Saturday, November 27, 2010

Blog Post on the Death of Feminism

Last spring I posted a series of blog posts on feminism. I came of age after the feminist movement, and the word “feminist” had never had a lot of relevance to me. But upon invitation to associate with a feminist law professor group last spring, I began to ponder the term more.

I sought insight from a number of people of different backgrounds. It was really interesting to hear their varied insights. I noted in the resulting blog posts that the rather benign dictionary definition of “feminism” is so different from the modern connotations that have evolved. These days, in many quarters, the term is viewed very negatively and can inspire tremendous hostility.

I received a lot of interest and positive feedback from those blog posts on feminism. For those who continue to be interested in the topic, I thought you might enjoy the blog post at the link below; it was written by Stephen Prothero (a religion scholar at Boston University). It was posted on CNN’s “Belief Blog.”

Acts 5:29 (New King James Version)

But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids by Drs. Diane E. Levin & Jean Kilbourne

The prior post noted my concern about the sexualization of children. Indeed, in the summer of 2009, I read a book on the subject and wrote an article reviewing it. The book was So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids by Drs. Diane E. Levin & Jean Kilbourne. The book was published in 2008 by Ballantine Books.

My book review was published this past summer in the American Journal of Family Law. That review is available at:

The journal trimmed some of the article for publication. The original, full-length article is available at:

My article essentially praises Drs. Levin and Kilbourne for bringing attention to this serious problem facing children and families today. However, I note that due to the ubiquitous nature of the problem, structural changes are needed. The one-off strategies the book’s authors suggest to parents are well-intentioned, but woefully inadequate. The authors’ discussion of the problem in their book, as well as my own experience as a mom and grade school teacher, leads me to the conclusion that parents dealing with this issue alone within their own family is analogous to the passengers on the Titanic trying to bail water with tea cups.

The full-length version of my article also takes issue with certain tactics of the book's authors. For example, I assert that they hurt their credibility at times by taking on small (and admittedly rather benign) fish when they railed against the horrors of the Disney Princess marketing behemoth. The Disney Princesses are much beloved by many and are relatively harmless. Citing them as examples of the problem of sexualization, the authors appear to be overly sensitive and alarmist. Such examples also potentially alienate readers who might otherwise be sympathetic to the authors’ general concerns about the impact on children of sexualized media and marketing.

Moreover, in their book Drs. Levin and Kilbourne needlessly alienate natural allies in the Christian community with dismissive and derogatory statements about the religious right. It is apparent in various references throughout the book that the authors have taken a firm stand on culture war issues, and they are not on the same side as Evangelicals and political conservatives. That is fine. Everyone is entitled to their own views. However, when the problem of sexualizing childhood is so ubiquitous and entrenched, it makes no sense to refuse to reach across the aisle and seek allies to make progress on this critical issue. It saddens me that in our current climate, people accept the political polarization and don’t even try to find common ground with people who have a different overarching philosophy or worldview.

2 Thessalonians 3:3

But the Lord is faithful,
and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Feminist Law Professors Blog

Although I don’t have time to follow it regularly, I enjoy the academic blog, “Feminist Law Professors.” It is accessible at: Contributors from a variety of scholars with a “feminist” perspective post essays and musings on a variety of topics. I don’t agree with everything on the blog, but some of it is interesting to me.

Two posts earlier this year particularly got my attention. One was about the gender divide in parenting. The other was about the underrepresentation and oversexualization of females in the media. Both are topics of great interest to me generally, and I thought both posts were worthwhile.

Issues affecting children and families are important to me. I have spent a good deal of my professional life and done a lot of volunteer work in the service of children. I have written two articles on issues involving children and the law, and have focused on children and families numerous times in this blog. Consequently, among other issues, I’m very interested in the role of fathers. For a variety of reasons, based on my own observations, I think that fathers are often undervalued in many families. (Sometimes they are undervalued by their own actions or inactions.) I wish more fathers had a greater role in parenting children. In my opinion, their contributions can be invaluable.

