Thursday, June 26, 2008

No Way It's 'One Way'

Here is an excerpt from the much-publicized “Key Findings” of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life dated June 23, 2008:

“Most Americans agree with the statement that many religions - not just their own - can lead to eternal life. Among those who are affiliated with a religious tradition, seven-in-ten say many religions can lead to eternal life. This view is shared by a majority of adherents in nearly all religious traditions, including more than half of members of evangelical Protestant churches (57%). Only among Mormons (57%) and Jehovah's Witnesses (80%) do majorities say that their own religion is the one true faith leading to eternal life.”

“Most Americans also have a non-dogmatic approach when it comes to interpreting the tenets of their own religion. For instance, more than two-thirds of adults affiliated with a religious tradition agree that there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their faith, a pattern that occurs in nearly all traditions. The exceptions are Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, 54% and 77% of whom, respectively, say there is only one true way to interpret the teachings of their religion.”

Kent Comments:

An interesting storm front always brews up when a society devoted to some version of “tolerance” is also very involved with a religion which seems to teach that there is “one way only” to God.

All sorts of little eddies develop in the winds of such a storm. For one thing, “tolerance” becomes very hard to define. Does it require that all views be accepted as somehow “true” or does it mean that even views that are false will not be persecuted in some way?

There is also the fear of “sounding like a cult.” Sometimes it seems that the greater the error in a religious view, the more cocksure its advocates become. We wouldn’t want to be like that, would we?

Let’s face it - the American mind-set makes it very comfortable to think in terms of some kind of universalism. That is, everyone is “going to heaven.” Don’t we all want to meet there some day for a big family reunion? Shouldn’t almost everyone - except, perhaps the most heinous criminals - be allowed to come?

But an at-face-value reading of the Christian faith doesn’t jive with this mind-set. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except by me.” The Apostles said, “There is no other name [than Jesus] by which we must be saved.”

Christianity has many features that are attractive to us, but this one is not. It has therefore been subject to all sorts of ingenious attempts to explain it away.

The Pew Forum found that most American have a “non-dogmatic approach when it comes to interpreting the tenets of their own religion.” This is especially convenient because it allows Christians to non-dogmatically “interpret away” that unpleasant exclusivism that is part of the historic Christian faith.

Perhaps there is just enough truth in any religion to give a devoted practitioner access to God. Perhaps Jesus really is the only way to God, but you can be “in Him” without even knowing it. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps . . . and on the non-dogmaticism goes.

It says something very disturbing that more than half of the members of evangelical Protestant churches have taken some kind of mental refuge in one of those “perhaps.” You might expect that from the “big seven” mainline denominations which gave up the historic Christian faith many years ago. But the evangelical Protestants were supposed to “go against the grain” especially in regard to matters like this.

It is possible that they have, at least among the leaders, to some extent. This unpleasant aspect of the historic Christian faith probably gets an airing at many evangelical churches, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it “takes” with church members.

For a long time, evangelical churches have been busy making themselves attractive to the culture around them, so as to entice the members of that culture to enter their folds. This has been a very tricky business about which many have warned us.

When evangelicals invited people to bring all the trappings of current culture to church with them in the hopes that this would attract more people to church, did they not suspect that this would also invite cultural attitudes into the church?

Many evangelicals were willing to make the church into a high-tech, rock concert, shopping mall, munch-donuts-and-chat-on-your-cell-phone venue. In other words, they invited people to think that church is just that culture you love with a little dab of God on top.

Of course, a part of our culture is the belief that, in the end, everyone will be saved. So why should we be surprised that, down at the “surround sound theater” church, that’s exactly what most people believe?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Obscene Profits and Stupid Politicians

June 11, 2008

"At a time of record oil prices and record profits -- when oil companies are getting various tax breaks and financial incentives from the federal government -- shouldn't those companies "be able to give something back to the consumer?" NBC's Matt Lauer asked McCain. "Absolutely," McCain replied.

"And they should be investing in alternative energy and they should be giving back to the consumer and they should be embarking on research and development that will pay off in reducing our dependence on foreign oil," McCain said.

"The point is, oil companies have got to be more participatory in alternate energy, in sharing their profits in a variety of ways, and there is very strong and justifiable emotion about their profits," McCain said.

Last month in North Carolina, McCain said, "I don't like obscene profits being made anywhere -- and I'd be glad to look not just at the windfall profits tax -- that's not what bothers me -- but we should look at any incentives that we are giving to people or industries or corporations that are distorting the market."

Kent Comments: I am not an economist, but I can usually detect some Baloney Sandwich when I see it. All the recent talk about “windfall profits” on the part of oil companies has “BS” written all over it. Let’s run through some items as they appear in this news story.

Notice how in Matt Lauer’s question (such a completely unbiased question), we are told (should good questions “tell” us anything?) that oil companies are making a lot of money and getting “tax breaks” from the government. Because of these two facts, Matt tells us (still in his question) that oil companies should “be able to give something back to the consumer.”

Isn’t it comforting to hear our Republican presidential nominee simply agree with this, without question or qualm? But that’s not the main point here.

