February 2008

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted an extensive poll measuring the religious landscape of the U.S. A summary of the report can be found here. They also created interactive tools to illustrate their findings. I must say they are quite impressive. Not only do they provide detailed information on a visual level (and by state), but it allows you to customize comparisons of statistics of religious traditions side-by-side.

Here is some of the most pertinent and interesting data:

–America is 78% Christian. 51% are Protestant, and 24% are Catholic. A full 26% of the country is Evangelical Protestant.

–Non-Christian religions constitute less than 5% of the nation. Jews take the lead at 1.7% of the population, followed by Buddhists (.7%), Muslims (.6%), and Hindus (.4%).

–16% of the country is not affiliated with any religion. Of this number, only 1.6% are atheists, and 2.4% agnostics. The rest are “nothing in particular.” These people can be secular or religious, but are not affiliated with any religion. A full 1 in 4 young people aged 18-29 claim no religious affiliation.

–The Catholic Church loses the most people to other religions, but their numbers remain static because of Catholic immigrants (mainly from Mexico). One in three adults in the Catholic Church are Latino.

–37% of married couples are married to someone of a different religion (or denomination).

–Only 37% of those who were raised Jehovah’s Witnesses are still JWs. JWs have the lowest retention rate of any religious group.

In his new book, The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It (pp. 66-7), Os Guinness has some perceptive insights on the issue of school prayer:

[S]upporters of school prayer have found themselves on the horns of a dilemma of their own choosing. Insisting on official Christian prayer in such pluralistic settings, they either ignore the diversity and pray as if everyone shared their faith—thus scandalizing those who do not; or they respect the diversity and pray in an inoffensive way that tries to appeal to as many faiths as possible—thus secularizing their own faith while still offending those who reject public prayer of any kind. …

The founders’ first principles of religious liberty can of course be applied to school prayer in several ways. For example, the golden rule of equal liberty for all could be applied to school prayer as “One in, all in” and respected by praying a different prayer every day of the school month–Christian one day, Jewish the next, Muslim after that, then Buddhist, Hindu, Mormon, Scientologist, Wiccan, and so on, until all the faiths in the school are covered. Such a policy would surely lead to chaos and indifference rather than tolerance. …

The alternative application of the golden rule would be to say, “One out, all out,” and to conclude—I think rightly, for religious even more than constitutional reasons—that public schools are not the place to have official teacher-led prayer, Christian or otherwise. A moment of silence, perhaps; and free to pray alone at any time; and freedom to pray in student-initiated groups after school hours, certainly; but not official prayer in public schools when contemporary levels of the social fact of pluralism mean that the principle of religious liberty for all is contravened.

I couldn’t agree more. I am opposed to bringing teacher-led prayer (TLP) back into the public schools. One thing advocates of TLP often overlook is that the prayers being offered by that teacher will reflect that teacher’s religious views, which may or may not be Christian. If they are not Christian, then what advantage is there of the prayer? I think it is in our best interests to adopt the “one out, all out” approach.

HT: Justin Taylor

Futile care theory is something going on in many parts of the world, including the United States. The essence of futile care theory is that doctors have the right to cut off, or withhold wanted medical care to the cognitively impaired, based on a personal value judgment that their life is not worth preserving, because their life is not worth living.

While I find this practice unethical, those in support of futile care theory make a persuasive case that can beguile the public. Consider bioethicist Arthur Schafer. In the Winnepeg Free Press he wrote:

Inevitably, doctors are the gatekeepers for patient access to medical resources. You can’t obtain restricted medicines unless a doctor is willing to write a prescription; you can’t gain admission to hospital unless a doctor decides that you will benefit thereby. There is a scarcity of intensive care beds; so, to admit or keep patients in the ICU who cannot benefit is to rob others who could benefit. Put simply, one person’s provision is another person’s deprivation. It’s unethical to waste scarce life-saving resources.

