Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Religion damages society? Take 2

The short & clever comment award goes to K-LO at NRO:
HEAVEN HELP US [Kathryn Jean Lopez]
No, wait. I guess that won't work, according to this study: "Widespread Belief in Creator Increases Crime, Death & Disease."
Thanks to the miracles of a TECHNORATI search, here are links to some other blogger's comments on Gary Paul's article "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look" and the corresponding TIMES article.
Besides using TECHNORATI searches, people have found my blog by following a Blogsnow search of blogs linking to the TIMES article. There are currently 260 blogs listed, with yours truly at #2 chronologically.

Following links from a related TECHNORATI search, I found Uncommon Descent, which noted that Mr. Paul is a palaeontologist and pointed me at this transcript:
GREGORY PAUL: Being a palaeontologist, I've for many years had to deal with the issue of creationism verus evolutionary science in this country.

The United States is pretty much the only prosperous democracy where religion is still highly popular, with about two-thirds of the population absolutely believing in God, and creationism being very popular in among half of society.

In all the other prosperous democracies religion is much less popular now and evolution is highly accepted. So it's an issue, it's a problem I had to deal with.
Based on that interview, I'd say that Mr. Paul has an axe to grind! Now it becomes obvious why he spent so much of his article on evolution versus creationism. The interviewer, Julia Limb, also talked with a Melbourne professor of sociology, who provided some counterweight:
JULIA LIMB: But Gary Bouma, who is Professor of Sociology at Monash University in Melbourne and an Anglican priest, says the research is flawed.

GARY BOUMA: This kind of argument goes around and around and of course it comes up again now in the context of the "intelligent design" debate when he is deciding to, as a palaeontologist to make a contribution, but he doesn't stick to his field of palaeontology, he goes into the field of what I would call sociology without preparation or evidence or discipline and make some assertions about it.

JULIA LIMB: And Professor Bouma questions Mr Paul's spin on the data he's compared.

GARY BOUMA: He hasn't provided the argument about how it is that religion might explain this kind of association, why it is that more religious country would be more prone to the kinds of social disorganisation that he mentions, such as a high murder rate and a high teenage pregnancy rate.

I'm sorry, the causes for those things are much more likely to be found in other explanations than religious ones.

I totally agree with the Professor Bouma!

[Update 9/29, 12:00] Also check Joseph Farah's commentary at World Net Daily. (Hat tip to Hit & Run)

[Update 10/4, 3:00] Kenny Pierce pointed me to the excellent statistical review at Magic Statistics, "From our bulging How not to do statistics file."

Monday, September 26, 2005

Religion damages society?

Some nights, my mind reels after wending my way around the internet. Take, for instance, this story from The Times, "Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side':" (Hat tip

RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society. [...]

[The author] said that most Western nations would become more religious only if the theory of evolution could be overturned and the existence of God scientifically proven. Likewise, the theory of evolution would not enjoy majority support in the US unless there was a marked decline in religious belief, Mr Paul said.

“The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator.

“The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted."

My first reaction was that the researcher, Gregory Paul, had confounded causation with correlation. The reporter certainly seems to have fallen for that fallacy! So I went looking for the journal article itself.

If you're so inclined, the full article is "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look", published by the Journal of Religion and Society, Volume 7 (2005). The abstract posits:
Cross-national comparisons of highly differing rates of religiosity and societal conditions form a mass epidemiological experiment that can be used to test whether high rates of belief in and worship of a creator are necessary for high levels of social health. Data correlations show that in almost all regards the highly secular democracies consistently enjoy low rates of societal dysfunction, while pro-religious and anti-evolution America performs poorly.
In the article proper, Mr. Paul states that "it is not the purpose of this initial study to definitively demonstrate a causal link between religion and social conditions." (paragraph 12). Phew!

