Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Death Day Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy died 100 years ago today. Prospero at the Economist Blog tells the story of his death:
LEO TOLSTOY died one hundred years ago today, aged 82. His last days and hours succumbing to pneumonia in a railway master’s house were followed by the entire world. A special telegraphic wire was installed in Astapovo to transmit news about the state of his health, and newspapers carried reports from the Russian and foreign press. Tostoy was hardly aware of all the commotion.

Nine days earlier he had left his estate in Yasnaya Polyana in secret before dawn, accompanied by his doctor. Having contemplated leaving home several times before, he decided it was finally time to break away from his family life, from the rows over his literary heritage, from the battles between his wife and his secretary. On the night of his escape he wrote that he was doing what people of his age do: leaving the worldly life to spend his last days in quiet and solitude.

On the way to the station he stopped at Shemardino convent to see his sister. He stayed the night in a hotel by a monastery, and again left at four in the morning, heading south. He did not get very far, reaching Astapovo with a high fever.
Prospero also notes that Tolstoy's death is hardly noticed in today's Russia:
Devastatingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the 100th anniversary of Tolstoy’s death is hardly marked in Russia. Tolstoy was a man who opposed state violence, who considered the Church’s union with the state as blasphemous, who denounced pseudo-patriotism, and who wrote to Alexander III asking him to pardon those who assassinated his father. These principles are firmly out of fashion in today’s Russia. By turning Tolstoy into an icon, the Soviets ultimately hollowed him out.

A recent political manifesto published by Nikita Mikhalkov, one of Russia’s most odious, wealthy and Kremlin-favoured film directors, is a good example of the country’s dreary move away from Tolstoy’s ideals. Called “Right and Truth”, the 10,000-word call for “enlightened conservatism” draws on the ideas of Konstantin Pobedonostsev, one of Russia’s most reactionary thinkers, who viewed Tolstoy as one of his most dangerous enemies. (He once denounced democracy as "the insupportable dictatorship of vulgar crowd", and saw Tolstoy’s non-violent resistance as a real threat.) As a senior figure in the Church, Pobedonostsev helped to initiate Tolstoy’s excommunication. In 1899 the Holy Synod banned all prayers in Tolstoy’s memory after his death.
I would just note that while all of our religious traditions have flawed histories, I remain grateful that mine never had the opportunity to wed its religious views with political power. It is a particularly pernicious flaw.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No Roached Hair?

Over at Brethren Cultural Landscapes Carl Bowman posted notes from an 1880's Annual Meeting of the Brethren. Same-sex marriage was not yet on the list of unbiblical and forbidden activities:
It is a dangerous and alarming evil for members to conform to this world, in fashionable dressing, building and ornamenting houses in the style of those high in the world, and ought not to be among the humble followers of the lowly Jesus. And to specify more fully what is regarded as fashionable, the following is named:

wearing of gold or jewelry of any kind,
female hats, hoops,
vain superfluities,
ruffled and costly garments,
and brethren should not get costly and fine burial cases,
and expensive tombstones,
carriages and harness of fancy styles,
and the use of sleigh-bells, except circumstances require them,
neither should brethren wear a fashionable beard or mustache only,
and it is not granted to members to have their likenesses taken,
nor to get and use musical instruments,
nor to teach instrumental music.
Neither should members attend places of amusement, such as…
State and county fairs, celebrations, shows, mass meetings, and political meetings, etc.
And members who will indulge in any of the above named things, and thus cause offense, and who will not be admonished to put them away, must be held as disturbing the peace of the church, and be dealt with as not hearing the church, according to Matt. 18.
And brethren are admonished, and urged to wear our time-honored round breast coat with standing collar,
the hair plainly, not fashionable, or roached,
and in case a brother is conscientious in wearing a full beard, others should bear with him.
And according to 1 Cor. 11: 10-13, sisters should wear as the covering there recommended, a plain cap, whether married or unmarried, in the time of worship, and should likewise wear plain and suitable dresses- See 1 Tim. 2:9. 1 Pet. 3:3,4.
And elders, ministers and lay members should cultivate a conformity with the recognized forms and usages of the church as the best method of guarding against the temptation and danger of being drawn into the everchanging fashions of the world.
No roached hair?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Preaching Submission While Not Quite Living It