If a patient will never again know who or where he is, as appears to be the case for Golobchuk [a Canadian man who is the subject of a legal battle because doctors want to deprive him of medical care], then to artificially prolong his breathing seems at best a waste of precious ICU resources and at worst a cruel ordeal for the patient. Doctors and nurses are not simply technicians providing marketplace services to customers. They are health-care professionals who are bound by the ethical obligation “first of all, do no harm.” When a patient has irreversibly lost self-awareness, then using medical high technology in a vain attempt to resist death is often experienced by doctors and nurses as both unprofessional and deeply demoralizing. Physician integrity includes the right, even the duty, to say “no” when treatments offer no genuine benefit to the patient.

Schafer’s argument is very utilitarian and pragmatic, and this appeals to Westerners (who are very utilitarian and pragmatic). So what is wrong with it? Wesley Smith, a lawyer and long-time advocate against euthanasia and futile care points out the flaws:

Forget for the moment the many times doctors have been wrong about people never regaining consciousness. Schafer is the one de-professionalizing medicine. A plumber can refuse to unclog a pipe, but a doctor has no right to abandon his or her patient. Moreover, Schafer wants doctors to impose their value judgments–as instructed in continuing education clases by bioethicists like Schafer–that the burden of treatment isn’t worth the benefit of continuing to live. But that isn’t a medical judgment, it is a value judgment that we have always been told resides with the patient and family. Moreover, the treatment isn’t being stopped because it doesn’t or might not work but because it does or will–and hence it is not really a “vain attempt to resist death,” but a potentially successful one. And thus it is really the patient who has been declared futile.

Schafer says that staying alive when that is what the patient wants offers no genuine benefit to the patient. He only has the right to make that claim for himself, not for Mr. Golobchuck, you, me, or anyone else. You are watching the redefining of the ultimate purpose of medicine before your very eyes. It isn’t keeping patients alive who want to live, it is treating those who can be cured and reserving the right to refuse service to those who probably won’t improve.

This is what socialized medicine–and its’ private equivalent the HMO–creates. Medical futility is health care rationing that pits one cadre of patients against others, leading to division and discord. It is the end of trust in medicine because if you are too sick or profoundly disabled, medicine wants little to do with you.

Finally, if Futile Care Theory prevails, what in the world makes anyone think that the forced removal of people from wanted treatment will stop at the ICU? People who only need feeding tubes will soon be dehydrated (if they are not lethally injected first), and care will be rationed based on other criteria. For example, as reported in my books, I once asked a futilitiarian what would come after futile care, since cutting off the dying would not save a lot of money. He immediately said restricting “marginally beneficial care.” I asked for an example. He responded, “An 80-year-old woman who wants a mammagram.”

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Well said.

All Evangelicals are conservative Republicans, right? Evangelicals are a political force for the Right, right? That’s what the media would have you believe. This is not true. The Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) and Faith in Public Life (FIPL) discovered that the major network’s exit polls only ask Republican primary voters to identify themselves as “born-again or Evangelical Christian.” The same question does not appear on Democratic exit polls.

CAPAF/FIPL commissioned Zogby International to fill in the gap of our knowledge by doing post-election polling in the states of Missouri and Tennessee. The results are stunning for all those who have bought into the idea that Evangelicals are a mindless voting bloc for the Republican party, and that Evangelicals are only concerned about abortion and same-sex marriage.

One out of three voting white Evangelicals, voted in the Democratic primary. Indeed, 19% of all voting Democrats in Missouri, and 29% of all voting Democrats in Tennessee were white Evangelicals.

What are white Evangelicals concerned about? In Missouri, 30% of white Evangelicals ranked jobs and the economy as the most important issue, while only 14% ranked abortion and same-sex marriage as the most important issue. In Tennessee 34% of white Evangelicals ranked jobs and the economy as the most important issue, while only 19% ranked abortion and same-sex marriage as the most important issue.

