Later On

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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Trump’s big business CEOs are horrified by his Confederate excuses — but his religious advisers have nothing but praise

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Of course, churches in the antebellum South thought slavery was fine and the Civil War didn’t necessarily change their minds or outlook. Matthew Sheffield reports in Salon:

Corporate CEOs aren’t exactly regarded as bastions of morality but it’s notable that more than a few of President Donald Trump’s economic advisers have decided to cut ties with him after his repeated defenses of racists in Charlottesville, Virginia. By contrast, as of this writing, literally none of Trump’s religious right allies have decided to cut ties.

Incredibly, some of these Christian nationalist advisors have actually praised Trump for words that even his fellow Republicans have been condemning in droves.

On Thursday, Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University tweeted out that he was “so proud” of Trump. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 August 2017 at 1:27 pm

Sen. Jeff Flake’s flame-throwing polemic takes aim at Trump

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An excellent book review by James Hohmann of Sen. Jeff Flake’s new book:

James Hohmann is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post and the author of the Daily 202 newsletter.

Jeff Flake took Donald Trump’s attacks on Mexican and Muslim immigrants personally during the 2016 campaign. They were among the many reasons that the Republican senator from Arizona could not bear to vote for his party’s presidential nominee and why he’s now written a stinging anti-Trump polemic, even though it will make winning reelection next year more difficult.

The most newsworthy parts of Flake’s new book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” are his frontal attacks on the president. He writes that the GOP’s “Faustian bargain” to embrace Trump as a way to advance its agenda has backfired by putting sacred institutions and the rule of law at risk. He refers to Trump as a carnival barker, expresses alarm about the president’s affection for authoritarian rulers and calls out his Republican colleagues in Congress as enablers.

But the book is at its most compelling when Flake shows how he developed the conservative worldview that would make Trump so anathema to him. It was his experience as a worker on his family’s ranch, as a Mormon missionary in Africa and as the executive director of the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, where he worked closely with his political hero, Barry Goldwater, in the years before he died.

The 54-year-old Flake often asks himself, “What would Goldwater do?” And he feels certain that the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, to whom Trump has often been compared, “would not be pleased or amused” by the president or the state of the conservative movement.

Flake’s faith is an important part of his narrative. In 1838, the governor of Missouri signed an “extermination” order that made it legal to kill anyone who belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His ancestors faced persecution as they moved west and settled in Arizona. The senator volunteers that his great-great-grandfather endured six months of hard labor in a Yuma prison for having a second wife. “When we say ‘No Muslims’ or ‘No Mexicans,’ we may as well say ‘No Mormons,’ ” Flake writes. “Because it is no different.”

To make the case against Trump’s travel ban, the senator recalls how two surgeons from predominantly Muslim countries saved his father-in-law’s life after a heart attack.

The weekend after Trump proposed his ban in December 2015 on Muslims entering the United States, Flake felt called to attend afternoon prayers at a mosque in Scottsdale so he could let the parishioners know that most Americans are not given to such intolerance. George W. Bush sent him a note the next day. “Thank you for your voice of reason in these unreasonable times,” the former president wrote.

But the unreasonable times continued. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 August 2017 at 8:04 pm

The polygamous town facing genetic disaster

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Zaria Gorvett reports for the BBC:

“We are to gird up our loins and fulfil this, just as we would any other duty…” said Brigham Young, who led the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), or Mormons, back in the mid-19th Century. It was a sweltering summer’s day in Provo City, Utah and as he spoke, high winds swirled dust around him.

The holy task Young was speaking of was, of course, polygyny, where one man takes many wives (also known by the gender neutral term polygamy). He was a passionate believer in the practice, which he announced as the official line of the church a few years earlier. Now he was set to work reassuring his flock that marrying multiple women was the right thing to do.

He liked to lead by example. Though Young began his adult life as a devoted spouse to a single wife, by the time he died his family had swelled to 55 wives and 59 children.

Fast-forward to 1990, a century after polygyny was abandoned, and the upshot was only just beginning to emerge. In an office several hundred miles from where Young gave his speech, a 10-year-old boy was presented to Theodore Tarby, a doctor specialising in rare childhood diseases.

The boy had unusual facial features, including a prominent forehead, low-set ears, widely spaced eyes and a small jaw. He was also severely physically and mentally disabled.

