Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why "Spirituality" Instead of Religion?

This is not exactly breaking news to those of us in religious vocations: "Young voters want spirituality, but not necessarily religion."

A report entitled "Religion Among the Millennials" produced by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life and released this week found that one in four people 18 to 29 years old are unaffiliated with a religion. But that by no means makes them all atheists or agnostics. While there are always religious people among the unaffiliated, the numbers are significantly higher among the younger unaffiliated crowd. While they are less likely than those unaffiliated and older than them to believe in God, they are more likely to believe in life after death, heaven and hell, and miracles.

In fact, on some measures, the data suggest that these so-called millennials may be more spiritually thirsty than older generations. According to a Knights of Columbus/Marist poll also released this month, being "spiritual or close to God" was the most selected of any other "primary long-term life goal" among those 18 to 29 years old (other choices included "to get married and have a family" and "to get rich"). The rate at which they selected it was significantly higher than other generational groups, and nearly twice that of Generation X.

The Pew report is here: summary page, full report. Glenn Reynolds commented on desiring "spirituality" rather than religion, "Well, that's because religion often tells you to do things you don't want to do, or to refrain from doing things you want to do, while spirituality is usually more . . . flexible."

Well, yeah. "Spirituality" is religious Calvinball, a game featured in the comic strip, "Calvin and Hobbes." The rules of Calvinball are simple: there are no rules. Players make them up as they go along and any player may change any rule for any reason. That's what "spirituality" is.

Now, before you think that I'm digging in my heels like Mel Brooks' character, Governor Le Petomane in Blazing Saddles ("We've got to protect our phony-baloney jobs!"), I'm not. After all, the highest rate of young adults who are least likely to attend a church are pastors' children. (Think of a church corollary to what Bismarck said about sausage and laws and you'll see why.)

Nor is the move away from established churches a new development. Consider this critique and guess when it was written:

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

That was written in 1963 by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as he languished in Birmingham jail. Have we learned anything in the last 47 years? Consider this present-day critique by United Methodist pastor Michael Slaughter on the establishment church's preoccupation with growth for growth's sake:

We had achieved getting behinds in the seats, but I realized that all we had really done was accumulate crowds of spectators who were not moving toward deeper faith and service.

Many people in our churches today profess faith in God, but they embody the values of the dominant culture. They possess a soft-secular worldview rather that the worldview of Jesus. These folks believe in God and profess Jesus, but they trust the materialistic values of secular culture. (From Change the World - Recovering the Message and Mission of Jesus, which I emphatically recommend, temporarily a free
Kindle download

So I am not exactly criticizing the young adults who retreat from establishmentarian religion, but they are mistaken if they think that self-made "spirituality" is any better. Professor David Bentley Hart explains why:

Even when we have shed the moral and religious precepts of our ancestors, most of us try to be ethical and even, in many cases, "spiritual." It is rare, however, that we are able to impose anything like a coherent pattern upon the the somewhat haphazard collection of principles and practices by which we do this. ... we assemble fragments of traditions we half remember, gather ethical maxims almost at random from the surrounding culture, attempt to find inner equilibrium between tolerance and conviction, and so on, until we have knit together something like a code, suited to our needs, temperaments, capacities, and imaginations. We select the standards or values we find appealing from a larger market of moral options and then try to arrange them into some sort of tasteful harmony.

... Here one may cultivate a private atmosphere of "spirituality" as undemanding and therapeutically comforting as one likes simply by purchasing a dream catcher, a few pretty crystals, some books on the goddess, a Tibetan prayer wheel ... and so forth [making spirituality] indistinguishable from interior decorating

That the establishment Protestant church is failing to carry out its charter (with occasional exceptions) is, I think, undeniable. My prescription for reversing this deadly trend would occupy too many pages to post here. (Walter Russell Mead's essay about the Episcopal church is worth reading, but the leftist preoccupation he describes of that church is not the primary problem of the UMC today, though it is certainly a factor.) The point of this post is that for all the just criticisms that may be made of the American Church, private "spirituality" is not a solution. The hodgepodge of religious sensitivity without religious attachment results in religious-spritual confusion among the Millennials, says the Pew report.

Young adults also attend religious services less often than older Americans today. And compared with their elders today, fewer young people say that religion is very important in their lives.