I’m also extremely concerned about the sexualization of women and girls in modern media. Particularly as a parent of daughters, this is a very disturbing trend. Such sexualization limits girls’ conceptions of who they are and forces them into adult roles prematurely. There are many aspects of being human. One’s sexuality is just one facet of one’s identity. Sexualization is a form of objectification, and denies the humanity of the individual. That is fundamentally inconsistent with basic Christian values.

Luke 12:7 (Contemporary English Version)

Even the hairs on your head are counted. So don’t be afraid! You are worth much more than many sparrows.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Blog Post on a Little Boy’s Choice of Halloween Costume

Around Halloween, a beautiful friend of mine sent me a link to a post from a blog I had never heard of. I don’t really have anything to add, but I recommend it highly. The link below brings up the post.

I love the power of blogs. People we don’t even know can share their life experiences to teach and enrich the rest of us. Blogging is such a democratic medium. You don’t have to be rich, powerful or have a slew of academic credentials to share your perspective with the world. I’m often amazed by the eloquence of everyday folks, people who don’t earn a living by putting together words to express ideas.

I love that this blogging mom, whom I’ll likely never meet, has broken my heart and given me a lot of food for thought. As a fellow mom, I could understand her fiercely protective love for her son and anyone who might hurt him in any way. I’m not exactly a fan of Sarah Palin, and I am not sympathetic to Tea Party politics, but I can certainly identify with the “Mama Grizzly” metaphor.

In a time when the bullying of LGBT kids and resulting suicides have (finally) begun to get mainline media attention, I thought the timing of this mom’s post was particularly poignant. Children learn so much from us, their parents. Every one of us needs to work harder to teach our children to love all their neighbors.

Luke 6:37 (New King James Version)

“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Halloween and the Culture Wars

In recent years, Halloween has become one of the many battlegrounds in the culture wars. But for some reason, it seems to get less attention in the media than school prayer, public displays of Christmas decorations, and sexualized entertainment.

In our own family’s current social circle, there seems to be a real split of opinion on Halloween. Some families we know absolutely love Halloween, and the whole family gets in on the fun in a wholesome way. One family we know decorates their home elaborately for an annual party for parents and kids alike. Everyone dresses up. Another family we know has an adults only Halloween party. Costumes are mandatory, and the kids are left with sitters. The latter family are friends of ours from our church. They are strong Christians. The former family does not attend church regularly, but they do have pretty mainstream religious beliefs. Both families have wonderful values. One has adopted several special needs children and are foster parents to others. The other family volunteers extensively at our church. They are both great families, and we’re privileged to have such great friends.

Also in our social circle are families who feel very strongly that Halloween is ungodly. Because of the pagan roots of Halloween, and the themes these families perceive to be inspired by Satanism, such families have drawn a line in the sand and refuse to have any involvement with Halloween. We know plenty of conservative Christian families who don’t even utter the H-word aloud in the presence of their kids, and would never even consider dressing up or handing out candy. Although our family takes a different approach, I can definitely understand the views of families that embrace the anti-Halloween perspective.

It is also interesting that different Christian churches have a different take on their approach to Halloween. At our church, when Halloween fell on a Saturday last year, kids attending the Saturday night service were invited by the pastor and the director of religious education to wear their Halloween costumes so they could easily go from Bible class to trick-or-treating that evening. That night there were little ninjas, mermaids, and witches walking the corridors of our church campus and receiving communion with the rest of the congregation. My kids’ teacher was a great sport and also dressed in costume that night, much to the delight of her students. She was teaching the kids about All Saints Day (which is the day after Halloween), and came dressed as Saint Martha (a saint with which many modern moms can identify!).

