Sunday, November 28, 2010



Fundamentalisms, wherever they appear around the globe, typically emerge in response to crises that throw the world out of joint.  In the previous installment of this four-part series, we noted how a wide variety of cultural crises threw the world out of joint for conservative American Christians in the early 20th century and prompted the rise of the Fundamentalist Movement.

The Rise of the Christian Right

By the 1960s, the world was out of joint again, prompting the rise of the Christian Right.  During that period, the United States experienced another great wave of immigration. While many of these newer immigrants were Hispanic Catholics and Pentecostals, many others were foreign to any kind of Christian agenda whatsoever. They came from places like Thailand, Cambodia and South Vietnam; India, Pakistan and Nepal; and Lebanon, Iran and Egypt. And they brought their religions with them: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and many other religious traditions largely alien to most Americans at that time.

While this new wave of immigration was not the immediate catalyst for the revival of American fundamentalism, it formed an important backdrop to that revival. At the very least, it spoke loudly to fundamentalists that the diversity they found so objectionable 50 years before had now come to their shores in ways they could never have imagined. And it alerted them to the fact that any hope they may have had for the renewal of Christian America was now at risk. If they intended to recreate the Christian nation their forebears from the 19th century had constructed, time was running out.

Against that backdrop, several factors threw the world out of joint in radical and disturbing ways: the War in Vietnam, the countercultural revolution that engulfed so many young Americans and the Civil Rights Movement.  It was not so much the Vietnam War as the massive and vehement rejection of that war that frightened conservative Americans since the anti-war movement rejected so much of the glue that had bound the nation together for so many years. Patriotism, Christianity and virtually all the foundations for traditional American culture were now under assault.

In that context, traditional morality also fell on hard times since the countercultural revolution morphed into a sexual revolution and a culture devoted to psychotropic drugs.  But in many ways, the most important seismic shock that threw the world out of joint for so many conservative Americans was the Civil Rights Movement. For a hundred years, Americans had lived in a nation segregated by race, and many whites, both North and South, found any attempt to change those racial patterns profoundly threatening.  These were the forces that prompted the rise of America's Christian Right.

What permitted the rise of that movement is the fact that fundamentalism had not gone away in 1925. Fundamentalists had simply retreated from the public square into their churches and there, in these underground silos, they nurtured their dreams of a Christian America.  No one understood this better than Jerry Falwell, pastor of one of those silos, the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va. And in 1969, playing off language popularized by President Richard Nixon, Falwell pointed to a great "silent majority" of Americans who supported the war in Vietnam, who had deep reservations about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, and who rejected what they regarded as the growing countercultural radicalism of the Left.

And then in 1979, Falwell launched his "Moral Majority," the vanguard of the Christian Right.  The extent to which the Christian Right is unthinkable apart from the seismic shifts that jolted the American cultural landscape in the 1960s is obvious from Falwell's own response to Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1958, four years after the Supreme Court handed down its landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, outlawing racial segregation in America's public schools, Falwell thundered from his Thomas Road Baptist Church pulpit, "If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God's word and had desired to do the Lord's will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made. ... The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line."  Later, he rejected the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as "civil wrongs," distributed FBI-generated propaganda defaming the character of Martin Luther King Jr., and attacked King as a Communist in a sermon he preached from the pulpit of his Thomas Road Baptist Church in 1964.

Then, in 1966, he side-stepped Brown v. Board of Education by establishing Lynchburg Christian Academy which the Lynchburg News described as "a private school for white students."   Falwell's school was one of literally thousands of segregationist academies established by white Christians in the American South to avoid compliance with federal law regarding racial integration. The vast reservoir of opposition to Brown v. Board of Education among those Christians helps us understand that the potential pool of support for the Christian Right was extraordinarily large and was only waiting for someone to sound the call to battle.

While one cannot imagine the rise of the Christian Right apart from all the seismic jolts that shook the American cultural landscape in the 1960s, it was opposition to racial integration that finally galvanized that movement and prompted the formal emergence of the Christian Right in 1979.  Paul Weyrich, a Falwell ally, had tried for years to create a conservative, faith-based political movement with national cache. He had proposed numerous issues as potential rallying point -- abortion, school prayer and the Equal Rights Amendment, for example -- but had failed in every instance.  Weyrich later recalled that what prompted conservative Christians to coalesce into a national political force was their strong reaction against an attempt by the federal government to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University for its violations of Brown v. Board of Education. Falwell later complained, "In some states it's easier to open a massage parlor than to open a Christian school."

And so, in 1979, Falwell and his colleagues created the first visible expression of fundamentalism in America's public square since the Fundamentalist Movement retreated from public view in the aftermath of the Scopes-Monkey Trial in 1925. They called it the Moral Majority.  Within the next few years, other fundamentalist leaders created similar organizations. James Dobson, a well-known Christian psychologist and radio personality, launched his Family Research Council in 1981. And in 1989, Pat Robertson organized his Christian Coalition.

The Christian Right in Historical Context: Persuasion vs. Politics

Obviously, the Christian Right, at least at the time of its inception, resisted the core, seminal values that the Founders framed for this nation -- the values found in the conviction that "all men are created equal" and endowed with the "unalienable rights" of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  And it resisted as well the defining spirit of its age -- a spirit that would move inexorably toward the expansion of freedom and equal rights for blacks, Hispanics, women, gays and all minorities within the borders of the United States.

Of course, at the time, no one knew that the spirit of the age was moving in that direction. At the time, the future of the nation seemed up for grabs. The religious "glue" that would define the nation for the third century of its existence and beyond was hotly contested ground in the 1960s and 70s. And that is precisely why Robert Bellah has called that period "America's third time of trial."  When we compare the Christian Right with the two other major attempts to Christianize the nation -- the Second Great Awakening of the early 19th century and the Fundamentalist Movement of the early 20th century -- the differences are stunning.

Obviously, the Christian Right stood shoulder to shoulder with the earlier Fundamentalist Movement -- and parted company with the Second Great Awakening -- with its lack of interest in social justice and its rejection of equal rights for African Americans.  But the Christian Right parted company with both the Second Great Awakening and the Fundamentalist Movement with one immensely far-reaching decision. If those two earlier movements had limited themselves to persuasion in their respective bids to shape the soul of the nation, the Christian Right combined persuasion with raw political power and sought to force its agenda on the nation by controlling the nation's political structures.  Because they were bent on controlling the nation, they clearly had no other choice, since their agenda stood so completely opposed to the religious "glue" that had bound the nation together for so many years -- the "glue" that had been forged in the partial agreement between the Founders and the Second Great Awakening.

Leaders of the Christian Right therefore pressured senators and representatives at every level of government for legislation favorable to prayer in America's public schools, for legislation that would ban abortion under all circumstances and for legislation that would substitute the Genesis account of creation for evolutionary science in public classrooms. At the same time, they sought to use the political process to undermine measures favorable to diversity and pluralism: the Equal Rights Amendment, gay rights and even the U.S.-Soviet SALT treaties.