Yet in other ways, Millennials remain fairly traditional in their religious beliefs and practices. Pew Research Center surveys show, for instance, that young adults' beliefs about life after death and the existence of heaven, hell and miracles closely resemble the beliefs of older people today. Though young adults pray less often than their elders do today, the number of young adults who say they pray every day rivals the portion of young people who said the same in prior decades. And though belief in God is lower among young adults than among older adults, Millennials say they believe in God with absolute certainty at rates similar to those seen among Gen Xers a decade ago.

Exactly how a self-created spirituality that has no norms but ones agreeable to oneself is supposed to lead to eternal life in heaven is a deep mystery to me. This Pew report and another
one released in 2006, both said that young adults (up to mid-twenties was the surveys' cutoff) are becoming evermore strongly inclined toward private spirituality and withdrawing from organized religious bodies. But at the same time they tend to affirm very orthodox Christian concepts such as heaven, hell and judgment by God.

So my question is, can reliance on a self-created "spirituality" be reconciled coherently with orthodox concepts? I don't see how. For if God is going to judge us, it will surely be by God's standards, not ours.

Oh, heavens! Did I just say that God will judge us? Isn't that unacceptably judgmental of me to say that, to say nothing of God being so judgmental? Well, my question is this: if one does agree that there is a God who created the cosmos, then this God must be admitted to have both the power and the authority to dispose of the created order as he sees fit. The key thing is not what we wish to believe, but what has God revealed to us about the way he manages the created order.

Judaism, Christianity (and for that matter Islam) are practically alone among the world's great religions in insisting that what we know about God is known principally through God's initiative in revealing God's self to humankind. This is a key difference between religion, as usually conceived, and spirituality. Because of the individualistic (and basically narcissistic) nature of spirituality, divine revelation is usually not taken very seriously except where agreeable. There is no more common human failing than to imagine that God, however conceived, loves us just the way we are.

It does not work to make up your own code of conduct and think that integrity will follow. When I was in the Army I heard another officer described this way: "He fails to achieve even the low standards he sets for himself." Rare is the man or woman who does not fall short of even their own standards even though people set their own bar pretty low. Even meeting our own standards really means that we fail to become what God intends us to be.

The "do my own thing" impulse of spirituality imagines that religion is restrictive, constraining and oppressing, and that freedom cannot be found unless one frees oneself from religion's ancient superstitions, patriarchy and prescientific ignorance. That these criticisms are by no means entirely without merit makes their lure all the more attractive.

Yet it is no better that modern America as a whole no longer believes that there is an objective criterion by which to judge our choices because there can be no higher good than being able to make a choice in the first place. Therefore, all judgment, whether divine or human, infringes on choosing – and being able to choose apart from any standards but one’s own is a supreme concern of most Americans these days.

This is a purely modern idea. In centuries past, even before Jesus was born, true human freedom was emancipation from anything that prevented one from living a life of rational virtue, which Aristotle defined as "excellence made habitual," that enabled moral and ethical flourishing of both the individual and society. Yet this ideal, in the Gentiles' ancient world, was never more than that and apart from isolated academies never blossomed. Instead, in literally slavish devotion to the gods and political masters, the ancients lived almost entirely in material poverty and spiritual despair, a condition that reached its nadir in "the glory that is Rome."

Freedom is not simply the ability to choose. It is the ability to restrain and find mastery over our inborn will to selfishness and our own foolish or wicked choices. The freedom of God’s Law is freedom from the baser demons of our being so that we may discover the better angels of our nature. We are not free simply because we can choose, but only when we choose rightly.

For to choose poorly is to enslave ourselves to the impermanent, the irrational and eventually the destructive. Simply choosing, unconnected from divine guidance and godly standards, is to choose ultimately to reject freedom, to be enslaved to the bondage of the will, to what Paul called the body of death and finally to choose to perish rather than attain everlasting life.

The role of God’s law is to enable human beings to be released from the shackles of spiritual and mental bondage that prevent us from being saved in this life and the next. Through the teachings of the so-called "Old" Testament, we are guided to the divine goodness, which we can then perceive embodied in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is not an individualistic endeavor. That formal religious bodies have achieved this goal only imperfectly does not mean that private spirituality is somehow automatically better. (See my 2008 post, "Let's hear it for hypocrites!"

