In April 1951, 9,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses boarded the Trans-Siberian railway and were sent to the far eastern corner of Russia, where they would effectively disappear. In both Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses were accused of being unpatriotic. Adherents to this sect of Christianity don’t vote, don’t attend patriotic statements that glorify violence, and don’t participate in war. In Nazi Germany, they refused to profess “Heil Hitler”, and now under Vladimir Putin, they refuse to join the Russian Orthodox Church or publicly oppose Syrian rebels. On April 20, Russia’s supreme court labeled Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist group, putting them on the same level as other militant extremist groups like Al-Qaeda and IS. Russia’s supreme court ordered that the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Russian headquarters be closed, as well as their 395 local chapters.
On March 28th, a Washington Post profile on Mike Pence’s wife, Karen Pence, emphasized the closeness in their marriage by reiterating a controversial policy of theirs: Mike Pence does not eat alone with any woman besides Karen, nor does he attend any event that has alcohol present without her. While some laud this commitment to honoring and protecting his marriage, others have voiced concerns about the practicality of following such a rule and fairly performing the roles of his professional position.
With two deeply conservative predecessors (John Paul II and Benedict XVI), Pope Francis has raised a lot of eyebrows over the years. He has not made any significant reform (unlike, say, John XXIII), but his populist style has definitely struck a chord of sympathy amongst many Catholics. John Paul II was a populist as well, but he was closer to the original version of populism, gathering huge crowds all over the world. Francis, on the other hand, is not so apt at crowd gathering, but he is apt at appearing to be in touch with common folks. He has repeatedly washed people’s feet (in remembrance of Jesus’ humbleness), and he is very warm to journalists and visitors. Unlike Benedict XVI, he does not seem to be too interested in pompous rituals or luxurious protocols. We may never know whether these gestures are genuine, or a calculated political image; they are most likely something in between.
What if I told you that you’d have a miracle at this time tomorrow if you shouted “Fear not!” three times, counted down from ten and then called and sent money to a television network?
These were the exact instructions of one of the ministers during this year’s Praise-A-Thon, one of the Trinity Broadcasting Network’s many fundraising efforts that elicits donations across the country annually; the television network is one of the leaders in televised ministry and has provided an outlet for recorded and live services. Stakes are usually much higher, however, for contemporary televangelists; though their heyday has undoubtedly passed, these ministers still make millions in their pursuit of televised salvation.
A visitor from outer space would probably believe that Christmas celebrates the deeds of a fat man coming down a chimney to give gifts to children. But, not long ago, it was about the birth of a 1st Century Jew who, allegedly, claimed to be God. Continue reading “Really, What Would Jesus Do?”
This summer, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) decided to reverse an earlier moratorium on federal funding for research that uses human stem cells to create part-human, part-animal embryos. Research that creates these chimeras, as they are called, may soon be eligible for federal funding under certain carefully controlled conditions. The immediate public reaction to this move, as illustrated in the comments left on an August 4 post from Carrie D. Wolinetz, Ph.D., Associate Director for Science Policy at the NIH, show the move to be controversial.
Shortly following Trump’s victory as the new president-elect, a pastor in Seattle came to work to find his church branded in paint with “F*** organized religion”. Bewildered, the pastor was unsure whether this resentment was harbored towards his church or towards Trump’s victory. Many would question whether these two subjects can be divided at all. After all, evangelical Christians played a dominant role in this election as they represent a quarter of the U.S. population. Although the mingling of evangelical Christianity and conservative politics is not new, Donald Trump played a unique role as the champion of white evangelical Christians while also revealing how disparate this voting population can be.
With 36.7 million people worldwide living with HIV in 2015, and 2.1 million newly infected people last year, the search for a cure for human immunodeficiency virus and the syndrome that follows, AIDS, is dire. Traditionally, children who are born with HIV will die from AIDS before their second year if not treated. However, monkeys infected with the equivalent virus, SIV, will typically survive. To the scientific community’s surprise, scientists have found that a “monkey-like” gene found in some children may be a leap closer to a cure. This discussion of treatment for AIDS automatically assumes an evolutionist perspective on humans. Does finding the cure for HIV go against pivotal American values?
