This just in from the NYTimes.com:  Texas Conservatives Win Vote on Textbook Standards. Have mercy. We’re not just talking about adding Intelligent Design or the Flying Spaghetti Monster to the science curriculum, either; it’s the entire social studies curriculum. US History, World History, and Economics, in particular.

This is the last thing we need; clearly-defined ideologically based curricula at the state public education level. If you want that, there are plenty of options already; private Christian schools and homeschooling in particular. But to go beyond this and identify “Conservative” with “Christian” and “Christian” with “Republican” and interpret all of history in this light is way too dangerous.

I mean, just ignoring Jefferson? Arguing that the Enlightenment played only a small role in the US’ founding? That the US was established as a “Christian” Nation, based on a limited (and totally anachronistic) definition of “Christian”? Virtually leaving out the massive importance of Latinos in Texas’ history?

I’m emphasizing the seriously important role that Christianity has played in not only the founding of the US, but in the colonization of this continent in my US History course, but it is most definitely not along any particular party line because this is impossible. To recognize and emphasize the Christian influence is critical to understanding this country, but, as I tell my students, there were a LOT of different kinds of Christians between the 15th century and now, and to reify the term into a single concept yields a grossly inaccurate picture of US history. (Billy Graham’s or Francis Schaeffer’s version of neo-Evangelical Christianity, for example, has nothing to contribute to any discussion of the Christianity of the Fathers!)

This is anti-democratic at its core, in more ways than one.

Like a lot of us, I’m watching the Massachusetts special election for “The Kennedy Seat” with great interest. I grew up in the commonwealth, went to college there, got married there, went to seminary there, and worked there for a long time before moving to New York in 2005.  In some ways, I kind of wish I could sneak into the polls in West Stockbridge, just across the New York border, and cast a vote.

Many of my friends, family, and former high school buddies are seriously on the Scott Brown bandwagon. Most of them are on the South Shore (or grew up there), which is the only real Republican-leaning part of Massachusetts. Growing up, my parents joked that the South Shore should be its own state, since it does its own thing anyway. So I suspect that’s one reason for the Brown appeal for a lot of people I know who actually have a say in how it all turns out today.

As I see things, there are only two real issues that people really care much about in this election at the moment: Health Care and the Economy. (The Boston Globe has a little unofficial survey on the issues here.) Brown is repeatedly on record as being against health care reform, and has pledged to vote against it if he is elected. While this might not sound like much, if he follows through with this, it will be the 41st “nay” vote in the Senate, which will kill the bill at least as it is currently constituted. THIS, more than any other reason, is why the nation is so captivated with this election. It won’t just affect Massachusetts; it will impact the millions without coverage because they can’t afford it (which includes yours truly) nationwide. But this very issue is, I suspect, a very minor one for many who are voting for him, because Massachusetts has mandatory health coverage for every citizen anyway.  The most important Senate vote of our generation is coming down to this, and it’s in the hands of voters for whom this issue isn’t much of an issue.

Just for kicks, here’s the Globe’s take on where each candidate stands on issues that the candidates are stumping for in Massachusetts. If I still lived there, I’d have made a scorecard, which would look like this:  Coakley 3, Brown 1 (barely) and Undecided 1. I’d be in the booth for Coakley.

On behalf of all of us who have been screwed over by the current health care system, get out and vote. Preferably for Martha Coakley.

Leaving the commentary on President Obama’s speech to more qualified individuals, I thought that the President fully recognized the trickle effect of the economic situation right now into the three areas of domestic affairs most desperately in need of reform. Obama realistically described the nasty circle between the need for credit and the success of small business, home owners, and so on, but he also, I think, seemed to tacitly acknowledge that an economy that depends on credit more than any other factor is unsustainable and offered us ways to keep money in the nation and local communities. Obama also laid out what some of us have known for years but what needs to be repeated ad nauseum, which is the connection between the economy and the energy industry; an unsustainable industry of energy consumption is the harbinger to a failed economy. And  correcting this starts with education, which starts – end ends! – at home, welcome words to those who homeschool.

It’s nice to take a break from the dissertation and the job search.

And now this. Rev. Jay Scott Newman of Greenville S.C. has told his parishioners that if they voted for Barack Obama, they should not come forward for communion unless they’ve gone to confession first for participating in “intrinsic evil” by voting for a candidate who was pro-choice, “lest they eat and drink their own condemnation.”

Perhaps Rev. Newman didn’t see the debates; both candidates were (are) “pro-choice,” but they also distanced themselves from the old discourse on the issue. What to do? At least here, under Scott’s logic, this was “no-choice.” Communion, or the polls. If you voted for McCain, you also voted for a “pro-choice” candidate.

The fact of the matter is that both Obama and McCain deliberately tried to distance themselves from the issue, mostly because they knew that they were in substantial agreement on it. To wit: both said they won’t use Roe vs. Wade as the yardstick for determining justice appointments. They agreed with each other in that abortions are tragedies that are best dealt with by changing American cultural standards towards sex and pregnancy in general.

