Tuesday night court evangelical roundup

COurt Evangelicals

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

Franklin Graham is on the stump for Trump. This is from his Facebook page :

In the last presidential election in 2016, I reminded people across the country that the election was not about Donald Trump’s previous lifestyle or Hillary Clinton’s lost emails, but it was about the courts—Who do you trust to appoint conservative judges to the courts? Donald J. Trump won the election, and in the next few days he will be making his 200th judicial appointment. That’s more than any president in the last four decades during the same time frame. Thank you Mr. President! This will be a legacy that truly will keep on giving—in the lives of our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

And Twitter:

Al Mohler is questioning science and COVID-19 experts and promoting a Trumpian populism:

Charlie Kirk is running a “Students for Trump” convention in Arizona featuring Donald Trump.

A few observations:

  • In the opening prayer of this convention, the minister thanked God that “All Lives Matter.” The prayer was filled with Christian nationalism, law and order, and Trump talking points. The crowd cheered during the prayer at the appropriate points.
  • Ryan Fournier, the founder of Students for Trump, calls the event “the most aggressive political outreach movement in political presidential campaign history.” Wow!  That’s specific.
  • Florida Matt Gaetz spoke. So did Donald Trump Jr.
  • Trump said nothing new to the 2000 students who showed-up. It was just another campaign rally.

Eric Metaxas interviews one of his “mentors in terms of thinking of race in America,” conservative talk show host Larry Elder. Elder talks about his new documentary film “Uncle Tom.” Elder makes the common claim that the Democrats opposed the 13th Amendment (ending slavery), 14th Amendment (equal protection under the law for African.Americans), and 15th Amendment (African American right to vote). This is largely true, but he fails to consider that the Democratic Party of the 1860s and 1870s is not the Democratic Party of today. See Princeton historian Kevin Kruse’s debate (if you can all it that) with conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza. This entire argument ignores a fundamental element of historical thinking: change over time. Metaxas totally endorses Elder’s approach, claiming that Americans “don’t know the facts.” Elder and Metaxas are peddling some really bad history here.

Elder claims that racism “is no longer a problem” in American life. This reminds me of a family member who recently told me that I was “living in the past” by suggesting that the history of racial discrimination in America might have something to do with race in America today.

In his second hour, Metaxas and his crew argue that the division in the country is the work of Satan, “the accuser.” Metaxas has the audacity to say that Satan “takes things that are true and twists them into a lie.” Wait, I thought Metaxas supported Trump! 🙂

Metaxas wants a view of history that celebrates all that is good in America. He extols all the Bible-believing Christians who were abolitionists. Yes, this is true. There were many good Christians who fought against slavery. But the present always shapes how we think about the past. As the country is trying to come to grips with racism–both individual acts of racism and the deeper problem of systemic racism–now is the time to take a deep, hard look at how we got here. That will mean taking a hard look at the dark moments of the white evangelical past. This is not the time to get defensive and engage in whataboutism. (Hey, what about Harriet Beecher Stowe!).

Metaxas then interviews Jenna Ellis of the Liberty University Falkirk Center.  In this interview, Metaxas says that “the only reason we abolished slavery is because of the Bible.” This is not entirely true, as I argued in Believe Me.  Slaveholding southerners actually used the Bible to justify slavery and accused northern abolitionists of not being biblical enough. As multiple historians have shown, the Bible was used to fortify racial discrimination to a much greater extent than the Bible was used to end slavery or advance racial justice in America. But Metaxas doesn’t care about that. He needs a usable past. Everything else can be conveniently ignored.

Speaking of the Falkirk Center at Liberty University:

And Lance Wallnau brings the fearmongering:

Until next time.

*First Things* Editor: The “measures we have taken in the last few weeks have been…pointless”

First Things 2019R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things, has used his magazine, which he claims is “America’s most influential journal of religion and public life,” to call for the opening of churches and the economy.  He seems to have it all figured out. As he writes in his most recent piece “Coronavirus Reality Check,” COVID-19 is not a threat to society. He seems to suggest that public health officials and the media are lying to us. Here is a taste:

On March 16, Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London predicted a coronavirus death toll of more than two million in the United States alone. He arrived at this number by assuming that infection would be nearly universal and the fatality rate would be high—a terrifying prospect. The next day, Stanford epidemiologist John Ioannidis sifted through the data and predicted less widespread infection and a fatality rate of between 0.05 and 1.0 percent—not that different from the common flu. The coronavirus is not the common flu. It has different characteristics, afflicting the old more than the young, men more than women. Nevertheless, all data trends since mid-March show that Ferguson was fantastically wrong and Ioannidis was largely right about its mortal threat.

