Society


Voters by county

Results by County Nov 4 2008

Christian Pastors across America broke Federal tax laws to endorse John McCain’s presidential bid, now that the results are in it’s clear that their congregations ignored them.

Barack Obama attracted 8 per cent more votes from regular church goers than John Kerry did in 2004, up to 43 per cent

There are blue churches as well as red, black as well as white. Michelle Obama’s appearance at the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, during which she made an appeal for votes on behalf of her husband, may also have been a violation of Federal tax laws, according to campaign group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Some Catholic bishops warned congregations that voting for pro-abortion Obama would be against their faith, yet there was a 9 point jump in Catholic support, up to 54 per cent.

Faced with the choice between an eternal conservative administration and eternal damnation they chose damnation. They may fear for their souls, but in the current economic climate they fear more for their jobs.

docWhen you watch a British documentary you expect cynicism, especially when it’s about a controversial American sub-culture, all the more so if there’s a religious link.  The recent Cutting Edge documentary ‘The Virgin Daughters’, about the American purity movement, actually manages to overcome its instincts and seem sympathetic.

The program is structured around families who attend an elaborate annual purity ball in Colorado Springs, where fathers pledge to be loving and honourable, and their daughters pledge their chastity until marriage.

 From the father’s perspective, if their daughter feel loved they won’t need to go looking for male affirmation outside the home.  The daughters just seem happy to be loved, all be it in a somewhat overbearing way.

These are well-meaning people trying to clear a pathway for their children through a morally turbulent world.  There is no damning by editor, there’s hardly even any sinister music, the whole experience was quite refreshing.

As bonkers as the idea of kissing your husband for the first time on your wedding day may seem to some, and as tightly controlled as these children are, I couldn’t help but be won-over by the big-hearted sincerity of these terribly earnest Americans.

The interviewees were given just enough rope to hang themselves, and to the frustration of Times critic Tim Teeman, none of them did:

“It was not as savage as it could have been, nor as insightful. It didn’t investigate, it observed almost without any perspective – as if the camera had no one holding it. A depressingly wasted hour.”

The Tent is an architectural statement of intent, a speck of peace within the swirling business of London’s financial district.

 

Made in Saudi Arabia it boasts Moroccan tiling, British stained glass, and rugs woven in places of conflict throughout the world. 

 

The Tent at St Ethelburga'sThe brainchild of Simon Keyes, Creative Director of St Ethelburga’s Centre for Rehabilitation and Peace, the Tent was designed to facilitate inter-faith dialogue within one of the world’s most ethnically diverse cities. 

 

It has no religious adornment, instead designer Keith Critchlow drew on the universal languages of astronomy and “sacred geometry”.

 

Inter-faith co-ordinator Justine Huxley says: “The centre itself was founded by the Archbishop of London, who stood in the rubble after the building was destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993, and decided that this 12th Century church should be rebuilt to house a place tasked with considering the link between religion and conflict.” 

 

Huxley says their basic currency is dialogue, and that they’ve had success in codifying how best to facilitate that dialogue: “We’ve learnt a lot about religious etiquette, participation, and creating an inclusive space.  But we’ve gone beyond finding out about each other now, and we’re learning to collaborate. 

 

“Of course there are areas of theology that are irreconcilable, a Christian will say, ‘Father, Son and Holy Ghost’ a Muslim will say, ‘One God’, but that doesn’t mean we can’t communicate with each other.  We want to create a space where people can disagree without violence.” 

 

Members of different faiths are encouraged to pray and meditate together at St Ethelburga’s.  Some fundamentalists consider shared devotion abhorrent.  Huxley says: “We haven’t got to the point yet where we are actively seeking people who are anti inter-faith, but by standing up for our own values we can open people’s minds.

 

“We have had evangelical Christians come here, and from the outset they were very hostile towards what we do.  But after spending time with us they suddenly got it, it was heart-warming, and they left changed.”

In case you’ve missed it Roy Greenslade and Jeff Jarvis have been debating whether journalists are to blame for not anticipating the technological changes threatening to close newspapers.

 

Jarvis took Greenslade to task for saying that journalists “cannot be held responsible for either the financial woes of the industry nor for the public turning its back on the ‘products’ that contain their work”.  A view broadly supported by City University’s Adrian Monck and Paul Farhi from the Washington Post.

 

Both agree that new media is bringing new opportunities to the industry at the expense of irrevocable changes.

 

The brass facts are that people continue to consume news, and that the internet is enabling them to consume more news, more efficiently, with more bells and whistles, than ever before.  I personally don’t see how this constitutes a threat to the journalist’s trade. 

 

News fulfils a basic need for information.  Newspapers have refined their product over hundreds of years in line with ferocious market forces.  The internet doesn’t threaten the creation of quality information or the commoditisation of that information, it is a medium which exists to order and present information.  The presentation of information is the building block of every webpage, the primary function of HTML, the internet’s DNA.

