Tuesday, January 13, 2009

dedication / explanation

In this space, I hope to share how faith and reason inform my opinions about politics and policy.

I have many friends who are scientists, logicians, analysts of many stripes – people who value reason and logic above all else. When I tell them I’m Catholic, they’re often shocked, or they don’t know what to make of me. They might accept it by ignoring it.

These same friends might think of Christians as group that, in the political arena, behave irrationally, inexplicably. They know that Christians comprise a significant chunk of the American electorate, but they might consider it a chunk unreachable, maybe a chunk that stands in the way of progress.

This blog is for those friends, and others like them. Sometimes we will agree, and sometimes we will disagree. My point is that in either case, we should be able to have a respectful conversation about it. Christians don’t need to be a black box.

This blog is also for Christians who think I’m a crazy liberal, for you to see that I have not abandoned my faith to embrace socially liberal stances.

Either way, I hope you take the time to read and comment on these (probably infrequent) entries. I have lived much of my life in the slim overlap between faith and science, and it has been a lonely place because I have been afraid to have these conversations. I’m brave enough now, if you’re open to it.


  1. You already get credit for proper use of "comprise!" :D

  2. I love this idea! I can't wait to read your posts and hear what you're thinking.

  3. I agree with your first bullet point. An educated person knows something about the major religions of the world, and that this is something that should be taught in school. In sixth grade, in public school in Virginia, our social studies class spent several months studying religions of the world. There was discussion of the beliefs and practices of many different religions, with no bias towards any of them being correct or incorrect. I think this is a good thing. We also studied the bible as literature english class in high school (this was a private school), but but I liked this less. Partly because we used a ridiculous abridgement of the bible (The Torah had 4 books, and in Exodus, there were 3 plagues! No, I'm not kidding!), and partly because I was uncomfortable studying the holy book of only a couple of religions. "We, the English department curriculum committee, all of whom are Christian or Jewish, have decided that the holy books of Christianity and Judaism are sufficiently great literature to be studied in English class, but the holy books of all other religions are not sufficiently good as literature to be worth studying".

    I disagree with your second bullet point. What wisdom there is in ancient holy books mostly concerns ethics. Schools shouldn't be teaching one particular ethical system; they should be teaching useful ways to think about ethical questions, and how to examine ethical beliefs and arguments critically. Using a religious holy book as a source in doing this is a bad idea, as many of the students will then feel themselves prohibited on religious grounds from thinking critically about the arguments presented and their validity. Anything wise enough that it should be discussed in the schools will also be available in nonreligious sources, and using those sources is preferable, as it is more conducive to critical thought.

    I disagree with the statement that "atheism is a religion" that is the cornerstone of your third bullet point. The reasons are long enough that I think I will post them in my own blog, and post a pointer here when I've done so.

    The statement "Christians find abortion heinous" seems to me to be factually inaccurate. Historically, the beliefs of Christian leaders varied over time, with beliefs such as "Abortion is fine during the first 40 or 80 days of pregnancy", and "Abortion is a sin, but not nearly as serious a sin as, say, oral sex, or contraception" were at least as common as "Abortion is a grave sin". As to beliefs today, the fact that a (slim) majority of Americans favor legal abortion, while the vast majority of Americans are Christian, shows that many, many Christians to not consider abortion to be that heinous.

  4. Re: Andy's comment about studying only holy books of a few religions:

    Well, I don't know about the Torah, but the version of the Book of Job I studied in English class came from the King James Bible, which has a notable place in the development of the English language, so I would say it deserves a place in English classes for that reason alone, if nothing else. Language-based bias might be as much a factor here as religion-based bias.

  5. Re: holy books...

    Firstly, one function of reading the Bible/Torah in English lit is to give a foundation for literary allusion in other great works of literature (much as one studies a little Greek mythology for that reason). Religious implications aside, Samson and Delilah are referred to all over the place in literature (and even contemporary film), and as an English teacher you might want your students to know those references.

    Secondly, on the topic of wisdom from ancient (and maybe not-so-ancient) faiths, I'm not saying we should only look there for writings about ethics, but I do think there's a HUGE amount of good stuff you ignore if you leave out religious writings (and I'm not just talking about "official"/canonical holy books -- what about all those Reformation-era writings?).