Thursday, May 24, 2007

Texas attempts to safeguard against bending

Houston Chronicle (TX): Optional Bible classes received the go-ahead from Texas state legislatures Wednesday. Lawmakers added anti-bending provisions such as requiring mandatory training for teachers and banning the use of the Bible as a textbook in and of itself. While dissenters maintained that a course on the Bible would emphasis Christianity over other religious traditions, the possibility remained open that future courses on the Qur'an could be made available if there is a demand.

Despite opposition from critics who fear that this bill will lead to classroom evangelization, Kathy Miller, president of a nonpartisan organization that supports religious freedom declared, "Today, the Senate kept safeguards in this bill that should prevent government from telling our schoolchildren what to believe about the Bible." The Bible Bending Watchdog wishes Texas' school districts all the best.

When it comes to judgement, NYT refuses to bend

New York Times (NY): Edward Rothstein of the Museum Review provides a relatively balanced review of Answers in Genesis' Creation Museum opening May 28th.

In the style of "some say, others say," Rothstein wanders around the hybrid natural museum/Bible fantasy land, marveling at the meticulous detail and cognitive dissonance. There is an exhibit depiction two prehistoric children playing in a stream while Apatosaurus innocuously dine on ferns near-by, a film that explains how Noah's flood carved the Grand Canon, and a chance to experience The Fall by passing through the comforting glow of Eden into the dark cement corridor of an ersatz urban slum.

Noting that the balk of the museum's exhibits is "a series of catastrophes," Rothstein summarizes the experience this way: "For the skeptic the wonder is at a strange universe shaped by elaborate arguments, strong convictions and intermittent invocations of scientific principle. For the believer, it seems, this museum provides a kind of relief: Finally the world is being shown as it really is, without the distortions of secularism and natural selection."

In a democracy rather than meritocracy of ideas, where every world view commands equal New York Times review space, Answers to Genesis is another well-funded fruit stand in the marketplace of ideas. But all world views are not reported on equally. While Scientology and its creation story involving the intergalactic warlord Xenu, a volcano, nuclear bombs, and Body Thetans, has been regarded with the puzzlement, disbelief, and amusement that it deserves, the Judeo-Christian Creation story has been caught in a laissez-faire limbo.

It is little wonder that in the last few years an angry deluge of scientific rebuke from Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett has come thundering down on the claims of creationism. If Answers in Genesis insists on using the language of science, it must withstand the scrutiny of science. But lecture circuits, think-tanks and museums like the one opening next Monday continue to knot themselves into such a tangle of science and Bible that perhaps Rothstein was right to dedicate a two-page article to observing its strange beauty rather than untangle the mess.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The End of Biblical Studies

Hector Avalos, professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, is publishing a book this month that declares the end of biblical studies.

A description of the book from

"In this radical critique of his own academic specialty, biblical scholar Hector Avalos calls for an end to biblical studies as we know them. He outlines two main arguments for this surprising conclusion. First, academic biblical scholarship has clearly succeeded in showing that the ancient civilization that produced the Bible held beliefs about the origin, nature, and purpose of the world and humanity that are fundamentally opposed to the views of modern society. The Bible is thus largely irrelevant to the needs and concerns of contemporary human beings. Second, Avalos criticizes his colleagues for applying a variety of flawed and specious techniques aimed at maintaining the illusion that the Bible is still relevant in today's world. In effect, he accuses his profession of being more concerned about its self-preservation than about giving an honest account of its own findings to the general public and faith communities.

Dividing his study into two parts, Avalos first examines the principal subdisciplines of biblical studies (textual criticism, archaeology, historical criticism, literary criticism, biblical theology, and translations) in order to show how these fields are still influenced by religiously motivated agendas despite claims to independence from religious premises. In the second part, he focuses on the infrastructure that supports academic biblical studies to maintain the value of the profession and the Bible. This infrastructure includes academia (public and private universities and colleges), churches, the media-publishing complex, and professional organizations such as the Society of Biblical Literature. In a controversial conclusion, Avalos argues that our world is best served by leaving the Bible as a relic of an ancient civilization instead of the "living" document most religionist scholars believe it should be. He urges his colleagues to concentrate on educating the broader society to recognize the irrelevance and even violent effects of the Bible in modern life. "

UPDATE: The "indecent" Bible

Following reports last week that Hong Kong's local censoring body, Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (TELA), rejected calls to label the Bible "indecent," supporters have launched a website:

The Chinese website include this warning in English:

Efforts are well under way to bend the Bible to meet the requirements for censorship. Visitors can read or post passages from the Bible under the categories such as slavery, inaccuracies and "destroys families."

Shakespeare is stretching as we speak--no doubt he will be bending to censorship shortly.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Changing shape of the Bending Bible

Christianity in the U.S. is evolving.