I think what the Pew report reveals is a strong sense of religious yearning that (no surprise) the mainline churches are not meeting. The character and polity of those churches, as we know them today, are legacies of the World War II generation, for whom organization and unity were the way that the Great Depression was turned back and World War II was won. Theirs was a generation of joiners and builders. It is no accident that the boom of large churches followed the end of World War II, the ultimate triumph of massive organizations and systems analysis.

This was the time of what futurist Alvin Toffler called the Second Wave of societies. The First Wave was agriculturally-based and lasted from the end of the hunter-gathering period to the inception of the industrial revolution. Then came the Second Wave:
The Second Wave is the society during the Industrial Revolution (ca. late 1600s through the mid-1900s). The main components of the Second Wave society are nuclear family, factory-type education system and the corporation. Toffler writes: "The Second Wave Society is industrial and based on mass production, mass distribution, mass consumption, mass education, mass media, mass recreation, mass entertainment, and weapons of mass destruction. You combine those things with standardization, centralization, concentration, and synchronization, and you wind up with a style of organization we call bureaucracy."
Which almost perfectly describes the UMC today – committee bound, meeting ruled, glacially slow to respond to social challenges, and prizing standardized procedures, uniformity and maintenance of the status quo above almost all other concerns.

The problem is that young adults and our society in general have already moved into the Third Wave, the post-industrial society.
Toffler would also add that since late 1950s most countries are moving away from a Second Wave Society into what he would call a Third Wave Society. He coined lots of words to describe it and mentions names invented by him (super-industrial society) and other people (like the Information Age, Space Age, Electronic Era, Global Village, technetronic age, scientific-technological revolution), which to various degrees predicted demassification, diversity, knowledge-based production, and the acceleration of change (one of Toffler’s key maxims is "change is non-linear and can go backwards, forwards and sideways").
We of the institutional church are failing to comprehend that traditional doctrinal clams can be defended rationally on their own merits and do not require our now-antiquated structure to prop them up. That young adults still respect those doctrines, even if they do not fully embrace them, is evident from the Pew reports. But mainline churches generally, and the UMC specifically, have become their own obstacles in the propagation of our faith.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hillary agrees with me: Iran's military coup, part 2

I assessed last Wednesday that a coup by Iran's Republican Guard was an increasing possibility given the increasing domestic disorder there. I wondered whether the massive pro- and anti-government demonstration scheduled for last Thursday would provide an opening for Gen. Mohammad-Ali Aziz Jaafari, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, to both crush the anti-government leaders and take control of the government.
But what is Gen. Jaafari really up to with 10,000 Revolutionary Guards in the capital? Clearly, the regime long ago lost legitimacy among the people and is held in power only by pure power, the foundation of which is the Guards. But what if the Guards are sick of the regime, too?
Now it seems that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is thinking along those lines, too, having announced today that Iran is becoming a military dictatorship.
Speaking to Arab students at Carnegie Mellon's Doha campus, Clinton said Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps appears to have gained so much power that it effectively is supplanting the government.

"Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship," she said. "That is our view."
The TimesOnline reported,
“We see that the government in Iran, the Supreme Leader, the president, the parliament is being supplanted and that Iran is moving towards a military dictatorship,” the US Secretary of State told students in Qatar during a tour of the Middle East designed to increase pressure on the Islamic Republic to end its nuclear programme.

“The civilian leadership is either preoccupied with its internal domestic political situation or ceding ground to the Revolutionary Guard and that’s a deeply concerning development.”