I can't help thinking, though, that he's asking the wrong questions about the wrong populations. Data in the aggregate about the different nations is one thing, but I don't see that he has looked for data on the behaviors of religious and non-religious sub-populations within those countries. For example, he makes the following observation (para. 16):
Increasing adolescent abortion rates show positive correlation with increasing belief and worship of a creator, and negative correlation with increasing non-theism and acceptance of evolution; again rates are uniquely high in the U.S. (Figure 8). Claims that secular cultures aggravate abortion rates (John Paul II) are therefore contradicted by the quantitative data.
What are the adolescent abortion rates among active church-goers? Among Catholics? Among Protestants, Jews, Muslims, or Wiccans? What about correlations by ethnic population, socio-economic classes, or political persuasion? How do all those compare to the aggregate abortion statistics? Has he controlled for the cultural and racial cohesion of countries like Japan and Switzerland versus the ethnic stew of the United States?

The article concludes:
There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions, secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms (Aral and Holmes; Beeghley, Doyle, 2002). It is the responsibility of the research community to address controversial issues and provide the information that the citizens of democracies need to chart their future courses.
He does ask some interesting questions, wondering why when the US is so rich it still has "deep social problems". I just don't think he's going to find useful answers using religion and evolution frames of reference.

OTOH, for a strong anecdotal case that religion can adversely affect culture, check out item #10 from the Carnival of the Insanities, posted over at Dr. Sanity:
10. World's highest child mortality rates; 70% of women illiterate...but why bother to change priorities? This is more important. Or this.
I wonder how Mr. Paul's survey results would change if these countries were included? Especially when you have Top ten reasons why sharia is bad for all societies.

[Update] I posted more on this topic in "Religion Damages Society? Take 2".

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Stuck on Stupid

Glenn Reynolds thinks the words uttered by General Honore today in a news conference may become the blogosphere's new catch phrase. He discussed it briefly on Hugh Hewitt's show this evening, although he had another reason for being there: discussing Porkbusters.

I think the blogosphere should have a periodic "Stuck on Stupid" Carnival, joining others such as Carnival of the Insanities, New Jersey bloggers, Cotillion, and the Christian Carnival. Blog Carnival has an extensive list for the insominacs among us.

My nomination this week for someone "Stuck on Stupid" would be the Right Reverend Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford, and his colleagues. According to a story in the News Telegraph, "Bishops suggest apologising to Muslim leaders for Iraq war:"
The Church of England should arrange a meeting with Muslim leaders to say sorry for the Iraq war, a group of senior bishops suggests today.

In the absence of a Government apology, a "truth and reconciliation commission" involving religious leaders could be formed to apologise for the West's "errors", the bishops say in a new report.

The report, "Countering Terrorism: Power, Violence and Democracy Post 9/11", was written by a working group of the Church of England's House of Bishops, chaired by the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev Richard Harries.

The Times (London) also has the story.

The Telegraph's editorial concluded (Hat tip to
One more thing. The bishops hope to appeal to "the various religious constituencies of the Iraqi community". As things are going in Iraq, its ancient Christian community will soon be heading, like that of the Holy Land, towards extinction. The bishops should be thinking of them, helping them - even praying for them.

The bishops provide a prime example of the mindset of the liberal intelligensia for whom I wrote the "Litany for Liberal Christians" (at bottom of "Why I didn't go to Church today"). Salient quote:
We have apologized to our enemies for our very existence while rebuking our leaders for fighting that evil.
I can understand preferring reconciliation and peace-making to the bloody reality of the battle field, but the bishops' apology accomplishes little except providing propaganda for the jihadists and publicity for themselves. Some saints do work directly for reconciliation, and I applaud their efforts. My pastor recommends the writings of Elias Chacour (Shah-koor), saying: "As a Christian Palestinian he is quite convincing in word and deed that even bitter enemies can be reconciled – his life and works in Israel are to that end. I was affected by his book, Blood Brothers because it does demonstrate a vision for peace."