The New York Times Magazine has an interesting feature article Housewives of God about Priscilla Shirer, daughter of mega-church pastor Tony Evans. Shirer is a former Zig Ziglar motivational speaker who graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary and is now motivating evangelical women to find and live out their Christian calling, which includes submission to their husbands and male pastors. As the article points out Shirer's lived life with her husband Jerry doesn't look much like a traditional marriage. It appears in many respects that her career and her decisions are the driving force in their marriage. When asked to account for the perception that her life isn't consistent with the message she delivers she gave this example of how she submits to her husband:
Despite this routine, Priscilla insists that she submits to Jerry — especially in the family’s bigger decisions. “If I will follow him as he’s following the Lord, then the responsibility for navigating our family well falls on him, not me,” she said. “Gratefully, I’m married to a husband that values my opinion and values my ideas. . . . We have lots of discussions, there are times of discontent.” She recalled their fierce debate over what to name their youngest son, Jude. When they couldn’t agree, Jerry asked the advice of male mentors he calls his “accountability guys,” “strong Christian guys who I’ve put in my life.” (Promise Keepers and other “biblical manhood” ministries encourage men to form and submit to “accountability groups” to keep one another on a godly path.) When the men ruled in Jerry’s favor, Priscilla relented. “It was a tough pill for me to swallow for a minute,” she said. “But when he told me why, and told me he’d talked to several different people about it that we both trust, then I was able to just relinquish and not be upset. . . . What made all the difference in the world is he cared about what I was feeling.”
The article gives this bit of history about the role of women in evangelicalism:
In centuries past, evangelical women were not meek about their role in church. Early Baptists allowed women to preach during the Great Awakening, and women were among the most influential revivalists during the rise of Pentecostalism at the turn of the 20th century (though gender roles usually remained in force in the home). But many women lost their voice as these sects solidified into male-run denominations. Outside the pulpit, women took the lead in the great Victorian moral crusades and volunteered in droves for foreign missions. During the battles between fundamentalists and liberal-minded modernists in the early 20th century, however, conservative mission boards cracked down on the freedom of female missionaries. Denominations took control of service societies that women had run for decades. Evangelical women could teach children’s Sunday school — as unpaid volunteers — but not adult co-educational classes. They might run bake sales, but men usually decided how the church spent the money they earned.

In the 1970s, liberal organizations like the Evangelical Women’s Caucus embraced much of women’s and gay liberation, but most evangelicals joined a rear-guard action in defense of traditional sexual mores. They argued that “women’s liberation” was a myth: on the contrary, secular feminism enslaves. Women learn to worship the false idols of careerism and independence, brainwashed by propaganda techniques that the Christian author Mary Kassian, in her book “The Feminist Mistake,” compares with those used by Chairman Mao. Submission alone brings true freedom and empowerment. A “submitted woman” can quit struggling to do things God never intended her to do and focus on her feminine gifts. Her gifts might mean a career, as long as she has her husband’s blessing: evangelicals often cite the “Wife of Noble Character” mentioned in Proverbs 31, who “considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.”

In reality, conservative evangelicals turn a blind eye to “submitted wives” who split household duties with their husbands and hire baby sitters, as long as they recite the slogans of biblical womanhood...
Reading this article I find myself in agreement with KJ Dell'Antonia at Slate:
Shirer's lip service to the idea of male dominance enables marriages that are far less egalitarian than hers. Her message, as Jocelyn Anderson, author and Christian domestic violence victim would say, is "submission, submission, submission." But submission as an option—as Worthen puts it "embrac[ing] the submitted life"—is not truly submission. Deference, perhaps. But calling voluntary deference "submission" is like calling consensual sex "rape" just because there are handcuffs involved. It muddies the waters for everyone, and makes it more difficult for women who face demands for real submission to see things as they really are.