John Wesley's warning

The Rev. Kevin Watson of the UMC asks what is the current state of affairs in United Methodism by the standard that John Wesley warned must be upheld.
In 1786, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, looked back on the revival begun during his lifetime. He seemed to think that it was well enough established that it would not immediately vanish after his death. However, he was not content with the survival of a lifeless sect that hung around, but failed to renew souls in the image of their creator. He wrote in “Thoughts Upon Methodism”:
I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.
This passage is one that haunts me. It is as if Wesley continues to challenge all who call themselves Methodists to continue to have the zeal to “spread Scriptural holiness” that the early Methodists had. I can’t read this quote without asking myself the obvious question: Is the United Methodist Church in America a dead sect, does it have the form or religion without the power? Or have we held fast to the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which we first set out?
Watson's inquiry is in four parts and it is not until part 4 that he offers his own answer.
Answering this question is sadly easy. The answer is clearly no. We have not maintained a Wesleyan discipline in the United Methodist Church in America. My feeling is that for most Methodists discipline means either: not much, or a book (as in The Book of Discipline). But for Wesley, the Methodist discipline was a commitment to a process that enabled Methodists to grow in holiness. It enabled them to experience transformation. Far to many Christians today are not being transformed. They are no different today than they were 12 years ago. (There are of course always exceptions to the rule, and thank the Lord there are still many people who have been deeply changed by their relationship with Jesus Christ.) However, wherever people are not being transformed and renewed in the image of God, it would seem that Methodism has the form, but not the power of godliness.
What do you think? Read the whole series, in order, here, here, here and here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A military coup coming in Iran?

Early this month Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad promised "a telling blow against global arrogance," on Feb. 11, tomorrow, which is the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. What did he mean?

The Western rumor mill runs amok. It is fueled by the report that,

[Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali ] Khamenei, whose public statements should be taken seriously, is promising some sort of devastating “punch” against the West on Thursday the 11th, the same day as the Green Movement is calling for a monster protest against his regime.

One possibility is some sort of blow against Israel, the "Little Satan" of the Islamic Republic's dementia. (The "Great Satan" is the United States.) After all, Ahmadinejad has repeatedly threatened Israel with destruction.

An attack by Iran against Israel tomorrow seems highly unlikely. By now the preparations would have to be a very late stages and would such a threat seem real, I would think Israel would have already taken countermeasures. A strike against Israel by Iran's proxies, Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, are much more probable but not necessarily likely. Hamas needs no motivation but its recovery from Israel's December 2008 offensive against it. As for Hezbollah I have no new insights but my gut is that they aren't prepared for an another offensive, either.

So what is up for tomorrow? The most likely event is a crushing domestic attack against Iranian demonstrators. As noted, there has long been planned for tomorrow massive street demonstrations against the regime. These would coincide with the traditional public-square celebratory events of the Revolution. Amir Teheri notes that Atyatollah Khamenei is being kept away from the official demos and that,

Today Iran is in a decidedly insurrectionary mood. With hundreds of figures from past governments, including two former presidents and one former prime minister, having joined the opposition, along with scores of former lawmakers, there is every possibility that even supposedly loyal crowds could switch sides on the spur of the moment.

So what is a diabolic, power-mad, tyrannical regime to do?

The Khomeinist establishment, or at least what is left of it, has been debating strategy for the anniversary for weeks. The more radical faction — led by Gen. Mohammad-Ali Aziz Jaafari, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, and backed by Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — has been urging a mass crackdown against the opposition. According to sources in Tehran, Jaafari has presented a plan code-named “Tanzih” (Eradication), which envisages the arrest of some 3,000 opposition activists, including former president Mohammad Khatami and former prime minister Mir-Hussein Mussavi. The plan would also authorize the Revolutionary Guard and the paramilitary Basij (Mobilization) street fighters to crush any mass demonstration by force, even if that means producing a bloodbath.

General Jaafari is said to favor a “Chinese-style” crackdown to silence the growing pro-democracy movement. During the past six weeks he has been shipping units into Tehran and its environs and positioning Basij fighters, often in civilian clothes, at sensitive points. By Thursday he will have over 100,000 men in the capital.

The "Khomeinists" simply means the inheritors of the central figure of 1979s Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, 1902-1989.

But what is Gen. Jaafari really up to with 10,000 Revolutionary Guards in the capital? Clearly, the regime long ago lost legitimacy among the people and is held in power only by pure power, the foundation of which is the Guards. But what if the Guards are sick of the regime, too?

Jaafari is still fairly young as strongmen go in Iran, being only 52. He is not even relatively liberal in Iran, having been a signatory of a letter in 1999 to then-President Mohammad Khatami, warning him that Khatami's liberalizing policies were threatening to undermine the government. It was understood as a thinly-veiled threat of coup. Today, Khatami is a leading figure of the opposition and could loom large in Jaafari's crosshairs.

It cannot be expected that Jaafari secretly is sympathetic with the opposition and its anti-government demonstrators. Yet his record for the last 10 years at least also shows that his great fear is not the fall of Khomeinist regime as presently constituted, but that civil unrest mutate into civil war.

