Sunday, July 31, 2011

Plains Pops: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, The Ambivalent

The Good:  This Nicholas Kristoff column about evangelical intellectual John Stott.  Kirstoff points out some of Jerry Falwell's notable foolish and bombastic sound bites, and then notes,
Partly because of such self-righteousness, the entire evangelical movement often has been pilloried among progressives as reactionary, myopic, anti-intellectual and, if anything, immoral.
Yet that casual dismissal is profoundly unfair of the movement as a whole. It reflects a kind of reverse intolerance, sometimes a reverse bigotry, directed at tens of millions of people who have actually become increasingly engaged in issues of global poverty and justice.
Kristoff notes a bothersome strain of anti-intellectualism within contemporary evangelical circles.
Centuries ago, serious religious study was extraordinarily demanding and rigorous; in contrast, anyone could declare himself a scientist and go in the business of, say, alchemy. These days, it’s the reverse. A Ph.D. in chemistry is a rigorous degree, while a preacher can explain the Bible on television without mastering Hebrew or Greek — or even showing interest in the nuances of the original texts.
Those self-appointed evangelical leaders come across as hypocrites, monetizing Jesus rather than emulating him. Some seem homophobic, and many who claim to be “pro-life” seem little concerned with human life post-uterus. Those are the preachers who won headlines and disdain.
It is Kristoff's conclusion, however, that get's to the crux of the matter.  Divisivness for it's own sake harms those least able to care for themselves.
But in reporting on poverty, disease and oppression, I’ve seen so many others. Evangelicals are disproportionately likely to donate 10 percent of their incomes to charities, mostly church-related. More important, go to the front lines, at home or abroad, in the battles against hunger, malaria, prison rape, obstetric fistula, human trafficking or genocide, and some of the bravest people you meet are evangelical Christians (or conservative Catholics, similar in many ways) who truly live their faith.
I’m not particularly religious myself, but I stand in awe of those I’ve seen risking their lives in this way — and it sickens me to see that faith mocked at New York cocktail parties.
Why does all this matter?
Because religious people and secular people alike do fantastic work on humanitarian issues — but they often don’t work together because of mutual suspicions. If we could bridge this “God gulf,” we would make far more progress on the world’s ills.
And that would be, well, a godsend.
I won't hold my breath, but I would hope that some of South Dakota's fundamentalist bloggers give Kristoff's column a gracious response.

The Bad: (HT @corahei) A Philadelphia English teacher admits to helping students cheat "because she worried their self-esteem was crushed by taking tests they were in no way academically prepared for."

The article reveals the teacher's touching justification:
 "I never went to any student who didn't call me to help them cheat," said the teacher. "But if somebody asked me a question, I wasn't willing to say, 'Just do your best.' They were my students, and I wanted to be there for them."
I don't believe that one should ever condone cheating, but I would respect teachers who would give all students all of the answers as a form of civil disobedience.  Civil disobedience also has consequences that this anonymous teacher seems unwilling to accept.  This situation seems to be educational romanticism run amok.

The Ugly:  The Debt Ceiling Debacle.  'Nuff said.

The Ambivalent:  This BookTV program about Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now--Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything.  I've watched it twice, and am intrigued, doubtful but disconcerted.  The BookTV blurb states,
David Sirota argues that the social and political mores of the 1980s have set the stage for what the author deems is today's militaristic and narcissistic America.  Mr. Sirota examines the political and cultural landscape of the decade, ranging from the policies of the Reagan administration to the popular entertainment and mass marketing campaigns that marked the time.  David Sirota presents his thoughts at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
 After listening it seems to me that a logical conclusion would be that all of the John Wayne movies that had the cavalry riding to the rescue had liberal undertones.

1 comment:

caheidelberger said...

Interesting combination of articles!

On the Philly teacher: agreed! If she had been staging principled mass civil disobedience and helping the kids learn how to stand up to injustice, I'd be singing her praises. Instead, the teacher chose deception on multiple levels. "Being there" for kids doesn't mean quietly helping them cheat and filling their heads with false self-esteem.