Texas high school biology textbooks battles are once again in progress in Austin, with lines drawn between those who want textbook material based only on established mainstream science and those who are anti-science. As an evangelical Christian and a botany professor at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, I am all too familiar with the battle for scientific authenticity in our state’s textbooks.
The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) wields an enormous influence over which textbooks are adopted by school districts in Texas. And because the Texas market for public school textbooks is one of the country’s largest, publishers use the curriculum and content from Texas books in those they print for the rest of the nation. For this reason, what happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas. This is why it is so important that we ensure that publishers produce books based on mainstream science.
When KellyAnne Kitchin began home schooling her three sons three years ago, she had difficulty finding curriculum programs that fit her atheist and humanist beliefs.
So Kitchin, 33, cobbled together what she could. She left out one geography textbook’s description of the earth as God’s creation and another’s disdain for Darwin, and substituted her own point of view — that no supernatural powers guide human beings, who alone have the power to improve the world.
She also found many online forums for home-schoolers were unwelcoming. Some had statements faith members needed to agree to. On others she was made to feel unwelcome because of her lack of beliefs.
When denominations, churches, faith-based organizations, theologians, pastors, and Christian celebrities change their beliefs on homosexuality, abortion, immigration, and other political and social hot-button issues, they often face a vitriolic pushback from many Evangelicals. Obviously, many see their final stance — such as supporting marriage equality — as a sin, but more surprisingly, many of the vicious reactions attack the very idea of changing one’s beliefs — as if change itself is bad.
American Christianity has created a culture of theological permanence, where individuals are expected to learn a set of beliefs and latch onto them for the rest of their lives. Many of our first theological beliefs were probably taught to us in Sunday school, which was part of a church, which was represented by a denomination, which had its own parochial schools and Bible colleges.
Theoretically, Christians can go from preschool to seminary hearing the exact same religious doctrines. Theologies are often considered too “valuable,” “right,” and “holy” to change or question. Therefore, pastors debate instead of dialogue, professors preach instead of listen, schools propagate instead of discuss, and faith-based communities ultimately reject any form of honest questioning and doubt.
Indoctrination is preferred over critical thinking, certainty is favored over doubt, and we expect our leaders to offer black-and-white answers. A change of theology is viewed as weakness, poor exegesis, and a sign of insecurity. “If they change their views now, how can I believe anything they say in the future?” Christians often perceive change as a break in trust and a loss of identity.
I'm a member of an organization called the Planetary Society. If you haven't heard of us, we are a group of nerds who are deeply passionate about space exploration. We believe so deeply in the exploration of other worlds that we pay annual dues and organize fundraisers to pick up the slack left by governmental and commercial space programs. In addition to expansive efforts toward public education, we fund experimental approaches to space exploration and engineering. Spacecraft propelled by solar wind, or little robots that can move asteroids with laser beams are a couple of examples. Our CEO is Bill Nye. You may know him as "The Science Guy" from children's television.
Lately, Bill has been in the news cycle because of a video he made about creationism. In this video, Bill argues that the religions that teach stories of creation that oppose a contemporary scientific understanding are dangerous to public education. ... This puts me in an awkward position.
There’s a lot at stake here. By trying to turn the Jewish poetry of the Genesis story into a scientific-historical text that would stand against evolution, Creationism, as an ideology, serves to diminish the account of human dignity established in the Creation story that might, in fact, represent a worthy alternative to Darwinism. Says [Marilynne] Robinson: “People who insist that the sacredness of Scripture depends on belief in creation in a literal six days seem never to insist on a literal reading of ‘to him who asks, give,’ or ‘sell what you have and give the money to the poor.’ In fact, their politics and economics align themselves quite precisely with those of their adversaries, who yearn to disburden themselves of the weak, and to unshackle the great creative forces of competition. The defenders of ‘religion’ have made religion seem foolish while rendering it mute in the face of a prolonged and highly effective assault on the poor.”
[Note from the author: Yesterday I wrote about part of the discussion that took place around our Wild Goose Festival panel on masculinity and male identity. A few folks asked about the story I told during the panel, so I thought I’d share it here. It’s a bit long, so I’ll offer it in two parts, with part two coming tomorrow.]
Every guy has that one car they either always wanted or got and for which they will always have an irrational love. Mine was a 1966 Mustang.
I first saw it sitting with the “for sale” sign in the parking lot of the apartment complex where I had a summer job, cleaning out trashed, vacant units. They wanted $3,200 for it, but they took $2,700, which was almost every penny I’d earned for a whole summer’s work. The guy who sold it to me, a bartender with a mullet and a fine collection of sleeveless T-shirts, assured me that I would love that car more than life itself.
He was right, but as I mentioned, it was a completely irrational love. I spent more time underneath that car than I did in it for more than a year, replacing seals, radiators, starters, alternators and a host of other barely-functioning parts I only learned existed as they broke. But when it worked, man, I was transported, both literally and figuratively.
The mustang gave me more confidence too. I asked a girl out I had wanted to hook up with for some months, and after checking out the ride, she readily agreed. I took her to a concert, and on the way home, her smile broadened as she ran her hand seductively across the burgundy interior.
“This is a really sweet car,” she cast a feline glance my way. Every manly fiber in my being puffed up, taking in the intoxicating elixir of car exhaust and her perfume. Life was good.
