Morality

Tracy Simmons 10-29-2012
Victoria Ann Thorpe protests against the death penalty outside of a Spokane mall

Victoria Ann Thorpe protests against the death penalty outside of a Spokane mall.

SPOKANE, Wash. -- They stood in front of a shopping mall, shackled together, heads down, nameplates dangling around their necks, bearing the names of men and women who have died on America’s death row.

Cal Brown.

Teresa Lewis.

Cameron Todd Willingham.

Behind them, stood Victoria Ann Thorpe, dark makeup painted on her cheeks and a sign painted to look like blood stains waving above her head: “Their blood is on our hands.”

Somehow, despite Thorpe’s gory exterior, she’s approachable.

“Would you like information on the death penalty?” she asks shoppers as they exit the mall, unable to avert their eyes from the scene in front of them. She hands them a clipboard and one by one, they fill out postcards showing their support to abolish the death penalty in Washington. The cards will later be sent to state lawmakers. The group has also protested at Gonzaga University and so far has collected more than 200 signatures.

Thorpe, along with the Safe and Just Alternatives organization and The Inland Northwest Death Penalty Abolition Group, is seeking to pass a state law to replace the death penalty in Washington state with life without parole.

Bob Smietana 10-26-2012
Eric Brown holds his two-month-old daughter, Pearl Joy, on Oct. 1, 2012.

Eric Brown holds his two-month-old daughter, Pearl Joy, on Oct. 1, 2012.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Eric and Ruth Brown believe nothing about daughter Pearl Joy's life is a mistake.

They say God gave Pearl her bright red hair and wide blue eyes, as well as the genetic disorder that created a cleft in her upper lip and caused her brain's development to stall in the first weeks in the womb.

"Things didn't go wrong," Eric Brown said. "God has designed Pearl the way he wanted, for his glory and our good."

That belief has sustained the Browns during the past six months, ever since a routine ultrasound revealed that the couple's third child has alobar holoprosencephaly, a rare genetic condition that's almost always fatal. A specialist told the Browns she would probably die in the womb and advised them to end the pregnancy early.

It's one thing to talk about God's will when life is good. It's another when a doctor is saying your baby won't live.

The Browns were forced to consider religious, medical and ethical issues most parents never will. And nobody could make their decision for them.

The Browns never considered abortion. They believe that Pearl is "fearfully and wonderfully made," as Psalm 139 puts it, and God alone should decide when she lives and when she dies.

Seeing Pearl's beating heart on the ultrasound also persuaded them to continue the pregnancy, even if the odds were stacked against her.

"If there is a chance, you say yes to that chance," Eric Brown said. "The only thing I know about parenting is that you say yes."

So far, Pearl has beaten the odds.

Few babies with Pearl's disorder make it to term, and of those who do, only 3 percent survive birth, according to the Dallas-based Carter Centers for Brain Research in Holoprosencephaly and Related Malformations. Pearl has a particularly severe form of the condition, which means her brain never divided into two hemispheres.

She turned 11 weeks old Oct. 12, a milestone that the Browns celebrated by lighting 11 candles and singing "Happy Birthday."

Jim Wallis 9-19-2012
 Romney speaks to the press in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Tuesday.

Romney speaks to the press in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Tuesday.

The recently revealed video of Gov. Mitt Romney at a fundraising event last May is changing the election conversation. I hope it does, but at an even deeper level than the responses so far.

There are certainly politics there, some necessary factual corrections, and some very deep ironies. But underneath it all is a fundamental question of what our spiritual obligations to one another and, for me, what Jesus' ethic of how to treat our neighbors means for the common good.

Many are speaking to the political implications of Romney's comments, his response, and what electoral implications all this might have. As a religious leader of a non-profit faith-based organization, I will leave election talk to others.

Christian Piatt 9-13-2012
Photo: vipflash / Shutterstock.com

Photo: vipflash / Shutterstock.com

My friend, Doug, is not what I’d call a religious person. He grew up in church but has since taken to a combination of practicing martial arts, yoga, and independent study, primarily of Buddhist philosophy. In a lot of ways, his journey is a familiar one for younger adults today (he and I are both 40 so we don’t really qualify as “young” adults anymore).