 

Print media is experiencing a seismic shift, newspapers are becoming untenable, whilst the online alternatives remain unproven and underdeveloped.  The resulting instability threatens journalists who have hitherto existed in illustrious print institutions, but it doesn’t threaten the wider role of journalism within society. 

 

Online news generation is stunted by the sheer volume of news circulated online by unprofitable print newspapers.  Their business models look increasingly archaic, but by the great generosity of their patrons they remain a lumbering barrier to entry for online ventures with potentially profitable business models.

 

The internet is changing the news business, but not the essential product, the written word.  A few papers will go bust and others will consolidate, but newspapers will survive.  Fresh information will retain its value, people will seek it out and companies will pay to advertise alongside it, whether by the pixel or by the inch.

 

For regular updates on the slow death of the newspapers try Newspaperdeathwatch.

 

The collapse of global markets is generally considered to be a bad thing, but I pride myself on being able to spot a silver lining. 

 

However badly markets fare, we in the west are unlikely to slip into absolute poverty, we’re not going to starve.  Our notion of poverty is a relative one, relative to those living around us, and so is our measure of wealth.

 

I count myself amongst the hapless winners in this global economic downturn.  I own no stocks, I own no property, I have no assets to speak of, just my own human capital.  From my perspective a reduction in asset prices is a good thing.  If the markets really tank I might even be able to afford a house. 

  

In anticipation of a global recession petrol prices are falling, food prices are off their highs.  Every time a jobless banker is forced to sell his Porsche I get a little richer, if only comparatively.  Compared with Britain’s richest man, Lakshmi Mittal, who has lost £20bn in the past four months, I’m smelling of roses.  My only concern (I concede it is a sizable one) is securing future employment.

 

The 3 billion people who live on less than $2.50 a day are also getting richer, compared with the global average; but then relative wealth is a hollow measurement when you’re living in absolute poverty.

 

33 Pastors across 22 American states are putting their toes into constitutional hot water by endorsing Senator McCain’s presidential campaign from the pulpit.  Their actions are a deliberate challenge to tax laws prohibiting pulpit-politicking.

 

Rev. Broden said in the Dallas Morning News: ‘”What I did (on Sunday) is consistent with the freedoms that are guaranteed me under the Constitution.  Second, I’m being consistent with my call as a minister and a prophetic voice in the culture.”

 

Broden considered the church’s and the candidates’ positions on abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and same-sex marriage.

 

“The Democratic candidate did not fit our view,” he said. “The Republican did.”’

 

The “establishment clause” in the 1st Amendment prohibits government from showing preference to a particular religion or interfering in that religion, and vice-versa.  Thomas Jefferson said this was intended to erect a “wall of separation between church and state”.

 

Why is this wall important?  For the same reason that an employer should be prohibited from influencing the votes of their employees.  Institutions have power over people, and that power can be used to pervert the natural course of democracy.  These churches seek to influence the way their congregations vote, which of course some already do through more covert mechanisms.

 

Churches exert considerable social pressure on their members to conform to and internalise moral principles.  When a pastors tells their congregation that one political candidate shares their common moral principals they are endorsing one and condeming the other. 

 

 

Politicising religion is an obvious danger to individual freedom, to the freedom of government from powerful and unelected religious influence, and what’s more, to the freedom of religion from government influence. 

 

If Jefferson’s wall does come down, church and state may intertwine in complicated and unexpected ways.

 

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State reported six churches to the IRS for violating federal tax laws by endorsing candidates from the pulpit. 

 

And here’s one take on the original story from the Dallas Morning News:  

 

 

“The retreat of God from education has left a moral and spiritual vacuum and the breakdown of any shared value system.” Tim Hastie-Smith, Chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference said yesterday.

As a fairly liberal, fairly lapsed, British Anglican, preparing to settle down in America’s Bible Belt I can see both sides of the coin. The hole left in the individual by our national secularism isn’t satisfactorily filled by our blossoming individualism, since it lacks any unifying moral and philosophical content. To rework an old phrase, there is a God shaped hole in the heart of Britain, and for many secularism, individualism and rationalism cannot fill it, no matter how fanatical the incarnation.

Americans in the southern states are often conservative, they live more comfortably under authority than the British, and are more readily accepting of dogma, which despite being heavy on faith and light on fact, provides them with a personal spiritual bulwark and unites their communities. American schools have a thing called ‘school spirit’, an anathema to cynical Brits where there could be no more assured social suicide than cheerleading for you school, or for any other authoritative institution.

In Britain we often look down our noses at the Individualistic Americans, but we are, in many cases, more individualist than they are, since they at least have God. As a nation we struggle and chafe against anything bigger than ourselves: we have stripped ourselves of religion; of any useful expression of national pride; we routinely besmirch our fine institutions and national heroes; and gradually let our social idealism turn to greed.