But not all Christian churches are ok with the modern celebration of Halloween. Last year we knew a Catholic family whose parish was having a festival of saints; it took place on October 31st to coincide with (and offer an alternative to) Halloween. But the festival was technically to celebrate All Saints Day. The kids were supposed to come dressed as their favorite saint. Ninjas, mermaids and witches were not welcome. I appreciate the sentiment, but I also realize that frankly many little kids would rather pretend to be a super hero or a princess instead of noble real-life folks like St. Francis or St. Katharine Drexel.

Some other Christian churches take an even more hard-line approach. They refuse to celebrate Halloween in any way. One large non-denominational church in our area had a big fall party during the typical trick-or-treating time in the evening on the 31st to give families a non-Halloween alternative. It was open to the public and free. No costumes, but I understand they had fun activities and candy for the kids.

Significantly, it is not just the conservative Christians we know who are so turned off by the modern observance of Halloween. A very progressive, intellectual friend of mine, who is also a Christian, recently mentioned to me in passing that her family just doesn’t do Halloween. They disapprove of the occult themes of the festivities, so they just don’t participate. I shared with her that I could definitely understand that approach.

Another lovely friend of mine, who does not embrace a religious perspective, shared with me that she too gets a little weirded out by Halloween these days. She told me about a former co-worker who was an intelligent, sensitive person most of the year, but who got a little too into Halloween. She and her husband would have an over-the-top party with lots of scary effects. And they even let their toddler watch gory films like Friday the Thirteenth. My friend and I were horrified at the thought of anyone watching slasher films like that, but we were particularly concerned by the potential impact it would have on someone so young to become desensitized to violence and human pain so early in her development. What happens to kids like that who grown up throughout childhood being exposed to extreme violence against fellow human beings as a form of entertainment? Why is that entertainment to anyone?

Unfortunately, in the current cultural climate, even just asking such questions can provoke a pretty hostile response in some quarters. The questioner is attacked as an overly serious stick in the mud who needs to loosen up. Similarly, when parents and other adults question the sexualized nature of media offerings, children’s fashions and toys, they are attacked as up-tight prudes threatening sacred First Amendment rights.

Matthew 14:13

When Jesus got the news, he slipped away by boat to an out-of-the-way place by himself. But unsuccessfully—someone saw him and the word got around. Soon a lot of people from the nearby villages walked around the lake to where he was. When he saw them coming, he was overcome with pity and healed their sick.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Evolving Traditions of Halloween

In just my own life-time, popular attitudes towards Halloween have changed considerably. As a kid in the 1970s, my friends and I enjoyed dressing up in costumes and going trick-or-treating. We did worry a bit about wackos putting needles and razor blades in the treats, but as long as it was not a homemade treat and the factory seal on the candy was intact, mom wasn’t too concerned.

My elementary school always had a big daytime Halloween Festival on a Saturday before Halloween. We kids wore our costumes, played games, and without our parent’s knowledge sometimes bid on silent auction items. It was a lot of fun and was a big money maker for the PTA. At some point, however, they changed the name mid-season from the “Halloween Festival” to the “Fall Festival.” No one ever explained why. I had a vague sense that the prior name must have offended some folks. As a kid, I didn’t think too much about it, but guessed it was similar to how in music class we always made sure to sing both Hanukah and Christmas songs in December. And the songs chosen by our aptly named teacher, Mrs. Wise, were always pretty bland and avoided religious references. Instead of singing about miracles or Jesus, we sang about dreidels and Santa Claus. Back then I wasn’t sure how Halloween might have offended someone’s religion, but I had a general sense that was why the festival’s name was hastily changed.

At some point as I got closer to junior high, it was clear I was too old to still participate in the festivities and I didn’t think much about Halloween for a number of years. Halloween was baby stuff. But to my surprise, in college, Halloween experienced a resurgence in popularity among many of my peers. It was an excuse for some to put on costumes (togas were a popular one as I recall) and drink beer in massive quantities. Perennial nerd that I am, I did not go in for that sort of thing. Keg parties were just not my milieu. Instead, I hung out with friends in regular clothing on Halloween drinking lattes or eating Mexican food.