Since the 1980s, they have sought to elect to office at the federal, state, and local levels candidates who would pass legislation in sync with their vision for a "Christian America." They therefore drew up "report cards" on both candidates and actual officeholders, grading them on their compliance with a host of measures they wished to see enacted into law. They then distributed those "report cards" through fundamentalist churches throughout the United States, thereby transforming their constituency into a significant power bloc in American politics.

By 2004, it became obvious that their efforts had been extraordinarily successful. By 2004, the Christian Right effectively controlled the Republican Party, the House of Representatives and the Senate. That fact became evident in the "report cards" -- technically called Congressional Scorecards -- issued by one Christian Right advocacy group, the Christian Coalition.  Those report cards graded members of the House on 13 issues and members of the Senate on six. Forty-two members of the Senate earned an A+, a 100 percent score on all six issues, and 163 members of the House earned an A-, a 90 percent score on all 13 issues on which they were graded. And the Christian Coalition gave 45 senators and 186 congressional members a rating of 80 percent or better.

But four years later, in 2008, the election of Barack Obama as the first African American president of the United States suggests that the Christian Right -- at least as defined and shaped by leaders like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James D. Kennedy, Paul Weyrich and James Dobson -- was falling into disarray.

In the final installment of this four-part series, we will ask how the Christian Right, in the midst of its disarray, emerged in new forms and structures during the presidency of Barack Obama, and how -- in those new forms and structures -- it continues to undermine Christian values on the one hand and American values on the other.

Monday, November 22, 2010


A colleague recently sent me a link to a YouTube video about education processes and paradigms, ADHD , and other interesting topics.  The video is one of a series produced by RSA, the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce.  This particular lecture is by Sir Ken Robinson, and the video that parallels the audio is quite engaging. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010


One of the reasons I have a hard accepting church doctrines, dogma, confessions and articles of faith is because such post-Jesus writings often come into conflict with what science tells us about the natural world.  Young earth creation [YEC] conflicting with cosmology, geology and biology comes to mind.  Thus it is most interesting to watch the interactions among Team Fundamentalist [Mohler], Team BioLogos [Giberson] and Team Atheist [Coyne].  Dr. R. Albert Mohler is President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and has been called the leading intellectual in the world of fundamental Christianity.  Dr. Karl Giberson is a Professor at Eastern Nazarene College, Vice President of the BioLogos Foundation and considered a leader among those attempting to integrate faith and science.  Dr Jerry Coyne is a professor of ecology and evolution at the Univesity of Chicago and an outspoken critic of all things religious.  In a series of blogs at the BioLogos website and at the Huffington Post, Giberson has attempted to demonstrate that there can be a middle ground between the Mohler's clearly erroneous belief in YEC and other biblically revealed scientific "truths" and the "science is  the only way to answer meaningful questions" mantra of Coyne.  Mohler's response to Giberson and BioLogos is that they are basically heretics from the standpoint of "traditional" Christian doctrine and dogma.  Apparently if one does not accept Al's interpretation of  Genesis 1 and 2, believe that Adam and Eve were two real people, accept that there was a world-wide flood, etc., then one cannot truly be a Christian.  And from the other side, Coyne says that it does not matter how one interprets the bible, it is all not amenable to scientific investigation and therefore is worthless.  Moreover, Coyne points out all of the egregious behaviors that have and are exhibited by those who claim to be Christians, particularly those of Mohler's ilk.

Poor Uncle Karl, as Jerry has taken to calling Giberson.  In trying to stake out the middle ground, Giberson has noted that he gets shot at from both directions.  Mohler says that Giberson is destroying the church and Coyne says that Giberson still clings to the nonsensical notion of a big-guy-in-the-sky.  He says the only difference between Al and Karl is degree, not kind.  Hence, both should be relegated to the intellectual hinterland where they may find the error in their logic and reason and perhaps ultimately see the truth as Jerry sees it.  I believe that Karl has a thick skin coated with Teflon - Team Fundamentalist charges him with undermining the Gospel of Christ and promoting beliefs that are incompatible with biblical Christianity whilst Team Atheist calls him a fucking moron.

So, what's wrong with this picture?  Most everything.  I believe that it is Mohler who is destroying the church rather than Giberson.  Any person who accepts what science has clearly demonstrated regarding the age of the universe, the age of the earth, and the age of hominids would naturally question any teachings of a leader who denies such evidence.  Mohler is effectively saying one must either choose to accept his way or the way of science.  Coyne says the same thing, and has recently made his mission very clear.  Although his website is entitled Why Evolution is True, he responded to one of Uncle Karl's blogs by saying that Team Atheism is much more important than Team Evolution.  Indeed, Karl and Jerry are both on team evolution, but are decidedly on opposing teams with it comes to faith.  Karl and Al are both on team faith [although Al has trouble accepting that] but are on opposing teams regarding evolution. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010


As one season gives way to the next, my thoughts often go toward the Barr Trail.  The trail is beautiful, and it holds many fond memories - of New Year's Day "runs" to Barr Camp; of countless training sessions preparing for the Pikes Peak Ascent and the Pikes Peak Marathon; of "up and overs" starting at the trail head, across the summit, and down the back side of the Peak ending up at Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp; but especially of time well-spent with the best of friends, particularly the late, great Ron Wisner.

The trailhead is at the outskirts of Manitou Springs, which is just west of Colorado Springs.  The trail is named for Fred Barr, who designed and pretty much built the trail from 1914 to 1921. Barr Camp was built between 1921 and 1924, and is at about the half-way point up the Peak.  Here is a graphic of the trail:

The trail passes through four of the eight Colorado biomes - The Foothills Zone (6,000 to 8,000 feet) is composed of small bushes and trees such as scrub oak, juniper, sagebrush and pinion pine and is inhabited by raccoons, skunks, various squirrels, deer and an occasional bear and mountain lion.  The Montane Zone (8,000 to 10,000 feet) has various wildflowers and small shrubs, but large forests of pines and Douglas fir, as well as the colorful aspen tree, are predominant. Deer, elk, bear and mountain lions can all be found at this attitude.  The Subalpine Zone (10,000 to 11,500 feet) is less hospitable. Englemann spruce, Douglas fir and bristlecone pine comprise the area’s dense forests. It is estimated that some bristlecone pine trees on Pikes Peak are over 2000 years old.  In the Alpine Zone (11,500 feet and above), tundra composed of tiny flowers, mosses and lichen eke out a cold existence in the short growing season.   Here are some views from along the way - if you have been there, enjoy, and if you have not yet done the trail, make plans!

Postscript - Compare the Barr Trail Pictures with the pictures I took Along the Maclehose Trail in Kowloon, Hong Kong.