If Shirer's compromise works for her, that's fine. But she should be honest within her ministry and tell the women who flock to her appearances that a "complementarian" marriage works only if it's based on egalitarian beliefs. She's clearly chosen her role. She should use it to ensure that other women know that they also have a choice.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Snowy Day

Winter has arrived in our back yard:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I Want to Kill People in this War, Not That One

The New York Times reports on an effort to expand the definition of conscientious objection to allow for soldiers to opt out of certain wars:
But today, Nov. 10, a coalition of around 60 mostly left-leaning religious, veterans and anti-war groups are calling on Congress to expand the definition of conscientious objection to allow opposition to a particular war. Leaders of the coalition, the Truth Commission on Conscience in War, assert that broadening the definition would probably lead to more troops applying to become conscientious objectors. But it would also allow for greater religious freedom in the military and improve morale among the troops, they say.

“For many of us, it is a religious freedom issue,” said Rita N. Brock, one of the main organizers of the commission. “The only religious conscience protected now is for pacifists. But the majority of people are not pacifists. I’m not a pacifist. We have a relative view of when violence is appropriate and not appropriate.”

Ms. Brock, a former professor of religion and women’s studies whose stepfather fought in World War II and Vietnam, said one of the commission’s goals is to allow service members who oppose certain wars to remain in the military, serving either in noncombat roles or in conflicts they can support.

“We want to make it easier for them to follow their moral conscience and serve in the military,” she said. “We want to forestall moral injury, which is a Veterans Administration category of treatment.”
An obvious response to this is that these days the military is a volunteer organization. There is no draft. If you enlist you can reasonably expect in our current environment to be fighting in a war somewhere. If you can imagine a kind of conflict that you would find morally objectionable then you shouldn't enlist. If you are a Muslim you have to know going in that you will almost certainly be fighting in a conflict where fellow Muslims will be on the receiving end of your bullets.

On the other hand there ought to be some provision for a soldier whose thinking evolves to get out of the military or move into a non-combatant position.

I can't imagine this proposal will receive much support from the military or the new Republican-controlled Congress.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Company We Keep

Gallup finds support continues to be high in the US for the death penalty:

2001-2010 Annual October Crime Poll Trend: Are You in Favor of the Death Penalty for a Person Convicted of Murder?

Bottom Line

The use of the death penalty has been declining worldwide, with most of the known executions now carried out in five countries -- China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Anti-death penalty groups in the U.S. continue to fight the use of the death penalty, particularly when there are high-profile instances of its use, such as this year's execution in Virginia of Teresa Lewis, the first woman to be executed in that state in almost 100 years. Despite this, Gallup's latest update in October shows no diminution in the strong majority level of support for the death penalty in cases of murder within the U.S. (end quote)

Can you guess which one of these countries is known as the Christian one? I can't.

Disgrace Speech

Our denomination's resident sociologist of religion Carl Bowman has recently suggested that he desires to see an end to "disgrace speech" in our denomination Disgrace speech is speech that summarily dismisses those we disagree with as somehow being less that worthy. Two of three examples he gives are:
1. “Homophobe.” Some progressives can’t conceive that a tradition-derived ordering of things might be central to the sacred understandings of others, so they reduce conservative commitments to psychological pathology, calling them “homophobes.” The label, and all references to homophobia, should be stricken from Brethren discourse. Even if cases exist where homophobia might be clinically diagnosed, those who invoke the label are rarely clinicians; instead they are progressive partisans who use the term casually and dismissively. The outcome is typically to reduce conservative convictions to irrational pathology. It disgraces them in this fashion.
2. “Biblical morality.” On the issue of homosexuality, conservatives typically invoke this term as an oblique counterpoint to its opposite, which is either “un-Biblical morality,” or “Biblical immorality.” Either way, applauding oneself for one’s “Biblical morality” transparently classifies as “un-Christian” the opposing view. Even if one believes deeply that the progressive view on an issue is indeed un-Christian, furthering one’s position publicly by trumpeting one’s “Biblical morality” has the primary consequence of disgracing others whose convictions and reading of the Bible are different. “Bibical morality” should be the substance of small group study and discussion, not a weapon to be brandished against others.

I agree. While I think that some of the conservative opposition to homosexuality stems from fear some of it also stems from sharp disagreement about biblical interpretation. I think they are wrong, but I don't think it is fair or helpful to just dismiss opposition as homophobic. In fact I am tempted to suggest that many conservatives are more guilty of un-Biblical morality than homophobia. I think they read the Bible far too selectively as they define what is moral or immoral. But in either case I agree that dismissive labeling isn't helpful.