A digest of interesting, entertaining, and otherwise worthwhile reads collected from around the web-o-sphere.
1) My Christ and Pop Culture colleague Alan Noble has written a pointed article calling out some pretty blatant falsehoods in Todd Starnes’ journalism, and explains why such reporting can be so dangerous.
Let me say that there are legitimate concerns and criticisms about religious freedom and these VA policies. They both seem excessive and unduly burdensome on an already overworked VA system. And we should consider why religious expression is banned from the public areas of these hospitals. But Starnes’ lies actually distract us from those conversations. Instead, we are off tilting at the ghosts of persecution windmills.
That’s the thing about sensationalism and exaggeration: it hurts real efforts to address real issues. But in this case, there’s more at risk. Starnes’ lies should remind us that for many people and companies, Christians are a market demographic. They know our fears, our values, and our desires.
Noble’s article has gotten quite a bit of positive response, and deservedly so. Unfortunately, it’s also caused him some grief; some have even gone so far as to awkwardly question his Christian faith. Which would be humorous if it wasn’t so sad.
2) Also on Christ and Pop Culture, James Hoskins considers how the upcoming Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate plays into our love for spectacle and culture war.
So, why is the historically false version of the Scopes trial forever “seared into the national consciousness,” while the true version is all but forgotten? Because we Americans love a political spectacle, especially if it involves religion. It’s more fun than the truth. And what better way to create a spectacle, than to hold a highly publicized debate that pits science against the Bible. That’s what the Scopes trial really was — a publicity stunt (in the form of a debate) to feed on our culture war prejudices and reinforce our oversimplifications of a highly complex issue.
3) OK, just one more Christ and Pop Culture piece, this time from Ben Bartlett, whose piece on “manliness” is one of the best things I’ve read concerning the topic.
…I love that conservative Bible scholars, despite good intentions, are being called to account for proscribing more than the Bible does. I love that women are bringing more creativity to the office, more wisdom to secular leadership roles, and more depth to politics. I’m perfectly happy with the fact that my last three bosses were women (one of whom is a godly spiritual mentor in my life). And I think it is wonderful that my daughter will have more than nursing and education to choose from as a career.
Still, I feel discouraged, for somewhere in the throngs of voices speaking to a thousand different gender topics, I am picking up these messages: You don’t matter. Your chivalry is and should be dead. You are not unique. Your lack of domestic knowledge makes you a failure. Your protective attitude toward women is rude. Your desire to be a hero is immature. Your wife is more important and valuable to your family than you are.
In other words, I feel the manhood I have aspired to all my life is viewed by society as backward and wrong. It is the last vestige of the old boys’ clubs patting themselves on the back. It is dead and gone, and I need to grow up.
4) Arvo Pärt’s “Für Alina” is one of the loveliest, most stirring pieces of music in the world. Brian Gillikin explains that it’s not just beautiful to listen to, though; “Für Alina” is also beautiful to read.
The two-page score of Für Alina is an artifact of human perfectionism. Visually, it lacks the shoulder-shrugged, pianistic flair of Rachmaninoff, the rococo loop-di-loop satisfaction of Bach, or the palm-on-forehead-“So-that’s-how-he-did-it!” of reading through Beethoven or Wagner. This work is Pärt at his most naked minimalism. The notes don’t even have stems. There are no time signatures, and the tempo marking — Ruhig, erhaben, in sich hineinhorchend (“peacefully, in an elevated and introspective manner”) — seems to imply a slow tempo while politely declining to say how slow. Easy enough for a child to play, yet so delicate that performing it well requires a very skilled touch, ear, and the patience of age. Somehow, when fully beheld, Für Alina is one of the most complete and arm-tingling-ly beautiful pieces of music ever.
5) Abigail Haworth writes on a disturbing trend in Japan: an increasing number of young Japanese are growing ambivalent towards sex and relationships.
Aversion to marriage and intimacy in modern life is not unique to Japan. Nor is growing preoccupation with digital technology. But what endless Japanese committees have failed to grasp when they stew over the country's procreation-shy youth is that, thanks to official shortsightedness, the decision to stay single often makes perfect sense. This is true for both sexes, but it’s especially true for women. “Marriage is a woman’s grave,” goes an old Japanese saying that refers to wives being ignored in favour of mistresses. For Japanese women today, marriage is the grave of their hard-won careers.
The trends in Japan may presage similar developments in many other countries, where birth rates are falling and single-ness is becoming more prevalent.
6) Sarah Flashing considers the strange case of a Satanic Temple that wants to install a monument to the devil alongside the Ten Commandments in the Oklahoma Capitol building.
How concerned should Christians be about this display? The fact is, we should have seen this coming. Arguing for Christian symbols in the public square on the basis of historical tradition merely opens us up to the furtherance of new traditions — many traditions we won't like. This is an example of an opening to views of a subculture of American society that despises Christianity and wishes for it to have zero influence in the wider culture. The appeal to fairness, equal access, and freedom to practice religion is protection for all worldviews in a pluralistic society like ours. We need to come to grips with that.
But in my opinion, here's the real story. Christians are eager to respond to these types of material depictions of Satan, often more eager to do that than respond to the godless ideas that are at the foundation of these depictions. This is an indictment of the Christian mind.
7) Historically speaking, church schisms are a dime a dozen… but an atheist church schism?
The squabbles led to a tiff and finally a schism between two factions within Sunday Assembly NYC. Jones reportedly told Moore that his faction was no longer welcome in the Sunday Assembly movement.
Moore promises that his group, Godless Revival, will be more firmly atheistic than the Sunday Assembly, which he now dismisses as “a humanistic cult.”
Nevertheless, the New York schism raises critical questions about the Sunday Assembly. Namely: Can the atheist church model survive? Is disbelief enough to keep a Sunday gathering together?
As someone who adheres to a tradition that (sadly) has experienced plenty of division over the years, I find this situation fascinating. It seems the tendency towards tribalism and the desire to adhere to “true dogma” runs through the hearts of human beings, regardless of how (ir)religious they are.
8) Chris Arnade has written a pointed piece in which he recounts his encounters with religion amongst the homeless and drug addicts, and concludes that atheism is “an intellectual luxury for the wealthy.”
In these last three years, out from behind my computers, I have been reminded that life is not rational and that everyone makes mistakes. Or, in Biblical terms, we are all sinners.
We are all sinners. On the streets the addicts, with their daily battles and proximity to death, have come to understand this viscerally. Many successful people don’t. Their sense of entitlement and emotional distance has numbed their understanding of our fallibility.
Soon I saw my atheism for what it is: an intellectual belief most accessible to those who have done well.
9) After 32 pounds of flour, over 100 individual tests, and 1,536 cookies, J. Kenji López-Alt found the best chocolate chip cookie recipe.
10) Stjepan Šejić finally explains how Batman is able to fit all of those gadgets into his utility belt.
Image via reMusik.org.