But Ferguson’s narrative has triumphed, helped by our incontinent and irresponsible media. A young doctor in Wuhan died—COVID-19 must be dangerous and deadly for everybody. Hospitals in Italy are overwhelmed—we are witnessing a pandemic of epic proportions. China succeeded with draconian methods of mass quarantine—these must be our only hope of protection against the coming disaster.

By the end of March, most of the United States had been locked down. Tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs. More than $6 trillion has been spent to save society from complete collapse. Relentless warnings have whipped the populace into frenzies of fear. All of this to contain a disease that, as far as we can tell at this point, is not significantly more fatal than the flu. Moreover, given how rapidly the coronavirus spreads, it seems likely that the radical and untested method of lockdown does little to control it.

In other words, the science increasingly shows that the measures we have taken in the last few weeks have been both harmful—with freedoms lost, money spent, livelihoods destroyed—and pointless.

Read the entire piece here.

I don’t know Reno’s career trajectory well enough to say that he is an authority on ethics and public health, but many of the scientists are saying that COVID-19 will come back with greater force in the Fall. I hope and pray this does not happen. But if it does, Reno is going to have some explaining to do.

Francis Collins on Faith, Science, and Coronavirus

collins-portrait_1

Collins is the director of the National Institutes of Health and a devout Christian. Over at The Washington Post religion page, Sarah Pulliam Bailey talks with Collins about the coronavirus.  Here is a taste of the interview:

Have you seen resistance from faith leaders over public-health messages about the coronavirus?

I would think the church would resonate with messages of social distancing, given that the church has always been trying to look out for those who are most vulnerable. And yet it still does seem as if in some instances that hasn’t quite filtered down, maybe because there has been some suggestion that there’s a political aspect of this pandemic, which is truly unfortunate, because there’s not.

There is a lot of false information out there on social media to suggest that maybe this isn’t as bad as it is and maybe there are no risks going to church or gathering outside of church. Those are dangerous activities that might not put you at risk if you’re young and healthy, but you might pass it to somebody else who could potentially get very sick or even die.

What do you think faith leaders could be doing from a public-health perspective right now?

There’s a natural instinct for people of faith who are loving and wish to give themselves to others who are hurting to rush in the direction of people who are vulnerable or who are suffering. And over the course of many centuries, people of faith have, to their great credit, put themselves in harm’s way.

Right now, they could focus their efforts on trying to supply, nurture and support all of their flock who are struggling right now. This is stressful. This may lead to people having fears, anxiety and other mental-health issues. Pastors ought to be doing everything they can to maintain that connection but not put people at risk.

How are you thinking about your own faith in the middle of all of this?

It’s a challenge. One does not like to see happening across the whole world a sudden outbreak of the sort that will cause enormous suffering and early deaths for so many people. It is hard to get your head around that. I guess I find myself more engaged in prayer than usual. I’m just trying to, in some small way, trying to get in touch with all of this and what my role ought to be. It is heartbreaking. I am glad I have the faith that I can lean on in this circumstance, but I have questions that don’t have good answers. I know how this happens scientifically. I ask God for help for all those who are suffering and grieving.

Read the entire interview here.

What is Wrong With the Governor of Georgia?

Virus Outbreak Georgia

Here is CNN, located in Atlanta:

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said on Wednesday that new information on the spread of coronavirus influenced his decision to issue a stay-at-home order. In particular, Kemp pointed to what he said was the recent discovery that the virus can be spread by people who are not exhibiting symptoms.

“What we’ve been telling people from directives from the CDC for weeks now that if you start feeling bad stay home, those individuals could have been infecting people before they ever felt bad. But we didn’t know that until the last 24 hours,” said Kemp, a Republican.

Facts First: It’s not true that people didn’t know “until the last 24 hours” that individuals without symptoms could be infecting people with coronavirus. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said in mid-February that asymptomatic transmission of coronavirus was possible. Furthermore, studies from as early as January showed cases of coronavirus spreading amongst people with no symptoms.

Kemp’s press secretary said the governor was referring to an update that the CDC made to its guidance on March 30 that indicated there’s a higher risk of people without symptoms passing on the virus. The updated guidance changed the period of exposure risk for individuals from “onset of symptoms” to “48 hours before symptom onset.”

As more has been learned about the virus, several experts told CNN last month that it’s become clear that transmission by people who are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic is responsible for more transmission than previously thought.

Read the rest here.

We have known for two months that asymptomatic people can spread coronavirus. This is pure incompetence. As Dr. Sanjay Gupta just said on CNN, this governor is dealing with the greatest public health crisis of his life and he is claiming that he just learned this vital information 24 HOURS AGO?

Is the Christian Right to Blame for the Coronavirus?

Trump-Bachmann-Pence-religious-right

As some of you know, earlier this week I participated in a conversation with Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationism.  I think you can still watch the conversation here.

Today at The New York Times, Stewart has a piece titled “The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals.”