Doug is, like I am, an intellectually curious guy. He follows my work pretty closely, and he is certainly open to other points of view, even if they’re not ones he embraces for his own life. Sometime we share ideas back and forth, but this quote from the Dalai Lama that he sent me recently really got my attention:

"All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether."

A court in Cologne, Germany, recently ruled that circumcising young boys represents grievous "bodily harm." The court found that the child’s "fundamental right to bodily integrity" was more important than the parents’ rights. According to the court, religious freedom "would not be unduly impaired" because the child could later decide whether to have the circumcision.

In response to the ruling, some Jews and Muslims who practice circumcision for religious reasons have protested vehemently. Subsequently, German politicians pledged to pass a law to protect ritual circumcision of young boys. Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger even traveled to Berlin to defend Jewish circumcisions, and a complaint against a Bavarian rabbi for performing circumcisions drew the anger of the Anti-Defamation League. The legal and cultural dilemma inherent in the issue makes prompt resolution unlikely.

Most of Germany (and the world) does not circumcise. It is instinctively viewed as harmful. Here's why...

the Web Editors 8-29-2012

Jim Wallis appeared via Skype on HuffPo Live to talk about poverty and the 2012 election.

Sojourners' CEO, the Rev. Jim Wallis, was a guest on Arianna Huffington's new online news channel, HuffPo Live, today to talk about the face of poverty in this heated election season and what has changed (or not) since the 2004 presidential election.

"More children than ever are poor," Wallis said. "From a religious point of view, that should be a top election issue. The highest poverty rate in half a century should be a fundamental moral issue."

"More and more of our friends are in poverty," Wallis told HuffPo Live host Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, "in the pews, in our workplaces, because so much is happening to so many people — through no fault of their own — and they are slipping below the poverty level."

There is a whole new wave of "suburban poverty," and many more of us know people who are poor than we did an election cycle ago, he said. There is a new "face" of poverty.

Watch the video of Wallis' appearance inside the blog...

Brad R. Braxton 8-01-2012

Preaching for social transformation requires an abundance of courage, moral credibility, and the virtue of precision.

Tom Ehrich 8-01-2012

Here's something curious.

Big banks can't make money without cheating, manipulating interest rates, selling overly risky products and betting against their customers.

Big pharmaceuticals can't make money without paying competitors to keep their generic products off pharmacy shelves.

Google and Facebook can't make money without monetizing customers' privacy and violating their trust. Game maker Zynga can't make money, period, but its insiders did sweep $516 million off the table by unloading soon-to-plummet stock before a lousy earnings report.

Rupert Murdoch's media empire can't make money without tapping telephones and politicizing the news on which democracy depends. 

And these are the people we are supposed to trust, admire, treat as superior and as worthy of huge salaries and government bailouts.

“There can be no high civility without a deep morality" ~ R.W. Emerson

“Why can’t we all just get along?” ~ Rodney King

Some of the most heated conversations I have ever participated have been with other people of faith whom I sincerely believe want the same things I want, worship the same God that I worship, and labor as hard as I do to promote human flourishing.

During this election time, we have come to expect the rhetoric to replace reason and civility is a term that has no place in our discourses. Our disagreements are often not cognitive disagreements, but differences in morality and decency. This is why they take a personal tone that is easily offended and strongly defended.

It is interesting that modern psychologists have demonstrated that our understanding of morality is actually not as easy as “right or wrong,” but rather based on five different axes or foundations. According to Psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham, each foundation contributes to our formation of how “right” or “wrong” an action is.

the Web Editors 7-12-2012

Last month, the U.S. Senate held its first hearing ever on the issue of solitary confinement in prisons. To draw attention to the issue, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture urged Americans to fast for 23 hours for one day, symbolizing the 23 hours a day prisoners spend in solitary confinement each day.

"Christian scriptures and the scriptures of all religions say much about the way we are to treat other human beings, especially the most vulnerable," said the Rev. Richard Killmer, executive director of NRCAT. "And all religious traditions teach that it is important to honor and respect the dignity and worth that God has endowed in each human being. When we put people into solitary confinement cells, which we know are going to cause harm, then we have deeply violated that requirement from God to honor and respect each human being."

