Thursday, February 28, 2019

Let's Go Solar!

Even though it was cold (in the upper teens) this past Monday morning, the workers came as scheduled to install solar panels on the roof of our house and to convert our usage of electricity almost completely to solar energy.
Our Decision
About three months ago I saw an ad about a local (Kansas City, Kan.) firm that was wanting to talk with people about the possibility of installing solar panels. I had given this some thought previously, but not a lot. Still, it seemed like something worth considering.
On Dec. 5 a salesman from Smart Home Innovations came to talk with June and me, and before he left we had ordered the solar panel system for our house—and written him a check for $10,000.
It took more than ten weeks for them to get everything surveyed, planned, and designed, but, as indicated, installation started on Feb. 25 and was completed the next day.
Time will tell whether we made a good decision on that Dec. 5 morning.
Our Purpose
Perhaps most people have solar panels installed in order, over the long haul, to save money on their electricity bills. Given time, that will surely happen. Given June’s and my age, however, I am not confident that we will ever break even, let alone save money.
If we don’t live in our current house long enough to break even, though, the likelihood of the increased value of the house when sold (by us or our heirs) will quite certainly make the installation of the solar panels a good investment.
Nevertheless, regardless of financial considerations, our purpose for going to solar panels is for the sake of the environment and to make a public statement (some of the panels are clearly visible on the front of the house, although we had most panels installed on the back side, as you see from the following pictures).
Whether anything like the Green New Deal (which I wrote about, here, earlier this month) ever comes to fruition or not, June and I think that switching to solar panels is one small step we can take to help stem the steady, and deadly, advancement of global warming.
Our Plea
It is our considered opinion that global warming is a clear and present danger to the future of human life on earth. It is an urgent issue which, inexplicably, is not only downplayed by many people, it is even denied by others.
If adequate response to the current climate crisis is to be made, it will have to be made with massive governmental decisions—which makes it distressing that the White House now seems to be moving in the opposite direction.
According to a Feb. 24 Washington Post article, “The White House plans to create an ad hoc group of select federal scientists to reassess the government’s analysis of climate science and counter conclusions that the continued burning of fossil fuels is harming the planet.”
Evidently, this ad hoc group would seek to combat the government’s report, issued last November, which delineated the increasingly detrimental effects of climate change in the U.S.
Soon after that report was released, DJT was quoted as saying (see here), “a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we’re not necessarily such believers,” in the content of the report.
There are many reasons to be negative about the Trump administration; its almost certain wrongheadedness about environmental issues is one of the main reasons for my negativity.
So while it is not much, individuals beginning to use alternative energy is a small but definite step in the right direction.
Let’s go solar!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

What is Fundamentalism? (Redux)