So not only are 1/3 of voting white Evangelicals voting for Democrats, but as a group, they are twice as concerned about economic matters as they are moral matters (if we take MO and TN as representative of the nation as a whole). This is extremely significant. Of all Christian groups, Evangelicals are the most conservative, both theologically and morally. When that group is twice as concerned about their own pocketbook as they are about issues of moral justice, we are in trouble!

Philosophers Philippa Foot and Judith Jarvis Thomson devised a moral thought experiment called the Trolley Problem. It goes like this (in the words of Steven Pinker):

On your morning walk, you see a trolley car hurling down the track, the conductor slumped over the controls. In the path of the trolley are five men working on the track, oblivious to the danger. You are standing at a fork in the track and can pull a lever that will divert the trolley onto a spur, saving the five men. Unfortunately, the trolley would then run over a single worker who is laboring on the spur. Is it permissible to throw the switch, killing one man to save five?

Most people say yes. But consider a slightly different scenario:

You are on a bridge overlooking the tracks and have spotted the runaway trolley bearing down on the five workers. Now the only way to stop the trolley is to throw a heavy object in its path. And the only heavy object within reach is a fat man standing next to you—the same man who was laboring on the spur in the previous scenario. Should you throw the man off the bridge?

Most people say no. The question is why. In both scenarios (1) one person must die to save the five, (2) the fat man is the person who must die if the five are to be saved, and (3) your action is required to save the five. So why is it ok to flip the lever but not toss the fat man? Is it due to the relationship of physical proximity to humanization? That is to say, the closer we are physically to someone, the more we regard their person (similar to the way seeing someone die personalizes the concept of death, much different than mere knowledge that people die). Are we repulsed by the idea of tossing the fat man because his increased physical proximity (actually having to touch the man that is about to die because of our direct action) increases our perception of him as a valuable human being (whereas seeing him from afar and touching a lever does not), raising the emotional stakes too high for us to act as we know we should? If so, then the difference in response is merely emotional, not moral. If you think there is a moral difference between the two, however, what is the moral principle involved?

Now consider another, similar scenario:

On your morning walk you see a trolley car hurling down the track, the conductor slumped over the controls. In the path of the trolley is Osama bin Laden and Mother Theresa. You are standing at a fork in the track and can pull a lever that will divert the trolley onto a spur, saving them both. But doing so would cause the train to run over five murderers. Should one throw the switch (killing the five murderers, and sparing Mother Theresa and bin Laden), or should they do nothing (letting the train kill bin Laden and Mother Theresa?

This one is more complex. Unlike the first and second scenarios, here we have a choice between a group of evil people, and a group consisting of both good and evil people. On the one hand, sparing the most people would require that an innocent person be killed, and evil people live. But we would also kill an extremely evil person in the process. On the other hand, acting to spare one innocent person results not only in the death of five evil people, but also the continued life of a person whose evils add up to more than all the evils of the five murderers combined.

This scenario forces us to think about whether it is permissible to hurt the innocent to punish the evil, and whether the cumulative evil of lesser evil people adds up to more evil than a singular, extremely evil man. What do you think? What would you do?

This one is just for fun.

Back on 9/14 I posted “Re-measuring Goliath: 9’9” or 6’9”?” In the comments section I brought up an issue I want to make the focus of a new post: the quality of the Masoretic Text of the OT. It seems that it may not represent the original wording in significant places, particularly in books like Jeremiah and 1 and 2 Samuel. Here are the relevant portions from J. Daniel Hays’ article:

As in the book of Jeremiah, there is quite a difference between the Septuagint text of 1-2 Samuel and the Masoretic Text of 1-2 Samuel. Also similar to the textual situation in Jeremiah is the fact that in 1-2 Samuel the Hebrew text from the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QSama) generally aligns with the Septuagint over against the MT. In addition, the story in 1 Samuel 16-18 represents the place where the differences between the two are the most severe. In the Septuagint text of Codex Vaticanus, our oldest complete Greek Bible, 1 Samuel 16-18 is 44% shorter than in the MT. Not only are entire verses missing but entire paragraphs are missing. In the David and Goliath narrative these include 17:12-31, twenty verses that explain about David and his brothers and how he came to be at the battle, and 17:55-58, the four puzzling verses in which Saul doesn’t seem to know who David is in spite of the fact that David had been playing music for Saul back in 1 Samuel 16. As in Jeremiah, the differences between the Septuagint and the MT go well beyond anything that could be attributed to scribal errors or transmission mistakes. And 4QSama generally (but not always) agrees with the Septuagint against the MT. Either somebody added a large chunk of text to the original autograph, somebody deleted a large chunk of text, or else two different accounts of 1-2 Samuel developed separately.

