What Is Christianity For?

Aug 22 2014 @ 8:35pm
by Matthew Sitman


That’s the question Rod Dreher asks in a searching reply to my thoughts earlier this week on Christianity and modern life. Some of Rod’s response is a gentle correction to my characterization of the “Benedict Option,” which, in his original essay, he summarizes as “communal withdrawal from the mainstream, for the sake of sheltering one’s faith and family from corrosive modernity and cultivating a more traditional way of life.” To take one example, I described Eagle River, Alaska, as a remote village, while it’s actually in suburban Anchorage – I regret getting that wrong. More importantly, Rod argues that I created something of a straw man, portraying those who pursue the Benedict Option as running for the hills while the world burns. My rhetoric did slip in that direction, and there are nuances to the ways the Benedict Option can be pursued I didn’t capture in my original post. Not all who favor it, and certainly not Rod, argue for “strict separatism” as a response to modern life.

The deeper issue Rod raises, however, goes beyond haggling over this or that detail of the Benedict Option and its various instantiations. Really, arguments about the Benedict Option amount to arguments over the place of, and prospects for, Christianity in the modern world – how Christians should try to live faithfully in our day and age. Here’s the gauntlet Rod throws down:

The way a Christian thinks about sex and sexuality is a very, very good indication of what he thinks about living out the faith in modernity. The reason it is so central is because it reveals, more than any other question now, how a Christian relates to authority and moral order. Matt is a kind and honest interlocutor, and I sincerely appreciate his attention, so please don’t take this in any way snarky or hostile towards him or Christians who share his viewpoint … but the questions have to be put strongly: Where is the evidence for being hopeful about Christianity’s place in modern life? Why should anyone think that the message of Jesus will retain its power in modernity if a Christian experiences little conflict between his faith and the world as it is?

To get to the heart of it: What is Christianity for?

Those obviously are very big questions, but at least a few points can be made to clarify how I approach these matters.

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by Dish Staff

Frum blames it on reform efforts. He argues that “for 50 years, Americans have reformed their government to allow ever more participation, ever more transparency, ever more reviews and appeals, and ever fewer actual results”:

Journalists often lament the absence of presidential leadership. What they are really observing is the weakening of congressional followership. Members of the liberal Congress elected in 1974 overturned the old committee system in an effort to weaken the power of southern conservatives. Instead—and quite inadvertently—they weakened the power of any president to move any program through any Congress. Committees and subcommittees multiplied to the point where no single chair has the power to guarantee anything. This breakdown of the committee system empowered the rank-and-file member—and provided the lobbying industry with more targets to influence. Committees now open their proceedings to the public. Many are televised. All of this allows lobbyists to keep a close eye on events—and to confirm that the politicians to whom they have contributed deliver value.

In short, in the name of “reform,” Americans over the past half century have weakened political authority. Instead of yielding more accountability, however, these reforms have yielded more lobbying, more expense, more delay, and more indecision.

Face Of The Day

Aug 22 2014 @ 7:42pm
by Dish Staff


Noriah Daud, the mother of late co-pilot Ahmad Hakimi Hanapi, who perished aboard flight MH17 when it was shot down in eastern Ukraine, attends a burial ceremony in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur on August 22, 2014. Black-clad Malaysians paused for a minute of silence August 22 on a nationwide day of mourning held to welcome home the first remains of its 43 citizens killed in the MH17 disaster. By Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images.

Our coverage of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is here.

by Dish Staff

Brandon Ambrosino interviews Nicholas Opiyo, a Ugandan attorney who helped overturn the country’s infamous anti-gay law. He describes the harassment Ugandan gays face:

You’re not going to see public flogging of gay people in the streets. That would be a rarity, and even if it occurs, because of the nature of our media, it’s not going to get reported widely. What, however, happens is persistent, consistent, daily discrimination of the smallest nature possible. The shopkeeper at the kiosk next to your house, the boda boda guy, they keep heckling at you. People keep telling your family and brothers about you. They tell your family they will not come to your burials. People sneering at you, saying negative things to you. People pointing at your back: you cannot go to public places without being pointed at.

There is also the blackmail and extortion by police and security forces.

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The Ebola Outbreak Grows Worse

Aug 22 2014 @ 6:42pm
by Dish Staff

Julia Belluz flags an eye-opening chart on the growing severity of the Ebola crisis:

Ebola Chart

The situation is dire in West Point, a Liberian slum:

Tens of thousands of people are trapped in a slum in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, after officials put the neighborhood under strict quarantine to prevent the spread of Ebola. Clashes broke out on Wednesday, as riot police and soldiers attempted to barricade angry residents. Days earlier, locals had raided a holding center for suspected Ebola patients, pulling out mattresses covered in blood, which could spread the disease.

