still goes on. Particularly in Christianity in America in the last 30 or 40 years, you can see how that culture clash has surfaced-- still opposing the world, but letting it in the back door.”

He recalled growing up with such Baptist taboos as going to the movies and women wearing makeup, jewelry and short skirts. He also remembered when “worldly” music performed on guitars and drums was not permitted in church. But most conservative Protestants let those cultural barriers fall “in order to keep their statistics up and compete with the secular world,” he said.

Today, Islam is fighting a cultural battle -- but even more intensely. Leonard recounted an article by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, in which she told about receiving a citation from the Saudi Arabian “dress police” for not having her head covered. “They wrote the ticket standing in front of a Victoria’s Secret store in Riyadh,” he said.

“The people who flew those planes into those buildings [on Sept. 11, 2001] convinced themselves they were the defense of God on the evil culture of the world,” he added. “They were saying, ‘We’re not going to let you destroy our culture or destroy our faith.’”

Sometimes, militant religion seeks to recreate a culture that never truly existed, Shaw said.

“Perhaps there’s an element of nostalgic longing for a collective memory,” he said, noting that memory often is selective. “There is desire for restoration, often for an empire that never existed in the first place.”

-- Fear: “Fear is the basis of many forms of fundamentalism,” Sellers stressed, citing “fear of difference, of change, of ambiguity or not having all the answers, of ‘worldliness,’ of radicality, of the future, of those who are different.”

He continued: “This fear causes some other typical characteristics -- a glorification of the past or of orthodoxy, a certainty about one’s own faith or interpretation of one’s own faith; an entrenchment mentality, a feeling that ‘truth’ must be guarded against encroaching heresy and difference, an unwillingness to fellowship with/cooperate with/tolerate those who see faith issues in another way.”

Fear helps fuel another common aspect of militant fundamentalist groups: A tendency to focus their disdain on what Stiver calls “externals.”

“Perhaps this is easier than dealing with the hard work of inner transformation,” Stiver said. “Jesus seemed to be criticizing just such a tendency in the Sermon on the Mount where he kept pointing back to inner transformation, which, of course, does ultimately result in change in the outer world.

“This outer focus, however, also can be turned toward attacking or eliminating threats to one’s religious beliefs …. The problem is that the inner quest for peace can never be satisfied without inner transformation. Hence, the pattern of defeating one enemy only to find another enemy as an outlet for religious zeal.

“There will never be an end of outward enemies in this cycle, because the religious quest is displaced from oneself to someone else. Ironically, such an obsession with defeating outer foes reveals a lack of faith in God … that vengeance is God's. Rather, militants have to do the work of God themselves.”

-- Politics: Radical religion “often is coupled with a political agenda,” Shaw said. The pressure can come from the right or from the left, and often it targets “present political structures,” he added.

And sometimes, Leonard observed, religion provides a political excuse for more self-serving interests.

“Some may have [adopted radical faith] because they didn’t get a piece of the culture,” he said.

Leonard cited work by conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks, who contrasts the political/religious environment of the Middle East with Asia, particularly economic giants India and China.

“The economic pie is getting shared with the grassroots folks” in Asia, he noted. “But the chief export from Egypt is rugs -- not electronics or 21st-century technology, where the money is. So, you can make a case that while Muslims cite religion, another reason for their militancy is they don’t have a piece of the global pie.”


This is first in a series on Fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism & militancy: Defining ‘fundamentalism’
By Marv Knox

(ABP) -- Were the 9/11 terrorists who flew airplanes into the Twin Towers fundamentalists?

Technically, no.

Practically, yes.

“Fundamentalism” specifically refers to a conservative movement within U.S. Protestant Christianity that began about a century ago, according to religious scholars. But they concede the term has become a useful -- although disputed -- label for various expressions of militant religion.

“‘Fundamentalist’ has been applied to different groups with different agendas across the world,” reported Roger Olson, professor of theology at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. “It’s an essentially contested concept, with no universal definition.

“But as far as I know, only Christians call themselves fundamentalists,” he continued. “The media and some scholars of religion have taken ‘fundamentalism’ from the American ultraconservative Protestants and projected that onto other groups that scare us.”

Fair enough, said Bill Leonard, dean of the Wake Forest University Divinity School, who contended that wider use of the term is both acceptable and helpful.

“‘Fundamentalism’ can be used broader than Protestant Christianity,” Leonard said. “We’re at a point where terms in the public square don’t just belong to a particular kind of Christian unless you want to be very technical.”

Rob Sellers, professor of missions at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon School of Theology, offered a definition of fundamentalism flexible enough to accommodate multiple religions: “a defense of the faith, whatever that faith might be, against whatever is perceived to be a threat or a challenge, or against whatever is judged to be heretical or ‘liberal.’”

And now fundamentalism can even tilt in the opposite direction, added Sellers’ colleague Dan Stiver, a theology professor at Logsdon. “Of course, you could have a liberal fundamentalist -- [someone] not usually seen as a fundamentalist, but who acts in a fundamentalist or militant way.”

That’s true across the globe, observed Rick Shaw, a former missionary in Eastern Europe and now dean of Wayland Baptist University’s Kenya campus. Fundamentalism does not always tilt “to the right,” he said, basing his assertion on experience with Christians, Muslims and Hindus. “I’ve experienced that vehemence to the left.”

In the beginning -- around the turn of the 20th century -- fundamentalism originated among militant-but-nonviolent conservative American Protestants. They were primarily Presbyterians and Baptists in the North who resisted modernism, Olson said.

“What they did was network with each other to oppose the rise of liberal theology in mainline Protestant seminaries,” he explained. “They were afraid of a lack of doctrinal concern among liberals. They believed it was important to regain the seminaries or separate from them.”