Here is a taste:

At least since the 19th century, when the proslavery theologian Robert Lewis Dabney attacked the physical sciences as “theories of unbelief,” hostility to science has characterized the more extreme forms of religious nationalism in the United States. Today, the hard core of climate deniers is concentrated among people who identify as religiously conservative Republicans. And some leaders of the Christian nationalist movement, like those allied with the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has denounced environmental science as a “Cult of the Green Dragon,” cast environmentalism as an alternative — and false — theology.

This denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis. On March 15, Guillermo Maldonado, who calls himself an “apostle” and hosted Mr. Trump earlier this year at a campaign event at his Miami megachurch, urged his congregants to show up for worship services in person. “Do you believe God would bring his people to his house to be contagious with the virus? Of course not,” he said.

Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida mocked people concerned about the disease as “pansies” and insisted he would only shutter the doors to his packed church “when the rapture is taking place.” In a sermon that was live-streamed on Facebook, Tony Spell, a pastor in Louisiana, said, “We’re also going to pass out anointed handkerchiefs to people who may have a fear, who may have a sickness and we believe that when those anointed handkerchiefs go, that healing virtue is going to go on them as well.”

By all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction. But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base. In his daily briefings from the White House, Mr. Trump actively disdains and contradicts the messages coming from his own experts and touts as yet unproven cures.

A couple of quick thoughts:

First, most op-ed writers do not write their own titles. The title of this piece is misleading. As Stewart noted in our conversation this week, and repeats in the Times piece, she is writing about a particular kind of evangelical, not all evangelicals.  Her focus is on the anti-science, Trump-loving parts of the Christian Right.

Second, those who are upset by Stewart’s piece should get a copy of Mark Noll’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Stewart is essentially making the same argument about evangelical anti-intellectualism.

Here is conservative writer Rod Dreher:

 

I don’t think Stewart is scapegoating anyone. If one reads the piece carefully, it is hard to argue with the fact that people like Guillermo Maldonado, Rodney Howard Browne, Tony Spell, Jerry Falwell Jr., and others have been reckless. I think it is also fair to say that the white evangelicals who empower Donald Trump bear some of the indirect blame for his bungling of this crisis. Dreher obviously has a beef with The New York Times, but Stewart’s piece, and much of her book Power Worshippers, is pretty accurate.

Anthony Fauci: “I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down”

Fauci wipes

Anthony Fauci is a national treasure. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is one of the heroes of this coronavirus pandemic. At Science Magazine, Fauci talks candidly with writer Jon Cohen about his role on the president’s coronavirus task force.

Here is a taste:

Q: What about the travel restrictions? President Trump keeps saying that the travel ban for China, which began 2 February, had a big impact [on slowing the spread of the virus to the United States] and that he wishes China would have told us three to four months earlier and that they were “very secretive.” [China did not immediately reveal the discovery of a new coronavirus in late December, but by 10 January, Chinese researchers made the sequence of the virus public.]  It just doesn’t comport with facts.

A:  I know, but what do you want me to do? I mean, seriously Jon, let’s get real, what do you want me to do?

Q: Most everyone thinks that you’re doing a remarkable job, but you’re standing there as the representative of truth and facts but things are being said that aren’t true and aren’t factual.

A: The way it happened is that after he made that statement [suggesting China could have revealed the discovery of a new coronavirus three to four months earlier], I told the appropriate people, it doesn’t comport,  because two or three months earlier would have been September. The next time they sit down with him and talk about what he’s going to say, they will say, by the way, Mr. President, be careful about this and don’t say that. But I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down. OK, he said it. Let’s try and get it corrected for the next time.

Q: You have not said China virus. [Trump frequently calls the cause of the spreading illness, known as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)  a “China virus” or a “Chinese virus.”]

A: Ever.

Q. And you never will, will you?

A: No.

Q: At Friday’s press conference, you put your hands over your face when President Trump referred to the “deep State Department,” [a popular conspiracy theory]. It’s even become an internet meme. Have you been criticized for what you did?

A: No comment.

Read the entire interview here.

Trump’s Tony Fauci Problem

“Tony Fauci has one of the hardest jobs in America right now”–CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta

I have copied part of the transcript of yesterday’s press conference below. “John” is Fox News White correspondent John Roberts. “Peter” is NBC White House correspondent Peter Alexander.

John: (42:19)

To Dr. Fauci, if I could? Dr. Fauci, as was explained yesterday, there has been some promise with hydroxychloroquine as potential therapy for people who are infected with coronavirus. Is there any evidence to suggest that, as with malaria, it might be used as a prophylaxis against COVID-19?