And One For The Wintertime Denizens Of The Trail

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Each year when Veterans Day rolls around, I always have to think a bit about what makes a veteran a veteran and what is a person who did two years of service, but not in the military.  By definition, the veteran of Veterans Day is specifically referring to persons who have served in the U.S. armed forces.  So, I am not a veteran although from 1968-1970, I did two years of alternative service as a conscientious objector.  This was during the height of the Vietnam war, although the Vietnamese call it the American war.  Close to Veterans Day in 2007, I visited Vietnam and wrote about it here.  At that time, my very good friend and college classmate Clair Miller, who had served in Vietnam, said "Well, you finally made it!"  This year marks the fortieth year since I completed my alternative service commitment, and I dug out my copy of Stories of Peace and Service, a compilation of brief stories of members of Beth El Mennonite Church in Colorado Springs who had chosen not to participate in the US armed forces.  The 1990 book was edited by Stan Hill, who was also a conscientious objector during the Vietnam conflict.  Here is what I wrote twenty years ago, and it still rings quite true today.

     "Looking back, I believe that a subtle tension has always been present in my family.  It is never too obvious, especially to the young, but there definitely is a difference between the uncles and cousins that have served in the armed forces and those who have not.  With fifteen uncles and innumerable cousins (seemingly), there is a variety of service backgrounds ranging from wartime veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, to peacetime veterans, to service exemptions for farm, age, physical, and student status, to cousins never faced with conscription, to me - the only one of the entire group that registered as a conscientious objector and was drafted into alternative service.
     I grew up attending the Goshen College (IN) Mennonite Church.  It was the church, and specifically assistant pastor Bob Detweiler, that guided me and several others who were soon to turn 18, to register for the draft as conscientious objectors.  I don't have any specific recollections of discussions with my parents about registering as a CO.  I think that they assumed that I would register as a conscientious objector and do I-W service.  I attended numerous indoctrinational meetings at the church.  We learned what questions were going to be asked on the CO application form and what we might expect if we were called before the draft board.
     It was early in 1963, I was 17, and the whole registration process didn't have much meaning.  I knew that after high school, I would be going to college.  College meant an automatic student exemption from the draft, so I really didn't give much serious thought to the consequences of being drafted.  Also, New Paris was not exactly a hotbed of national and international awareness.  Kennedy had recently been assassinated, and Johnson quietly assumed the presidency while a nation chronicled the death of a President.  We witnessed an orderly transition of power that could not take place in many other nations.  Camelot was replaced by the Great Society.  No discussions centered on our "advisers" in Southeast Asia.
     I was a little nervous when I filled out the lengthy CO questionnaire.  I had thought about what I was going to write, but it was more like taking an exam that a testament of commitment.  Since I turned 18 in May of 1964 and had already been accepted for enrollment at Goshen College, my draft status automatically became I-S (student deferred).
     Interestingly, my draft card was signed by one of my uncles, Paul T. (Red) Emmert, of New Paris.  Red was a Navy veteran of WWII and had married one of my mother's younger sisters.  Red was involved in Jackson Township politics, and an appointment to the draft board was a county-level political prize.  There probably aren't too many people that registered as CO's that had an uncle on their draft board!
     Four years at Goshen College increased my international and political awareness by several orders of magnitude.  Vietnam had transformed from a conflict into a war.  A few advisers had been replace by tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops.  The war escalated; conscription escalated; debate escalated; protest escalated; and resistance escalated - and the draft became a reality.
     Before I had to face the draft in the spring of 1968, two good friends of mine were drafted.  One friend, Clair Miller, had dropped out of college and was waiting for his draft notice.  We talked about what he planned to do since in 1967, being drafted was nearly equivalent to going to Vietnam.  The four options of the day were (1) go; (2) go, but request assignment as a non-combatant; (3) head for Canada; or (4) request CO status.  The glitch in the latter was that because there was a war going on, receiving CO status was difficult unless you had initially registered at 18 as a conscientious objector.  Clair, being a rather rebellious type, decided that he would go into the army and let the chips fall where they may.
     My second friend and college roommate, Marlin Nofziger, graduated after the first semester of our senior year with a degree in biology.  He had requested and received CO status from his draft board in Ohio.  Then he found an acceptable alternative service assignment working as a technician in the pathology research laboratory of Dr. G. Barry Pierce at the University of Michigan.
     The 1968 draft was based on the lottery.  The 366 possible days of the year were drawn at random, and eligible individuals were drafted by birth date.  A sizable group of college guys sat around the TV watching the outcome, knowing that a number in the range of 150 or so would surely be drafted, and anything beyond 200 had a chance of not being drafted.  Most of them were committed to doing I-W service in the event they were drafted.  May 3 came up in the first 50 numbers.  Therefore, I knew that as soon as I graduated and no longer had a student deferment, I would be drafted -  and I was.
     Being drafted meant a trip to Chicago for the infamous physical - an all day affair that should have taken about an hour.  Hurry up and wait.  Eye check.  Ear check.  Leg check.  Heart check.  A friend from high school, Dick Kerlin, was in our group.  When we got to the cardiologist, he handed the doctor a note about his heart murmur.  The doctor just stuck it in his pocket and proceeded to listen to Dick's heart.  As the doctor listened, Dick said "I have a murmur," to which the doctor replied, "What?"  this exchange occurred two more times, and Dick gave up.  Not too many people flunked the physical.
     Without ever being called before the draft board, I received a I-O classification.  I was told to find an acceptable assignment for my two years of alternative service.  I contacted Marlin at Michigan, and he told me that they were looking for more technicians because the entire Pierce laboratory was going to be moving to the University of Colorado Medical Center in Denver.  I went to Ann Arbor for an interview, was hired, and made arrangements to begin my assignment in Denver in late August of 1968.  Since I had a bachelor's degree in science, I was lucky to get a job somewhat related to my college background.  Other graduates in my class from Goshen were assigned as operating room coordinators, orderlies, and other jobs.
     Marlin and I and another GC graduate, John Bender, shared an apartment close to the medical center.  We worked in three different laboratories, but pretty much had hassle-free jobs.  Our lab directors all knew that we were COs and generally sympathized with our decision since none of them were particularly keen on the U.S. involvement in Southesast Asia.  They also appreciated our willingness to occasionally come in to work on evenings and weekends.  Of course, what were we going to do - complain to our draft boards that we were overworked!?
     Throughout 1968 and 1969, Clair and I exchanged letters, keeping in touch as he made his way through basic training on the way to becoming a PFC grunt assigned to 365 days in South Vietnam.  He came to Denver right before he was sent to Vietnam.  Clair was always good at covering his feelings with an easy-going facade, and this visit was no different.  However, we both knew that he came to Colorado because it could have easily been the last time we could get together.  Clair left for 'Nam, and my life went on with a minimum of disruption.  In 1968, Rhonda and I decided to get married, and during the middle of my two years of I-W, on June 15, 1969, we did.
     The letters back and forth from Vietnam continued.  There was some regularity, but often there would be a gap.  Then another letter would arrive.  Clair never gave too many details, but I could tell it was tough - 12 hour firefights, loss of another armored vehicle driver, pinned by the VC for four days, risking further casualties to retrieve an friend's body because you knew the he would have done it for you, sitting in your dugout counting the clicks of incomings knowing that they're getting closer.  I prayed a lot for Clair.  Clair made it out of Vietnam without ever being hit, one of only three in his entire company to make it unscathed (physically) through the entire 365 days.
     I have seen Clair several times since those days.  I was his best man at his wedding; he and his family visited us in Colorado on a skiing vacation, and so on.  We write and phone occasionally.  We seldom discuss the Vietnam era, but when we do, it's usually just the two of us.
     I have read Rudy Wiebe's Peace Shall Destroy Many and, even today, I still am puzzled by the paradox of being a conscientious objector in the United States.  I believe that nonviolence in all of life is the moral paradigm.  I also believe that conscientious objection to war is morally correct.  Was alternative service a legitimate response to objection to the war in Vietnam?  Do only non-Mennonites, non-Anabaptists, non-Protestants, non-Christians, the ungodly fight wars?  If aggressive land troops were invading the U.S., would I conscientiously object to that war?  Is there a difference between a protective war and an aggressive war, or of one 12,000 miles from Colorado and one here?  Is personal defense different from national defense?  Is pacifism, as Catholic William Buckley strongly proclaims, a Christian heresy?  I am afraid that I don't have any unqualified answers. 
     I have occasionally wondered, having the wisdom of hindsight, what I would do if I were once again back in the 1960's, faced with the same decisions and choices.  I don't think that I would do the same thing.  I say that because I feel that my statement of conscientious objection and peace witness were minimal.  Because of the medical school setting with a large population of 22 to 26-year-olds, I am sure that many of my peers and co-workers were unaware that my job was fulfilling my alternative service requirement.  Marlin, John, and I tried to blend in rather than stand out.  We were indeed the "quiet in the land."
     Once again, I am afraid that I don't have any unqualified answers as to what I would do differently.  What would have been more appropriate?  What would have been more effective?  Where would a peace witness have been more effective?  Since the war was in Southeast Asia, I believe that the major peace witness should have also been in Southeast Asia.
     I believe that I would have had a more effective and fulfilling alternative service experience and peace witness by working directly to counter the destructiveness of war.  Having gone through this experience, I feel that I can provide advice and perspective to persons, including our children, that may someday face a similar situation.  And, even in the absence of a U.S. draft, I believe that we should encourage and support those who choose to go to the areas of conflict to be peacemakers."