After undergraduate school, when I was an au pair in France in the 1990s, my French host family told me they admired the American holiday of Halloween. They had read about it in a magazine similar to National Geographic. They considered Halloween to be an interesting cultural difference between me and them. My French parents thought it was a really lovely tradition that children got to indulge their imaginations to dress in costumes and visit neighbors to receive sugary treats.

My French mother was no secular leftist; she was in fact a pretty conservative woman. She was a stay-at-home mom to five children and a practicing Catholic. One of her aunts was a nun serving in an overseas mission; one of her uncles was a priest who ministerd to a local community of Roma. My French mother had a pretty traditional view of the role of women. She also did not permit her children to watch T.V. except on rare occasions, and the family did not even own a VHS or DVD player. The only popular music in the house was the French equivalent of Raffi.

I had never thought about Halloween in quite the terms my French mother had described. It was interesting to hear an outsider’s perspective on my culture’s traditions. I remember my French mother was interested in trying to organize her neighbors into observing Halloween as a fun, community building event that the kids would enjoy. She asked for my advice in the logistics of Halloween, and I did my best to share my cultural insights.

I didn’t think too much about Halloween again until many years later when my husband and I became parents. When our first daughter was barely a year old, we had two different adorable costumes for her. She wore a comfy lion sweatshirt outfit at her nursery school. It had a hood with a mane, and the pants had a little fuzzy tail. Then we walked her around the neighbor in a Winnie the Pooh costume. It was fun. She was so cute.

Each year since then, our kids have gotten more involved in choosing their own costumes. They look forward to dressing up and getting candy. I’ve even made a few of their costumes though my sewing skills are quite limited. Fortunately, they’ve had mercy on me and chose to dress as Pocahontas, Peter Pan and Tinker Bell, i.e., characters who wore fairly simple smock type outfits that mommy could actually put together.

This year, our kids talked my husband and me into dressing up as well. At our kids’ direction, I went as a princess and my husband dressed as a pirate—complete with tiara and eye patch, respectively. We wanted to be good sports because we know the kids will not always want to dress up, and we were honored they even wanted to include us in the fun. At some point, they will undoubtedly be embarrassed to do things publicly with their nerdy parents. But on the other hand, my husband and I were a bit mortified to wear silly costumes outside the safe confines of our home, and we frankly hoped to not run into anyone we knew as we escorted our kids around the neighborhood to go trick or treating. We were grateful that trick or treating doesn’t begin until after dark!

Our family does enjoy Halloween, but it is not a huge deal for us. We never get around to decorating our home, though last year we did stick a pumpkin near our front door. We never got around to carving it, so it ended up staying there through Thanksgiving. It seemed to go with several fall holidays and never went bad.

In the weeks leading up to Halloween, however, our kids actually get a little nervous at the macabre approach that some folks take when celebrating the holiday. Grocery stores, drug stores and many other types of businesses decorate in pretty gory and spooky motifs to encourage Halloween sales. During that period, my husband has to be careful which aisles he goes down when he takes the kids grocery shopping.

He took them to a drug store for their flu shot last month. They were already nervous about being stuck with a needle, but at the sight of angry looking skeletons and threatening monsters all over the store, our younger child began trembling and screaming hysterically, refusing to go to the back of the store to get her shot. She is typically pretty brave, and has fearlessly apprehended spiders in our home with her bare hands. But skeletons and monsters are a different matter. My husband tried to keep calm at the public drugstore meltdown though this was quite a challenge.

On another occasion when they went to a party supply store to get a piñata for a birthday party, our younger child had to be carried through the scary stuff to get to the benign kiddy piñatas. She had to bury her face in my husband’s neck and shut her eyes tightly. My husband said the decorations at that particular party supply store were really over the top and even he was a little creeped out. If he hadn’t struck out with respect to the paltry piñata selections at several other stores, he wouldn’t have even gone to that party supply store.

