Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Darwin and the PoMo Creationists

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (whew, exhausting titles) just did a sophisticated poll on American attitudes toward creationism and the teaching of science in public schools.

They found that nearly two thirds of Americans are open to the teaching of creationism along with evolution in public school science classes.

The poll defined creationism by a number of statements including "living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time."

42% of the respondents held strict creationist views (world 4000 years old, etc, etc).

48% thought that humans developed through evolution, and about 20% of the overall total thought that evolution was guided by a Supreme Being.

The article didn't account for the other 10% of the population that didn't get with either option. I'm guessing they went with Gozer the Magnificent from "Ghost Busters."

Social scientists at Pew tried to explain why a lot of people who accept the overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution would be open to teaching creationism in the classroom.

One of them called it a reflection of "American pragmatism."

"It's like they're saying, 'Some people see it this way, some see it that way, so just teach it all and let the kids figure it out.'"

Since when do scientists talk like ValGirls?

I hope the pragmatic explanation is true, but I wonder.

Has the post-modern movement and its attacks on reason and science gotten a little out of hand? Sometimes useful reform movements can get so out there that they become worse than what they hope to replace. Even when the post-modernism wears a conservative Christian disguise. Maybe especially then.

How can 42% of Americans believe that the earth is 4000 years old and that present species have existed since the beginning of time? Wake up, little Suzy....

Seems like a surprising number of people don't grasp their basic science and even fewer grasp their basic biblical literature like the profound and truthful myths of Genesis that were never meant to be scientific descriptions.

I'd love to hear any thoughts on this.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Rebecca at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs

Just got back from a mini summmer vacation.

Our President Junior W. Bush just broke Ronald Reagan's all time presidential vacation record, so I don't feel so bad about taking the time off. Bonzo did it in 8 years but W "stayed the course" and "achieved victory" in a little over half that time.

I'm proud of an evangelical president who really understands the value of a good long sabbath. I expect him to introduce legislation soon that will give all workers Thursday through Sunday off to celebrate the Lord's Day.


Andrew and I messed around for a couple of days bowling and throwing discs and hanging out.

Then Rebecca and I went on a two day trip up to Salida, one of my favorite mountain towns, followed by a short stop in Colorado Springs--the home of the fundamentalist Focus on the Family and the surprisingly unassuming US Olympic Training Center.

After that I got on my own for three days of peak bagging and mountain biking in Central Colorado.

We did a family finale at Dillon Lake today and had our first taste of fundy fast food.

Really nice time all the way around. I'm ready to get back to work.

Focus on the French Fries

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Love By Numbers

I'm heading out on vacation till the end of August, so I thought I'd post some final thoughts before the end of the month.

Taliban soldiers in the Pakistani/Afghan border region clearly haven't seen any commercials. Chinese peasants in the People's Republic probably share that same distinction.

As for the rest of us, online dating services are now a fact of life.

G.K. Chesterton, an early 20th century English journalist who was both funny and wise, once remarked, "I've heard that in America couples can be divorced because of lack of compatibility. I'm surprised anyone is still married there. I've known a lot of successful marriages but none that were compatible."

EHarmony promises to match singles on the basis of "29 scientific measures of compatibility." From their commercials sounds like a lot of people have tied the knot after filling in the online survey and charging their credit cards.

So far this post probably sounds like I'm going to write a cheap shot at services like eharmony.

But I don't feel that way at all.

I'm very interested in this whole trend of online dating/marriage, or maybe even more accurately, anonymous speed courtship.

Eharmony is simply the most prominent service like this, but there are lots of online dating services and speed dating stuff too.

Speed daters sign up online for events where they have 7.5 minute dates with 5-10 prospective partners. They run through those dates one after another and then fill out a form that tells whether they want to see any of those people again. If two people anonymously indicate on their forms that they want a second date, the speed dating firms notify both parties and encourage them to get together.