The idea of meat grown in a laboratory is not a new one. Winston Churchill even shared this vision as far back as 1931, saying “Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or the wing, by growing these parts separately in a suitable medium.” As Churchill predicted, in recent years this once far-fetched vision has turned into an imminent reality. Lab-grown meat is created through the process of collecting cells from a live or recently killed animal and replicating the cells in a scientific setting. The current technology is similar to “cutting off a salamander’s tail and letting it grow back.”
This past week at the Vatican, Pope Francis canonized Mother Teresa, making her officially Saint Teresa of Calcutta in the Catholic tradition. For years, many Catholics have considered the famous nun a pseudo-saint for her dedication to helping the world’s poor.
Italian fashion company Dolce & Gabbana recently released a new line of clothing containing hijabs and abayas. People around the world who follow the fashion industry were excited about the new line, which appears to be championing inclusiveness. Muslim women have been buying high-end fashion for years – most of which either stays in closets, or is only worn under abayas – and the brand’s new line appears to be in response to the general lack of fashionable options for Muslim women that can be worn out. Other brands, such as DKNY and Tommy Hilfiger, have also expanded their collections to include pieces that appeal to the female Muslim market. The Muslim market is lucrative, as many women from oil-rich countries shop for expensive, high-end clothing, primarily shoes and handbags. This line is supposed to give more options for expression beyond shoes and bags. Forbes said that Dolce & Gabbana’s move was their “smartest move in years” from a business perspective. Numerous lines have come to set up stores in Dubai, which even hosted its first fashion week this year. Since the sociopolitical culture is currently dangerous for women, Dolce & Gabbana’s new release was considered a move toward demonstrating the potential for harmony between Muslim and Western societies.
A Cincinnati, Ohio suburb is fighting over a zombie themed nativity scene at a private residence. Jasen Dixon and his family operate a haunted house for Halloween, and used some of their zombie decorations to create a unique nativity scene in their front yard for the second year in a row.
Last year, the family was in hot water with township officials for not having the proper permits for the large manger. This year, the Dixon’s applied for a permit, but their appeal was rejected and they have incurred fines from the township as a result. The Dixon’s realized that by deconstructing the roof of the manger, the scene would no longer qualify as a building and they avoid further fines. Although the fines have stopped, the criticism has not.
Religious groups have left numerous notes at the scene, saying that the zombie depiction is disrespectful to God. One note claims “God frowns upon the manger scene”. However, the Dixon’s send their son to Catholic school and defend against claims that they are anti-Christian.
Jasen Dixon sees the display as harmless, saying “We use this for our family craft time”. The Dixon’s created a Facebook page for their scene and has gained many fans. The page has received many messages of support from fans in the Cincinnati area and worldwide. One commenter states, “I don’t personally like it but it’s a free country and for that, I support this family’s expression of freedom!” and many other posts mirror this sentiment. Some humorously share references to The Walking Dead and others say the display would be more appropriate at Halloween, or even Easter (when Jesus rose from the dead). The Dixon’s are also collecting donations for various causes including offsetting the fines that they incurred, building a bigger and better scene next year, and sending money to local charities.
On Wednesday, a group of fundamentalist Christians picketed the DePauw University campus, holding signs decrying the sins of “masturbators”, “feminists”, “pot-heads”, and “baby-killers”, while shouting at pedestrian women to “stop being whores” and to accept that “your sins are your fault, not your boyfriends.”
The California legislature recently passed a controversial bill, which they are calling the “End of Life Option Act”. If signed by the Governor, it will go into effect this January. The bill states that it would allow adults suffering from terminal illness that meet “certain conditions” to request and be administered a dosage of life-ending drugs. There would need to be documentation of both oral and written requests. As an accompaniment, it adds that doctors, workers, etc. will not be treated as criminals or subjected to disciplinary action as a result of the lawful practice of this procedure. Euthanasia Pro Con does a very good job of bringing together some of the various arguments for and against the so-called “right-to-die” laws.