To chart their course, “they wrote up lists of the fundamentals of the faith” that, they believed, formed the bedrock of genuine and true Christianity, he recalled.

Fundamentalism takes its name from those lists, published between 1910 and 1915 in a 12-volume series of articles called “The Fundamentals.” Collectively, they encompassed scores of essays, written by conservative leaders from several Protestant denominations.

“They were trying to find the boundaries of authentic Christianity,” Olson said. The list of key Christian doctrines primarily focused on Christ’s deity, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, substitutionary atonement and biblical miracles, he added, acknowledging, “The list varied somewhat.”

Even those variations carried consequences, he noted. For example, Baptists in the North who agreed on a long list of fundamentals nonetheless split over differing interpretations of the Bible’s teachings about how the world will end.

But until that day, the scholars agree, adherents of radical religion -- no matter what their faith tradition -- are likely to be tagged as fundamentalists.


This is second in a series on Fundamentalism.

Missouri Baptist Convention faces $10 million countersuit
By Vicki Brown

CAMDENTON, Mo. (ABP) -- The Missouri Baptist Convention could face paying more than $10 million to a developer over land formerly owned by Windermere Baptist Conference Center.

William Jester of Springfield, Mo., has filed a counterclaim to legal action convention officials originally filed against him and the conference center in 2006. The developer filed the countersuit in Camden County, Mo., where the lakeside conference center is located.

Jester accuses the original plaintiffs of hurting his business and defaming his character through the original lawsuit and publicity associated with it.

As part of a debt-restructuring plan to cover the costs of an expansion, Windermere transferred 943 acres of its original 1,300 to National City Bank of Cincinnati in late 2005. The bank then sold the property to Jester’s Windermere Development Company Inc.

The convention sued, seeking to stop all land transactions at Windermere pending the outcome of a separate convention-filed suit against five institutions that were formerly affiliated.

The institutions, including Windermere, had removed themselves from the convention’s control in 2000 and 2001. In 2002, the convention filed suit in Cole County, where it is headquartered, to regain control of the agencies’ boards.

In that case, Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan ruled March 4 that Windermere had acted legally when its trustees changed the center’s corporate charter to appoint their own successors. The MBC plans to appeal that ruling.

The convention sought to have the Windermere property returned to the MBC as an outcome of that lawsuit. “They tried to take Mr. Jester’s property in the Cole County case without enjoining him or his companies as parties [to that suit],” Jester attorney Burton Shostak of St. Louis noted by telephone on March 31.

In the separate Camden County suit, the convention sought to prevent Jester from beginning development of the property.

Jester’s counterclaim charges the convention with making unsubstantiated and negative claims publicly, primarily through its in-house news journal The Pathway. Comments “relative to defendants’ business capabilities, financial capabilities and the status of ownership … are derogatory and were made without any effort to confirm” their accuracy, Jester’s suit notes.

Attorneys for Jester claim the MBC or its representatives warned prospective lenders against financing development of the property. He alleges the convention acted “with evil and malicious intent” and “outrageously when they intentionally interfered with the defendants’ valid contracts and business expectations.” The MBC also acted “with reckless indifference” to Jester’s rights.

The developer claims the interference has cost him more than $10 million in possible sales or development of the disputed property.

In his counterclaim, Jester is seeking at least $10 million to compensate for those lost profits. He also asks the court to grant punitive damages “in an amount that punishes them.”

“The financial damage they have done to my clients is beyond substantial, and we are looking to the plaintiff individuals and organizations to right that wrong,” Shostak said.

Jester filed his counterclaim against the plaintiffs in the MBC’s suit against him, including the MBC Executive Board; former MBC president Bob Curtis; and convention-elected Windermere trustees Larry Atkins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Buckhorn, Mo.; Don Buford, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Big Spring, Mo.; James How of Washington, Mo.; Don Laramore of Caledonia, Mo.; James Robinson of Branson, Mo.; and Charles Schrum of Lebanon, Mo.

The plaintiffs in the Jester case have 30 days in which to respond. Then depositions will begin, according to Shostak.


Home sweet home: Chaplain uses cookies to reach out
By John Hall

BAGHDAD (ABP) -- For American military personnel serving in Iraq, there’s nothing like a taste of home -- literally.

Soldiers are finding comfort in a coffeehouse that provides homemade cookies run by a Baptist General Convention of Texas-endorsed chaplain, Kari Maschhoff.

“Our service members need a place they can know and feel that they are cared about,” said Maschhoff, a San Antonio resident. “The chaplain coffeehouse is for them. It is about taking care of our service members. The mission of our unit demands a lot of them. They need a place where they can receive some care back.

“What we offer is quite simple really: fresh coffee, hot water for tea or cocoa, a table of miscellaneous snacks and plate of homemade cookies. The comments we get from the service members are that it feels a little bit like home.”

Maschhoff makes some of the cookies for the 24-hour coffee shop with an Easy-Bake toy oven, which wafts a pleasant aroma throughout the area. Some baked goods are mailed to the chaplain from people who want to support the troops.

The coffee and cookies serve as more than reminders of home for service men and women. They’re an avenue of connection where troops can share with the chaplain about issues in their lives.

“The outreach connects our service members with people back home who want to show their support of our men and women in uniform by baking something special just for them,” she said. “The outreach also draws in service members who might not otherwise come to see the chaplain. It is much easier to say to your leadership or buddies, ‘I need a cup of coffee,’ than ‘I am having problems at home and need to talk to the chaplain.’

“The outreach is an informal way to bring in service members so we can offer a little chaplain loving care. We all need to know and feel that we are loved, and that is especially true when you live and work in a combat zone. Through the outreach, our hope is that the service members know that people back home care about them and are praying for them, that the chaplain team cares for them, and most importantly, that God cares for them and will never forget them.”