Per Liljas provides more details:

On Saturday, a health center was looted and Ebola patients sent running, after a rumor spread that infected people were being brought in from other parts of the country. Others refused to believe the disease existed. “There is no Ebola,” some protesters attacking the clinic shouted. “There is a high level of disbelief in the government in West Point,” Sanj Srikanthan, the International Rescue Committee’s emergency response director in Liberia, tells TIME. “The government has made a concerted effort to reach out to community leaders, youth groups and churches with the message that the only way to contain the disease is to understand it. But some people still believe Ebola is a conspiracy, and those people we need to reach.”

Raphael Frankfurter is unsurprised “that aggressive, opaque public health measures are met with suspicion, resistance, and anger”:

In public health, the emphasis on “harmful behaviors” arising from ignorance fails to acknowledge the complex socioeconomic factors and structural conditions that can lead to poor health.

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Should ISIS Be Censored? Ctd

Aug 22 2014 @ 6:11pm
by Dish Staff

Glenn Greenwald is upset at Twitter for censoring the video of James Foley’s beheading:

Given the savagery of the Foley video, it’s easy in isolation to cheer for its banning on Twitter. But that’s always how censorship functions: it invariably starts with the suppression of viewpoints which are so widely hated that the emotional response they produce drowns out any consideration of the principle being endorsed. It’s tempting to support criminalization of, say, racist views as long as one focuses on one’s contempt for those views and ignores the serious dangers of vesting the state with the general power to create lists of prohibited ideas. That’s why free speech defenders such as the ACLU so often represent and defend racists and others with heinous views in free speech cases: because that’s where free speech erosions become legitimized in the first instance when endorsed or acquiesced to.

The question posed by Twitter’s announcement is not whether you think it’s a good idea for people to see the Foley video. Instead, the relevant question is whether you want Twitter, Facebook and Google executives exercising vast power over what can be seen and read.

Jay Caspian Kang joins the debate, coming down on the same side as Greenwald:

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The View From Your Window

Aug 22 2014 @ 5:33pm
by Dish Staff

Lake Lodge, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. 716pm

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, 7.16 pm

Is ISIS A Threat To Us?

Aug 22 2014 @ 4:46pm
by Dish Staff

Chuck Hagel thinks so:

The group “is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They’re beyond just a terrorist group,” Hagel said in response to a question about whether the Islamic State posed a similar threat to the United States as al Qaeda did before Sept. 11, 2001. “They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They’re tremendously well-funded. This is beyond anything that we’ve seen,” Hagel said, adding that “the sophistication of terrorism and ideology married with resources now poses a whole new dynamic and a new paradigm of threats to this country.”

Hagel’s comments added to the mismatch between the Obama administration’s increasingly aggressive rhetoric and its current game plan for how to take on the group in Iraq and Syria, which so far involves limited airstrikes and some military assistance to the Kurdish and Iraqi forces fighting the militants. It has also requested from Congress $500 million to arm moderate rebel factions in Syria. But for now, the United States is not interested in an Iraqi offer to let U.S. fighter jets operate out of Iraqi air bases.

Retired Gen. John Allen seconds Hagel’s assessment, arguing that the US has the means to destroy ISIS and a moral and security-based obligation to do so:

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Mental Health Break

Aug 22 2014 @ 4:20pm
by Dish Staff

(Hat tip: Tastefully Offensive)

The Planet Hacking Rules

Aug 22 2014 @ 3:57pm
by Dish Staff

All this week Brian Merchant has been reporting from Berlin’s Climate Engineering Conference. On Monday, he brought word that “Professor Steve Rayner, the co-director of the Oxford Geoengineering Programme, has unveiled a proposal to create the first serious framework for future geoengineering experiments”:

It’s a sign that what are still considered drastic and risky measures to combat climate change, like artificially injecting tiny particles into the Earth’s atmosphere to reflect sunlight back into space, are drifting further into the purview of mainstream science. The august scientific body has issued a call to create “an open and transparent review process that ensures such experiments have the necessary social license to operate.”

In a second post he discusses how, in “the international and academic communities, geoengineering is still something of a scientific non grata” because, for many, “even by floating the idea that climate change can be solved with a techno-fix, it’s presenting humanity with a get-out-of-jail-free card that could erode the impetus for tougher action”:

For better or for worse, we’re talking about hacking the planet.

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