Theology on Tap

theology_on_tapTheology on Tap – Logan is meeting every Monday at 6:30pm this term.  I am presenting at the next meeting (Monday March 13) on Religion and the Public Square.  Newman Center social hall (basement of Newman Center, on corner of 800E and 800N, Logan).

Some snacks and drinks are provided, but feel free to bring your own beverage (adult or otherwise).

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Stations of the Cross during Lent

I will be helping lead the Stations of the Cross (according to the method of St Francis of Assisi) every Friday during Lent, noon at the St Jerome Chapel / Newman Center.  It is a beautiful and solemn devotion.  All are welcome.

Click here for a nice history of the Stations of the Cross (Via Dolorosa), a devotion that has roots in the very early Church.

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March for Life

It has become cliche to gripe about liberal bias in the media, true as it may remain.  But given the extraordinary amount of attention paid to the “Women’s March” last week, I could not help myself and was keen to see how much coverage the March for Life would receive.

The Washington Times compared media coverage of the Women’s March this year to the March for Life last year and found that the Women’s March received 129 times more coverage.  The major news networks combined to spend 1:15:18 talking about the Women’s March, but last year only one major network even mentioned the March for Life, and dedicated only 35 seconds (22 seconds of which covered a group of high school kids who got stuck in a blizzard on the way home).

Perhaps this is because the Women’s March drew so many more people than the March for Life?  The Women’s March drew an estimated 500,000 in Washington DC.  Certainly worthy of considerable media attention, particularly since as many as 2 million attended marches around the country.  And we are in a very interesting political moment, so lots of coverage is totally justified.  Add to this that Trump has said – and perhaps done – awful things about women, and the large demonstrations are obviously newsworthy.  (Though the scarcity of outcry – and even the willingness to victim blame – with respect to Bill Clinton’s history obviously raises questions of uneven treatment).

And the March for Life last year was much smaller, given that a blizzard dumped 2 feet on Washington and made travel very difficult (the March for Life, I suspect rather more than the Women’s March, depends on people bussing in from all over the country).  But in the previous 5 years, the March for Life has drawn between 400,000 and 650,000 people.  Not that anyone would know this, since it hardly gets mentioned in the media.  In fact, if you google largest ever marches on Washington, the March for Life is not even listed – despite the fact that marches with many fewer (200,000) make the list.

I have not been able to find a crowd estimate for the March for Life this year, though somehow every media outlet had ready crowd estimates for the Women’s March.  Most news stories simply report that “thousands” attended, which cannot be read other than as an intentional understatement.  One said the crowds appeared larger in recent years, suggesting that the event may have been larger than the D.C. Women’s March.

And media coverage was predictably uneven again this year.  On the day of the Women’s March, I counted 4 news stories at the top of the page on nbcnews.com, including it being the featured story all day.  Early stories gushed “as many as 200,000 were in attendance”, though later figures pushed that up to 500,000.  Stories continued for two more days.  So how much coverage of the March for Life?  On the day of the March, I saw one story on nbcnews.com, and you had to scroll down a bit to find it.

It should be noted that the Women’s March was not really a march for women, it was a march for some women of a particular political disposition – namely that who are aggressively pro-abortion.  Pro-life feminists were not allowed to participate.  The rigidness and fanaticism of pro abortion feminism was even mocked by Saturday Night Live (hardly a conservative outfit) in their news segment last weekend.

So did the radically pro-abortion Women’s March represent American women?  Not really.  According to a Real Clear Politics article, 77% of American women support limiting abortion to the first trimester or earlier (higher % than men).  83% of women support banning international funding of abortion (same as men).  61% of women think it is important to restrict abortion in some way (higher percentage than men).  59% of American women say that abortion is morally wrong.  A large majority of men and women who say they are “pro-choice” actually support restrictions on abortion.  And nearly half of women (46%) identify as “pro-life”.  So the Women’s March – whose leadership actively excluded and prohibited pro-life feminists from marching with them –  excluded 46% of women.  Hardly, then, a march representing [all] women.  In fact, the abortion views of the leadership of the march are wildly out of step with the overwhelming majority of women in America.

60% of American women call themselves “feminists”, though it is interesting that older women are more likely to identify as “feminist” than younger women (69% of women 50-54 vs 51% of women 35-49).  Perhaps this is because younger women realize, as the SNL skit noted, that there are “levels to this” and that some levels of it are pretty kooky.  Of course a much larger number of women are feminists in the sense of wanting equal rights for women (equal pay, etc), but they do not assume the label “feminist” because of the perceived (and often real) radical gender and abortion politics one finds among “feminist” leaders.  All of this to say – the feminists leaders speaking at the Women’s March, like Cecile Richards and Gloria Steinem – are out of touch with many self-proclaimed feminists and wildly out of touch with most women.

Finally, not a few observant writers – including many on the left – have noted that the Women’s March was a very white affair, whereas the pro-life movement is far more diverse.  Latino Americans and African Americans are generally more opposed to abortion than the rest of the American population.  Most promising is that younger people are more likely to support abortion restrictions and to identify as pro life.  Rather than millennials being more progressive on abortion than their parents (as one might expect), they are more conservative on almost every measure (how many identify as pro-life, how many support restrictions on abortion, etc). It is also noteworthy that pro-life millennial are less likely to be religious than are older pro-lifers.  All of this, combined with other demographic shifts, suggests that the pro-life movement of the future will be more diverse, younger and also more secular.