Amir Taheri wrote on Feb. 5,

The anti-regime movement started as a protest against the alleged rigging of the June election that produced a landslide victory and a second four-year mandate for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The crowds' initial slogan was "Where Is My Vote?" The movement's accidental leaders, including former Prime Minister Mir-Hussein Mousavi, who insists that he, and not Ahmadinejad, won the election, tried hard to keep the protest confined to limited demands such as a recount of the votes and, ultimately, a run-off in accordance with the Election Law.

Over the past eight months, however, the movement has developed beyond those objectives. The initial slogans that focused on vote rigging have all but disappeared. Their place has been taken by unambiguously anti-regime slogans such as "Death to the Dictator", "Freedom Now", and "Iranian Republic, Not Islamic Republic!"

So will Jaafari move tomorrow to implement a "Chinese Solution" to the opposition? That has to be the most probable course of events.

But not the only possible one.

Jaafari is no dullard. He is well educated and experienced. It might have occurred to him by now that the regime is the problem. By accounts, it was Jaafari's idea to use the IGRC to crush the opposition tomorrow. A substantial number of Guards would have been deployed in the capital to protect the Islamic parades and demonstrations, anyway, so Ahmadinejad et. al. were probably receptive to raising the number to 10K to end the opposition once and for all.

But Jaafari may read tea leaves better than Ahmadinejad and company. Leading figures of Iran, including former members of the Khomeinist regime, have increasingly distanced themselves from the present government. Some have openly criticized it, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani being one. Furthermore, Jaafari has said that the political role of Turkey's generals has some appeal to him. (More than once Turkey's generals have taken over the government to prevent civil war. They have always returned it to civilian rule.)

Clearly, at least to observers, Iran's status quo is not sustainable. Ahmadinejad and Khamenei may not realize it but I am betting that Jaafari does. So which way will the cookie crumble on Feb. 11?

Don't be surprised if the Chinese Solution is implemented against the opposition followed by an announcement that that the IGRC has taken Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and other figures to a secret, secure site "for their own safety" until the situation is stable. In the meantime, Jaafari will be in charge while 10,000 of his Guards patrol the streets of Tehran.

Endnote: the "Chinese Solution" refers to the Chinese government's brutal suppression of demonstrators at Peking's Tiananmen Square in April 1989.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Vanderbilt Chaplain Controversy

A very large minority of elders and deacons of the Tennessee Conference obtained their theological degree from Vanderbilt Divinity School. I am one of them. Although the school has no denominational affiliation, it was originally founded as a Methodist seminary. Vanderbilt University was founded as a Methodist-affiliated college. Those bonds were severed in 1915 (if I recall correctly), but the Methodist influence on the Div School remains strong, and vice-versa. The Div School has an endowed chair of Methodist studies, for example, presently held by Dr. Doug Meeks, a scholar of the first rank. About a third of the students of the Div School are Methodist and UM hymnals are used in worship services held there. So there remains a very strong tie between the school and Methodism, especially Tennessee Methodism.

As an alumnus of Vanderbilt Divinity School, I know that the university generally and its religion departments specifically fully embrace conceptually and practically gay rights. This is a very strong institutional value of the university.

So what are we alums to make of Awadh Binhazim, a Vanderbilt Muslim chaplain, who stated at a public forum late last month what those of us who study Islamic law, sharia, already: that Islam calls for the execution of homosexuals. This is explicit in the hadith, the oral traditions of the words and deeds of Muhammed that were finally set to text. Binhazim's confirmation of this fact is not objectionable since any reader can read it plainly. The controversy at Vanderbilt springs from the fact that Binhazim went on to say, when asked, that as a Muslim he agreed: "I don’t have a choice as a Muslim to accept or reject teachings."

The video:

Here is Vanderbilt's official position on the controversy:

A recent forum at Vanderbilt University has generated questions about the university's stances on discrimination and free speech.

The "Common Ground: Being Muslim in the Military" event on Jan. 25 was part of Project Dialogue, a series at Vanderbilt dedicated to bringing diverse viewpoints to campus. It featured Awadh A. Binhazim, Muslim chaplain at Vanderbilt, and Army Reserve officer Capt. Darryl A Cox discussing issues military leaders face as they encounter and lead soldiers with Islamic beliefs.