Clair Miller - Vietnam - Circa 1968

Sunday, November 14, 2010




Nada te turbe

Nada te espante
Quien a Dios tiene nada le falta
Solo Dios basta
Todo se pasa
Dios no se muda
La paciencia todo lo alcanza

Let nothing disturb you,
let nothing afright you.
Whoever has God
lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.
All things are passing.
God does not change.
Patience achieves all things.

Saturday, November 13, 2010



There have always been Christians who have resisted religious pluralism and diversity and have sought to transform this nation of religious freedom into a nation dominated by Christian conviction and practice.  Thanks to the First Amendment, however, they could not achieve that objective by coercion or the force of law. So time and again they used the only means they had at their disposal: the power of persuasion. And in the world of American religion, persuasion meant revivals -- often massive revivals that aimed to convert the entire American population.

Three of these massive revivals mark the course of American history. The first was the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century. The second was the Fundamentalist Movement in the early 20th century. And the third was the Christian Right that flourished in the waning years of the 20th century and that continues in a somewhat altered form today.  It is impossible to understand the role of the Christian Right in American culture unless we first understand its two predecessors: the Second Great Awakening and the Fundamentalist Movement.

In this second article in this four-part series, then, we will ask how the Second Great Awakening and the Fundamentalist Movement sought to transform the United States into a distinctly Christian nation and, in that way, paved the way for the Christian Right of our own time.

The Second Great Awakening

Truth be told, it is only partially correct to say that the Second Great Awakening sought to Christianize the Republic, for its bedrock, fundamental goal was to transform the United States into a thoroughly Protestant nation: Catholics were not part of the equation.  The Second Great Awakening ran for roughly 30 years, from 1800 to 1830, and by the time it had run its course, it had thoroughly protestantized the American nation. Now, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and members of other non-Christian religions -- not to mention atheists -- were widely regarded as distinctly second-class citizens. In fact, many now viewed allegiance to the Christian faith, embodied in a Protestant denomination (it made no difference which one) as part and parcel of American patriotism.  But to its great credit, the Second Great Awakening also launched a variety of significant social reforms. They clearly based those reforms on the biblical vision of the kingdom of God, a vision that enjoined feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and standing in solidarity with people who were marginalized and oppressed.

In 19th-century America, no one fit the description of "the marginalized and oppressed" more fully than African American slaves, and it is difficult to imagine the abolition of slavery coming as early as it did apart from the extraordinary social impact of the Second Great Awakening.  While working to abolish slavery, participants in that revival worked on behalf of many other social causes including prison reform and the creation of common schools throughout the nation.  Of the three great efforts over the course of American history to Christianize the American nation, only the Second Great Awakening built into its agenda a passion for social justice.

Obviously, we must acknowledge that the Second Great Awakening was clearly exclusive in terms of religion, but its passion for social justice meant that it was profoundly inclusive in terms of race, gender and ethnicity. And precisely for that reason, many Americans saw precious little difference between the concerns of the Founders for the "unalienable rights" for "all men," and the concerns of the Second Great Awakening for equity and justice in the social arena.  In that way, the religious values of the Founders and the religious values of the Second Great Awakening coalesced to create what most Americans of the time agreed was the core meaning of America: liberty and justice for all, even though the practice of that ideal was incomplete and deeply flawed.

The World Out of Joint: the Rise of Fundamentalism in the Early 20th Century

The second great attempt to Christianize the nation -- the Fundamentalist Movement -- emerged at the end of the 19th century but flourished in the early 20th century when the world seemed badly out of joint to people wed to the ideals of Christian America. The problem those people faced was that new and powerful forces now undermined the Christian civilization that the Second Great Awakening had put in place.  Fundamentalisms, wherever they appear around the globe, typically emerge in response to crises that throw the world out of joint, and in America in the late 19th century those crises were many and profound. 

First, ethnic and religious pluralism exploded exponentially between 1865 and 1900 when at least 13.5 million immigrants settled in the United States. They hailed from Germany, Austria, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Bohemia, Poland, Russia, Romania, Croatia and other European nations, and by and large they were either Catholic or Eastern Orthodox -- traditions altogether foreign to the Protestant America that had been created over the course of the 19th century.

Second, the industrialization that occurred both during and after the Civil War contributed to unthinkable levels of grinding poverty in cities throughout the northern part of the United States. With their backs against the wall, the working poor organized labor unions to protect themselves from the predatory practices of the Barons of Industry and other capitalists. But advocates for "Christian America" rejected these efforts of the working poor and found the unions as threatening as the immigrants themselves.

And third, a radically new world view, predicated on evolutionary assumptions, now began to undermine both the ideal and the reality of a "Christian America." Historians often call that worldview "modernism."