Anthony Fauci: (42:36)
No. The answer is no. The evidence that you’re talking about, [John 00:17:40], is anecdotal evidence. As the commissioner of FDA and the president mentioned yesterday, we’re trying to strike a balance between making something with a potential of an effect to the American people available at the same time that we do it under the auspices of a protocol that would give us information to determine if it’s truly safe and truly effective. But, the information that you’re referring to specifically is anecdotal. It was not done in a controlled clinical trial, so you really can’t make any definitive statement about it.

Speaker 4: (43:11)
Mr. President?

Speaker 5: (43:11)
Mr. President, on that thought …

Speaker 6: (43:11)
Mr. President?

Speaker 7: (43:13)
Mr. President?

Speaker 5: (43:15)
On those therapies-

Donald Trump: (43:18)
I think, without seeing too much, I’m probably more of a fan of that, maybe, than anybody. I’m a big fan, and we’ll see what happens. We all understand what the doctor said is 100% correct. It’s early, but I’ve seen things that are impressive. We’ll see. We’re going to know soon. We’re going to know soon. Including safety. When you get that safety, this has been prescribed for many years for people to combat malaria, which was a big problem, and it’s very effective. It’s a strong drug.

John: (43:55)
It was also apparently effective against SARS.

Donald Trump: (43:56)
It was, as I understand that … Is that a correct statement? It was fairly effective on SARS?

Anthony Fauci: (44:02)
John, you’ve got to be careful when you say “fairly effective”. It was never done in a clinical trial, they compared it to anything. It was given to individuals, and felt that maybe it worked.

John: (44:11)
Was there anything to compare it to?

Anthony Fauci: (44:13)
That’s the point. Whenever you do a clinical trial, you do standard of care versus standard of care plus the agent you’re evaluating. That’s the reason why we showed, back in Ebola, why particular interventions worked.

Speaker 5: (44:28)
Sir, on that topic-

Peter: (44:28)
Mr. President?

Speaker 8: (44:28)
Sir, on masks-

Peter: (44:31)
About the possible therapies, yesterday, Mr. President, you said that they were for “immediate delivery”. Immediate. We heard from-

Donald Trump: (44:37)
We were ordering … Yes, we have millions of units ordered. Bayer is one of the companies, as you know, big company, very big, very great company. Millions of units are ordered. We’re going to see what happens.

Donald Trump: (44:51)
We’re going to be talking to the governors about it, and the FDA is working on it right now. The advantage is that it has been prescribed for a totally different problem, but it has been described for many years. Everybody knows the levels of the negatives and the positives. But, I will say that I am a man that comes from a very positive school when it comes to, in particular, one of these drugs.

Donald Trump: (45:17)
We’ll see how it works out, [Peter 00:00:45:18]. I’m not saying it will, but I think that people may be surprised. By the way, that would be a game changer. We’re going to know very soon. We have ordered millions of units. It’s being ordered from Bayer, and there is another couple of companies also that do it.

Peter: (45:35)
For clarity, Dr. Fauci said there is no magic drug for coronavirus right now, which you would agree. I guess on this issue [crosstalk 00:45:41]-

Donald Trump: (45:42)
I think we only disagree a little bit.

Peter: (45:44)
Sorry.

Donald Trump: (45:44)
I disagree. Maybe and maybe not. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. We have to see. We’re going to known soon.

Peter: (45:52)
Is it possible that your impulse to put a positive spin on things may be giving Americans a false sense of hope and misrepresenting our preparedness right now?

Donald Trump: (45:57)
No, I don’t think so. I think got-

Peter: (46:01)
[crosstalk 00:46:01] the not-yet-approved drug-

Donald Trump: (46:05)
Such a lovely question. Look, it may work, and it may not work. I agree with the doctor, what he said. May work, may not work. I feel good about it. That’s all it is. Just a feeling. I’m a smart guy. I feel good about it. We’re going to see.

Donald Trump: (46:21)
You’re going to see soon enough. We have certainly some very big samples of people. If you look at the people, you have a lot of people that are in big trouble. This is not a drug that, obviously, I think I can speak from a lot of experience, because it’s been out there for over 20 years. It’s not a drug that you have a huge amount of danger with. It’s not a brand-new drug that’s been just created, that may have an unbelievable monumental effect like kill you. We’re going to know very soon.

Donald Trump: (46:51)
I can tell you, the FDA’s working very hard to get it out. Right now, in terms of malaria, if you want it, you can have a prescription. You get a prescription. By the way, and it’s very effective. It works.

Donald Trump: (47:03)
I have a feeling you may … I’m not being overly optimistic or pessimistic. I sure as hell think we ought to give it a try. There’s been some interesting things happened, and some very good things. Let’s see what happens. We have nothing to lose. You know the expression? What the hell do you have to lose?

Peter: (47:22)
What do you say to [crosstalk 00:47:22]-

Donald Trump: (47:26)
John, go ahead.

Peter: (47:26)
What do you say to Americans who are scared, though? Nearly 200 dead. 14,000 who are sick. Millions, as you witness, who are scared right now. What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?