Five minutes later, while cruising down the highway, I threw a rod. We sat in the parking lot of a gas station for about forty-five minutes until my mom got there to take us both home.
I said the love was irrational.
Bryan Fischer’s argument comes down to this. We teach kids in school that they’ve evolved from monkeys, and that survival of the fittest (or natural) celebrates the triumph of the strong over the weak. Combine this with loosened sexual teen morality and the public celebration of homosexuality, and you have fertile grounds for animal-like behavior, such as that involving shooter James Holmes.
Oh yes, the gay part. Fischer commented about some website (which he does not name) that supposedly was set up in conjunction with the London Summer Olympics to allow gays to engage in “random, frequent, anonymous” sex, which he calls “one of the characteristics of the homosexual community. It always has been; it always will be.”
So in his estimation, because of our sexual moral decay (as supported by the classroom and Olympic illustrations) and his consistent and ongoing attack on the virtues of evolution, James Holmes killed more than a dozen people in a suburban movie theater in Colorado.
Abuse at Afghan Prisons. How Catholic Conservatives could turn the GOP presidential race. OpEd: Jesus would not #OccupyWallStreet. OWS is "largely secular." Religious leaders see immigration as "God's Call." OpEd: Alabama new immigration law has unintended consequences. OpEd: Wall Street Worship. Could 2012 be the most ideological election in years? And much more.
Science, God, and Presidential Politics; Jon Huntsman Vies for 'The Colbert Bump'; Dayton, Ohio Welcomes Immigrants; BREAKING: Police Remove #OccupyOakland; Rick Perry Unveils 'Cut, Balance and Grow' Economic Plan; Religion, Morality and the Financial Industry: An Interview With Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks.
Wall Street has been devastating Main Street for some time. And when the politicians -- most of them bought by Wall Street -- say nothing, it's called "responsible economics." But when somebody, anybody, complains about people suffering and that the political deck in official Washington has been stacked in favor of Wall Street, the accusation of class warfare quickly emerges. "Just who do these people think they are," they ask. The truth is that the people screaming about class warfare this week aren't really concerned about the warfare. They're just concerned that their class -- or the class that has bought and paid for their political careers -- continues to win the war.
So where is God in all of this? Is God into class warfare? No, of course not. God really does love us all, sinners and saints alike, rich and poor, mansion dwellers and ghetto dwellers. But the God of the Bible has a special concern for the poor and is openly suspicious of the rich. And if that is not clear in the Bible nothing is.
I prefer my revolutions to be simple: A corrupt dictator/tyrant, an oppressed population, inspired reformers who risk their lives, calls for democracy, waves of marchers in the streets, background music from Les Misérables. The stories from Tunis and Cairo were epochal. The Arab spring was in full bloom as calls for participatory government could be heard from every corner of the Middle East.
Then there was Syria. The Assad government has been infamous in its intolerance to dissent. It is a military regime whose 30-year leadership under Hafez al-Assad (1930-2000) established it as one of the most severe in the region. In 2,000, after the death of Hafez, the world was intrigued to see his second son -- Bashar al-Assad -- ascend the throne. Bashar was an ophthalmologist who had studied in London, but because of his older brother's death in a car accident in 1994, he was called to follow his father. Bashar speaks English and French fluently and has been as critical of the U.S. as he has been of Israel.
Anthony Shadid of the New York Times reports that a song, "Come on Bashar, Leave," is spreading across Syria, boldly calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down. (Bryan Farrell also wrote about it at the Waging Nonviolence blog.) The article suggests that a young cement layer who chanted it in demonstrations was pulled from the Orontes River this month, his throat having been cut, and, according to residents of the city of Hama, his vocal chords torn out. Hama is where, in 1982, then-president Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president named in the song, gave orders to the army to massacre more than 10,000 in putting down an Islamist upheaval. Today, boys 6-years-old and older vocalize their own rendition of the original warbler's song instead. As the song has sped across Syria, demonstrators have adopted it for themselves.
After months of good-faith reforms and patience, the drama is back in Egypt's Tahrir Square as protesters are preparing for a potential showdown with the state's military rule. The movement, among other things, is demanding an end to military rule -- a more radical call that reflects both the frustration with the status quo and the hope for a better way.
Two weeks ago, at the "Day of Persistence," Egypt saw its largest resurgence of public protest since former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February. The nation-wide protests show Egyptians camping out in Cairo's Tahrir Square, staging sit-ins and blocking traffic in Alexandria, and threatening to shut down Suez's tunnel access to Sinai. So why are the people confronting -- albeit nonviolently -- an interim government that has promised elections and a new constitution? A glance at the collective demands drafted in Tahrir Square make clear that the movement's demands -- both political and economic -- have not progressed much under the military rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
The other day I read some interesting statistics about how social media is shaping our lives . It is interesting to see the response to this and recognize the different ways in which we grapple with deluge of social media in relation to our faith. There are lots of resources emerging to help us maintain a strong and vibrant faith in the midst of this. I wanted to highlight a couple that I have found very useful
When evangelical politicians pronounce on topics like the origins of the universe, the results are almost always awful -- embarrassing, infuriating, unwatchable. When a reclusive, visionary filmmaker like Terrence Malick treats the same subject matter, as he does in his new movie The Tree of Life, one is transported. Which is a useful reminder that the mysteries of creation are best grappled with through art. The book of Genesis, after all, begins not with scientific description or theological argument, but with a poem.