Despite the left's keening, if you read President Bush's speech last week at the UN, you'll discover that force of arms is but one of many tools being used in the war.
Yet we know that this war will not be won by force of arms alone. We must defeat the terrorists on the battlefield, and we must also defeat them in the battle of ideas. We must change the conditions that allow terrorists to flourish and recruit, by spreading the hope of freedom to millions who've never known it. We must help raise up the failing states and stagnant societies that provide fertile ground for the terrorists. We must defend and extend a vision of human dignity, and opportunity, and prosperity -- a vision far stronger than the dark appeal of resentment and murder.
There's more than enough work here for everyone, both warrior and peace-maker.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Great Trailer Debate

Hugh Hewitt spent several segments of his radio program tonight ripping the FEMA decision that it was going to buy 300,000 trailers at a cost of $5 billion (Washington Post story). Hugh wrote:
Look: Give every family a check. A good sized check. Tell them that's their relief payment and to use it wisely. Match them with churches/not-for-profits around the country and ship them out. Creating trailer parks for this many people is just a terrible idea.
Hugh seems cavalier about just shipping people out of the region. His penchant for using vouchers assumes people are in a market with plenty of available housing--or are willing to move to such an area. That doesn't describe the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

I have a couple of employees in the Pascagoula area, both of whom, fortunately, still have homes standing after the storm, although their neighbors weren't all so lucky. (See "After the Storm" below.) Both want to return to work at the shipyard, but can't until the shipyard is cleaned up, and that requires workers who, in turn, require places to live, stores to shop at, and banks to cash checks. It's hard to rebuild an area if everyone moves out and there are no facilities to house those doing reconstruction. I am happy to report that the situation improves daily, but there's much yet to be done.

Hugh had Rick of Stones Cry Out on his program this evening, because disaster prep and recovery is his field of expertise. In fact, Rick is on stand-by to work for FEMA. I left this comment on his blog:

I have employees in the Pascagoula area, where the shipyard is the major employer. There's a problem that people can't get back to work if they don't have a place to live. Hugh Hewitt's suggestion of having people relocate out of the area until it's rebuilt ignores the questions of where the rebuilders are going to live and how people are supposed to coordinate with their insurance agents and contractors if they're not in the area? Besides, dispersing the workforce won't help the shipyard and other businesses reopen faster so people can have a real income again. Fortunately, the big companies like Northrop Grumman are providing salary continuation for the nonce.

I know that some folks working with their insurance companies to rebuild their homes plan to start with a trailer on their own lot as shelter while the construction goes on. It would be ironic if they couldn't get the trailers they need because FEMA cornered the market.

Trailers aren't the only option, either. According to the Sun-Herald, FEMA is working to get a cruise ship docked in Mobile so people can move out of Red Cross shelters in Jackson county.

Bowman said FEMA officials hope to move the cruise ship to Pascagoula within two weeks.

"The governor, MEMA and FEMA are very sensitive to the fact that a lot of people do not want to be in Mobile because they want to be close to where they live to deal with things like insurance claims," Bowman said.

Bowman said evacuees would be allowed to bring their own vehicles. For those without transportation, a shuttle system would be developed.

"We will not strand them in Mobile," Bowman said.

It sounds like Mr. Bowman of FEMA has a better grip on the reality of the front-line situation than Hugh Hewitt.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Overcoming Evil with Good

I've been exchanging emails with my pastor this week, a conversation precipitated by my ire at the litany chosen last Sunday. I sent him the beautiful poem that Presbypoet left in the comments:
"On Loving Our Enemy"

You demand we love our enemies.
How can we love the killers of Fallujah?
What do You mean when You say to forgive?
Does love do nothing and ignore evil?

What did You mean when You said.
"Let he without sin cast the first stone."
Do we sit silent and do nothing
when evil shows its full face?

Is this what it means to turn the other cheek?
Is that what You demand?
How can we approve what they did?
How can we endorse what they did?

Is it that we should not react but respond?
Not simply seek revenge but justice?
Is this the hard lesson we must learn?
We cannot do it on our own.

You did not remain silent
in the temple that day.
Your righteous anger showed us
sometime response is required.

Lord teach us to hear You
when revenge tempts us.
Help us learn how to forgive
and when to overturn tables.

(Matthew 5:38-39,43-47, 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, 23:34, John 2:14, 8:7)
(c) Presbypoet, April 2, 2004
His poetry blog is at He has some very profound verse there.

My pastor wrote back, asking some semi-rhetorical questions about the imperative for Christians to overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21 states "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." I decided to explore the topic some more.