Donald Trump: (47:38)
I say that you’re a terrible reporter. That’s what I say. I think it’s a very nasty question, and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people. The American people are looking for answers and they’re looking for hope, and you’re doing sensationalism. The same with NBC and Comcast. I don’t call it Comcast, I called Concast, for who you work.

Donald Trump: (48:01)
Let me just tell you something. That’s really bad reporting, and you ought to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism. Let’s see if it works. It might and it might not. I happen to feel good about it, but who knows? I’ve been right a lot. Let’s see what happens.

Donald Trump: (48:18)
John?

John: (48:19)
Want to get back to the science and the logistics here-

Donald Trump: (48:21)
You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

John: (48:21)
The units that were ordered, are they for clinical trials? Are they for distribution to the general patient population?

Speaker 7: (48:27)
As I understand it, we are going to be taking samples in New York. Governor Cuomo very much is interested in this drug, and they are going to work on it also after they get a certain approval. We’re waiting for one final approval from the FDA. We’ll see what happens, but we’ll use it on people that are not doing great or even at the beginning of not feeling well.

John: (48:49)
This would fall under the modified hospice-

Speaker 7: (48:50)
John, what do we have to lose?

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), represents science and facts. This makes him an immediate threat to Donald Trump, a president who peddles in propaganda, lies, and other assorted mistruths.  Fauci’s words are based on evidence and expertise. Trump’s words are based on a feeling. Perhaps this is the kind of feeling that the former casino owner gets when he makes a business deal or invests in a stock. Consider Trump’s words again:

Look, it may work, and it may not work. I agree with the doctor, what he said. May work, may not work. I feel good about it. That’s all it is. Just a feeling. I’m a smart guy. I feel good about it. We’re going to see.

Trump has a Tony Fauci problem. The good doctor is a rock star because he knows things. And because he knows things he has more authority with the American people than the president. This might cause a narcissistic populist to lose sleep at night.

Does Social Distancing Work?: Some Historical Perspective

Social Distancing

Over at the Microbial Menagerie, microbiologist Jennifer Tsang argues that social distancing helped to slow down the 1918 Influenza Pandemic (Spanish flu) and it just might work for the Coronavirus as well.

Here is a taste of her piece:

…do social distancing measures actually work?

To answer this question, let’s take a look at the response of several cities during the 1918 influenza pandemic. A 2007 paper in PNAS documented the effects of the 1918 pandemic in various US cities based on when public health interventions began, what the interventions were, and how many interventions they enforced. Examples of public health interventions include isolation policies, closures of schools, churches, and other venues, bans of public gatherings, and more.

Cities that began interventions earlier had significantly lower peaks of pneumonia and influenza-related mortality. And cities that implemented four or more interventions had a lower median peak weekly death rate (65/100,000 people) versus 146/100,000 people from cities with three or fewer interventions.

The response between Philadelphia and St. Louis made a great case that social distancing does work. In Philadelphia, the first case was reported on Sept 17 and authorities downplayed the significance of the case. They even allowed a city-wide parade to happen on Sept. 28. School closures and bans on public gatherings did not happen until Oct.3, 16 days since the first case. Meanwhile, St. Louis had its first case on Oct 5 and the city implemented social distancing measures two days later.

What was the effect? The 14-day difference in response time between the two cities represents approximately 3-5 doubling times for the epidemic. The peak weekly death rate from pneumonia and influenza-related deaths was 257/100,000 people in Philadelphia. The same metric in St. Louis was 31/100,000.

Read the entire piece here.  HT: John Haas on Facebook.

What are the Court Evangelicals Saying About Trump’s Coronavirus Speech?

Trump Jeffress

Last night Donald Trump delivered a nationally-televised address to the nation on the coronavirus. It was a disaster.  And he followed-up today with an equally bad press conference.

  • Following his speech, Trump’s administration had to clarify facts about his travel ban on multiple occasions.
  • Trump’s failure to calm fears, tell the truth, and get his facts straight last night resulted in the stock market’s free-fall today.
  • Today Anthony Fauci told Congress that the country is failing in its attempt to test for the virus.
  • Less than an hour later, Trump said that “testing has been going very smooth…if you go to the right area you get the test. We are very much ahead of everything.”  This, of course, is not true.
  • Also today, the president said that all Americans coming back to the country from Europe were being tested for the coronavirus.  That is not true.  Some of these travelers are getting screened, but they are not getting tested for the virus at the airport.

The criticism of Trump’s handling of the virus is coming from some unlikely places.

After a briefing with senators, conservative Republican Jim Lankford of Oklahoma said, “We couldn’t get a good, clear answer on when we are going to get commercial testing out there, labs that can get faster responses.” He said that the president’s claim that anyone who wants a test for the virus can get it is incorrect.