So oil companies are getting “tax breaks.” Let’s rephrase that one: oil companies aren’t being taxed as much as they could be. Right now, oil companies are making decent profits, and by the reckoning of most news people and politicians, this means that oil companies should be taxed more and should give consumers some kind of discount.

That being the case, when oil company profits are low - and they have been low in the past - will these same news people and politicians call on the government to lower taxes on oil companies. Will they call on consumers to pay extra to the oil companies, beyond what they charge? For some reason, I have never heard anyone call for that!

Then, the pseudo-brilliant John McCain (who seems a more stupid every time I hear him speak) informs us that oil companies “have got to be more participatory in alternate energy, in sharing their profits in a variety of ways,” adding that “there is very strong and justifiable emotion about their profits.”

That is akin to telling an automobile manufacturer firm that it should be “more participatory in making motorcycles.” Oil companies extract and process oil. They collect people who are experts at that and that alone. Telling them to do other things is, well, stupid.

Now let’s talk about all that “emotion” about the profits of oil companies. If people are all that “emotional” about the profits of oil companies, there is something very immediate and practical that they can do. They can put their money where their big, fat, “emotional” mouths are - that is, they can buy oil company stocks.

If John McCain really wants to help people, here are two practical suggestions: urge the government to lower taxes on oil companies, and tell people to move their savings, IRAs, 401ks, and so forth - and participate in these large profits!

But John McCain doesn’t like “obscene profits” being made anywhere. Hey Johnny, here’s a hint: the biggest “obscene profit” being made is by the government. The government makes more in taxes on a gallon of gasoline than does any oil company.

John McCain thinks someone is “distorting the market.” Yes, someone is. That “someone” is the unholy alliance between governmental bureaucracy and environmentalists that prevents more oil from being extracted from the U.S.

Economic ignorance - whether it comes naturally or by concerted effort - is a very dangerous thing. It’s especially dangerous in politicians - a location where it is most often found.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The 'Moment of Truth'

Pennies for Your Thoughts
What Fox TV's public confessional reveals.
Todd Hertz | posted 6/10/2008 08:55AM

Before appearing on Fox's popular The Moment of Truth (Wednesdays, 8/7c), contestants are asked 21 increasingly personal questions while hooked to a polygraph machine. Then, on camera, they field the same questions while hooked to the lie detector, but this time with loved ones sitting just a few feet away—and a viewing audience of more than 10 million. The more questions they truthfully answer, the more money they win—up to $500,000.

One man, with his spouse sitting in the front row, was asked, "Are you sexually attracted to your wife's sisters?" (He said yes.) A woman, with her mother in the audience, was asked, "Do you want to look like your mom when you are her age?" (She said no.) It gets uncomfortable. Each family is allowed to skip one question if they can't bear to hear the answer.

In one episode, a woman in the hot seat was asked by an ex-boyfriend, "Would you leave your husband for me?" After a few tense seconds, the woman's sister slapped the pass button. The audience let out a chorus of scathing boos. They wanted to know.

I recalled the bloodthirsty crowds in Gladiator, who jeered fighters who would not kill. Like them, this TV audience wanted entertainment, no matter the cost. The difference? Now we want emotional carnage. Perhaps this is a byproduct of our instant, total-access culture. We want to know what Britney Spears is doing right now. We want to know a stranger's dirty laundry. This voyeurism, or "information porn," feels dirty and thrilling. As one Fox exec said of the show, "By the time a participant is done, you know all about them." But should we? . . .

Christians understand the need for honesty and confession; some ugly truths, like the adultery one contestant admitted, must be revealed—privately. But can such public transparency—inspired by monetary gain in front of jeering masses—truly benefit anyone?

Well, apparently Fox.

Kent comments:

The ability to know and the need to know: hard to sort out sometimes, aren’t they?

For some time I have been struck by the irony of the fact that Fox broadcasting - which is supposed to be the darling of conservatives for being “fair and balanced” - also promotes some of the trashiest garbage on its “entertainment” venue of any of the networks. Don't conservatives supposedly lament the decay of culture?

An aside: as far as being “fair and balanced” goes, I notice that in its radio news Fox seems to cover the same stories with about the same perspective as any other network. It would be fun and informative to hear the news from a completely different perspective. This would include selecting stories other than those thought to be important by UPI, AP, and the New York Times. As far as I can tell, Fox doesn’t really do that.

Meanwhile, back to the original topic . . .

Christianity Today is quite right to point out the depravity of the whole format of something like “The Moment of Truth.” Our culture constantly craves a vicarious emotional fix. Propriety and decency can’t be allowed to stand in the way of that!

Christians are supposed to be tellers of truth. But that by no means implies that we are under any obligation to tell everyone, or even anyone, all the truths we know. Some truths are appropriately private, rightly shared only with God. Some things are simply no one else’s business. That fact seems to elude many in our culture - especially when there is money to be made.

There is a lamentable tendency today for the church to mimic the culture rather than critiquing it. Churches fashion themselves like a shopping mall or a coffee shop in order to attract crowds.

How long will it be before some congregation - under the faulty guise of “confession” and “truth” - sponsors an evening of a supposedly Christian “Moment of Truth”?