I don't know how to present the case that warfare, per se, is not necessarily evil. Perhaps the Catholic teachings on the Just War Doctrine should be considered. I found this explanation at very interesting. It distinguishes between individual responsibilities and government responsibilities (emphasis added):
All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. Despite this admonition of the Church, it sometimes becomes necessary to use force to obtain the end of justice. This is the right, and the duty, of those who have responsibilities for others, such as civil leaders and police forces. While individuals may renounce all violence those who must preserve justice may not do so, though it should be the last resort, "once all peace efforts have failed." [Cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et spes 79, 4]

As with all moral acts the use of force to obtain justice must comply with three conditions to be morally good. First, the act must be good in itself. The use of force to obtain justice is morally licit in itself. Second, it must be done with a good intention, which as noted earlier must be to correct vice, to restore justice or to restrain evil, and not to inflict evil for its own sake. Thirdly, it must be appropriate in the circumstances. An act which may otherwise be good and well motivated can be sinful by reason of imprudent judgment and execution.
If the doomsayers had been correct in their fears about hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq, millions of refugees, chemical warfare, pestilence and disease running rampant, then certainly history would judge the invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein a gross mistake. For perspective, read Victor Davis Hanson's pre-invasion article and his retrospective from last March. While you're at it, go read his piece on "Evil over Good."

My pastor prefers peace-making to warfare, and wanted some examples of "mustard seed" activities. To see what some of the "mustard seed" activities have been, you need to go way beyond the New York Times. Arthur Chrenkoff has been compiling roundups of good news from Afghanistan and Iraq periodically for the past 18 months; has been carrying the posts. The latest from Iraq is at here, and the latest from Afghanistan is here.

I think that there is no single "Christian response" to evil in the world; every person faces different circumstances and opportunities, with differing sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Some are called to be healers, some warriors; both are needed in the present dispensation. Read I Corinthians 12:14-26. I cede the point that "warrior" was not on Paul's list!

Finally, a Google search on "Ecclesiastes season" dug up the article "ECCLESIASTES AND THE SEASON OF WAR: COMMENTS FROM TOWARD TRADITION," published on Sept 25, 2001. Rabbi Daniel Lapin wrote:
“Forgiveness is Divine and a wonderful trait to emulate. However, right now, the only people with the ability to forgive are mostly buried beneath tons of rubble. The rest of us must humbly shoulder the burden of a nation unified for war just as we have been unified for peace in the past, and God willing, will again be so in the future.

“As soldiers sail, fly, and march off to combat, and as civilians pledge their support of the America’s warriors, both should do so with a full heart, knowing that - like birth and planting and falling in love - war can be the seed of a future that is much to be desired. It is the season of war, and who knows what good things will be born of it? The defeat of wickedness is a very good thing indeed.”


Monday, September 12, 2005

After the Storm

Pictures from Bobbie, taken 8/29-9/1 in Ocean Springs and Moss Point, MS.

Update: Welcome Polipundit readers! Two related posts about Bobbie are here and here.

Thank-you note from Bobbie in Mississippi

Our company brethren in Virginia Beach sent a truck with relief supplies to the Pascagoula area over Labor Day weekend. Bobbie's grandson Nick literally had no clothes of his own after the storm, so Bobbie had asked for clothes for him--a request I relayed to the VA Beach team, and they came through with style!


This is the picture of my two little homeless urchins. Right after a bath these are the clothes they put on that came from the NGDMS truck. Nick's are from a book bag that was sent to me from Sarah Cooke. Lexi Girl has on a pair of PJs from that truck with her stuffed animal. (also from the truck) They thought they were something and my Nick said," Look Gran, these are the clothes that your nice friends sent to me"! I don't think those kids know exactly what has happened to them yet!! With the Grace of God and people like all of you, they may never!!

Lexi has on a pair of thong sandals that light up when she walks and does she think she is the Queen of Sheba or what. They even asked me, "Gran don't we have any of our clothes anymore?" I said, No baby, but it's OK, you'll get whatever you need. He just said OK Gran and went about his business as only a child can. Maybe when you see the smiles on the Joys of my Life along with their 4 cousins, how I feel will shine through. I truly hope so. My love and appreciation is felt for all of you everyday. Thank you and Thank you.