Here is Trump’s court journalist (at least among evangelicals) David Brody of Christian Broadcasting Network:

Trump’s speech did not go well.  But that did not stop some of the court evangelicals from praising it:

Here is Robert Jeffress:

Dallas-area megachurch pastor Jack Graham was comforted by the speech.

And here is Trump’s boy wonder Charlie Kirk:

As I said in another recent piece, the court evangelicals will never criticize the president. He holds them and their public faith captive.

Does the United States Have the Moral Fortitude to Respond to the Coronavirus?

Coronavirus cell

I hope so.  But I am not very optimistic.

As Dahlia Lithwick writes at Slate, social capital is at all-time low. We don’t trust each other or the government. Science and truth are under siege. The free press is under attack. We have a president with an approval rating under 50%.  Can we step-up?  Here is Lathwick:

Virtually every thoughtful epidemiologist I have read on this says that the absolute worst thing to be done right now is hoarding surgical masks and putting yourself first. Conversely, the decision to put altruism before panic would redound not just to our own benefit, but to the actual benefit of the entire herd. The choice to stay home, to care for the elderly and the sick (and help them stay home), to figure out systems to look after children whose parents cannot take time off—all of that would be good for everyone. Yet it comes after years, if not decades, of being told constantly that vaccines cause autism, poverty should be punished and criminalized, and every government system is “rigged” to harm you and help others. Tell people that everyone’s a criminal and grifter long enough and it’s awfully hard to get them to look out for each other.

David Roberts at Vox has been writing thoughtfully about the political science literature around “social trust”; the phenomenon, as described by Kevin Vallier, wherein one has a “generalized trust” that extends to “strangers, persons within one’s society with whom one has little personal familiarity. Social trust can thus be understood broadly as trust in society. But trust to do what? Social trust is trust that persons will abide by social norms.” Social trust, writes Roberts, is a sense that “we are all in this together,” whoever “we all” may be, and without it, no law or policy or institution can be effective. With social trust and political trust working to undermine one another, societies can enter a “doom loop” that allows us to increasingly distrust both systems and each other.

It is that infection that makes us far more susceptible to the coronavirus; a preexisting social and psychological condition that allows critical medical truth to be suppressed in the name of politics, which in turn allows an entire society to doubt the veracity of both government institutions and the press. And as we grow mistrustful of two central pillars of liberal democracy, we become inclined to mistrust the very people around us, whether they’re grabbing the last rolls of toilet paper at the supermarket or walking around among us despite exposure to the virus. We’ve spent the past three years fine-tuning the notion that the other half of the country hates us. It’s hard to imagine turning on a dime now to be mindful of the needs of strangers.

Read the entire piece here.

John Wesley and the Life of the Mind

ef580-wesley

“I am an evangelical Christian, so it was nice to hear a lecture about evangelicalism that was not related to contemporary politics.”

This was our intern Annie Thorn‘s response to Bruce Hindmarsh’s lecture “John Wesley, Early Evangelicalism, and Science.” Hindmarsh, the James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology and Professor of the History of Christianity at Regent College in Vancouver, delivered this lecture on Tuesday night at Messiah College.  Hindmarsh is the author of three books published by Oxford University Press: John Newton and the English Evangelical Tradition (1996),  The Evangelical Conversion Narrative (2005), and The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism (2018).  He is the past-president of the American Society of Church History.

Hindmarsh, whose lecture drew upon his 2018 book on early evangelicalism, argued that the rise of evangelicalism coincided historically with the reception of modern science in mainstream eighteenth-century culture.  The new science was generally embraced by evangelicals as a source of what Hindmarsh describes as “wonder, love, and praise.”  Few did more to popularize the new science than John Wesley.

According to Hindmarsh, Wesley accepted the findings of the new science, but he “nested” these new ideas in the “glory of God.” In other words, there was no tension between the two. Wesley was not an anti-intellectual. He wrote a host of books and pamphlets on science. His contemplation of the created order, and his advancement of society’s understanding of the new science, aroused the same kind of “doxology and praise” that stemmed from his conversion experience, that moment in Wesley’s life when his “heart was strangely warmed.”

I left the lecture with several thoughts.

First, like Annie, I was glad to hear again about evangelicals, like Wesley and Jonathan Edwards, who were intellectuals. If you read this blog regularly, you know I have been re-reading Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectual in American Life.  In his chapter on evangelicalism, Hofstadter argues that New England Puritans were people of the mind, but the project integrating faith and learning all but disappeared with the revivalism of the First Great Awakening.  (Edwards, Hofstadter argues, was the exception here).  Hindmarsh is one of several scholars of evangelicalism who has challenged this idea. (Although I am not sure Hofstadter is completely wrong.  I am inclined to think of Edwards and Wesley as outliers).