Practically all scholars agree that the evidence from 4QSama implies that at the time of Christ there were two different Hebrew text traditions of 1-2 Samuel. As mentioned above, the vorlage or text tradition behind the MT in 1-2 Samuel contains many more readily identifiable scribal errors that the tradition reflected in 4QSama/LXX. Furthermore, and of great interest to those of us who try to connect the doctrine of inspiration into our theories of composition, it should be underscored that when using 1-2 Samuel as a source, the author (compiler, editor, etc.) of 1-2 Chronicles (as reflected in the MT) used a Hebrew text from the textual tradition reflected in 4QSama/LXX and not the one that is reflected in the MT of 1-2 Samuel.14 That is, frequently the MT in 1-2 Chronicles disagrees with the MT in 1-2 Samuel, but agrees with the reading in 4QSama and/or the Septuagint. So the inspired author/editor of 1-2 Chronicles either did not have a copy of the MT tradition text of 1-2 Samuel or elected to use the text tradition reflected in 4QSama/LXX, presumably because he regarded it as a superior text.

Our theory of inerrancy has to account for stuff like this. What do we do with ~23 extra verses in the MT version of I Samuel 17-18? If the LXX and DSS preserve the original, inspired form of the book (as seems likely), are we prepared to cross those verses out of our Bibles in the same way we should change Goliath’s height from 9’9” to 6’9”? This is a matter of textual criticism, and is not altogether unlike what we see even in NT text criticism in which the authenticity of long passages is disputed (the longer ending of Mark, the periscope of the woman caught in adultery). The difference here is the quantity of verses that are suspect. Either way, we should be open to the evidence and not shut our eyes to the facts because they make us uncomfortable.

The main reason I bring this up is not to cause anyone to doubt the reliability of Scripture. Indeed, I could write a series of posts arguing for the trustworthiness of Scripture. The reason I bring this up is because it provides an answer for why we find so many contradictions between Samuel and Chronicles when it comes to numbers. For example:

1. In 2 Sam 8:4 David takes 700 horsemen, whereas in 1 Chron 18:4 he takes 7000.

2. In 2 Sam 10:18 David slew the men who drove 700 Syrian chariots, and 40K horsemen, whereas in 1 Chron 19:18 David slew 7000 charioteers and 40K footmen.

3. In 2 Sam 23:8 we are told that David’s chief captain slew 800 men at one time with his spear, whereas in 1 Chron 11:11 he is said to have slain 300.

4. In 2 Sam 24:9 Joab counted 1,300,000 fighting men, whereas in 1 Chron 21:5 he is said to have counted 1,570,000.

Why the discrepancy? It could be due to copyist errors, or a misunderstanding of certain numerical values due to the evolution of the Hebrew numerical system. Given the fact that not all numbers disagree between the two books, this option is unlikely. The best answer is that the Chronicler was using a different Hebrew text of Samuel that had different numerical values in certain places, which means there were at least two competing manuscript traditions of Samuel. Of course, the question remains as to which is the original text, and how the changes were introduced (copyist error, purposeful tampering with the text, misunderstanding of older numerical system, etc.). That is where textual critics enter the stage, and I step off. For what it’s worth, I tend to think the Chronicler was using a superior Hebrew text, and should be given the benefit of the doubt over the MT of Samuel. The MT is a younger text. The DSS and LXX give us a much earlier picture of the text.