During the question-and-answer session that followed the presentation, a student asked Binhazim about Islamic law and homosexuality. Binhazim answered the question with his interpretation of an Islamic law.

For clarification, Vanderbilt strives to bring many points of view on the issues of the day to campus for examination and discussion. This is the purpose of Project Dialogue.

No view expressed at a Project Dialogue or similar campus forum should be construed as being endorsed by Vanderbilt. The university is dedicated to the free exchange of ideas. It is the belief of the university community that free discussion of ideas can lead to resolution and reconciliation.

Vanderbilt is committed to free speech. It is equally committed to a policy of non-discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, national origin or sexuality.

There has been some confusion as to Binhazim's role at Vanderbilt. He is the Muslim chaplain at Vanderbilt, a volunteer position. He is not a professor of Islam and is not associated with Vanderbilt University Divinity School. He has adjunct associate professor status at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in pathology. This position, which carries no teaching or research responsibilities, is also unpaid.

I cannot even imagine a Christian (or Jewish) chaplain saying gays should be executed. According to ReligiousTolerance.org, the only reference in the Jewish-Christian Bible prescribing death for homosexual acts is Leviticus 20:13. However,
Over the last few centuries, most Christians and Jews have rejected Leviticus 20:13. They no longer call on the death penalty for homosexuals. Only Christian Reconstructionists and a few Christian hate groups wish to revert to mass executions of gays and lesbians today.
Which is true. But I absolutely guarantee that the university would fire a Christian chaplain who denounced homosexuality as merely abominable. However, execution of homosexuals is a fact in Islamist countries, especially Iran. The photo at right is from the hanging of two teen-aged boys in the Islamic Republic in 2006. The Washington Post reported it was one of a series of photos.

The pictures show a dismally sad drama: Two young men, identified by the Associated Press as aged 16 and 18, are seen shackled in a prison van, sobbing; one of them is then seen being led to a scaffold; other shots show the boys together with dark-hooded men placing nooses around the boys' necks; and two final images show their bodies hanging from ropes, in a large public square, as a crowd watches from a distance.

What Chaplain Binhazim said was that this hanging, and countless others in Iran and other Islamic countries, was dictated by the basic tenets of Islam and that he agrees with those tenets. Hence, these executions are right and proper and unobjectionable.

You may recall that when Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University in 2007, he said there are no homosexuals in Iran. Now we know why. He has them killed.

Let me be clear of my own position here. Asked a straightforward question, Mr. Binhazim gave an equally straightforward answer: This is what Islam says and I am bound by the tenets of Islam to accept it. I personally do not think he should be disciplined or fired for answering the question, even as bluntly as he did.

But there is not the slightest doubt in my Vanderbilt-alumnus mind that a Christian chaplain would indeed be disciplined by the university. So what Vanderbilt will do now is something of a defining question for the school. It prides itself on being tolerant and inclusive. Well, let's see just how tolerant and for what it shall be.

The whole forum lasted about 80 minutes. The co-speaker, Army Reserve Capt. Cox, is a Muslim convert. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, testified to Congress this week that the Defense Dept.'s "don't ask, don't tell" policy should be revoked and that gays should be allowed to serve openly. A good question for Capt. Cox would be, "As a Muslim officer, do you accept Islam's doctrine that homosexuality is an abomination?" There is no possible answer for him but yes, since textual literalism is a basic tenet of Islam. Then, "If you were directed by your superior commanders to participate in and publicly support a gay rights event, similar to such events already held by the military for ethnic minorities, would you comply?"

The entire forum may be viewed in eight parts starting here. Related coverage from Vanderbilt's campus newspaper:

Sparks fly at presentation on Muslims in the military

Vanderbilt 'Muslims in the Military' event goes viral

Finally, speaking of things Vanderbilti, Gen. David Petraeus will "engage in an open dialogue at Vanderbilt University about his actions as commander of the surge in Iraq and the role of U.S. forces overseas" at the university on March 1 (link). The event will be streamed live.

Update: comments turned on - please read comments policy.

Rethinking Marriage

What the Christian religion has to do with marriage is a huge subject, so at best this is an overview. I call it Rethinking Marriage becaus...