Darwin's theory of evolution stood at the heart of the modernist perspective and, from the perspective of many Christians, severely threatened the traditional understanding that God had created humans in His own image.  To make matters worse for many orthodox Christians, many biblical scholars of the late 19th century rejected the traditional notion that God had simply spoken the biblical text into existence and argued instead for a distinctly evolutionary view of the Bible's origins. These scholars, often called "biblical critics," now argued, for example, that a variety of authors over a period of many centuries had written sections of the book of Genesis. Then, perhaps hundreds of years later, an editor pulled those sections into the Genesis text that appears in our Bible. Many orthodox Christians felt that this sort of evolutionary reading of the Bible severely compromised the traditional understanding of the Bible as divinely inspired by the spirit of God.

And finally, if Darwin had applied evolutionary understandings to the biological world, and if biblical critics had applied evolutionary understandings to the text of the Bible, a new school of psychology now applied evolutionary understandings to God himself. Sigmund Freud was in many ways the apex of those new understandings that had their genesis in the early 20th century.  Freud argued in his book, The Future of an Illusion, that God was much like Linus's security blanket, created by our primitive ancestors for protection in the face of sickness, death and natural calamities. Clearly, Freud argued, the idea of God has evolved to meet humanity's needs, but since humanity has now matured, we should act like mature people and dispense with such childish understandings.

With traditional understandings of humanity, the Bible and God all under assault in these ways, it must be obvious that the notion of "Christian America" was in jeopardy as well. The Fundamentalist Movement therefore emerged in the early 20th century as the second of the three great attempts in American history to Christianize the American Republic. But the Fundamentalist Movement differed from the Second Great Awakening in many respects.

First, while the Second Great Awakening led into the future and sought to create something new -- a democracy that worked in harmony with the will of God -- the Fundamentalist Movement essentially sought to defend the gains of the past.

Second, if the Second Great Awakening was in sync with the spirit of its age and therefore built on the widespread belief that the kingdom of God could actually be built in this new nation, the Fundamentalist Movement rejected the spirit of its age and the driving force of late-19th and early-20th century America: the findings of modern science.  Indeed, if the Second Great Awakening had fought for the abolition of slavery, fundamentalists fought for a nation free from Darwin's theory of evolution. If the Second Great Awakening had fought for prison reform, fundamentalists fought to defend an inerrant Bible. And if the Second Great Awakening had fought for the creation of common schools throughout the nation, fundamentalists fought to free those schools from scientific theories that failed to conform to a literal reading of the biblical text.

Third, while the Second Great Awakening had been marked by a profound sense of optimism over the nation's future, the Fundamentalist Movement was marked by pessimism and a deep sense of foreboding that the Christian America of the past might never be recovered.  And because pessimism and negativity were so central to the Fundamentalism project, Fundamentalists devised a premillennial escape hatch that assured them of victory in the life to come even if Modernists won the battles on this earth.

But in the context of this analysis, the most important difference between the Second Great Awakening and the Fundamentalist Movement had to do with the way religion can either unite or divide a society. In the first installment of this series we noted that "to the extent that religion provides a nation with a widely agreed-upon sense of meaning, to that extent it provides the glue that binds the nation together."  Because the Second Great Awakening was so thoroughly in sync with the optimistic spirit of its age and built on the great sense of promise that most Americans felt their nation embodied, and because it embodied a passion for justice for marginalized people, it captured the heart of the nation and easily blended with the Founders' belief that all men are created equal and endowed with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  On the other hand, because it rejected the scientific spirit of its age, because it was so dour and pessimistic, because it focused so completely on the past, and because it typically failed to embody a concern for social justice, fundamentalism was ill equipped to provide the religious glue that could bind this nation together.  No wonder, then, that in 1925, the Scopes-Monkey Trial forced the Fundamentalist Movement to retreat from America's public square.

The old nursery rhyme, "Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; and all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again," provides a helpful way to think about the rise and fall of fundamentalism in the early 20th century.  In this case, Humpty is Christian America that sat on the wall built by the Second Great Awakening. But a great earthquake rumbled through the land, toppling Humpty from his perch and smashing him into a million pieces. Like all the king's horses and all the king's men who tried to put Humpty together again, the Fundamentalists also tried. Lord knows they tried! But the world had changed, and when they failed to reconstruct Humpty, the larger nation forced them to beat a hasty retreat from America's public square.

That is the history we must understand if we wish to grasp the meaning and significance of the Christian Right today.  In the third of this four-part series of articles, we will ask exactly how and why the Christian Right fits into this much larger story -- a story defined by the Second Great Awakening of the early 19th century and the Fundamentalist Movement of the early 20th.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


No doubt you have heard this phrase - it seems popular with many pundits and talking heads, particularly Bill O'Reilly and other Fox News contributors.  The phrase has become synonymous with "You shouldn't trust any person or group that I don't agree with."  On YouTube, one can find all kinds of examples of how the phrase has been used, and if you google "Don't drink the Kool Aid", you will find many interesting websites discussing the phrase.  It seems to have become part of the urban lexicon, but the story behind the phrase is summarized in this video, a student's project for an English class:

Personally, I find the phrase repulsive.  It represents the mass suicide of over 900 people, the suicide of their supposed leader after he watched over the drinking of cyanide-laced Kool Aid, and the assassination of US Congressman Leo Ryan.  I would like to know how many of you also find the phrase offensive, or find it simply a descriptor for a point of view with which you disagree. 

There is a poll at the bottom of this page -  vote!  I note that it's a bit hard to read the answers because of the background - they are Yes - No - Ambivalent.   Thanks [only to those who vote]


Steve Perrin - SB Nation - Los Angeles

Every year since the ABA/NBA merger, there has been a Pepperdine basketball player in the NBA, but that improbable streak will almost certainly end this season.

Sep 24, 2010 - Everyone knows that Gonzaga is the leading basketball school in the West Coast Conference, right? It goes without saying. And if I were to ask you, which WCC school has had a player in the NBA for the most consecutive seasons, you'd no doubt answer Gonzaga. And you'd be wrong. Because even given the remarkable 19 year career of John Stockton (and for the first 18 of those 19 years, he was the only Zag in the assoc), the contiguous history of Bulldogs in the NBA only stretches back to 1985. Pepperdine's unbroken pro basketball legacy goes back further.

What if I were to ask you about some of the really powerful schools from the big, powerful conferences? What about Georgetown, or Arizona, or UConn? Believe it or not, there has been a continuous string of Pepperdine players in the NBA stretching back further than any of those iconic basketball schools, not too mention many other big hoops schools.

There has been a Wave on an NBA roster every season since the NBA/ABA merger in 1976. If you consider ABA history as well, the streak goes back even further, to Bird Averitt starting in 1973. Georgetown? Their current history starts with John Duren in 1980. UofA? Steve Kerr and Tom Tolbert, 1988. UConn? Cliff Robinson, 1989.

To be certain, the bulk of the Pepperdine streak is courtesy of two players, whose careers spanned almost three decades. The late, great Dennis Johnson, a 2010 Hall of Fame inductee, joined Averitt in the NBA during the merger year in 1976-1977. He played 14 seasons for the Sonics, Suns and Celtics, winning titles in Seattle and Boston. Three seasons after DJ's retirement, Doug Christie entered the league as a Lakers rookie. Christie would play 15 seasons, for seven different NBA teams, most notably Sacramento. He ended his career back in LA, this time with the Clippers for a brief seven game cameo in 2007.