After performing all the usual tests, Tarby was stumped. He had never seen a case like it. Eventually he sent a urine sample to a lab that specialises in detecting rare diseases. They diagnosed “fumarase deficiency”, an inherited disorder of the metabolism. With just 13 cases known to medical science (translating into odds of one in 400 million), it was rare indeed. It looked like a case of plain bad luck.

But there was a twist. It turned out his sister, whom the couple believed was suffering from cerebral palsy, had it too. In fact, together with colleagues from the Barrow Neurological Institute, soon Tarby had diagnosed a total of eight new cases, in children ranging from 20 months to 12 years old.

In every case, the child had the same distinctive facial features, the same delayed development – most couldn’t sit up, let alone walk – and, crucially, they were from the same region on the Arizona-Utah border, known as Short Creek.

Even more intriguingly, this region is polygynous. In this small, isolated community of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), the likelihood of being born with fumarase deficiency is over a million times above the global average.

“When I moved to Arizona that’s when I realised that my colleagues here were probably the most familiar I’d ever met with this disease,” says Vinodh Narayanan, a neurologist at the Translational Genomics Research Institute, Arizona, who has treated several patients with fumarase deficiency.

What’s going on?

The disease is caused by a hiccup in the process that provides energy to our cells. In particular, it’s caused by low levels of an enzyme – fumarase – that helps to drive it. Since it was perfected billions of years ago, the enzyme has become a staple of every living thing on the planet. It’s so important, today the instructions for making it are remarkably similar across all species, from owls to orchids.

For those who inherit a faulty version, the consequences are tragic. Though our brains account for just 2% of the body’s total weight, they are ravenously hungry – using up around 20% of its energy supply. Consequently, metabolic disorders such a fumarase deficiency are particularly devastating to the organ. “It results in structural abnormalities and a syndrome including seizures and delayed development,” says Narayanan.

Faith Bistline has five cousins with the disease, who she used to look after until she left the FLDS in 2011. “They are completely physically and mentally disabled,” she says. The oldest started learning to walk when he was two years old, but stopped after a long bout of seizures. Now that cousin is in his 30s and not even able to crawl.

In fact, only one of her cousins can walk. “She can also make some vocalisations and sometimes you can understand a little bit of what she’s saying, but I wouldn’t call it speaking,” she says. They all have feeding tubes and need care 24 hours a day.

Fumarase deficiency is rare because it’s recessive – it only develops if a person inherits two faulty copies of the gene, one from each parent. To get to grips with why it’s plaguing Short Creek, first we need to back to the mid-19th Century.

Brigham Young was a busy man. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2017 at 5:14 pm

Being rich wrecks your soul. We used to know that.

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Charles Mathewes, the Carolyn M. Barbour Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, and Evan Sandsmark, a PhD student in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, write in the Washington Post:

With a billionaire real estate tycoon occupying America’s highest office, the effects of riches upon the soul are a reasonable concern for all of us little guys. After all, one incredibly wealthy soul currently holds our country in his hands. According to an apocryphal exchange between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, the only difference between the rich and the rest of us is that they have more money. But is that the only difference?

We didn’t used to think so. We used to think that having vast sums of money was bad and in particular bad for you — that it harmed your character, warping your behavior and corrupting your soul. We thought the rich were different, and different for the worse.

Today, however, we seem less confident of this. We seem to view wealth as simply good or neutral, and chalk up the failures of individual wealthy people to their own personal flaws, not their riches. Those who are rich, we seem to think, are not in any more moral danger than the rest of us. Compare how old movies preached the folk wisdom of wealth’s morally calamitous effects to how contemporary movies portray wealth: For example, the villainous Mr. Potter from “It’s A Wonderful Life” to the heroic Tony Stark (that is, Iron Man) in the Avengers films.

The idea that wealth is morally perilous has an impressive philosophical and religious pedigree. Ancient Stoic philosophers railed against greed and luxury, and Roman historians such as Tacitus lay many of the empire’s struggles at the feet of imperial avarice. Confucius lived an austere life. The Buddha famously left his opulent palace behind. And Jesus didn’t exactly go easy on the rich, either — think camels and needles, for starters.

The point is not necessarily that wealth is intrinsically and everywhere evil, but that it is dangerous — that it should be eyed with caution and suspicion, and definitely not pursued as an end in itself; that great riches pose great risks to their owners; and that societies are right to stigmatize the storing up of untold wealth. That’s why Aristotle, for instance, argued that wealth should be sought only for the sake of living virtuously — to manage a household, say, or to participate in the life of the polis. Here wealth is useful but not inherently good; indeed, Aristotle specifically warned that the accumulation of wealth for its own sake corrupts virtue instead of enabling it. For Hindus, working hard to earn money is a duty (dharma), but only when done through honest means and used for good ends. The function of money is not to satiate greed but to support oneself and one’s family. The Koran, too, warns against hoarding money and enjoins Muslims to disperse it to the needy.