And even just trick or treating can be a little dicey these days. A few of our neighbors decorate in such gruesome ways that we have to avoid their house when we trick or treat; our kids are too frightened to approach such homes even when Skittles or M&Ms are on the line. For example, one neighbor hung across the front of their home an absolutely humongous skeleton with an angry face, outstretched hands and ghost-like gauzy attire. The skeleton was much larger than a grown adult and was very ominous looking. Our kids wouldn’t go near that house; we had to walk (quickly) on the sidewalk across the street.

There was another house in our neighborhood that decorated with pretend butcher cleavers, knives and drills with fake blood dripping from them. On Halloween night, those same homeowners were blaring Marilyn Manson music, had some sort of contraption emitting smoke, had added more decorations of monsters, and had someone on the front yard dressed as Jason from Friday the Thirteenth. Our kids were terrified just walking across the street from that house, and refused to trick or treat at any of the more benign looking houses in the vicinity.

Beyond the sometimes disturbing decorations, some families also try to scare trick-or-treaters, even the real little ones, which makes the holiday a challenge. One year when we took our kids trick or treating, a teenage boy laid down in the middle of the sidewalk in front of his home pretending to be dead with fake blood on him. His parents were a few feet away handing out candy. As we walked by, my older daughter was very nervous and asked me “Is that boy ok?!?” I assured her that he was just pretending, but it freaked her out and we went home not long thereafter.

At another house that year, the parents were in the garage handing out candy in a seemingly benign setting. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw that there were several teenage boys in the dark by the side of that house dressed in scary costumes and about to pounce on us. Knowing this would terrify my kids (and not wanting to be woken up for many nights to come as my kids suffered nightmares), I called out to the hiding teenagers in a friendly voice, “Hi! How are y’all doing tonight? Happy Halloween!” This alerted my kids to the teens’ presence and diffused the possibility of a surprise attack. The teenagers were visibly annoyed that I had ruined the opportunity to terrorize pre-schoolers.

I just don’t get families like that. Why would parents let their kids terrorize little folks like that? I also just don’t understand the over-the-top approach many vendors take to increase Halloween sales. I also don’t get those gross haunted houses that spring up in October that are intended to scare teens and adults. What on earth is the appeal of all that? I’ve always thought of Halloween as a holiday for little kids, but it seems to have been taken over by older folks. In the process, at least in some contexts, it sometimes seems like little kids aren’t able to enjoy the holiday any more.

In my failure to understand these things, I sometimes feel that maybe our family is just really out of it. We don’t watch much TV and my kids get scared by things that don’t affect other more media savvy kids. Maybe our family is not in the mainstream culture, but I’m glad my kids (as well as my husband and I) are not desensitized to violence. And our own cautious acceptance of Halloween traditions makes my husband and me at least somewhat sympathetic to the growing number of families who refuse to celebrate Halloween at all.

Genesis 3:17

The ground will sprout thorns and weeds, you'll get your food the hard way, Planting and tilling and harvesting, sweating in the fields from dawn to dusk, Until you return to that ground yourself, dead and buried; you started out as dirt, you'll end up dirt."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Christian’s Take on Ghosts

In recent posts on the debate between those who embrace the Theory of Evolution and those who embrace Creationism, I noted that scientists tend to like certainty and focus their attention on ideas that can be proven empirically. By contrast, religious faith involves concepts that are not provable in the same way, and requires an acceptance that we humans don’t have all the answers. Around the time of Halloween, I read an interview where an author discussed similar themes. The link below contains the interview.

In the interview, the author, Gary Jansen, indicated he is a Christian. He also indicated that his family’s home was haunted. He apparently wrote a book about the experience expressing that the experience was initially frightening, but ultimately deepened his religious faith. I have no doubt the interview was considered by CNN as a Halloween fluff piece, but perhaps surprisingly I thought it was actually rather interesting. Not exactly the typical story of Christians at Halloween.

