uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum -- Q. Aurelius Symmachus, 384 C.E.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Not Just a Rejection of Science

National Public Radio, which I generally like but which seems to be veering into the new "balanced" he-said, she-said form of journalism largely pioneered by Fox News, did a follow-up this week to a story a month ago about divisions among Christians over the science of human origins.

My first reaction was one of utter boredom, and I speculated aloud whether they would be talking about the invention of the steam-engine next, because the conflict over human origins is at least 150 years old. Of course, this was largely because of the story's bland, generalized headline, as though this were some sort of new phenomenon deserving of a fresh look. But the recent departure of a theology professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., gave NPR the news hook they needed for a 30-minute discussion, which included some call-in remarks and a debate of sorts between another of Calvin College's professors, Daniel Harlow, and Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Plagiarism for Profit

Below is a letter I sent to my congressional representative, Keith Ellison, this morning regarding the existence of companies that offer custom-written essays designed to beat plagiarism rules at universities. As I mention in the letter, this should be considered fraud. Companies should not profit from academic dishonesty. If you feel similarly, I encourage you to also contact your representative about this. Write your own letter though -- probably wouldn't send a very good signal if they got multiple, identical letters on the issue of plagiarism!

Rep. Ellison,
I am currently completing my Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, where I work as a graduate instructor teaching Greek and Latin. On every syllabus I hand out, there is a warning from the college about academic dishonesty. Most of us who teach have been good about spotting plagiarized work, and certain sites have assisted with this.
But I was shocked recently to read a commentary from a former employee at a company that writes customized essays for students to circumvent plagiarism (found here). Then this morning, during a routine web search, I ran across this company, which audaciously boasts that it will write a paper for students that can "beat any plagiarism test."
I don’t understand how this is not already covered under the laws governing fraud, but if not, I am alerting you to this as my representative in the hopes that this can change. In an era in which every politician running for anything hyperventilates about the state of education in this country, I find it disturbing that we would wink at the existence of these fraud machines, churning out more unqualified graduates for the workplace and encouraging more of the same. It is perhaps telling that this company and another like it appeared in the fourth and fifth top sites upon my Google search. This indicates to me that these sites are popular and probably used more often than we know.
Thank you for any attention you can give to this matter, and any feedback you have would be greatly appreciated.
Don M. Burrows

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Finding Pride In Dwindling Mainline Protestantism

Logo for the NCC
After appeals to make it public, Prof. David A. Hollinger's article on ecumenicalism vs. evangelicalism has been posted by the University of California-Berkeley, where he is on faculty. This article is a must-read for anyone who is currently a mainline protestant, who grew up as one, or whose parents were once mainline protestant, because it charts the process whereby the conservative Christian denominations staked out ground against their mainline counterparts -- and more importantly, how and why. For anyone interested in the very stark "two-party" Protestantism in the U.S., Hollinger's analysis is indispensable.

Delivered as the Presidential Address to the Organization of American Historians, March 19, 2011, in Houston, Texas, Hollinger's essay in essence chronicles the widening of the mainline protestant tent as these denominations embraced diversity and secular governance, "the dialectical process by which ecumenical Protestants lost their numbers and their influence in public affairs while evangelical Protestants increased theirs."

Religious Right To NYC: You'll Pray Whether You Want To Or Not!

The latest ginned-up controversy among the religious right concerns the 9/11 memorial service for the 10-year anniversary. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has opted not to have open prayers led by clergy because of the staggering number of different faiths that would need to be accommodated, so six moments of silence will instead be offered for personal reflection and quiet prayer.

Of course, quiet is something the religious right decidedly is not. If ever there were those who resemble the hypocrites of Matthew 6:5 ("And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others"), these guys are it. To them, religious freedom is not the right of each person to pray -- or not -- in the manner according to their conscience, but rather forced participation in prayer as led by the government. For people who continually gripe about the government, they sure want the government to exercise their religion for them --  a lot.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Selectively Biblical: How "Submission" Becomes "Respect"

Ever since Michele Bachmann was asked in a GOP presidential debate whether she would "submit to her husband" based on her previous comments, and ever since she responded that to her, submission "means respect," the media has taken a sudden interest in this strand of conservative Christian theology -- an interest unseen since the Southern Baptist Convention added such a notion to its Faith and Message in 1998.

The first reactions were predictable. Conservative allies of Bachmann criticized the question as sexist. But for most of us, the theology of wifely submission is itself sexist, so asking Bachmann to defend it hardly seems so. Nonetheless, many have gone out of their way to defend the notion of wifely submission in much the same way Bachmann did -- by suggesting that the media and others were misconstruing their family theology to make it sound like they treated women like slaves. The latest volley into this discussion comes from The Tennessean, which featured Jeremy and Jill Rose, one of whom is a pastor (guess which?), and who follow said rules on submission.

"Men and women are created equally," the newspaper quotes Jill Rose. “People have this stigma of the male chauvinist domineering over the wife, and that’s not what the biblical perspective is at all.”

That sounds reassuring. But is she right?