Obama: I think that abortion is a very difficult issue, and it is a moral issue and one that I think good people on both sides can disagree on…. This is an issue that — look, it divides us. And in some ways, it may be difficult to — to reconcile the two views. But there surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and say, “We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.” Those are all things that we put in the Democratic platform for the first time this year, and I think that’s where we can find some common ground, because nobody’s pro-abortion. I think it’s always a tragic situation. We should try to reduce these circumstances.

McCain: We have to change the culture of America. Those of us who are proudly pro-life understand that. And it’s got to be courage and compassion that we show to a young woman who’s facing this terribly difficult decision. … But that does not mean that we will cease to protect the rights of the unborn. Of course, we have to come together. Of course, we have to work together, and, of course, it’s vital that we do so and help these young women who are facing such a difficult decision, with a compassion, that we’ll help them with the adoptive services, with the courage to bring that child into this world and we’ll help take care of it.

Abortion is a stump topic. In the past, candidates have lived (and died) on this issue with conservatives, especially evangelicals and catholics. But not a single candidate has, after being elected, even attempted to do anything about it. At least this time around it was a lot more marginal and got only about 15 or so minutes of time in one debate. By and large, I think Americans have moved on, because I think we’re coming to the realization that someone who is “pro-choice” is NOT “pro-death” or “anti-life.” I think we’re gradually realizing that the goal should be to reduce it and eliminate the need for it. I think we’re also realizing that “pro-life” ought to be a lot more encompassing than simply abortion. It should include, for example, the gulf war.

Which brings me back to Newman: The Church’s position on the War is as clear as it is on abortion. It is a moral evil and must be ended.

It is obviously difficult to really disentangle the relationship between Religion and State. But how one votes should not be determining church membership, whether one can take communion, or especially whether one will spend the rest of eternity in damnation.

summumRan across this fascinating piece today. Apparently a very small religious sect that calls itself “Summum” (a Latin word that means summit or culmination) wants to erect a monument to their Seven Aphorisms similar to a 10 commandments monument that is already in the same park. The group believes that these Seven Aphorisms are actually the original commandments received by Moses on Sinai and then smashed. The Mayor of the town wants nothing to do with the monument, citing constitutional infringement of the first amendment; allowing the monument to be put up would violate the disestablishment clause. Summum, however, argues that refusal violates the free exercise clause and that there’s already a 10 Commandments monument there anyhow.

This is fascinating on a number of levels. On the surface, it seems like the same fight over 10 commandments monuments on public/government property. But there’s another variable here, and it’s one that is very familiar to “fringe” religious sects, and that is whether or not the religion itself is viable. At least the 10 commandments are a known quantity. I suspect that there would be less resistance to an additional monument if it were inscribed with Buddhism’s 4 Noble Truths or the Eightfold Path or even Jesus’ Beatitudes. The problem is similar to that faced by Santeria practitioners who seek to buy property to hold sacrificial worship services but who are legally fought with because, being so unknown and misunderstood, they are potentially a menace to the common good, and the government has an obligation to protect its citizens from anything, religious or otherwise, that threaten them. Erecting a monumental icon to be placed next to the 10 commandments would seem to imply that the government recognizes Summum to be safe, well-known, and so on. Summum seems to brand itself as a mixture of Judaism, Gnosticism, and ancient Egyptian religion. No doubt it would have been right at home in the third and fourth centuries in Egypt, just before ancient Jewish-Egyptian influenced Gnosticism went underground after the orthodox imperialization of Christianity.

Prediction: unless Summum just says “never mind,” the park will lose its 10 commandments monument in this process.


My first reaction to the announcement that Senator John McCain called Barack Obama with his congratulations and concession was to let out a primal scream of joy. Until I realized that it’s a little after 11 pm here and the wife and kids are sleeping. So I figured I’d do it here.

I have already seen blog posts, facebook status updates, reader comments, and so on that have basically said “to hell with America, it deserves what it gets” or “God will judge us now worse than he did Israel” and the like. I find this abysmally sad. Make no mistake; Obama is not a messiah, nor is he bringing the kingdom of God. For which we can only be thankful. But to a nation that is consumed with fear, Barack Obama provides a beacon of hope. John McCain might have been able to do the same. But his campaign, intimidated by the popularity of Obama’s politics of hope over a Rovian politics of fear, could not answer appropriately.

The age of politics of fear should be over. (If that’s what you want, I refer you to James Dobson and the remnants of the Religions Right.) It may well be that President Obama is unable to deliver all of the goods. I personally feel that it is unreasonable to expect him to. But there is all the difference between “hope” and “expectation.” Obama has consistently delivered hope, not expectation. Indeed, the only expectations have come from his opponents, which is an expecation of worst-case scenarios designed to play on the fears of those who can only see their disagreements with Obama.

I have never been more proud to be an American than I am this night. I have also never been more proud to be a Christian, and an evangelical one at that.

Benedict’s Scoreboard (Home Team in Blue…)

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