I’m not exactly an expert on the subject of ghosts, but it is interesting that the concept seems to exist in all human cultures. Both the Old and New Testament have references to the concept. I’m not a theologian, but the concept of ghosts doesn’t seem to jive with basic Christian theology. Nonetheless, I know at least a few Christians who have shared with me that they believe earnestly in ghosts due to first hand experiences.

Many years ago, my husband and I were also intrigued by a sermon given by our pastor at a church where we were once members in Houston. He gave the sermon just after Easter, and the topic of his talk was that Jesus’s resurrection gives us courage to face each day despite the knowledge that our life on this planet is finite. I forget how it was relevant, but the pastor began his sermon with a ghost story anecdote. In much more compelling detail than I can currently remember, he described how he and another priest were living in the priests’ quarters at the church, and they were woken up several nights in a row by music. As I recall, each thought the other was playing the piano at night and was trying to not be annoyed with the other. Finally, one night it was particularly loud and woke the pastor up. He went downstairs to the room where the piano was. No one was in that room and the other priest was in his bedroom upstairs. I’m not doing the story justice, and can’t remember all the details. But when the priest told the story, it was very creepy. My husband and I were amazed that this priest apparently believed in ghosts. He told the story in such a sincere and calm manner. It was parenthetical to the focus of his sermon on the resurrection. Our pastor was a very somber, intellectual man. He was a very lovely and gentle person, but he was so rational and cerebral. He was also a learned theologian. As a result, this pastor was the last person we would have imagined to endorse the concept of ghosts!

Isaiah 29:4
Then deep from the earth you will speak; from low in the dust your words will come. Your voice will whisper from the groundlike a ghost conjured up from the grave.

Luke 24:39
Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design...and Jesus

I was thinking more about the whole issue of Evolution and Christianity. Some people clearly think they are in conflict. There is the whole silly bumper sticker feud between the Christian fishes and the Darwin fishes that grow legs and eat the Christian fishes. And there are obviously much more protracted, serious feuds on school boards and elsewhere.

I don’t see Christianity and the Theory of Evolution as being in conflict, but I certainly respect Christ-followers who do. As I’ve mentioned previously, I love and admire many people who embrace such beliefs. However, there are also plenty of Christ-followers I know who are firm believers in the Theory of Evolution. But there are plenty more I know who have never indicated to me where they come down on this issue—if they have given it any thought at all.

I have never once heard even the most devoted Creationist or the most ardent supporter of Intelligent Design say that rejecting the Theory of Evolution is a key tenet of Christian faith. Further, I have never heard anyone say Jesus came to Earth to show up know-it-all scientists. Frankly, I believe he came here for much more important reasons. And in the whole debate on this topic, I get concerned that that key fact gets overlooked.

Jesus came here to show us tangibly that he loves us and to teach us about our Father so that we could be reconciled to him. To me, that is what the essence of the Gospel (i.e., the “good news”) is all about. I was in the car thinking about all this. (Yes, I do some of my most important pondering in the car; it is one of the few times a busy mom and professor has a few moments to herself.) It occurred to me what an incredible red herring the whole Evolution debate is. The debate often distracts Christ-followers from truly following our Savior. It seems like there are so many more fruitful things we could be doing with our time. After all, for the short time we’re on this Earth, we’re supposed to be Christ’s feet and hands to bring his love to a world of hurting people. We’re not supposed to waste our time bickering amongst ourselves over things that are relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

If my jargon were more like that of my Evangelical brothers and sisters, I would not use the term “red herring.” If I were to use a more Evangelical way of speaking to express my belief, I would say the Enemy is trying to deceive, distract and divide the Body of Christ via the whole debate on Darwin. (Parenthetically, I tend to be hesitant to use such Evangelical word choice in part because I know secular people are turned off by it; such wording sounds paranoid and nutty to many non-believers, who then are often disinclined to listen to the substance of the speaker’s words.)