But the most relevant number in this debate is 58 million.  That is the number of children who have been killed in the womb since Roe v Wade.  58 million people who, were they allowed to come to term, would have lived a life every bit as human as yours or mine.  If a society is judged by how well it defended those who were most innocent and defenseless, America will not be judged well.  Even if one might wish to argue that abortion is at times a justified evil, many signs at the Women’s March suggested a shocking callousness to the moral gravity of ending a human life.  Some signs proudly joked about abortion.  Most signs were all about “me” – “my body, my choice” individual rights type stuff.  But this forgets that when a man and women come together and a child is produced, it is not all about you.  There is another human life on the scene.  Unfortunately, Americans are not having this serious conversation, and the media is not doing its part to help foster it.

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Martin Luther King Jr

On this celebration of Martin Luther King Jr., it is worth re-reading one of his most famous letters – the Letter from Birmingham Jail.  First published in the Atlantic, they republished it today here.

One thing a re-reading will show is that the contemporary appropriation of MLK has banished the moral foundations which he himself saw that as necessary for morally justified civil disobedience.  MLK Jr appeals, in almost every case, to the natural law.  He specifically cites St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas in this letter on the natural law, as he defends his civil disobedience by explaining that the segregation laws are unjust –   precisely because, and indeed only because, they violate the eternal and natural law.

Something else I find noteworthy.  When I learned about Martin Luther King Jr in school as as child, he had been completely secularized.  That he was a Christian preacher was a historical footnote.  It is clear from reading this letter (and indeed all of his works), that MLK did not see his Christianity as a footnote.  Quite to the contrary, his whole work followed from his Christian calling, and it is in explicitly Christian terms that he understood all of his own work.

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Tolkien and Catholicism discussion

Totolkiennight (Monday Nov 14) I will lead a discussion on Catholicism and the Lord of the Rings.  USU Catholic Newman Center (795 N 8000 E), 7pm.

All are welcome

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Election panel discussion

1-election

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Christian – Mormon dialogue

Given where I teach, the question about the relationship between Mormonism and Christianity is something that comes up quite often in my classes and in general religious discussion.  For those interested in that discussion, this article may be of interest.  The author, Richard Mouw, is an evangelical who is very Mormon friendly.  Here he takes up a big sticking point – the LDS claim that man and God are members of the same species.  Perhaps the most famous expression of this LDS belief is the so-called ‘Lorenzo Snow couplet’, which says, “As man now is, God once was; As God is, man may be.”

I think there is no doubt, and Mouw seems to agree, that orthodox Christians simply cannot sign on to the view that human beings and God are members of the same species or that God the Father was, at one point, just as we are now.  A clear ontological difference between Creator and created is basic to orthodox Christianity and indeed orthodox Jewish teaching.  If Mormons believe the Snow couplet on its plain meaning, then Mormonism is a religion fundamentally distinct from the rest of the Christian world.

But Mouw proposes that the LDS church is actually backing away from the more controversial, heterodox (from the point of view of the rest of Christianity) part of the famous/infamous Lorenzo Snow couplet, that “as man is, God once was”.  If he is right, perhaps LDS theology is tracking toward a more conventional and orthodox set of beliefs that would be accepted as ‘Christian’ by the rest of Christianity.

I am frankly not informed enough on internal LDS theological debates and internal decisions about belief within the LDS hierarchy to have a view much worth sharing about where Mormonism is going.  I can, however, say this: in my experience with teaching thousands of LDS students over the last 12 years, my sense is that an overwhelming majority of my LDS students  believe what is contained in the Snow couplet.  Some if not most consider it a central belief (along with other related beliefs: that God is material, etc).  My LDS students who seem the most devout and informed have, in every case I can think of, deeply believed the doctrine contained in the Snow couplet and consider it fundamental to the Mormon faith.  In view of this, it seems odd for Gordon Hinckley to have said, regarding the claim that “God the Father was once a man”, that he was not sure if it was really taught (“I don’t know that we teach it, I don’t know that we emphasize it.”).  Given how widely held those beliefs are among my LDS students, it is hard to believe it is not taught or that it has not been a topic of discussion for some time.

And it is not hard to find echoes of the Snow couplet in popular and contemporary LDS works.  Terryl and Fiona Givens are widely respected scholars and very well regarded by all of the devout Mormons I know.  There are very clear shades of the Snow couplet in their book The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life.  Indeed, that book dedicates most of a chapter to arguing that a wide range of orthodox Christian thinkers (they cite Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, Kierkegaard, and Weil) are wrong to think that God is metaphysically “other” than human beings.  Granted, the Givens are not part of the LDS hierarchy and so (a) their views are not authoritative for Mormons and (b) perhaps they have not received the internal memo suggesting that Mormons begin to de-emphasize the point.  But the book was published some 15 years after Gordon Hinckley’s remarks, so it is hard to imagine Mormons of the stature of the Givens would not have received the message.  All of that said, the main point here is that this example of a widely read book of popular LDS theology suggests that, for most of the Mormon world – including some of her intellectuals – the Snow Couplet is not being de-emphasized and re-interpreted.

So if LDS leadership is trying to genuinely back away from the first part of the Snow couplet and the claim that God and man are members of the same species, as well as reframing the second part of the couplet in terms of pretty ordinary Christian doctrines of theosis, then that shift in belief has not yet trickled down to the ordinary Mormon faithful.  And, if that is all so, it is understandable enough.  It takes time for shifts in belief to take hold across a culture.  Or perhaps Mouw’s interpretation of LDS theology and its trajectory is just wrong.

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