Jeremy Courtney 6-29-2012
Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/GettyImages

President Jimmy Carter in Egypt last month. Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/GettyImages

Earlier this week, former President Jimmy Carter critiqued the United States for its (read: our) deteriorating record on human rights and rule of law in the last decade.

But those responding to Carter's New York Times Op-Ed (“A Cruel and Unusual Record”) have largely missed his main point. In the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, Carter wants to lead America in removing the log from our own eye in hopes of honoring God and regaining our position as champions of human rights and rule of law.

During his visit to Cairo for the Egyptian elections, Carter met with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar — the most authoritative voice in Sunni Islam. Discussing human rights, religion, and the historic election that was taking place outside, Carter exhibited a rare humility in articulating his convictions. I feel that a whole range of human interactions might be improved if we would each remove the log from our own eye before trying to remove the speck from our neighbor’s.

Sitting with women’s rights activists and top Christian leadership; in private briefings and press conferences, this self-critique proved central to Carter’s efforts to build trust and advance human rights in Egypt and around the world.

After decades of lectures from the White House and U.S. State Department, much of the world has grown tired of the West’s wagging finger and “holier than thou” attitude. There may have been an era when this posture had a greater effect, but the U.S. has lost too much of its moral credibility in the wake of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and drone strikes carried out against the President Obama's “Hit List”.

Jim Wallis 6-14-2012
Jim Wallis

Jim Wallis

Tuesday was a big day.

Nearly 150 evangelical leaders signed onto an “Evangelical Statement of Immigration Reform.” Signers came from across the spectrum of evangelicalism including leading Hispanic evangelical organizations, to pastors such as Max Lucado, Bill Hybels, Joel Hunter, and Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family.

No, that isn’t a typo. Sojourners stood side by side with Focus on the Family to draw attention to the plight of millions who have been caught up in our broken immigration system. It was exciting to see such unity across the traditional political spectrum that rarely happens in Washington.

Make no mistake, there are still big gaps in theology and politics among those in this group. But Tuesday wasn’t about politics. Rather we focused on the things we agreed were fundamental moral issues and biblical imperatives. This coming together to help fix a broken immigration system on behalf of those who most suffer from it is just what politics needs and could begin to affect other issues, too.

Instead of ideology, we came together because of morality and common sense. And that’s what leaders are supposed to do.

Giving money photo, Konstantinos Kokkinis / Shutterstock.com

Giving money photo, Konstantinos Kokkinis / Shutterstock.com

Atheists and others who don’t adhere to a religion often say they can be good without God. Now, three new studies appear to back them up.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley conducted three experiments that show less religious people perform acts of generosity more from feelings of compassion than do more religious people. The findings were published in the current issue of the online journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Their results challenge traditional thinking about what drives religious people to perform acts of kindness for others.

“The main take-away from the research is that there may be very different reasons why more and less religious people behave generously, when they do,” said Robb Willer, an assistant professor of sociology at Berkeley and a co-author of the studies.

QR Blog Editor 5-09-2012

For The Huffington Post, Max Lux argues that more needs to be done to strengthen the 'moral fiber' of the economy:

"For countries to be successful, they need to have both the right long term economic policies, focused on building and expanding the middle class, and the moral fiber to understand that power and money are not all that matters. Part of the problem with Wall Street's power in this country is that the cut throat dog-eat-dog values of Wall Street have infected way too much of our society. We need to not only take back our economic fate from Wall Street, we need to cleanse our values system of their culture as well."

Read the full article here

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) on March 27. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A week after House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan claimed his Catholic faith inspired the Republicans' cost-cutting budget plan, the nation’s Catholic bishops reiterated their demand that the federal budget protect the poor, and said the GOP measure “fails to meet these moral criteria.”

That and other strongly-worded judgments on the GOP budget proposal flew in a flurry of letters from leading bishops to the chairmen of key congressional committee.

The letters to Capitol Hill were highlighted in a Tuesday (April 17) statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that came after Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican and rising conservative hero, told an interviewer last week (April 10) that his fiscal views were informed by Catholic social teaching.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Photo by Getty Images.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York hugs an American journalist outside St. Peter's Basilica Saturday. Photo by Getty Images.