As I was driving (and pondering deep thoughts), I was also listening to a Christian music radio station. It occurred to me that the lyrics of our most popular Christian songs often express the most basic, most important aspects of our beliefs. That is probably why Christ followers can generally go to pretty much any Christian church, and participate in the “praise and worship” portion of the service without being offended or annoyed by the lyrics of the songs. The sermons can cause disagreement and controversy because that is where faith communities get into some of the specifics of their precise beliefs and interpretations of Scripture. Unfortunately, there is plenty of disagreement in the Body of Christ with respect to some of those details. But I have never heard of the lyrics of a mainline Christian song dividing Christ followers. Significantly, I’ve also never heard a Christian song about rejecting Darwinism. Maybe such a song exists, but it has not caught on because that is not a core part of who we are as Christ followers.

Maybe it is a stretch. Maybe I’m just looking for any lame excuse to share some good music. Regardless, I’d like to share a few songs that I think epitomize beliefs that are most important to Christians. The songs are available at the links below. I apologize that some of the videos have a high cheese factor. If the visuals are distracting, ignore them and just listen to the music. The lyrics are quite beautiful and convey some of the key truths cherished by Christ followers. Enjoy.

…And even if you are a serious person who doesn’t go in for frivolities like music, I encourage you to give these songs a listen. Music is very powerful. It speaks to us in ways that nothing else can. I remember after the horrific tragedy of 9/11, Oprah’s first show was simply a compilation of Gospel music performances. She chose to feature such music because it spoke to her and helped her heal after that tragedy; she thought it would minister to others as well. I myself am essentially tone deaf, sing off-key, and honestly have to concentrate pretty hard just to clap to the right beat in songs. Though I have no discernible musical talent of my own, I enjoy Christian music tremendously and it is a meaningful part of my worship experience at church, at home or even in my little car.

Amy Grant’s “El Shaddai”

Dolly Parton’s “He’s Alive”

Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God”

Mary Mary’s “Shackles”

“I Could Sing of Your Love Forever”

Genesis 1:1-3 (English Standard Version)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

Matthew 4:16 (New Living Translation)

“The people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light.
And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow,
a light has shined.”

Matthew 5:16 (Wycliffe New Testament)

So shine your light before men, that they see your good works, and glorify your Father that is in heavens.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) (Extreme Views of Darwinism)

The first half of the film focused on the issue of academic freedom, which I found pretty intriguing and compelling. But then the film took a rather odd turn. After a promising start, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed became more of a documentary in the Michael Moore style. Ben Stein purported to investigate questions, but had a pretty obvious political aim by the second half of the film. After the mid-way point, the focus shifted from an exploration of the persecution of the scientists who embrace or even just explore intelligent design concepts to a full-on attack on Darwinism and Darwinists. And at times, the attack was pretty over the top.

Particularly in the second half of the film, Stein spoke with scientists whose study of science led them to lose all faith in religion. Some of those interviewed even went so far as to express rather shocking hostility towards religion, and the desire to have it rigidly contained or wiped out entirely. It is explained in the film that Darwinism leads to believing that evolution simply occurs, there is no life after death. And from there, it is an apparently simple extension to decide life is not really all that important, it just comes and goes. Essentially, it is explained that an embrace of Darwinism leads to a belief that there is no sanctity of life and no basis for morals. Although they had me with the persecution of dissenting scholars and the restrictions on academic freedom, the film lost me when it came to conclude that Darwinism leads ipso facto to such a nihilistic view of the world.

Interestingly, it is then extrapolated in the film that Darwinism leads to viewing human beings in merely economic terms; the branch of Darwinism called eugenics springs forth naturally. It is noted that Margaret Sanger was a believer in eugenics and founded Planned Parenthood. It is insinuated that the mere availability of birth control is a conspiracy to form a master race. From there, Mr. Stein then goes to Germany to visit Nazi death camps to learn about the Nazis’ embrace of Darwinism and eugenics to exterminate “useless feeders” and those who were viewed to be of lesser genetic pools that were holding back the human race. I’m not kidding. With a straight face, Stein seems to suggest that when we embrace the Theory of Evolution, it is just a matter of time before we start rounding up “undesirables” in torture camps and committing genocide.