Supplementing the work of Johnson and Christie, some lesser known Waves have done yeoman's work keeping the streak alive, sometimes in unlikely fashion. After Johnson had retired and while Christie was still in Malibu wearing blue and orange, the 1990-91 season began without any Pepperdine representation. But Anthony Frederick, who had been kicking around the European leagues and had appeared in 46 games for the Pacers a couple of seasons before, signed a 10 day contract with Sacramento in January 1991. He parlayed that 10 dayer into a second one, and eventually signed for the remainder of the season, appearing in 35 games for the Kings that year. The next season he signed in Charlotte, and played 66 games for the Hornets, even starting 26 of them.

Unfortunately for Frederick, his NBA career ended there, as he did not make an NBA roster in 92-93. But fortunately for the streak, that was Christie's rookie campaign.

The streak looked to be in jeopardy again towards the end of Christie's career. In 2005, Christie signed with Dallas, but he was waived less than a month into the season when his surgically repaired ankle was slow to heal. Not to worry though - Alex Acker had been the final pick in the 2005 draft and had impressed the Detroit Pistons enough to make the team. The streak was safe.

Or was it? The 06-07 season began with Christie starring in a reality TV show instead of the NBA, and Acker still the property of the Pistons, but playing in Greece for Olympiacos. It seemed like the streak would end for sure this time.

Enter Yakhouba Diawara. After exhausting his eligibility at Pepperdine and going undrafted, Khoub returned to his native France to play pro ball. After a couple of seasons in Europe, he managed to stick with Denver in 06-07, remaking himself as a defensive stopper on the wing (he was a post scorer in Malibu). In 08-09, when Diawara signed with Miami and Acker returned to the NBA from Europe, it seemed as if the streak was on solid footing once again.

But not so. Acker wasn't re-signed by the Clippers in 2009 after he was traded there by Detroit, and he returned to Europe after he failed to secure another NBA gig. Meanwhile, Diawara found himself buried deep on the Heat bench, playing only 44 minutes last season after playing over 800 the season before. Both players are signed to play in Europe this season, Acker in France and Diawara in Italy. With no help on the horizon, it looks like the streak will finally end, after 37 seasons. And lest you conclude that this is just a story of six players, let me add that 13 different Waves have played NBA basketball over those 37 seasons, however briefly. Not bad for a little WCC school.

But wait. Is that a glimmer of hope I see? When the Lakers announced their training camp invitees Friday, who should be included but a former Wave, Russell Hicks. Might Hicks defy the odds, make the Lakers' roster and keep the streak alive? In a word, no. This is a guy who was a seventh round pick in the D-LEAGUE DRAFT last year. It's hard to say what he's doing in camp with Kobe and Pau, but I'm guessing that Mitch Kupchak owed someone a favor. Let's face it - it can't be easy getting players to show up at a camp where you know there's no chance to make the team, but at least Hicks will have some stories to tell his grandkids.

There's still a chance of course. Maybe Acker or Diawara will return from Europe and sign a 10 day contract somewhere. It's certainly no less likely than the Anthony Frederick scenario. Perhaps Christie will unretire again, at the age of 40 (OK, that one's pretty unlikely).

But for the time being, it looks as if a noble tradition of Pepperdine players in the NBA will finally end this season. There is no joy in Firestone Fieldhouse tonight.

Monday, November 08, 2010


Our friend and colleague Richard Hughes has begun a four-part blog at the Huffington Post.  Here is the first part which can also be found here.

This series is based on Richard's book, Christian America and the Kingdom of God (University of Illinois Press, 2009), and will continue with three more installments. Hughes is Distinguished Professor of Religion at Messiah College.

The Christian Right in Context, Part 1: The Long View

Thirty-five years ago, in a time that seems like ancient history to most young people today, the eminent social critic Robert N. Bellah wrote a book that illumines the current American crisis with devastating precision.

I do not use the phrase, "American crisis," casually. All Americans, whether on the right, the left or in between, understand that the nation is now in a crisis of significant proportions. But most Americans fail to grasp how deeply that crisis runs.  Liberals and conservatives alike seem to think that the core of the American crisis stems from a flagging economy and the threat from Islamic terrorists.  But the American crisis runs much deeper than that. Ultimately, the crisis is a religious one, and that is the point that Bellah's book, The Broken Covenant, helps us to see.

The Christian Right stands at the heart of our current crisis since, for 30 years and more, the Christian Right has so successfully eaten away at the core, bedrock values that shaped this nation at its founding.  To advance this argument, of course, is to advance an irony, since the Christian Right has claimed from its inception that others -- especially liberals, secularists and humanists -- were eroding the values of the nation that they sought to affirm and protect.  And precisely in that claim we find the seeds of the current American crisis.

To understand the extent to which the Christian Right has helped to create this crisis, we need to place that movement in a much larger context, for the Christian Right has built its house on a foundation that is as old as the nation itself.  In this four-part series, we will ask who built that foundation and why. We will then ask why the house recently constructed by the Christian Right sits so awkwardly on its centuries-old foundation.

The Religious Dimensions of the American Crisis

Bellah's book, The Broken Covenant, points to three "times of trial" in America's past when the very existence of the nation hung in the balance. In each, the heart of the crisis was the pervasive erosion of agreement regarding the meaning of the American experiment.  Constructing meaning is one of the most important jobs that religion performs, and it does this for nations just as surely as it does for individuals. And to the extent that religion provides a nation with a widely agreed-upon sense of meaning, to that extent it provides the glue that binds the nation together.  Not all religions create meaning by pointing believers to a personal God, but all religions create meaning by connecting people to something commonly understood to be ultimate or transcendent.  The former Soviet Union, for example, was built on the conviction that history moved inevitably toward the final victory of the proletariat. The Soviets believed that a nation in harmony with that inevitability was a nation that stood shoulder to shoulder with the ultimate forces of the universe -- forces that lay beyond human control. That is why Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev could therefore predict with total confidence in 1956 that Communism would bury the United States and western-style capitalism. It was precisely that inevitability, then, that functioned as the religious glue that bound the Soviet Union together, even though that nation was officially atheistic.

In America, on the other hand, the religious glue that has bound this nation together has been the pervasive conviction that God -- not historical inevitability -- ultimately controls the affairs of humankind; that God created all human beings to share equally in the inalienable rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"; and that, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it, the moral arc of the universe ultimately bends toward justice.  Americans of the founding generation concurred with the Declaration of Independence that these ideas were rooted in "Nature and Nature's God" and were therefore "self-evident" and inevitably and unfailingly true.

Obviously, these profoundly American convictions were grounded in the Hebrew and Christian traditions, though it is simply wrong to claim that Judaism or Christianity or the "Judeo-Christian" tradition has been the religion of the American people.  Each of the times of trial that Bellah described was a time of crisis precisely because the religious glue that bound the American people together had ceased to be "self-evident" and was therefore contested ground.