As I indicated last month (here), this year I am planning to update my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism (2007) and to re-publish it at year’s end. In that connection, here are highlights from the (slightly) updated first chapter.
Beginnings of Christian Fundamentalism
In the first main section of the chapter, I explain that fundamentalism was originally “a sincere movement to preserve or to restore the true faith.” That is, it was not militant—and it certainly was not political as the Christian Right has been in recent years.
Even though there were some precursors, the actual beginning of what came to be called fundamentalism was the publishing of twelve small books between 1910 and 1915. The overarching title of the twelve volumes was The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth.
In June 1920, the Northern Baptist Convention held a conference on “The Fundamentals of Our Baptist Faith” in Buffalo, New York. Writing about that conference in the Baptist publication The Watchman-Examiner, C.L. Laws, the editor, proposed that those “who mean to do battle royal for the fundamentals shall be called ‘Fundamentalists.’”
Laws’s proposed term seems to be the first public use of the word “fundamentalist.”
Changes in Christian Fundamentalism
During its first 25 years, from 1915 to 1940, there was a considerable shift from being the kind of “mainstream” movement it was in the beginning to being a separatist and a more militant movement.
The Scopes Trial of 1925 marked a definitive change in attitudes toward fundamentalism—thanks mainly to the daily newspaper reports written by reporter H.L. Mencken of the Baltimore Sun. By the end of that “trial of the century,” for most in the general public, and for many even in the churches, fundamentalism was largely discredited. 
The picture is a scene from "Inherit the Wind," a movie about the Scopes Trial.
For the next several decades, then, fundamentalism was “alive and well” only among the militant “biblical separatists.” Four of the most influential proponents of this new type of fundamentalism were J. Frank Norris, J. Gresham Machen (to whom I referred in a recent blog article), Bob Jones, and John R. Rice.
Of these four, Norris (1877~1952) was the most colorful—and the best example of militant fundamentalism. Barry Hankins of Baylor University published his biography of Norris under the title God’s Rascal.
Hankins writes, “While some became militant because they were fundamentalists, Norris became a fundamentalist, in part at least, because he was militant by nature” (p. 176).
Earlier in his book, Hankins states: “Militancy was the indispensable characteristic of fundamentalism—the one that distinguished fundamentalists from other conservative evangelicals” (p. 44).
In this regard, it is important to remember the words spoken before 1925 by the early anti-fundamentalist leader Harry Emerson Fosdick: “All Fundamentalists are conservatives, but not all conservatives are Fundamentalists.”
Shifts in Terms for Fundamentalism
Because of the negative connotations of the term fundamentalism, in the 1940s under the leadership of Carl F.H. Henry, among others, a group of “moderate fundamentalists” formed the National Association of Evangelicals and the movement came to be known by the name “neo-evangelicalism” instead of fundamentalism.
Gradually, the “neo-“ part of the new term was dropped, and conservative Christianity came to be known as just evangelicalism. Still, there were differences in their ranks: there were those who were more progressive, such as people like Jimmy Carter. Time magazine declared 1976, the year Carter was elected President, as the “year of the evangelical.”
Unlike the more progressive evangelicals such as Carter, there were still many conservatives who formed a large part of that wing of the church—and so it remains today. Accordingly, “conservative evangelical” is now largely a synonym for “fundamentalist.”

Monday, February 18, 2019

Are Humans Like the Dog Named Rover?

Perhaps it is not so popular now, but Rover has been one of the most common names for dogs, perhaps second only to Fido. But what happens when Rover or other pet dogsor humansdie?
Do Dogs Go to Heaven?
As a means of comforting children—or adults—who are grieving over the death of a beloved pet dog, it is sometimes emphasized that the pet has gone to Heaven and is happily waiting for the grieving person to join them there in the (hopefully distant) future.
While, admittedly, such talk likely has comforting value to the person grieving, the credibility of dogs going to Heaven is highly questionable.
For most who think about the matter seriously, the likely conclusion is that, no, dogs (and other pets) do not go to Heaven in any literal sense.
This latter assumption lies behind what the famous American short story writer O. Henry (1862~1910) once said when asked about the afterlife:
I had a little dog
And his name was Rover
And when he died
He died all over
This apparently meant that O. Henry thought that death, whether for humans or for dogs, means the end of one’s existence.
Do Humans Have Immortal Souls?
Those who deny that dogs go to Heaven most likely do so because they do not believe that dogs have immortal souls. Many of those same people, however, unhesitatingly affirm that human beings do have immortal souls.
The idea of the “immortality of the soul” has a long history and was particularly strong among ancient Greeks.
Most great BCE Greek philosophers, it seems, believed that the human body was the tomb of the soul and that the soul was liberated from the body at death. That belief is sometimes explained like this: the sōma (σῶμα=body) is the sēma (σῆμα=tomb) of the soul.
There is no question but that this idea infiltrated Christian thinking at an early date and has been a widely-held belief of many Christians through the centuries.
Nevertheless, this is not the basic Christian idea and is not necessarily true.
The characteristic Christian concept of the afterlife of human beings is based on belief in resurrection, not natural immortality. That belief affirms eternal life as a gift from God, not as a natural human attribute.
So, What Happens at Death?
In keeping with the basic belief in resurrection, some Christian theologians have rightly seen death as the end of existence—until resurrection. According to the repeated teaching of the Bible, some people receive the gift of eternal life.
What about those who do not receive that gift—especially those who not only reject it but also consciously reject God and God’s grace?
Traditionally, such people were thought to go to Hell where they are punished endlessly.
Last month I wrote (here) about annihilationism, an explanation of what happens at death that rejects the cruel idea of unending punishment. Still, some interpret God’s annihilating the “wicked” or “non-believers” as vengeful and unloving.
Annihilationism has long been linked to the idea of “conditional immortality,” the belief that humans do not have immortal souls. This latter position, sometimes just called “conditionalism,” is probably a better term than the more common label of annihilationism.
It is amazing how the traditional view of Hell is linked so often to John 3:16, that key verse of the Bible that declares, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life” (CEB). 
Here, however, it seems quite clear that eternal life is a gift and that those who reject that gracious gift perish (=die like the dog named Rover).