It is subtle but the film mentioned briefly that these repulsive views of rabid atheistic scientists and the eugenics supporters are based on just a very radical and extreme notion of Darwinism. I find it hard to believe that more mainstream understandings of the Theory of Evolution lead ipso facto to atheism and genocidal tendencies.

There have been many surveys over the years that indicate most scientists are atheists or agnostics. The reasons for this are not clear, at least to me. I’ve always suspected that it had something to do with the personality type of someone who is attracted to the sciences. Science involves proving laws of nature via evidence-based tests. I have sometimes found chatting with scientists on even non-religious topics to be irksome because if something cannot be proven, they often don’t believe it to be true.

That attitude goes against my orientation as a lawyer. In my discipline, we rarely have absolutes and we live in the grey areas. When opposing parties argue a case, there is not one absolute truth as to who has the winning side. In many respects, it depends on how persuasive the lawyers are in arguing their positions and how inclined the finder of fact is to accept one side or another. Indeed, we have several stages in the appellate process, and different courts often come to different conclusions. And we have nine justices on the Supreme Court. Rarely do they all agree on how a case should be decided; unanimous opinions are quite uncommon.

In light of these observations, I personally doubt that it is Darwinism that leads scientists to be more skeptical of religion. I rather suspect that the sorts of folks who are most skeptical of religion and other beliefs that are essentially not provable and require faith, are the same sorts of folks inclined to like the black or white nature of science. As a result, it seems a stretch to me to argue that Darwinism must lead to atheism. I also don’t particularly see how one can argue with a straight face that believing in the Theory of Evolution leads one to devalue of human life. Unless they were leading a secret double life, none of the science-y folks I’ve know over the years have been sociopathic or genocidal.

And as noted before, not all Christians reject the Theory of Evolution. As mentioned previously, my first high school biology teacher, who taught me what I know about evolution, shared early in the school year that he was a Christian and active in his church. As I recall, he shared that information with us so we would know he did not see his religious faith and his scientific expertise as being in conflict. I think he meant it as an encouragement for anyone in the class who might have been concerned about a potential conflict between their own faith and the subject matter of the course.

Though out my adulthood, I have had a number of friends at churches I’ve belonged to who were scientists. I remember one friend, who was a Ph.D. candidate in physics at the time. He shared with a group at our church that it was sometimes lonely at school because most of the other grad students and professors were non-believers. Yet he described quite beautifully how his study of science fed his religious faith. He explained that the more he learned about the way the universe was organized, the more convinced he was that it did not just come into being by accident but was the deliberate crafting of a higher being.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed seemed to align sanctity of life issues with an anti-Darwinist agenda. As I watched the film, it occurred to me that it was odd that some folks can be so passionate about the sanctity of human life when it comes to issues like abortion and euthanasia, but then that same passion somehow does not carry over to other issues involving economic justice and human rights. Apparently, a slower death from food insecurity, a lack of (safe) housing and inability to access medical care do not always merit similar sanctity of life concerns. Issues involving an affront to human dignity but not death (e.g., torture, hate crimes) also do not seem to warrant the same type of passionate response. I find it highly ironic that some who are passionately opposed to Darwinism in the scientific arena don’t seem to mind Darwinism in the economic context. I don’t understand that, it does not seem to be consistent. And that inconsistency makes me suspicious of a political manipulation of issues like abortion and euthanasia for the benefit of those who would not benefit from similar attention paid to economic social justice issues. Perhaps it is thought that if we in the electorate are encouraged to spend our time on just a few sanctity of life issues, we won't have the time or energy to also focus on other issues that impact the sanctity of human life.

Genesis 4-25

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.
When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he madeinto a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

"This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man."
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.