An early start to the 2008 presidential election and the death of Rev. Jerry Falwell last week brings this evolution into new focus. What does it mean that the leading GOP presidential candidate, Rudy Guiliani, is pro-choice? What does it mean if a large number of Christians are beginning to support a liberal Christian Democrat, Sen. Barack Obama? Will Christianity play a similar role in redefining the Republican platform as Falwell's Moral Majority did in the 80's?

An article today in the New York Times suggests that the baby boomer generation is seizing this moment of transition in the U.S. to shift the Christian focus away from issues such as abortion and same-sex marriages to issues such as global warming and the AIDS epidemic. It is the laid-back style of Rev. Rick Warren and Rev. Bill Hybels rather than Pat Robertson and James Dobson who are rousing the social and political energy of Christians.

Young Christian activist such as Gabe Lyons, are not as interested in influencing politics. "I believe politics just isn’t as important to younger evangelicals as it has been for the older generations because we recognize from experience that politics does not shape the morality of a culture,” Lyons told the NYT. “It simply reflects what the larger culture wants.”

With that view in mind, Lyons has founded the Fermi Project, a "broad collective" of Christians collaborating to incrementally shift "the conscious of the culture over time." Fermi's projects include Rwanda Clean Water and Advent Conspiracy, which hopes to alter the way Christmas is celebrated by "resisting the empire when they tell us to buy more and more for ourselves [and] re-distributing our wealth so others can see the greatness of God's gift Giving ourselves relationally just as he gave himself."

In a short essay entitled Influencing Culture: An Opportunity for the Church (PDF), Lyons lays out the "cultural mandate" that Christians have to "restore God's creation." He argues that because the Seven Channels of Cultural Influence (business, government, media, church, arts & entertainment, education and the social sector) produce the ideas that shape the moral fiber of a nation, Christians should claim a stake in every avenue of cultural influence. Just like the "Homosexual Movement" tapped into all channels of cultural influence to shift the cultural perception of homosexuality as "abnormal and abhorrent in society, to being an acceptable and normal alternative life-style" so should Christians utilize all cultural means available.

Lyons' insight are hardly innovative and certainly not new (as a cursory glimpse at the history of Western civilization would quickly prove) but, as the NYT article highlights today, at this moment in U.S. history they feel new.

Unfortunately, Lyons' essay is vague on the details of the cultural shifts he has in mind as though Christians speak with one mind when converting the Bible into an idealistic social model. Any reader of Bible Bending would know that that is hardly the case. Still, the enthusiasm for innovation seems genuine. I for one look forward to watching this evolution. As Matt Drudge would say: Developing...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Indecent Exposure to the Bible

The China Post (CHINA): Despite receiving hundreds of letters calling for the Bible to be classified as an indecent publication, Hong Kong's Television and Licensing Authority (TELA) will not re-classify the Bible. In a statement released today, TELA representatives said, "[The Bible] had not violated standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable members of the community."

News and Observer (NC): Answers in Genesis, the much anticipated creationist museum opening next week in northern Kentucky, depicts dinosaurs living side by side with humans a couple thousand of years ago. "The evolutionists use dinosaurs to promote their world view; we're going to use that to promote our world view," Answers in Genesis spokesman Mark Looy said. Dinosaur Bending?

Star Telegram (TX): Subscribes to the Star-Telegram will receive a free copy of the Bible with a special December edition only if requested. Initially, the International Bible Society, well-known for placing Bibles in hotel and hospital rooms, hoped to include a Bible in all copies of the special-edition but after readers complained the extra reading material will now be optional.

TIME magazine: In other news of unwanted Bible-gifting, the ACLU filed another lawsuit against a New Orleans school district that allowed Gideon Bibles to be handed out during school hours. Previously the same school district has been sued for coercing students with pizza to attend a course on Christianity over the lunch period.

Columbus Dispatch (OH): State legislatures in Ohio received a reminder this week that guest ministers are not allowed to evangelize or speak on political topics. While the Supreme Court forbids government-sponsored public prayer, in 1983 made an exception for prayer inside the confines of Congressional or state legislative. A federal district in Indiana banned the practice of invoking the name of Jesus in 2005; that decision has been appealed.

Times Leader
(PA):In a poll conducted by the Bible Literacy Project, American teens are in desperate need of some Bible-education. The Times Leader reports that "0f the more than 1,000 teens polled, only a third could pick out a quotation from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and 25 percent didn’t think that the Old Testament’s King David was king of the Jews." The Bible Literacy Project has received attention lately for its insistence that the Bible should be an essential text in the American education system. Meanwhile, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against a Texas school district for including an elective Bible course that it describes as "basically a Sunday School class within the walls of a public school."

Blogger Watch
  • The Neo-neocon asks: The Jews had forty years to wander through the wilderness before reaching paradise, why not give Iraqis longer than a couple of months?

  • Kevin McCullough of TownHall asks: "Why do liberals desire so much to be measured by biblical standards when it is obvious they do not care about them?"