While the eharmony approach depends on quantifiable measures of compatibility, the speed dating approach depends on the importance of immediate intuition and sheer volume of potential partners. The idea in speed dating is that people can tell quickly if somebody is wrong for them and that they have the best chance of finding somebody who is right for them if they get a chance to meet a whole lot of people who are equally serious about finding a mate.

Some serious observers think both of these approaches work pretty well in getting folks together.

The great selling point of online romance services is speed and anonymity. They offer a way to quickly meet people who are very similar without having to go through the face to face agony of rejection that make church singles groups or bars such potentially painful experiences.

Here's something that makes it even more interesting. Religious people--who were motivated at least in part to help spiritually committed people to find each other--founded the leading online dating approaches.

A Jewish rabbi and his wife started the speed dating trend. They wanted to find a good way for committed Jewish singles to meet each other and struck upon the speed dating concept. It caught on and expanded well beyond their original intent but it started in a fully religious context.

Eharmony was founded by Neil Clark Warren, a committed evangelical Christian. He was a professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary (while I was at Fuller)before he started the service.

He wanted to help committed Christians find one another, and he also wanted to contribute to strengthening marriages in the culture in general. Given his training and expertise, he thought he could help people "cut to the chase"
and eliminate a lot of the wasted time and bad romantic decisions people tend to make.

Lots of cultures arrange marriages, even today, though hardly any arrange them on the basis of compatibility or personality profiles.

Other cultures, including our own, have long valued the mystery and chance of romance and have relied on strong marriage vows and powerful religious institutions to help people stay together even when they aren't compatible. Some people think the greatness of marriage can be found in the long term friendship and affection that develops between people who aren't very compatible but who commit to living with each other for a lifetime. Some of those same people value the great potential social good of having people who aren't alike crossing obvious social barriers by getting married.

Other people think the traditional take leads to lots of silent suffering or to the dislocation of divorce.

What does it say, if anything, about churches and other communities if people feel the need to find a mate online?

I won't comment on this one till I get back from my vacation, but feel free to discuss and debate this one on my blog space.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Grizzly Man: Dead Man Talking

Jan, Andrew and I saw "Grizzly Man" today.

GM is a documentary about Timothy Treadwell, an enviromental activist dedicated to protecting wildlife who lived unarmed among grizzly bears in Alaska's grizzly infested Katmai National Park for 13 years. A grizzly killed and ate he and his girlfriend at the end of his final summer there.

Treadwell video taped over 100 hours of his experiences during his last 5 years among the grizzlies. Werner Hertzog, a German director I like who specializes in movies about obsessed heroes, edited Treadwell's footage and adds interviews with his friends, family, co-workers, and critics.

It's truly unique and well worth seeing.

Some brief takes on GM:

It's disturbing yet also pretty hilarious a lot of the time. Hertzog--who appears as himself in the documentary and gives the voice of God narration--is obviously European in his approach. He's ironic and open-minded but also a little pretentious at a few unfortunate moments that take away from the power of the whole thing. His accent reminded me of Mike Meyers' German uber-hip character "Dieter" from SNL. I kept expecting Hertzog to start dancing to techno while offering to let the people he interviewed "touch my pet monkey."

Treadwell comes across as a kind of wierdly funny Pee Wee Herman version of Henry David Thoreau in the midst of a much more violent and dangerous Walden Pond. He hated "civilized" life and was willing to go to almost any lengths to escape it.

Before he went to Alaska he grew up in Florida as an All-American boy and then lived in LA trying to make a career as an actor. He became a drug addict and alcoholic along the way.

Then, like John Newton, a slave ship captain who converted to Christianity and eventually wrote "Amazing Grace," Treadwell left his dissolute life behind in order to devote himself to a higher calling.

He knew, along with Karl Rove, the value of Christian myths. Everybody likes the tale of the drunk frat boy who converts and becomes a crusader for goodness and right.

But in Treadwell's case, it's nature--and grizzly bears in particular--that give him a reason to live rather than God or the glory of American empire.