Some contemporary voices join this ancient chorus, perhaps none more enthusiastically than Pope Francis. He’s proclaimed that unless wealth is used for the good of society, and above all for the good of the poor, it is an instrument “of corruption and death.” And Francis lives what he teaches: Despite access to some of the sweetest real estate imaginable — the palatial papal apartments are the sort of thing that President Trump’s gold-plated extravagance is a parody of — the pope bunks in a small suite in what is effectively the Vatican’s hostel. In his official state visit to Washington, he pulled up to the White House in a Fiat so sensible that a denizen of Northwest D.C. would be almost embarrassed to drive it. When Francis entered the Jesuit order 59 years ago, he took a vow of poverty, and he’s kept it.

According to many philosophies and faiths, then, wealth should serve only as a steppingstone to some further good and is always fraught with moral danger. We all used to recognize this; it was a commonplace. And this intuition, shared by various cultures across history, stands on firm empirical ground.

Over the past few years, a pile of studies from the behavioral sciences has appeared, and they all say, more or less, “Being rich is really bad for you.” Wealth, it turns out, leads to behavioral and psychological maladies. The rich act and think in misdirected ways.

When it comes to a broad range of vices, the rich outperform everybody else. They are much more likely than the rest of humanity to shopliftand cheat , for example, and they are more apt to be adulterers and to drink a great deal . They are even more likely to take candy that is meant for children. So whatever you think about the moral nastiness of the rich, take that, multiply it by the number of Mercedes and Lexuses that cut you off, and you’re still short of the mark. In fact, those Mercedes and Lexuses are more likely to cut you off than Hondas or Fords: Studies have shown that people who drive expensive cars are more prone to run stop signs and cut off other motorists .

The rich are the worst tax evaders, and, as The Washington Post has detailed, they are hiding vast sums from public scrutiny in secret overseas bank accounts.

They also give proportionally less to charity — not surprising, since they exhibit significantly less compassion and empathy toward suffering people. Studies also find that members of the upper class are worse than ordinary folks at “reading” people’ s emotions and are far more likely to be disengaged from the people with whom they are interacting — instead absorbed in doodling, checking their phones or what have you. Some studies go even further, suggesting that rich people, especially stockbrokers and their ilk (such as venture capitalists, whom we once called “robber barons”), are more competitive, impulsive and reckless than medically diagnosed psychopaths. And by the way, those vices do not make them better entrepreneurs; they just have Mommy and Daddy’s bank accounts (in New York or the Cayman Islands) to fall back on when they fail.

Indeed, luxuries may numb you to other people. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2017 at 7:42 am

What is religious liberty?

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2017 at 3:38 pm

How the Bible Belt lost God and found Trump

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Gary Silverman writes in Financial Times:

I went down to Alabama a few weeks ago and had a religious experience. A man of God welcomed me into his home, poured us both cups of English tea and talked about what has been happening to Jesus Christ in the land of Donald Trump.

My host was Wayne Flynt, an Alabaman who has made the people of the southern US his life’s work. A 76-year-old emeritus professor of history at Auburn University, he has written empathetically about his region in books such as Poor But Proud. A Baptist minister, he still teaches Sunday school at his church and delivered the eulogy at last year’s funeral of his friend Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird.

I took my place in the book-lined study of Flynt’s redwood house in Auburn, Alabama, to hear his thoughts on the local economy, but the conversation turned to a central mystery of US politics. Trump would not be president without the strong support of the folks Flynt has chronicled — white residents of the Bible Belt, raised in the do-it-yourself religious traditions that distinguish the US from Europe. I wondered how a thrice-married former casino owner — who had been recorded bragging about grabbing women by the genitals — had won over the faithful.

Flynt’s answer is . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2017 at 6:01 pm

Why cash remains sacred in American churches

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Professor of American Religious History, Vanderbilt University, writes in The Conversation:

On Tuesday, June 27, it will be 50 years since the first automated cash dispenser – which came to be known as an automated teller machine (ATM) – was inaugurated in London.

Just thinking about it brings a smile to my face. I belong to the generation who stood 45 minutes to an hour to deposit or cash checks in the pre-ATM era. I remember getting yelled at for taking my bicycle through the drive-up line at the National Bank of Detroit to avoid the much longer line inside. It did not take me very long to become an early adopter of the magical cards and 24-hour banking.