Sunday, September 11, 2005

Why I didn't go to Church today

My church was having a 9/11 tribute & remembrance this morning. Being a choir member, I got a copy of the service bulletin last Thursday and read through it. I was by turns angry and appalled when I read the "Litany of Remembrance, Penitence, and Hope", written by The Reverend Eileen W. Lindner and Reverend Marcel A. Welty, National Council of Churches, in 2002.

This post is adapted from a letter I just sent my pastor explaining my absence.

Dear Pastor,

You might have noticed that I was absent from church on Sunday and the 9/11 remembrance. It was a deliberate choice on my part, and you deserve to know why.

I picked up a bulletin on Thursday night before choir practice, and read through the NCC litany. I was absent from church because I could not, in good conscience, participate in that litany. Let me share some of my observations:
We light a candle in penitence, recognizing that we have not done enough to address the sources of anger, hate, dehumanization, rage, and indignation that lead to acts of violence.
This is a noble sentiment if we're talking about the slums of Camden. It has nothing to do with the motivation of jihadists who want to kill us to cleanse the planet for Allah (although it could be argued that the US government has turned a blind eye to Saudi support for the Wahhabbis and their murderous teachings, which are a root cause of today's terrorism). It has nothing to do with official policies in Zimbabwe or Sudan that sanction state-sponsored violence against their own citizens. Go read Victor Davis Hanson, "Keep Quiet And Listen!"
In our sadness, horror and shock we acknowledge that our own fears turned murderous and we have sought revenge, sometimes against even the innocent.
This one I'll grant you since I do remember some incidents against Sikhs, for example. I suspect, however, that the authors of this litany are also casting stones at the military response set in motion to root out the terrorists, their training camps, and the organizations and regimes that supported them. What is easy to forget is that Osama bin Laden and his ideological allies have been active terrorists for decades, even before the first Gulf War brought US troops to Saudi soil. We have finally acknowledged that jihadists are waging war against our civilization (again!), and it's time to fight back (again!). The Army has a comprehensive timeline at
We confess and regret our own anger and recognize its dangers to our spirits, our health, our community, and others.
Anger is a problem only when it festers and has no constructive outlet. I'm angry at the social pathology that was on display in New Orleans after the hurricane, but there's not much I can do about it. I can, however, channel that anger and frustration into positive action locally by participating in our Habitat for Humanity work team, which will help alleviate similar problems that exist in Camden. Rather than induce guilt that we have human emotions, I would much rather you preach anger as a prelude to action. Think about Jesus's anger while overturning the moneychangers' tables in the Temple.
In the midst of the aftermath of the events of September 11th, 2001 we have been tempted to seek only our own good, hear only our own truth, acknowledge only our own suffering.
Even in 2002, this was no longer true. Since then coalition forces have liberated more than 25 million people from the yoke of tyranny in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most recently there were huge outpourings of government and private aid after the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. Personally, I think the self-centered keening of Cindy Sheehan and her ilk represents a tiny minority of Americans.
We know that peace will come to us and to our children only when the concerns of justice anywhere become the subject of political and social will everywhere, and that no justice leads to no peace.
Western "justice" isn't what the jihadists are aiming for. "Justice" is a loaded term, and the rights we expect as citizens of a modern democracy are quite at odds with the "justice" under Sharia that the Taliban practiced. Are the authors willing to live as Christians under Sharia?
In striving for national security and domestic peace we run the risk of confusing might for right and participating in the very behaviors we condemn.
Which behaviors are those, exactly? Beheading our enemies and broadcasting the video on the Internet? I'm afraid we're more at risk of confusing political correctness with right action. Michelle Malkin pointed out recently how absurd it is for the government to avoid "profiling" in law enforcement while insisting on it for government contracting.
Guard and guide our country that in our search for security we may not trample the rights of the innocent nor disregard the rule of law. Let us not confuse leadership within the global community as the voice for the whole community.
Not a chance of the latter while the Main-stream media is so antagonistic to the Bush Administration.
Repentance means to turn away from wrong deeds. Repentance means choosing instead deeds which require moral restraint, and are more beneficial to all persons who suffer.
Huh? This definition of repentance doesn't match John Wesley's. Even if you go with Webster's first definition of repent, "to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's life," the authors are still stretching the meaning to relate it to benefiting "all persons who suffer".
We light a candle to light the way to a better world for our children and our children's children, and all the children of God.
Gee, that accomplishes so much.
We recall with joy the unity we felt in the outpouring of help, kindness, thoughtful words and deeds from at home and around the world. We must hold firmly to our unity, borne forward now not of tragedy but of loving kindness. We place fresh confidence in international organizations and conversations that bring the diverse gifts of the world to the problems of poverty, injustice, terror and strife.
Do they remember the celebrations in the streets of Palestine over the fall of the Twin Towers? Unity is over-rated. To wait for total unity is to wait forever. International organizations are only as effective as the people who lead them, and even then, good intentions don't necessarily equate to good results. Since 2002, we've learned a lot about the scandalous Oil-for-Food program at the United Nations, and the evidence that nations on the Security Council itself were profiting from the "sanctions". See Claudia Rosett's latest article.
We long for wise policies that forego short term gain for long term stability, justice and peace.
Sounds like realpolitik. However, realpolitik also means tolerating bad situations in the name of "stability" and "peace", as was done during the Cold War. Stability and lack of armed conflict do not guarantee "justice" nor prosperity nor freedom.
In a time marked by tragedy and war we can hope for an era yet to come in which the slaughter of innocents, greed, the ambitions of power, and cultural and religious bigotries are but memories of a dim and unenlightened past.
The Second Coming of Christ? Somehow, I don't think that's what they mean.
God of the ages, before your eyes all empires rise and fall yet you are changeless. Be near us in this age of terror and these moments of remembrance. Uphold those who work and watch and wait and weep and love. By your Holy Spirit give rise in us to broad sympathy for all the peoples of Your earth. Strengthen us to comfort those who mourn and work in large ways and small for those things that make for peace. Bless the people and leaders of this nation and all nations so that warfare, like slavery before it, may become only a historic memory.
Sympathy is a nice sentiment, but changes little. War is ugly, messy, and destructive, which is why we would rather avoid it. (Consider the Star Trek episode "A Taste of Armageddon"). But there are times when the "peace" of inaction is a worse choice. We ignored the terrorists for decades, which only emboldened them because they perceived us as weak and weak-willed.