As I listened to Hindmarsh in the context of my fresh reading of Hofstadter, I realized again that much of the motivation behind the work of the previous generation of evangelical historians–George Marsden and Mark Noll come immediately to mind–was to challenge Hofstadter’s portrayal of evangelicalism as anti-intellectual. Marsden, Noll, and others authors showed us that evangelicals did care about thinking. They also showed us with their lives and work that “evangelical intellectual” is not an oxymoron.

Hindmarsh’s lecture, and my post-lecture conversation with Annie, made me think about Noll’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Noll argues that the anti-intellectual populism of present-day evangelicalism was more of a 19th and 20th-century phenomenon than an 18th-century one.  Modern day evangelicals can find serious thinkers in their history.  Noll showed that it is possible to explain the evangelical move toward anti-intellectualism as a rejection of the intellectual pursuits of evangelicals like Edwards and Wesley.

Second, it was good to listen to a scholar talk about the 18th-century. I told Bruce that his lecture made me long for the days when I used to spend most of my time doing early American history. Indeed, it’s a lot safer there. 🙂 I hope to return to this world once this whole Trump thing dies down!

Third, I left with a question about Messiah College, the school where I teach.  Messiah is rooted in the Anabaptist, Wesleyan, and Pietist traditions of the Christian faith. Of these three traditions, Anabaptism seems to be the one that gets the most attention.  I think this is because Anabaptism’s commitment to peace and social justice often fits well with the progressive mindset of many academics.  But if there are Anabaptist and Pietist intellectual traditions, they often get overshadowed by a kind of activism (Anabaptism) and experiential religion (Pietism) that does not always draw heavily on the life of the mind. (This, I might add, is changing–especially on the Pietism front). But Hindmarsh made me wonder if Wesleyanism, at least as articulated by Wesley himself, might help us with the heavy intellectual lifting necessary for a Christian college to sustain a robust life of the mind.  I will continue to ponder this.

Why Christians Should Be Concerned About Climate Change

Climate change

Last night I went to a George Will lecture on campus and listened to him question whether climate change was man-made.  (This was not the focus of his lecture, but the subject came-up during the Q&A period).

When it comes to climate change, I think I will stick with the climate scientists who actually know something about the subject.  One of these scientists is Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian who co-directs the Climate Center at Texas Tech University.  Yesterday Hayhoe published a piece on Christians and climate change in The New York Times.  Here is a taste:

I’m not a glutton for punishment and I don’t thrive on conflict. So why do I keep talking about climate change to people who are disengaged or doubtful? Because I believe that evangelicals who take the Bible seriously already care about climate change (although they might not realize it). Climate change will strike hard against the very people we’re told to care for and love, amplifying hunger and poverty, and increasing risks of resource scarcity that can exacerbate political instability, and even create or worsen refugee crises.

Then there’s pollution, biodiversity loss, habitat fragmentation, species extinction: climate change makes all those worse, too. In fact, if we truly believe we’ve been given responsibility for every living thing on this planet (including each other) as it says in Genesis 1, then it isn’t only a matter of caring about climate change: We should be at the front of the line demanding action.

But if caring about climate change is such a profoundly Christian value, then why do surveys in the United States consistently show white evangelicals and white Catholics at the bottom of those Americans concerned about the changing climate?

Read the entire piece here.

Science and Religion in the “Second Great Awakening”

2ndGA

A recent piece at JSTOR Daily highlights the work of historian Jeffrey Mullins, author of ” ‘Fitted to Receive the Word of God’: Emotions and Scientific Naturalism in the Religious Revivals of the 1830s.” (International Social Science Review, 2006).

Here is a taste:

The contrast between the cold logic of science and the emotionality of religion is a seemingly unshakable binary today. But back in the early nineteenth century, people saw things very differently. Historian Jeffrey A. Mullins examines the religious revivals of the Second Great Awakening in the 1830s.

At that time, Mullins writes, Americans did not see science and religion as opposites. Instead, they were “two aspects of the same universal truth.” And that truth was not based in pure logic. Emotions were a key to human behavior, and controlling and channeling emotions was a job for scientifically- and morally-grounded experts.

This perspective led to a wealth of reformist interventions, from Sunday schools to penitentiaries to graham crackers. Preachers who led religious revivals around the country in the 1830s saw the need for a highly engineered emotional experience.

Read the rest here.

 

Description of Past Solar Eclipses

Eugène_Atget,_Eclipse,_1912

From the blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society:

Charles Francis Adams wrote about the eclipse he witnessed in Boston on 12 February 1831.

But as there must always be something or other to distract my attention, so today it was taken off by the eclipse of the Sun which took place about noon.  I spent some time in observing this phenomenon. The Sun was not entirely darkened as the eclipse was not total, consequently the light was but partially affected. The cold however was considerable, and the temperature did not recover it throughout the day. The sight is a splendid one…. Every body was looking and little was done. The appearance of the Streets was certainly curious. Men, Women and Boys all gazing at a spectacle the nature of which there were not many to comprehend.