The Revolutionary Period

The first great "time of trial" was the period of the American Revolution when it was by no means clear that there would be a United States of America at all.  Nor was it clear what might serve as the religious glue that would bind this people together. Would it be the established faith of Puritan New England, the established Anglican Church of the Southern Colonies, the Deism of the Enlightenment, or something else entirely?

When the smoke finally cleared, the core religion of the American people found expression in the Declaration of Independence -- a belief in the sovereign rule of a God all "men" could know through the light of nature and in the "self-evident truths" this God had created all "men" to enjoy: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Civil War

Bellah's second "time of trial" -- the period of America's Civil War -- was a time of crisis precisely because half the nation had rejected the religious principle so central to the American experiment that all men were created equal and endowed with inalienable rights.  From the standpoint of the North, the South had embraced evil as good, and southerners viewed Yankees in much the same way. The "religion of the Republic" had therefore become contested ground. No wonder the nation fought a bloody civil war that threatened to dissolve the Union.

The 1960s and Beyond

Bellah's third "time of trial" -- the 1960s and beyond -- was a time of crisis for a very similar reason, since to many Americans the government itself had seriously undermined the nation's core religious values by permitting the evils of segregation and racial inequality to remain the law of the land and by fighting a war in Southeast Asia that many Americans viewed as fundamentally unjust. Consensus regarding the meaning of the American experiment had therefore eroded, threatening the cohesion of the nation.

What most Americans fail to grasp today is that Bellah's third time of trial has by no means run its course. For the revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s spawned a whole series of reactionary movements that are with us still and that now, roughly half a century later, threaten to undermine the nation's core.  Chief among those reactionary movements is the Christian Right, a movement that began to coalesce as early as 1969 but was officially born when Jerry Falwell launched his Moral Majority in 1979, only four short years after Bellah's book was published in 1975.

Even though most scholars agree that the Christian Right as a movement is now in decline, its enduring legacy continues to undermine the nation's values.  It obscures the Founders' intentions, distorts the Christian faith and, for both those reasons, it threatens the health of the nation.

The Christian Right in Historical Context

To sort this out, we must acknowledge several historical facts.  First, many of the Founders who framed the core American values in the Declaration of Independence were Deists -- people who affirmed God as the governor and providential sustainer of the universe, but who denied the deity of Jesus Christ.  Many others, as Professor Mark Hall has demonstrated, were more orthodox in their Christian convictions.  And even the Deists -- people like Jefferson and Franklin -- had roots embedded so deeply in the Jewish and Christian traditions that it is impossible to imagine the American version of Deism apart from its profoundly biblical underpinnings.  Thus, when proponents of the Christian Right claim that the Founders were uniformly Christian, they are clearly wrong. But when they argue that the Founders were religious men who built this nation on a deep and abiding belief in God and in the moral order this God ordained, they are clearly right.  But in spite of the Founders' strong religious convictions, many Christians of that period thought those convictions inadequate at best and diabolical at worst. Many orthodox Christians, therefore, routinely labeled the Founders -- especially Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration -- as infidels and atheists who promoted "the morality of devils."

Three factors lay behind the Christian attack on the Founders in the early 19th century. First, orthodox Christians quite accurately understood that some of the Founders were Deists who rejected the divinity of Jesus.  Second, the Declaration of Independence grounded the religious meaning of the American experiment not in a God exclusively revealed in the biblical text, but in "Nature and Nature's God". That is, in the God all humans can know and understand through nature, quite apart from the biblical revelation.  And third, orthodox Christians in the early 19th century were profoundly disappointed in the fact that Christianity -- indeed, all religion and all reference to God whatsoever -- was simply missing from the Constitution. And when the Founders finally addressed the topic of religion in the First Amendment, they did so in a negative, prohibitive way: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

In spite of the claims of the Christian Right today, the simple truth is this: The Founders had no intention of creating a "Christian America." In fact, they categorically rejected the idea of a Christian nation for one important reason: They knew the history of the "Christian nations" of Europe, nations that had persecuted non-conformists and waged war against countries that embraced a form of the Christian faith different from their own.  The Founders, therefore, hoped to create a nation that honored religious diversity, a nation in which everyone would be free to practice any religion or none.

In light of the current hostility toward Muslims and the many recent attempts to ban their mosques and restrict their religious freedom, the Founders' stance on Islam is instructive. Jefferson, for example, argued that America should extend complete freedom of religion not just to Christians but to the "Mahamdan," the Jew, and the "pagan" as well. And following passage in Virginia of his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786), he reaffirmed the bill's intent: "To comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan."

Washington helped Muslims "obtain proper relief" from a Virginia bill that would tax them to support Christian worship. And pointing to the Founders' high regard for religion broadly conceived, and not for Christianity alone, Benjamin Rush affirmed his preference to "see the opinions of Confucius or Mohammed inculcated upon our youth than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles."  But many orthodox Christians resisted this sort of broad toleration and hoped to create instead a distinctly Christian nation.

Why were so many orthodox Christians of that period so fearful of religious freedom, so hostile toward the Founders and so insistent that the United States should become a Christian nation?  The answer to that question emerges when we consider that all European immigrants to America in the late-18th and early-19th centuries came from countries that maintained an officially established church. That was all they knew. Christians who had experienced oppression at the hands of a European or colonial state church -- Baptists and Quakers, for example -- obviously worked with the Founders to promote religious freedom. But Christians who had belonged to legally established churches -- Anglicans and Puritans, for example -- could not imagine that a stable state could exist apart from uniformity of religion.  And so, in the early 19th century, many Christians joined hands to launch a massive, popular movement to achieve by persuasion what they could not achieve by coercion or force of law: Christianizing the American republic. We call that movement the Second Great Awakening.

Apart from the foundation laid by the Second Great Awakening some 200 years ago, the Christian Right in our time is incomprehensible.  But there is more, for the Second Great Awakening was the first of three massive efforts in the history of the United States that sought to transform a nation of religious freedom into a nation dominated by Christian conviction and practice.  How the Christian Right fits into that much larger drama is the question we will seek to answer in this four-part series.

Thursday, November 04, 2010


The following is a response to Ken Ham's State of the Nation 2, and the original blog and the comments can be found here. 

Though I support the mission and projects of the BioLogos Foundation, I decided to watch Ken Ham's State of the Nation 2 address to hear his concerns about the project. I learned about Mr. Ham’s grave concerns for this nation. I was surprised to hear that Ham directly attributes many of our country's woes—from abortion to pornography to gay marriage to evolution curriculum to euthanasia to President Obama’s policies— to a failure to uphold a literal reading of Genesis.

In his State of the Nation, Ham suggested that BioLogos’ founder, its personnel and its supporters are among a large number of “compromised” Christians—who are compromised because they interpret Genesis differently than Mr. Ham.  He also noted that BioLogos President Darrel Falk and Vice President Karl Giberson are compromised Nazarenes who are participants in the destruction of the church.