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What about the Green New Deal?

Most of us are quite familiar with the term, and the significance, of what was known as the New Deal in this country. But in recent days we have been hearing about the Green New Deal, a relatively new idea that deserves serious thought and positive action.
The Proposal for a Green New Deal
On February 7, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) introduced a Green New Deal resolution in both the Senate and House of Representatives. That 13-page resolution can be found here.
Markey (b. 1946) was a U.S. House member from 1976 to 2013 and has been in the Senate since then. Ocasio-Cortez (b. 1989), as you probably know, is the outspoken new House member who is often just called AOC.
When presented, Markey’s resolution was co-sponsored by ten other Senators—mostly names you know quite well, such as Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.
While it is a long way from something being presented as a resolution and it actually being legislated, this is surely a significant start for serious consideration of a vital issue.  
The Purpose of the Proposal
The title of the 2/7 resolution is “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal.” Its purpose is to elevate awareness of the fearful realities of global warming along with other environmental issues and to set forth goals for Congress to consider over the next ten years.
Rather than being a proposal for detailed legislation, the Green New Deal (GND) resolution is a statement of what will most likely be necessary to meet the challenge of ever-worsening climate change. It presents the need for massive infrastructure programs and many other imperative actions for the creation of a sustainable future for our society and the world.
Thus, the GND resolution is a challenge to bold, creative, and long-term thinking about the most crucial issue of the present-day.
So, What About It?
One of my favorite op-ed writers is Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post. His February 7 article was titled, “A ‘Green New Deal’ sounds like pie in the sky. But we need it.”
I fully agree with Robinson when he writes that “climate change is the biggest, most important story of our time. Our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will judge us by how well we meet the challenge, and so far we are failing. Miserably.”
Of course, there are those who staunchly oppose the proposal for a Green New Deal. The main criticism is that it smacks of socialism.
DJT no doubt had the GND in mind when he said in his SOTU message that “we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country.” He then went on to assert, “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
It must be recalled, though, that the New Deal proposed by President Roosevelt and enacted by Congress in the 1930s was also castigated for being socialist legislation.
Even among those who inveigh against socialism today, however, there are not many who are willing to give up their Social Security, which was one of the most important parts of the New Deal.
Just as the New Deal helped solved some of the most serious problems in American society many decades ago, the Green New Deal is a proposal for solving even potentially greater problems for the U.S., and the world, in the coming decades.
In the view from this Seat, the sooner the Green New Deal proposals are enacted, the better!

Friday, February 8, 2019

Celebrating the NAACP

It was 110 years ago this month that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded. As my contribution to Black History Month, I am posting this article in celebration of the NAACP and its meritorious contributions to the improvement in the status of people of color in U.S. society.
(Through the years I have written about several of the people mentioned in this article; the hyperlinked names are links to blog articles about those persons.)
The Beginning of the NAACP
The NAACP gives February 9, 1909, as the date marking their founding. That date, not by accident, was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. (The name was not officially adopted until the following year.) 
Prior to the formation of the NAACP, W.E.B. Dubois had organized the Niagara Movement (a civil rights group you can read about here). He then became one of the co-founders of the NAACP and from 1910 to 1934 was the founding editor of “The Crisis,” the organization’s official publication.
In his editorial for the first edition of The Crisis (Nov. 1910; see here), Du Bois wrote, “The object of this publication is to set forth those facts and arguments which show the danger of race prejudice, particularly as manifested to-day toward colored people.”
Other than Du Bois, the main early leaders of the NAACP, such as William English Walling and Mary White Ovington, were not “colored people.” The first African-American to hold a high leadership position was James Weldon Johnson, who served as Executive Secretary from 1920 to 1931.
Historical Highlights of the NAACP
The history of their first 100 years is highlighted in the large (456 pages and weighing over four pounds!) and nicely done book NAACP: Celebrating a Century (2009). Here are just a few highlights gleaned from that book.
** The NAACP organized protests against the 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation,” which glorified the KKK.
** By 1919, their tenth anniversary, the NAACP had 90,000 members and “The Crisis” had a circulation of 100,000.
** Their 14th Annual Conference, in 1923, was held in Kansas City, and over 550 delegates journeyed to Leavenworth Federal Prison to visit black inmates.
** The NAACP helped convince President Truman in 1948 to issue Executive Order No. 9980, prohibiting racial discrimination in federal military service.
** Largely due to the work of Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP’s top attorney from 1938 to 1961, the “Brown v. Board of Education” Supreme Court decision legally desegregated America’s public schools.
The NAACP Today
According to their current website, “The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination.
Their website also links (here) to a 2/1/19 article titled “28 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month.” No. 6 was “Become a member of a Black organization.” Last year I became a member of the NAACP for the first time, and I am happy to be a supporter of this significant organization.
In the Foreword of the NAACP book mentioned above, then Board Chairman Julian Bond wrote, “We hope you will feel called to join this one-hundred-year-old crusade for justice by joining the NAACP. . . . anyone who shares our values is more than welcome” (p. 7).
Perhaps not many of you will decide to join the NAACP, but at the very least I hope you will celebrate their 110 years of existence by acknowledging their many significant accomplishments since 1909 and by actively joining in the ongoing struggle to eliminate race-based discrimination in our nation.