I suggest an alternate "Litany for Liberal Christians", something along these lines:
We have focused on our own short-comings as individuals and as a nation with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but failed to move forward and seek constructive ways to build a better world.

We have been fearful of change, clinging to failed policies and ideologies, unwilling to face realities that don't fit neatly into how we understand the world works.

We have learned the wrong lessons from history, focused on our mistakes and ignored our victories.

We have cheered when cartoon heroes fight evil doers, but declined to call evil by name in the real world. We have apologized to our enemies for our very existence while rebuking our leaders for fighting that evil.

We have been hypocrites, piously intoning our commitment to freedom and self-determination for all people, freedom of religion, economic justice, and women's rights, while castigating those who are working to achieve those lofty ideals in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, and elsewhere.

We have been timid in our Christianity, instead making sacrifices at the altars of "multi-culturalism" and "political correctness" that have sapped our strength and undermined the Great Commission to proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Great God, forgive us.
Update: Welcome readers from The Anchoress and Desperate Preacher. Thanks for stopping by. You might also be interested in my Labor Day reflections.

Update II: Welcome Brutally Honest readers! And check out the lovely poem Presbypoet left in the comments.

Update III (9/14/05): Welcome Photon Courier readers!

Update IV: See my follow-on post "Overcoming Evil with Good"

Update V (9/20/05): See a related post "Stuck on Stupid"

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Angels in Disguise

Bobbie S., one of my employees in Pascagoula, has been busy this past week. It took them two days to chop their way back to their neighborhood, where her house was one of the few left standing. With that miracle, she provided shelter to 26 people for several days.