So he begins living among grizzlies and imagines that he's saving them.

He brought along his video camera and recorded himself and the grizzlies in some of the most astonishing footage I've ever seen.

He lived very directly among the grizzlies and other wildlife with no protection other than a flimsy tent and his own wits and intuition.

But he also recorded his most private thoughts and emotions, some of which are profane and disturbing. He comes across as troubled and obviously self-destructive. Like a lot of addicts and recovering addicts he battled self-absorption and delusional thinking. More than a few people who watch GM will wonder if his whole grizzly adventure was simply a way of taking his own life while going out in a blaze of glory.

In spite of all that, quite a few of his introspective moments and unhinged rants are really funny. One summer very little rain falls, which begins to kill some of the grizzlies and other animals that Treadwell has gotten to know well. He films himself begging God for rain even though he isn't religious and isn't sure exactly who to address. So he covers his bases and asks/demands help from "Christ Man, Buddha Dude, Allah, and That Floaty Hindu Thing."

To be fair, though, he obviously never thought that many of those "private moments" in his footage would end up in a documentary distributed around the world. How would any of us like our private thoughts and worst moments--which we thought we could edit out before the final version--open like a book for the whole world to see?

The effect, though, of those parts of the documentary is reminiscent of the strange attraction of "reality tv" and Oprah culture, but taken to an extreme.

Hertzog demonstrates some restraint and thankfully chooses not to show images of Treadwell's remains or play the audio version of his death. The attached lens cap on Treadwell's still-running camera blocked any visual version of his violent end but the microphone was working fine and picked up every detail. The bizarre county coroner--who would fit right in on the Addams Family--used the sound recording immediately after the deaths to reconstruct what happened.

Speaking of extremes, Treadwell's also a poster boy for "X Games" culture where the more extreme and dangerous it is the more authentic it is. If civilization is all about guard rails, what could be more heroic and edgy than living with grizzlies?

He probably sounds like a whack job by now. He was a whack job. But he was also--in his own way--a courageous visionary.

He did something nobody else has ever done--living for many years succesfully 24/7 among arguably the most powerful predators in the world, mostly alone and without protection of any kind. He knew the risks he was running and had to be careful at every moment. Even one mistake would have killed him. One mistake did kill him.

His critics in the documentary strongly challenge his approach as naive and destructive. They wonder if he did more harm than good to the grizzlies by crossing the ancient dividing line between humans and animals. They--including the director Hertzog--question the fact that he imagined nature as mostly benign rather than "red in tooth and claw." They make good points and I agree with many of them.

But in the end, even if you're put off by aspects of his personality and worry about his sanity, it's hard not to like--or at least respect--somebody who accomplishes the ecological equivalent of landing on the moon for the first time. As truly wierd and deeply troubled as he was, there was something authentically great about Treadwell.

He's already a semi-legend in the outdoor community, but if he'd done what he did 150 years ago I think he might have been remembered along with other great amateur naturalists like John Muir. His life among the grizzlies would have come down to us in more positive generalities along with some colorful stories about his eccentricities. That would only have been possible, though, in an era with no video cameras and no obsession with therepeutic psychology.

Some people may be born at the wrong time and in the wrong place. If so, Treadwell was one of them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Some Good Words

If you're going to read, might as well read something valuable. Most of us don't have a lot of time to give to books and literature, so making good choices is probably more important than ever.

My son Andrew and I are going through Clarence Jordan's Sermon on the Mount together.

Hard to think of better words than the Sermon on the Mount.

The most popular forms of conservative Christianity these days are only possible because Christians have forgotten about the Sermon on the Mount, or don't understand it, or don't believe it's practical and relevant.

Can't think of a better current reason to read it and try to make it your own.

The fact that Clarence Jordan (pictured above)is your guide makes it even more enticing.