VATICAN CITY — On the eve of his elevation to cardinal, New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan said he would like to change the caricature of his city as a modern-day Gomorrah.

"New York seems to have an innate interest and respect for religion and I'm going to bring that up because I don't like that caricature that New York is some neo-Sodom and Gomorrah," Dolan told Reuters after celebrating Mass here on Friday (Feb. 17).

"I have found the New York community to be very religious and innately respectful of religion, interested in religion," he said.

Kevin Eckstrom 2-12-2012
Birth control pills. Image via Wiki Commons, http://bit.ly/z6otrO.

Birth control pills. Image via Wiki Commons, http://bit.ly/z6otrO.

President Obama on Friday said that all insurers — not all religious institutionswill be required to offer free contraceptive services to women.

Here's what people are saying about it:

President Obama:

"We’ve been mindful that there’s another principle at stake here –- and that’s the principle of religious liberty, an inalienable right that is enshrined in our Constitution.  As a citizen and as a Christian, I cherish this right."

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

“Today’s decision to revise how individuals obtain services that are morally objectionable to religious entities and people of faith is a first step in the right direction. We hope to work with the Administration to guarantee that Americans’ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations.”

Family Research Council:

"Liberals say keep your morals out of the bedroom, yet the President's plan forces everyone to pay the cost for someone else's contraceptive use in the bedroom. That's not freedom, it's a mandate."

Timothy King 1-31-2012
"Moses mit den Gesetzestafeln" via Wylio [http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/35

"Moses mit den Gesetzestafeln" via Wylio [http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/3542205854]

The primary political conversation that is happening in our country isn’t a dualistic battle between a “free market” system and a “statist/socialist” one. It is determining which mix of institutions and organizations are best equipped to meet societal challenges and achieve collective goals while allowing for individual freedom and human flourishing.

There aren’t many people who would argue that we need a new federal bureaucracy to run all of our grocery stores. But, you will find people who have varying views as to the government’s role in ensuring that those in need have basic access to nutrition, or what information the government should mandate that growers, producers, or sellers of food disclose to consumers.

Rabbi Spero makes some important scriptural points as to the importance of personal responsibility, human creativity, and freedom, but fails to deal with any passages that might temper or balance his views of capitalism.

Cathleen Falsani 1-17-2012
Photo by Jenny Poole via http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/4752357353

"It's Complicated." Photo by Jenny Poole via Wylio http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/4752357353

A fascinating new study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that two-thirds of all Americans identify with both the "pro-life" and "pro-choice" labels simultaneously.

The PRRI reports that 7-in-10 Americans say the term “pro-choice” describes them "somewhat" or "very well," and nearly two-thirds simultaneously say the term “pro-life” describes them "somewhat" or "very well."

"This overlapping identity is present in virtually every demographic group," the report said.

In one of the largest public opinoin surveys ever conducted on the subject of abortion and religion, PRRI's study, "Millennials, Abortion and Religion Survey," uncovered "large generational differences on two issues that have often been linked in political discourse: abortion and same-sex marriage."

According to the survey, Americans ages 18-29 (a.k.a., "Millennials") strongly support legal access to abortion services in their local communities despite being conflicted about the morality of abortion itself.

Jack Palmer 1-12-2012
Demonstrator at a climate change rally in Calgary, Canada, 2007. Image via Wylio

Demonstrator at a climate change rally in Calgary, Canada, 2007. Image via Wylio http://bit.ly/vZsCIN

Climate change affects the poorest the hardest. Most things do. In the parts of the world where climate change is most prevalent, it is those who have done the least to cause it that are bearing the brunt of its effects.

It is the Malawian farmer whose crops have failed because the seasonal rains didn’t start at the usual time. It’s a Bangladeshi who can see the sea-levels rising around her town year after year, and has nowhere to go. It’s even an American family whose food bill grows ever larger because of the stresses that a changing climate is having on food security worldwide.

These are neither the people nor the organizations that have spent decades turning a blind eye to their responsibility as good stewards of our environment. They are not the people who, in the face of more and more extreme weather patterns, turn an issue of human survival into an ideological war.

It is for them that we must adapt.

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