Monday, February 4, 2019

In Praise of Dom Helder Camara

Just like Fred Korematsu, the subject of my previous blog article (found here), Helder Camara is similarly not a household name. But Camara, who was born ten years before Korematsu, is also a man well worth remembering with acclaim.
Introducing Dom Helder
Helder Pessoa Camara was born on February 7, 1909, in northeastern Brazil. From an early age, he played at saying Mass; when he was only eight or nine years old, he talked about becoming a priest. At age 14 he entered the seminary and was ordained eight years later, in August 1931.
Dom Helder, as he was usually called in Brazil, had 54 years of active ministry, including 21 years as an archbishop, before his retirement in 1985. Twenty years ago, in August 1999, he died at the age of 90.
The Washington Post article announcing Camara’s death referred to him as “a former Brazilian Catholic archbishop and proponent of Liberation Theology who became a noted human rights crusader and champion of agrarian reform.”
Dom Helder was a tireless advocate for and friend of the poor and marginalized people in his native country and around the world. Here are his most widely-cited words:  
Learning from Dom Helder
Through the years I saw various references to Camara and was impressed by what I read by and about him. Now that I have just finished reading the book Dom Helder Camara: Essential Writings (2009), I am even more impressed.
Camara championed liberation theology, which has often been charged with inciting violence. But Dom Helder was a man of peace. He declared,

"We, as Christians, are on the side of nonviolence, and this is in no way an option for weakness and passivity. Opting for nonviolence means to believe more strongly in the power of truth, justice, and love than in the power of wars, weapons, and hatred" (p. 81).

Dom Helder was also a poet. I like this poem that expresses the type of man he was:
If you disagree with me,
you have something to give me
if you are sincere
and seek the truth
as best you may,
honestly, with modest care,
your thought is growth
to mine, correction,
you deepen my vision.
As an archbishop, Camara often faced large audiences that applauded and cheered him. He wrote that at such times, “I turn to Christ and say to him simply: ‘Lord, this is your triumphal entry into Jerusalem! I am just the little donkey you are riding on!’ And it’s true” (p. 145).
Would that all God’s servants and church leaders had that sort of humility!
Praising Dom Helder
Although Dom Helder was a small man, barely five feet tall, he had a large following of admirers. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. The Brazilian military dictatorship, his constant adversary, actively worked again his receiving that award, and they were successful.
Nevertheless, Francis McDonagh, who wrote the Introduction to the book of Dom Helder’s writings, reports, “In compensation, Norwegian churches and NGOs awarded him a ‘People’s Peace Prize’ in 1974, one of twenty-one international awards and eighteen degrees that testified to the esteem in which he was held by the international community” (p. 33).
One such noteworthy recognition was the Pacem in Terris Award, which he received in 1975—ten years after it was awarded to MLK, Jr., and the year before it was given to Mother Teresa.
Camara’s dream of the liberation of the poor and the creation of a fully just society hasn’t yet become a reality any more than MLK’s dream has, but people of goodwill must keep that dream alive and actively work toward its fulfillment.