Jordan founded Koinonia Farms in Georgia 1942. Koinonia was a working farm and a multi-racial Christian community committed to a consistent Christian witness including an emphasis on racial reconciliation and social justice. As you can imagine they faced hostility and rejection for years from the "Christians" around them.

From my point of view he was one of the greatest Christians America produced during the 20th century. His witness and the example of Koinonia had significant influence on the American civil rights movement and on progressive forms of faith throughout the country and the world. Habitat for Humanity was one of many ministries that came out of Koinonia.

Jordan did a whole series of books on the New Testament written in the colloquial language of the American South of his day. Some of them were translations of biblical books and others were commentaries. They're collectively known as the "Cotton Patch Version."

Wonderful stuff. I've read a lot of 'versions' of the New Testament including some urban and hip hop takes. They're all good. But in most cases the folks writing em had more skill with the colloquial language than they did a deep understanding of the biblical writings themselves. Jordan is one of those rare people with great skill and deep understanding.

Both of us really enjoy his take on the great Sermon. We're also being challenged.

Here's a quick quote from his Cotton Patch Version of First Rock 4:7-8 (I Peter) to give you an idea of his style and take:

The goal of everything has come upon us. So get with it and pray like you mean it. Above all, try hard to love each other, because love smooths over a whole pile of wrongs.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Image Over Word?

Image of Baal 1700 BCE

Picking up where I left off on pictures and images from my last post. When did you last see a pic of a Canaanite idol on a blog? I've got the current cultural zeitgeist by the throat, no doubt.

C.S. Lewis thought that an honest word was worth a thousand pictures.

His perspective might seem nostalgic right now, but I think he might have been on to something.

We're swimming in images. I won't even bother to make that case because it's so obvious.

Old time religion--basically the Old and New Testaments as well as pretty much any other religion I can think of--always discouraged an emphasis on the visual because they thought that images highlighted the sensual and the trivial at the expense of wisdom and good judgement and happy living.

The apostles and prophets and gurus and monks and rabbis and ayatollahs never got with the Supremacy of the Image.

When that lineup agrees on anything beyond a stripped down basic moral code, it's worth taking note.

According to the majority of religious teaching over many millenia, "A picture may be worth a thousand words, but don't expect those thousand words to say much of value. Enjoy the important and immediate truth of the visual sensation but move on to reading if you're interested in meaning and understanding."

In putting things that way, I'm being pretty easy on images from an historical point of view.

The decisive majority of traditional religious teaching not only supports the supremacy of the word over the image, but even warns that images are inherently misleading and destructive. Some of those traditions considered an emphasis on images to be 'idolatrous.'

That whole spiritual and religious consensus strikes me as being so far out of the current cultural mainstream that I'm not sure how to think about it. I can't remember a single talk or discussion about this issue in almost 30 years of participating in serious communities of conscience.

I'd love to hear any thoughts or comments. I know this one is out there, but it seems pretty immediately relevant to anybody who's eyes are open and who has an interest in traditional religious teaching and current culture.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Up Your Nose

After checking out quite a few blogs over the past 6 months and looking at my college age daughter's digital pics and eyeing some web sites and magazines, I think I'm seeing a trend.

Looks like facial and body part close ups--including extreme profiles, out-of-expected perspectives, and especially up-your-nose shots--are starting to gain some momemtum.

Knees, shins, and feet also seem good if a face isn't available. See my post "Renting Wonderland" for a sample of one of these kinds of pics from Rebecca's digital stuff.

The shots taken from below in ground-to-sky perspective really make me laugh. The thing you notice most are people's seemingly cavernous nasal passages.

I guess that perspective is supposed to be the "little viewer" looking up from below at the Godzilla-like subjects. Even toddlers look like giant Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade balloons from that point of view when their parents take their pics from that angle (wink-wink, nudge-nudge, you know who you are).

There's a populist thing going on with that angle too. Everyday people look like they're a part of Mt. Rushmore, or maybe even Mt. Olympus.

I'm guessing the conscious idea is to be intimate and creative in spite of the potentially narcissistic gigantism.