Pope Francis will begin his first visit ever of the United States tomorrow, when he lands in Washington, D.C. after a four day visit to Cuba. His visit is highly anticipated and there has already been a threat on his person that has recently been disrupted by U.S. authorities. The Pope’s visit comes at a critical time as the presidential campaigning for the 2016 elections has raised awareness and debate over a variety of issues. What we can expect from Pope Francis is that he is not only going to make a stance on these issues but also raise awareness on other ones.
Kim Davis, a county clerk from Morehead, Kentucky, was jailed recently for refusing to issue marriage licenses to a homosexual couple and two heterosexual couples on religious grounds. “I never imagined a day like this would come –“ she says, “- where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience.” Continue reading “Kim Davis: Civil Activist or Criminal?”
Known for his simplicity and acceptance, Saint Francis is often considered one of the most popular saints in the Catholic Church. The current pope even chose his papal name based off of the saint. Because Saint Francis is a favorite among Catholics, pilgrims have been flocking to his hometown, Assisi, Italy for centuries. Catholic visitors from around the world travel to Assisi to walk in the saint’s footsteps and to soak in the natural beauty of Mount Subasio, as well as the surrounding forest. Continue reading “Spas and Pilgrims in Assisi”
In the basement of my house, the walls are covered with history. Shelves backed against the faux-wood paneled walls are lined with studies on Nixon, several histories on London, biographies on FDR, a history of Soviet Russia, California’s oranges, and an entire row of green cloth books depicting U.S. history from the French wilderness to WWI.
He had a “Muslim name.” He may have been depressed. Perhaps he was using drugs and alcohol. He visited Jordan in 2014. He had an upcoming court date for a DUI charge. And, above all, he was a Muslim.
When the authors of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) passed it into law, marijuana churches were probably the last things on their mind. Yet, only a few months after the act’s passing, Indiana’s First Church of Cannabis has been established. Existing under the freedoms established by RFRA, the church operates on principles of “love, respect, equality and compassion,” with marijuana as its official sacrament. While many have cast it as a joke or a political statement against RFRA, the church also raises a number of questions about how the government can and should interact with organized religion.
Last week we published the abstract of Erik Wielenberg’s new book, Robust Ethics: The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Godless Normative Realism. In this guest post, Wielenberg, Professor of Philosophy at DePauw University, follows up with a more in-depth discussion of the book and some of the philosophers that have influenced his thinking on moral realism and God’s existence.
In 1977, two events that would significantly impact my life took place. First, the film Star Wars was released. Second, two prominent philosophers, J.L. Mackie and Gilbert Harman, unleashed some influential arguments against moral realism. My book is about the second of these two events.
In his famous argument from queerness, Mackie listed various respects in which objective values, if they existed, would be “queer.” Mackie took the apparent queerness of such values to be evidence against their existence. One feature of objective values that he found to be particularly queer was the alleged connection between a thing’s objective moral qualities and its natural features: “What is the connection between the natural fact that an action is a piece of deliberate cruelty — say, causing pain just for fun — and the moral fact that it is wrong? … The wrongness must somehow be ‘consequential’ or ‘supervenient’; it is wrong because it is a piece of deliberate cruelty. But just what in the world is signified by this ‘because’?” (1977, 41) Mackie was also dubious of the view that we could come to have knowledge of the objective moral qualities of things. He wrote that friends of objective moral values must in the end lamely posit “a special sort of intuition” that gives us knowledge of objective values.