Further, I learned that BioLogos-types who accept evolutionary science are part of a plan by atheists such as Eugenie Scott of using compromised Christians to advance secular humanism, evolution and Darwinism as the new national religion, expunging Christianity from what had previously been a Christian nation founded on the Word of God.

I certainly learned a lot of new things. But probably most of all, I was sad.

Here is a man of considerable influence, lecturing to an adoring crowd, presenting an hour of untruths, half-truths, and faulty reasoning mixed in with enough truth to give the impression of veracity and authority.   Beginning with the myth of the United States being established as a Christian nation through his foundational claim that if you do not read the Hebrew Scriptures as he does, you will be unable to properly read the Gospel, Mr. Ham weaves an engaging but flawed message.

Although Mr. Ham has stated that all of our society’s problems are the result of sin, it seems quite apparent that he believes evolutionary science is a prime mover in leading people into sin. Further, he cautions that if one cannot believe Genesis 1, one might not believe anything in the Bible. While there are certainly answers in Genesis, they are not necessarily those found through Ham’s organization Answers in Genesis.

The error of Mr. Ham’s approach to interpreting Genesis was presented in great detail 1600 years ago by Augustine. Many current writers expand upon Augustine’s thoughts and likewise critique the so-called literal interpretation of Scripture.

My friend and colleague Richard Hughes, author of Christian America and the Kingdom of God and Myths America Lives By notes that:

millions of conservative Christians in the United States read the Bible through a variety of American perspectives that are utterly foreign to the biblical text. And they read the Bible in this way because they so often identify the kingdom of God with the United States of America. Based on that conviction, many confuse the principles of the Bible with the principles of the Constitution, biblical morality with capitalism, defense of the Christian religion with militarism, and fidelity to the kingdom of God with patriotism.

Similarly, in his review of Harvey Cox’s book, The Future of Faith, C├ęsar Baldelomar states:

Cox argues that fundamentalists are biblically irresponsible. He discusses how believing in a literal interpretation of the Bible became “a kind of litmus test of whether one was a ‘real Christian.’” But which Bible do fundamentalists believe in? And how do they interpret the Bible they believe in? These questions prompt Cox to take us on a journey through the three worlds of biblical interpretation to reveal the several contradictions inherent in the scriptures. Rather than dismiss these contradictions, literal biblical readers should acknowledge them and engage the world behind the text, of the text, and in front of the text. Moreover, learning Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Latin can help the biblical reader overcome meanings that are lost in translation.

It is interesting that Ken Ham and Richard Dawkins are delivering the same message from disparate perspectives – one must choose between having Christian faith and accepting evolution. You must be either anti-evolution or anti-religion. Christians who accept evolution are “compromised” and atheist/agnostic evolutionists who are not anti-faith are “accomodationists.”

I believe that BioLogos and like-minded folks are following a third way, one that I would describe as that of discerning Christians who believe that knowledge and understanding of the natural world should not be a threat to faith. They need not be mutually exclusive.

Although Mr. Ham would consider me a compromised Christian, [along with Augustine, the BioLogos folks, Hughes, Cox and many others], I do not accept his criteria for being a real Christian. I do not doubt his sincerity, but I do believe that his time, energy, passion and resources are misguided.

Rather than hinging an understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus on Genesis 1, I look to Matthew 25:31 and following, which I believe is the only time Jesus talked about how we would be judged - “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat...whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


If you have about an hour and want to learn a bit about cancer, here is a deal you cannot refuse!  My normal consulting/lecture fee will be waived, and there will not be a quiz.  The two-part video is of a lecture that I presented in the Pepperdine Faculty Colloquium Series.  The talk is directed toward non-science folks, and thus should be quite understandable to all in the blogosphere.  I have added the power point slides, and you will probably find them more interesting than watching me.  They are set to advance once per minute, but you should be able to control the slide viewer.

Understanding Cancer - Part 1 - Swartzendruber from Vimeo.

Understanding Cancer - Part 2 - Swartzendruber from Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010



Not too long after we moved from Colorado Springs to Malibu, we were invited to join a group that was going to the beach at around midnight to watch the grunion run.  Well, our first thought was that this was very reminiscent of the famous snipe hunt, a common sophomoric Midwestern prank.  However, we were soon convinced by Professor Karen Martin that this was no prank - indeed Dr. Martin, aka the Grunion Queen, is the world's foremost authority on the grunion.  Not only is Karen involved in basic research of grunion physiology and ecology, she is also a leader in the preservation and management of beach ecosystems and has had a major impact on beach grooming practices in Southern California.

When I wear my Grunion Greeters jacket in the Rocky Mountain west, there usually is not a glimmer of recognition of what this means.  However, occasionally someone will say "I've seen the grunion run!"  Our barista in Los Alamos knew all about the grunion, having previously lived in Huntington Beach.  You can learn much, much more about the grunion at and below is a video of a run.  From about March through August, at the high tides around the time of each new and full moon, the grunion swarm onto the beach to spawn, the only fish to do so.  The females bury their tails in the sand to lay their eggs, and the males circle the females to deposit their sperm.  At the next high tide, the grunion embryos hatch and scurry into the surf.

Monday, November 01, 2010


Here are a few pictures of our condo.  When we purchased the place, it was very 70's with a sunken living room, mirrored floor-to-ceiling fireplace, faux-beamed ceilings, leaky atrium windows, and a very funky system of boxed-in skylights that in theory guided light to each of the five levels that are arranged as half-levels; basement, garage, entry/kitchen/living/dining, study and master bedroom.  The space was organized in a very strange fashion, and thus we decided to deconstruct down to the studs and start over.  We convinced local architect Mark Gerwing to accept the design - he had worked on a neighbor's unit and at first was reluctant.  Then he decided that it would be a nice challenge to create something quite different in basically the same space.  He took our fundamental desires - lots of light and air - and delivered a great design. We continue to be very pleased with the outcome, and recommend him to you if you are looking for an architect.  We are also very pleased with Jeff Hindman and his crew at Cottonwood Custom Builders.  Mark and Jeff made a good pair, balancing architectural flair with building within a budget!

Unfortunately, I did not take any "pre" pictures for comparison - but imagine in this area, a sunken living room with some shag carpeting and floor-level mirrors, the mirrored fireplace at the far end, a single sliding door on the right, beams and wooden ceiling, and a kitchen island on the left. 

Here is a view of the galley kitchen, with the eating bar and dining area off to the right.  The shutter on the left is one of the shutters used along the stairway to the lower levels, and as seen below, shutters were also used along the stairway leading to the upper levels.

This is probably the most dramatic change - the three skylights above the stairway were all previously completely enclosed in boxes.  One box went to the lower level, one to the main level, and one to the mid level.  The original stairways ran at 90 degree angles to the current stairs, and were switch-back.  The current stairs are over/under with the upper stairs shown here going to the mid-level office and work area and continuing up to the master, with the lower stairs going to the garage and basement levels.  Most of the shutters are moveable, allowing for control of both light and air.

A corner of the master bedroom on the upper level - this shows three of the six windows that were added to this level and the skylight that was enlarged.  Again, there is plenty of light and air.