She estimates she has cooked meals for more than 500 people, including the 17 homeless colleagues of her daughter's at the local hospital, and disaster relief workers.

She's been making supply runs to Pensacola, and helping distribute the goods trucked in by our company brethren in Virginia Beach this past weekend.

Bobbie feels that God spared her and her family for a reason, and she has to share what she can with those less fortunate. Life is slowly improving: she got power back at her home this afternoon. However, there is still tremendous need and thousands are homeless in the region.

Some have called her an angel in disguise. She denies that she's an angel, insisting that she's just one of many who are helping their neighbors.

I've asked her to email me stories I can post, so stay tuned.

UPDATE [9/7/05 7:45 pm]: I was on Hugh Hewitt's show this past hour talking about how Bobbie is helping those in greater need than herself. If you'd like to help people like her in the area (and there are many), I suggest working through your churches and synagogues; Hugh is encouraging partnering efforts. Also long term, Habitat for Humanity is launching "Operation Home Delivery" to help people rebuild their homes and their lives.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Labor Day Thoughts

"Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country." —— U.S. Department of Labor

Given the lessening clout of the labor unions in general, I propose that we think instead about the labors we have as a country to improve our national well-being. With the desolation wrought by Hurricane Katrina across four states, and the remembrance of the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks next weekend, it seems worthwhile to meditate on where we as a people need to improve.

Several writers have commented on the moral collapse in New Orleans:
This is a meme that will likely continue for a while. I know it's something I've been thinking about this week while looking for some concrete way to turn frustration into positive action.

Although I work in New Jersey, I supervise two employees who live and work in the vicinity of Pascagoula, MS. Both were incommunicado for several nerve-wracking days; one checked in on Wednesday morning, the other on Friday morning. Praise God both are safe and have homes they can live in. Last Wednesday morning, before I knew they were safe, I was anxious and frustrated that I couldn't do anything to help them other than pray and send money (I'm donating via the Salvation Army, UMCOR, and our company relief fund).

Seeing the pictures of the disorder in New Orleans got me thinking, though, because they reminded me of the ghetto riots in the late sixties as well as the riots in Los Angeles following the Rodney King beating trial. The pathology on display in New Orleans is hardly unique to that city, but exists all over the United States, especially in large urban areas.

I happen to live near Camden, where even dedicated social workers and church activists are starting to admit that after forty years and millions of dollars spent on welfare and social services, they haven't made an appreciable difference in the city's slums. I heard one minister comment that the only thing left to do is pray, since nothing they've been doing works anymore —— if it ever did. He went on to say that perhaps the church's efforts (in our case, United Methodist) had gone too far in providing value-neutral assistance just like the government, leaving out the Gospel message and its emphasis on an individual's salvation and accountability. This is pretty much the approach prescribed in the denomination's Social Principles. For example, this paragraph on Poverty states,
Therefore, we do not hold poor people morally responsible for their economic state. To begin to alleviate poverty, we support such policies as: adequate income maintenance, quality education, decent housing, job training, meaningful employment opportunities, adequate medical and hospital care, and humanization and radical revisions of welfare programs.
I sometimes wonder if mainline Protestant professional do-gooders hold poor people responsible for anything: victimhood is writ large in the policies supported above. Note the emphasis on creating utopia through government policies, with no imperative for direction action such as missionary work. I think John Wesley (not to mention William Booth) would be appalled. At least the United Methodist Committee on Relief is rather more pragmatic.

Fortunately, there are direct ways to improve society. My favorite is Habitat for Humanity, with its emphasis on providing a hand up rather than a hand-out. Our church has covenanted with Metro Camden HFH to build a house this year. I intend to be on that work team, as well as supporting it financially.

It's easy to focus on just one catastrophe such as Katrina or the tsunami, and forget to support the day-to-day efforts of charities closer to home. While I was writing checks this week, I also dropped a couple to my local Salvation Army and American Red Cross chapters. Won't you?

P.S. If you'd like some positive news about your tax dollars providing relief on the Gulf Coast, check out DefenseLink.