Harman, for his part, noted an apparent contrast between ethics and science. He compared a case in which a physicist observes a vapor trail in a cloud chamber and forms the belief “there goes a proton” with a case in which you observe some hoodlums setting a cat on fire and form the belief “what they’re doing is wrong” (1977, 4-6). Harman was happy to classify both of these as cases of observation (scientific observation and moral observation respectively), but he noted that the moral features of things, supposing that they exist at all, seem to be causally inert, unlike the physical features of things. Harman thought that this feature of moral properties suggests that we ought to take seriously the possible truth of nihilism, the view that no moral properties are instantiated (1977, 23). But others have drawn on Harman’s premise to support not nihilism but rather moral skepticism, the view that we do not (and perhaps cannot) possess moral knowledge. It is the latter kind of argument that I discuss in my book.
Some have suggested that theism provides the resources to answer these challenges. Mackie himself, although an atheist, suggested that theism might be able to answer his worries about the queerness of the alleged supervenience relation between moral and natural properties. In his 1982 book The Miracle of Theism, he suggested that “objective intrinsically prescriptive features, supervening upon natural ones, constitute so odd a cluster of qualities and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events, without an all-powerful God to create them” (1982, 115-6). More recently, Christian philosopher Robert Adams suggests that the epistemological worries that arise from Harman’s contrast between science and ethics can be put to rest by bringing God into the picture (Adams 1999, 62-70).
Thus, an interesting dialectic presents itself. Mackie and Harman, who do not believe that God exists, see their arguments as posing serious challenges for moral realism. Some theistic philosophers argue this way: if we suppose that God does exist, then we can answer these challenges to moral realism. Without God, these challenges cannot be answered. Since moral realism is a plausible view, the fact that we can answer such challenges only by positing the existence of God gives us reason to believe that God exists.
I accept moral realism yet I believe that God does not exist. I also find it unsatisfying, perhaps even “lame” as Mackie would have it, to posit mysterious, quasi-mystical cognitive faculties that are somehow able to make contact with causally inert moral features of the world and provide us with knowledge of them. The central goal of my book is to defend the plausibility of a robust brand of moral realism without appealing to God or any weird cognitive faculties.
A lot has happened since 1977. A number of increasingly mediocre sequels and prequels to the original Star Wars have been released; disco, mercifully, has died. But there have also been some important developments in philosophy and psychology that bear on the arguments of Mackie and Harman sketched above. In philosophy, the brand of moral realism criticized by Mackie has found new life. In psychology, there has been a flurry of empirical investigation into the nature of the cognitive processes that generate human moral beliefs, emotions, and actions. As a result of these developments the challenges from Mackie and Harman sketched above can be given better answers than they have received so far — without appealing to God or weird cognitive faculties. That, at any rate, is what I attempt to do in my book. In short, my aim is to defend a robust approach to ethics (without appealing to God or weird cognitive faculties) by developing positive accounts of the nature of moral facts and knowledge and by defending these accounts against challenging objections.
Adams, Robert. 1999. Finite and Infinite Goods. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Harman, Gilbert. 1977. The Nature of Morality: An Introduction to Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mackie, J.L. 1977. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. New York: Penguin.
Mackie, J.L. 1982. The Miracle of Theism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
DePauw Philosophy professor Erik Wielenberg has recently published his third book entitled Robust Ethics: The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Godless Normative Realism. In his latest work,
“[Wielenberg] draws on recent work in analytic philosophy and empirical moral psychology to defend non-theistic robust normative realism and develop an empirically-grounded account of human moral knowledge. Non-theistic robust normative realism has it that there are objective, non-natural, sui generis ethical features of the universe that do not depend on God for their existence. The early chapters of the book address various challenges to the intelligibility and plausibility of the claim that irreducible ethical features of things supervene on their non-ethical features as well as challenges from defenders of theistic ethics who argue that objective morality requires a theistic foundation. Later chapters develop an account of moral knowledge and answer various recent purported debunkings of morality, including those based on scientific research into the nature of the proximate causes of human moral beliefs as well as those based on proposed evolutionary explanations of our moral beliefs.”
Wielenberg, who specializes in ethics (including moral psychology) and philosophy of religion, is also the author God and the Reach of Reason: C.S. Lewis, David Hume, and Bertrand Russell, and Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe, and is the co-editor of New Waves in Philosophy of Religion.