If so I'm all for it.

Mostly, though, I think these kinds of shots are the product of people taking pictures of themselves using digital cameras or cell phones. In many cases the person taking the shot and the subject of the shot are obviously the same person.

Human anatomy (in particular, our limited arm length), combined with a self-wielded digital camera, seems to favor close up shots of the face, "ground to sky" up-your-nose shots, and "sky to ground" shots of people's knees and feet hanging out in various places.

Pretty interesting and I can understand the attraction.

But for someone of a different generation and perspective, it can also come across as a little goofy. Most of these shots look more like a personal, digital version of
the old school tradition of jamming a bunch of friends into a photo booth, shoving your faces (or other body parts) as close to the lens as possible, and then letting silliness take over.

Unusual perspectives on the human face and body are pretty old news, though, in the annals of creativity.

Albrecht Durer, one of my favorite early Renaissance guys, painted himself face first to the world and caused a scandal.

For almost 1200 years western artists refused to paint anyone but Christ from that perspective until Durer broke the rules.

And nobody would have even considered painting their self-portrait from that perspective--that was considered self-absorbed and irreverant and way beyond the pale.

Obviously, tastes and traditions have changed a little bit since then. You can check out the offending image below.

I have to say, though, that I'm glad Durer didn't fill a canvas with an intimate look at his nasal passages. Call me krusty, I guess.

If this whole style really catches on and becomes conventionally hip, I'd guess ground-to-sky takes of Jesus and his most holy nasal cavities (while preaching the Sermon on the Mount?) can't be too far off in the future. Every evangelical campus ministry and high school youth group will want that kind of thing on its websites and brochures. Or maybe we'll get really close up sky-to-ground shots of his feet in the River Jordan (just before being baptized by John the Baptist?)

And don't forget the relentless political spin machines in their efforts to reach the young. We might see the faces and upper bodies of 50 and 60-something male white politicians depicted from ground-to-sky perspective. Who wouldn't want to look up at Bill Frist and John Edwards as if they were pinstriped skyscrapers of moral rectitude and towering wisdom.

Definitely possible, though I don't even want to think about the nose hair on guys that age. Ughhh. Thank God for photoshop, eh?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

People Do Stupid Things

It seems to me that funny stuff jumps out of the gap between what we hope will happen and what actually happens.

What would we do without stupidity and failure? We'd probably be bored out of our heads.

Reliable reports indicate that life in the next world will be wonderful without dimness and defeat. That may be one reason why heaven is so mysterious to a lot of us who hope to spend some extended time there.

We had a little neighborhood demonstration of what I'm talking about in our front yard yesterday.

The older couple who live across the street built a very steep driveway about twenty years ago.

Their middle aged daughter and son-in-law came to visit them yesterday. She drove a small black sedan and he came by in a Range Rover. She parked hers on a flat parking spot near the house but he left his aimed downhill at the top of the steepest part of the driveway.

For whatever reason, she left first and got into her small car to go home. She had to maneuver to avoid the big SUV.

While she was backing out her mom was apparently yelling at her so she got adolescent and stopped looking behind her.

She backed right into the Range Rover at a pretty good pace.

Turns out the RR had a parking brake that son-in-law kept forgetting to fix, and the mass + acceleration of her car jolted the big chunk of metal out of its parking gear and into neutral.

Two and a half tons of driver-less Range Rover rolled down their high pitched driveway directly toward our house.

Fortunately, we've got a very sharp, high, and angular curb in front of our house and a split rail fence that surrounds the front yard.

The Range Rover bounced up off the curb and then smashed through the fence and finally came to rest a few feet from our house.

Without the fence and the curb, the SUV would have plowed right through the front wall of our house directly into my home office.

The thought of being killed by a runaway SUV while sitting at a computer keyboard inside my suburban home office is pretty funny to me. Especially when I think about the places we've lived and the kind of work and hobbies I do.

Who can't use a good laugh from time to time?