Later, in my work as a historian of American religion, I extensively studied the role money has played in religious life. In my book, “In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar: A History of Money and American Protestantism,” I retold the American history of the nation’s largest religious stream in terms of the search for money to pay for religious ministries and the purposes for which churches spent the money they collected.

So, what impact did ATMs have on church life?

Giving to the church

Fundamentally, the legal separation of church and state in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the United States did more than simply assure freedom of religion – it privatized what until then in Europe had been a public good and provided funding under the auspices of the state. In the U.S., religious leaders and their ministries had to increasingly depend on voluntary donations and to appeal ever more strenuously for those gifts.

Over the 19th century, various church support schemes were tried and abandoned. What in Europe had been a discreet offering with alms boxes kept at the back of the church (alms for the poor) became a central ritual activity in America. In most American weekly church services, offering plates were passed around to finance all of church activities. As giving became very public, one of the features of the weekly offering was, of course, that all gathered could see who was giving, if not how much.

Once the age of plastic money arrived, all of this ritual and financial necessity in American churches was jeopardized. ATMs began appearing in churches, providing a way for people to come up with the ready cash to give to God and their church.

Nature of money

So, why did people need cash in the first place? To answer this question, it is important to first understand the nature of cash in context of religious life.

The German sociologist Georges Simmel famously noted that the essential, almost magical quality of money is that it is fungible – that is, it is exchangeable or replaceable. Individuals can use the same US$100 to buy drugs, feed a frugal family for a week, buy a designer scarf or give it to God in an offering plate.

Indeed, as we know only too well, money is a universal currency to purchase things of incommensurate worth. However, as sociologist Viviana Zelizer explains in her memorable book, “The Social Meaning of Money: Pin Money, Paychecks, Poor Relief, and Other Currencies,” not all money is the same – there are social and moral dimensions to money that are frankly surprising.

To illustrate, Zelizer narrates the striking example of Marty, a 1950s Philadelphia gang member who would donate to the church only the 25 cents that he got from his mother – not money from robberies. When asked, Marty provided a clear distinction between different sets of money. He said,

“Oh, no, that is bad money; that is not honest money.”

But the money he got from his mother was earned through hard work so “he could offer it to God.” Marty is the kind of person who, when asked, “Who would know? would reply, “God would.” The point is, not all dollars are equal – individuals have some strong ideas about clean and dirty money, or just appropriate and inappropriate money.

Here is where ATMs come into the story.

Donations in the age of ATMs

Automated teller machines started to make their first appearance in the lobbies of evangelical churches just over a dozen years ago. It was important for churches to have something to put into the collection plate, and it was important that it be cash that people actually possessed – not a promise to pay someday on their credit card accounts. Thus, the ATM allowed evangelicals who didn’t carry a checkbook or a wallet full of cash not to be embarrassed when the offering plates or baskets came around.

Marty Baker, pastor of the Stevens Creek Church in Augusta, Georgia, was widely credited as the first to install two ATMs in the church lobby in 2005. The first year the donations produced $100,000. They more than doubled by the next year to more than $200,000. He was so successful in increasing giving by making cash available (up 18 percent over pre-ATM machine levels) that he took it one step further, by introducing the “automatic tithing machine” that took cash out of the giver’s account and deposited it directly into the church’s coffers. This new ATM was beginning to virtualize the all-important collection. Some users responded by placing their receipts in the plate at the appropriate time in the service.

The tithe, of course, refers to the tenth of one’s income conservative Protestants are largely taught to pay to the church in gratitude for what God has done. It is a sacred obligation, and the cash money is a serious matter.

There are two interesting dimensions of this appearance of ATMs and churches to consider. One is the strong affinity between cash and conservative evangelicals. For many evangelicals debt is a form of bondage – a message conveyed through conservative radio financial guru Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University to tens of millions of his followers on AM radio each week in his call-in programs. Ramsey teaches how to “dump debt, budget, build wealth and give like never before!” The building of wealth is a corollary to eschewing debt and it makes Christians free, in Ramsey’s view to be godly.

The point is, money isn’t just a fungible means to various ends, it is sacred to these believers.

In cash we trust

The second dimension for consideration in the appearance of ATMs in the lobbies of evangelical churches is that they signaled something by their very presence: America was in fact becoming a cashless society. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2017 at 5:06 pm

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