Spiritualism and secular society

The religious fervor with which some groups in our society attack those who seem to advance an opposing point of view has become noteworthy. Civil disagreement and discourse has become the exception rather than the rule.

This essay by Joseph Bottum provides an engaging explanation for this phenomenon. He suggests that it illustrates the ongoing presence of some specific theological ideas inherited from the Protestant consensus of the 19th century that continue to inform the American understanding of the world, even in the absence of any particularly Christian belief.

It’s a bit longer than the normal internet fare, but definitely worth the time to read and consider.

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anti-Semitism, the DNC, and Donald Trump

One of the more puzzling accusations underlying a lot of recent talk about President Trump is that he harbors anti-Semitic animus. At the same time, the support for Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) among many on the left as the new leaders of the Democrat National Committee requires substantial rewriting or ignoring of his past writings, activities, and relationships.

The evidence useful for assessing the beliefs of both men is discussed usefully by Jeff Ballabon in his essay.

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on the press in the age of Trump

It’s been difficult to sort out what’s happening in the United States in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election as President. One of the main consequences has been a pretty dramatic reassessment of journalism as it’s been practiced. It will be interesting to see in 10 years what sort of media, news, and journalistic environment exists.

I’ve never studied journalism or media, but having been a consumer of it for several decades I feel somewhat familiar with the topic, as do we all, though it’s changed a lot since I first became aware of it in the days before cable television. Amidst all the current debate about the press, its role and status in society, and the deference it should receive from the public and the President, this essay has been useful for me.

Lee Smith starts from what has been a central claim about Russian involvement in the election and Donald Trump’s alleged Russian connection. Mr. Smith worked with the journalist who probably knew the most about Donald Trump, the late Wayne Barrett, and observes that Barrett at no time had developed significant content related to Trump and connections with Russia.

The current media concentration on stories related to alleged Russia ties became Smith’s entrance into the changes in journalism in the internet age. There was a shift from a focus on content to a focus on giving advertisers access to readers. That made reader interest paramount rather than content. Thus, content has taken a back seat to innuendo, regardless of the factual basis for it.

Read the whole thing.

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why I’m wary about getting another cat

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on worship, singing, and the gathered church

It’s not a particularly new concern, but I think the current state of singing in churches is something that needs attention. My own context is a relatively independent evangelical Protestant church with little history or tradition beyond the past 10-15 years, so that affects my perception of the situation. I hope it’s different in other places, but from all accounts I’m hoping against hope.

There’s a substantial conflation of “worship” with “singing” which causes a lot of issues. Typically the reasonably aware church leader will eschew it, noting that the preaching of the word, communion, and serving in different roles are ways to worship, but the way each aspect of a weekly gathering are denoted would show, I suspect, that invitations to worship are almost exclusively given in reference to singing along when songs are performed.

Another frequently observed concern is the performance mentality of much that passes for congregational music. A friend who teaches music has noted the tendency of bands in church settings to almost completely fill up the space available for sound, so that the voices of the people singing are crowded out and pointless. That doesn’t promote participation.

Thin songs, in terms of both content and music, are another barrier to singing. There are exceptions, but too much of what gets put forward for singing lacks much to recommend it either from what’s being communicated by the words or how it can be sung by the typical person in attendance. Modern music written and played on radio stations is often not that appropriate for group singing. It’s interesting to note the number of traditional hymns being reworked by current composers. Perhaps there’s a nod to what’s being missed.

Could the culture shift again? I hope so. My memories of congregational singing when I was growing up are mixed. Overall, though, the effect of the time spent singing then was rather different that the effect now, and something important is missing and needs to be refreshed.

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on faith, practice, and social goods

It should be a fundamental principle that belief is predicated on truth, not pragmatism. That being said, it is certainly the case that belief and practice that are aligned with truth will be pragmatic, in the sense that long-term success and flourishing will be inevitably undermined when thought and practice are based upon falsehoods.

That is preliminary to reflecting on this brief memoir in the New York Times on the divergence between white working class people and genuine engagement in religious faith, especially evangelical faith and practice. The author notes not only the benefits to himself of his evangelical faith when he was growing up, he refers to research regarding the positive correlations of religious engagement and social outcomes.

We always need to be sure not to suggest faith because of what someone can gain from it; that’s not actually faith. It does seem worth considering, though, whether the research demonstrating the improved life conditions of the faithful should play any role in the consideration of questions of faith. The benefits are not exclusive to Christian faith, it seems, so it wouldn’t settle any question between faiths. For the broader question of the nature of the universe we inhabit, whether it is strictly mechanistic as atheism would have it, or whether it is in fact a universe that includes a personal spiritual element, there would seem to be important knowledge to be explored.

h/t MereOrthodoxy.com for the link to the essay.

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on the blessing of fatherhood

I’m very blessed as a father. Of course this all starts with the blessing of being married to a wonderful woman. We recently celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary. I would not be the father I am without her, for the biological reasons, of course, but also for reasons of how much I’ve learned from her and with her about caring for others.

It didn’t actually start, though, with marrying Michelle, since my own life is a blessing of being the son of wonderful parents, who I’m fortunate to still have living and active. They are the quintessential salt-of-the-earth type of people, and most of who I am has been built on the solid foundation laid by them. I can’t express my gratitude enough.

Life is a blessing, and a blessed life that the one I’m living is indeed a miracle. How much of a miracle is engagingly illustrated in this Fathers’ Day essay by R. S. McCain. It’s a celebration of life, and it’s something worth pondering.

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on Facebook and newness

I’ve been reviewing my Facebook time-line as an exercise in self-reflection, looking back on things I’ve found interesting or important or entertaining enough to post over the years. I’m feeling very ambivalent about Facebook these days; I think my departure from the service is imminent.

It’s somewhat ironic, then, that it’s a result of my Facebook timeline that I’m again aware of this reflection on Facebook and its ethos from a few years ago. The focus on what’s new, and on immediate reactions, is very real. It creates problems, too; there have been a lot of intemperate posts after recent news items that are both uninformed and inappropriate, leading to a lot of unnecessary hurt. It’s among the many reasons I’m pretty sure I won’t be a part of it much longer.

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on required readings and eternal things

Intellectuals in the West have long had an affinity for what C. S. Lewis referred to as “chronological snobbery,” the unreflective assumption that what is more recent and modern must be better than what went before. Our entertainment driven culture takes it the next step by forgetting most anything more than a few months in the past.

But it will be those in touch with the reality of the world as it is and has always been who will thrive regardless of circumstances in which they find themselves. Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” should be required reading along with Postman’s book, I think.

Let the one who has ears to hear, hear.

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on the state of public education

The fiasco that is increasingly the norm in public education in the United States is not particularly a partisan issue, as far as I can tell, though of course the teacher unions are among the biggest donors to the Democrat Party and its candidates. It doesn’t seem to be paying off.

Anyway, the increasingly centralized control of public schools is creating a situation where actual teaching seems to be stifled more and more in favor of reading scripts to students and running through checklists of curricular activities. There’s a huge difference between standards in the sense of “Here’s what students need to learn; teach it to them” and “Here’s what we want you to teach students and here’s how it has to be taught to them.” Unfortunately the latter approach seems to be the favored one by the current administrative Zeitgeist.

It’s driving good teachers out of the field, as this article out of Florida describes. If my impression of the situation in the two other states where I’ve had close contact with public school teachers is any indication, though, there’s nothing particularly unique about Florida.

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