The eclipse of 5 August 1766 is described in a newspaper.  A Boston newspaper published on 11 August 1766 includes a short piece about the eclipse. As was common at the time, newspapers would republish news from other locations, and the heading on the piece about the eclipse is: “Portsmouth. August, 8.”

Last Tuesday being fair Weather and very Hot we had a distinct View of the remarkable ECLIPSE of the SUN–At the Time of greatest Observation, it appeared larger than is represented in the Almanack–the Air was considerably darkned, so that some who did not know of the Eclipse, were surprised.

Read more descriptions here.

21st Century Fox Buys National Geographic for $725 Million

Rupert Murdoch now owns a 73% share of National Geographic magazine and television.  The New York Times reports:

Since 1888, the National Geographic Society has stood for science, discovery and storytelling. Its yellow-bordered magazine has served as the ultimate stage for award-winning photography, depicting the wonders of the world, and the group has supported pursuits as diverse as the underwater explorations of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Jane Goodall’s study of chimpanzees in Tanzania.

Now, the nonprofit organization plans to continue that mission, backed by the Murdoch media empire.

In a deal announced on Wednesday and valued at $725 million, the National Geographic Society and 21st Century Fox are creating a for-profit joint venture that encompasses the National Geographic Channels cable television group along with National Geographic’s other properties. That includes its magazine and other print publications, studios, digital media, maps, children’s media, travel, licensing and e-commerce.

Read the rest here.

Ham Wins

Ken Ham

Jerry Coyne, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, argues at The New Republic that popular scientist Bill Nye’s decision to debate creationist Ken Ham has brought in so much money for the creationist that a once dormant project to build a life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark has been revived.  Here is a taste:

The Ark Park had been in financial trouble because people weren’t buying its bonds, but if Ham isn’t lying—and one has to worry about that given his creationist mission—the debate got the needed interest to revive the park. As the Guardian reports:

Creation Museum founder Ken Ham announced Thursday that a municipal bond offering has raised enough money to begin construction on the Ark Encounter project, estimated to cost about $73m. Groundbreaking is planned for May and the ark is expected to be finished by the summer of 2016.
Ham said a high-profile evolution debate he had with “Science Guy” Bill Nye on 4 February helped boost support for the project.
And Nye’s reponse:
Nye said he was “heartbroken and sickened for the Commonwealth of Kentucky” after learning that the project would move forward. He said the ark would eventually draw more attention to the beliefs of Ham’s ministry, which preaches that the Bible’s creation story is a true account, and as a result, “voters and taxpayers in Kentucky will eventually see that this is not in their best interest.”
Well, he’s heartbroken and sickened because of his own actions. By agreeing to show up and debate Ham—something I suspect Nye did (at least in part) to keep himself in the media spotlight—he’s allowed Ham to further his project. The result, even if you think Nye gained a transitory victory in the debate, is that Ham will build yet another popular tourist attraction, one designed to promulgate lies to kids. Nye, of course, devoted his career as The Science Guy to precisely the opposite: teaching and exciting kids about science. In other words, Nye scuppered himself.
This is why evolutionists should not debate creationists. It looks good on Ham’s c.v.; not so good on Nye’s.  And now it looks great on Ham’s balance sheet as well. 
Nye lost—big time.

Andrew Delbanco on the Humanities Crisis

Andrew Delbanco

Andrew Delbanco, Director of American Studies at Columbia University, says that it is time to forget about the “either/or” discourse that “pits science against humanities.”  The humanities are essential, he argues, to bringing “value” to the so-called STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mary).  Here are some of the world’s most pressing problems that must be solved through a combination of humanities and science:

How can the imperative of economic development be reconciled with the need to limit climate change?

What does national sovereignty mean in a world where diseases, pollutants, and terrorists cross national borders at will?

Are there universal human rights that transcend conflicting claims of particular cultural traditions

How should limited resources be distributed in order to provide opportunity and hope to young people, while treating the elderly with dignity and respect?

What are a country’s obligations to refugees fleeing from persecution, poverty, or strife elsewhere?
How should we balance individual liberty and collective security?

Delbanco writes:

In answering such questions, advances in science and technology (for example, new methods of energy production, surveillance, or online learning) will have a key role to play. But moral and ethical questions never yield fully to technical solutions; they also require an understanding of humanity’s social and cultural heritage. Science can help us to attain the life we want, but it cannot teach us what kind of life is worth wanting.

In short, each side in the current education debate is half right. As human affairs become increasingly complex and morally exigent, future generations will need both scientific and humanistic learning – and they will need them more than ever.


Read the rest here.