Scientists, the media, the courts, the schools (they’re all in on it)

Accept Ben Stein’s Conspiracy Theory.

That’s what he seems to be asking in an upcoming documentary.

Stein is one of those omnipresent figures who always seems to pop up somewhere new. Most people probably know him from his game show, “Win Ben Stein’s Money.”

benstein.jpgHe was a speechwriter for Presidents Nixon and Ford, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, an author of many books. And on and on. (And, yes, he played the infamous teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)

Now’s he’s made a doc called Expelled. An email I got yesterday asked whether it might be the “Passion (of the Christ) of 2008.”

Here’s the gist: Stein contends that scientists who question Darwinism are being persecuted by the academic establishment. Persecuted. Black-listed. Destroyed.

In a melodramatic trailer, Stein writes over and over on a blackboard: “DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY.”

In the trailer, he says that he always believed that “everything that exists was created by a loving God.” He says he has no problem with scientists and non-believers — as long as they don’t suppress others who feel differently.

Stein introduces one scientist whose “evidence seems to indicate we are the product of a higher intelligence.” Then he describes how this person has been smeared by academia.

And it’s not only scientists who are at fault. He says “The media’s in on it. The courts. The educational system.”

Stein says “We tolerate free speech in every other area of society, but not here.

And: “That tells me the Darwinists are afraid. They’re hiding something.”

Here’s where the trailer confuses me. Stein seems to be saying that Darwinists (and everyone else in on the conspiracy) actually know the truth, but are trying to cover it up. But anyone who has followed the whole “intelligent design” debate knows that scientists contend that intelligent design is bad science, not worthy of being taken seriously as science.

Based on the trailer, Stein seems to be saying that it’s all a scam, a lie, to cover up the truth. Like on the X-Files.

There’s quite a difference between dismissing theory X because it’s non-sense and trying to smear it because it’s the dangerous truth.

I wonder if in his movie, which comes out in the spring, Stein will let the opponents of intelligent design explain themselves. Only then can he refute them, it seems.

He concludes his trailer with this:

Feel free to watch this film if you must, and I hope that you do. But doing so may land you in a heap of trouble. Some of you may lose your friends, some of you may lose your jobs.

From St. Peter’s Square to Garrison

Pope Benedict XVI mentioned the Garrison-based Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement during his Angelus message on Sunday at the Vatican.

He offered his prayerful endorsement for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this week.

Here’s a translation of what the pope said:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Two days ago we began the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, during which Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants, aware that their divisions constitute an obstacle to welcoming the Gospel, implore together the Lord, in a more intense way, the gift of full communion. This providential initiative was born 100 years ago when Fr. Paul Wattson began an “Octave� of prayer for the unity of all of Christ’s disciples. For this reason, the spiritual sons and daughters of Fr. Wattson, the Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, are present today in St. Peter’s Square. I cordially greet them and encourage them to continue in their special dedication to the cause of unity. We all have the obligation to pray and to work to overcome every division among Christians responding to the wish of Christ “Ut unum sint�. Prayer, conversion of heart, the strengthening of the bonds of communion form the essence of this spiritual movement that we wish might soon lead the disciples of Christ to the common celebration of the Eucharist, manifestation of their full unity.

One man’s endorsement

Score one for Hillary.

She got the endorsement of the Rev. Calvin Butts, who happens to be pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and always one of the most sought-after endorsers in New York.

Butts said:

butts_lg.jpgThis was not and is not and will not become a race-based decision for me. And I hope that it has not and will not become a race-based decision for you, either. I respect Senator Obama. I applaud him, and I love him as my brother. But a vote for Hillary is not a vote against Barack Obama or any community, be it African-American, Latino and others for that matter.

Of course, Butts had to make his endorsement as a private, independent citizen, NOT as pastor of an historic Harlem church. If he did that, it might endanger his church’s tax-exempt status.

Abortion (35 years after the decision)

Tomorrow is the 35th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.

The AP’s David Crary has an article about who gets abortions in the U.S.:

NEW YORK (AP) — In American pop culture, the face of abortion is often a frightened teenager, nervously choosing to terminate an unexpected pregnancy. The numbers tell a far more complex story in which financial stress can play a pivotal role.
Half of the roughly 1.2 million U.S. women who have abortions each year are 25 or older. Only about 17 percent are teens. About 60 percent have given birth to least one child prior to getting an abortion.
A disproportionately high number are black or Hispanic. And regardless of race, high abortion rates are linked to hard times.
“It doesn’t just happen to young people, it doesn’t necessarily have to do with irresponsibility,� said Miriam Inocencio, president of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island. “Women face years and years of reproductive life after they’ve completed their families, and they’re at risk of an unintended pregnancy that can create an economic strain.�
Activists on both sides of the abortion debate will soon be marking the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which established a nationwide right to abortion.
In recent years, the number of abortions has fallen; the 1.2 million tallied for 2005 was down 8 percent from 2000, and the per-capita abortion rate was the lowest since 1974. But overall, since the Roe ruling on Jan. 22, 1973, there have been roughly 50 million abortions in the United States, and more than one-third of adult women are estimated to have had at least one.
Who are these women?
Much of the public debate focuses on teens, as evidenced by the constant wranging over parental notification laws and movies like the current hit “Juno,� in which the pregnant heroine heads to an abortion clinic, then decides to have the baby.
In fact, the women come from virtually every demographic sector. But year after year the statistics reveal that black women and economically struggling women — who have above-average rates of unintended pregnancies — are far more likely than others to have abortions. About 13 percent of American women are black, yet new figures from the Centers for Disease Control show they account for 35 percent of the abortions. Continue reading

Dr. King’s God

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day…

I came across a provocative sermon by the Rev. Thomas J.S. Mikelson, a Unitarian Universalist minister and a well-known analyst of the theology and social ethics of King. He gave the sermon, called “How big is your God?” in 2003 at the MLK Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Mikelson said:

images3.jpegThe size of our God depends on how much of the reality of the world is included in our vision of God. How many of the world’s diverse peoples does our God smile upon? That was the key question for King, for the Good Samaritan, and there is no more important question for us. What is the size of our God? Our lives are interwoven in a single garment of destiny. We are created to live in one world and to be one people. In the words of James Baldwin, “The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.�

The whole thing is worth reading, I think.

Presidential caucuses on Shabbat, oy!

When Nevadans vote tomorrow in the state’s presidential caucuses, Shabbat-observant Jews will not be among them.

Gannett News Service’s Brian Tumulty explains why in this article.

There’s more than one reason. As Tumulty writes:

Observant Jews don’t drive or ride in cars on Shabbat, so they would have to walk to caucus places.

And although Nevada officials have arranged for caucuses within walking distance where there are concentrations of observant Jews, that hasn’t solve other problems.

Volunteers have agreed to sign in at caucus sites for observant Jews who are prohibited from signing their name on the Shabbat, but allowing a non-Jew to do it breaks another religious rule.

“Very observant people wouldn’t do it anyway because the day is supposed to be devoted to rest and religious study,” said Hadar Susskind of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which includes 14 national Jewish agencies representing the Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox movements.

As Rabbi Robert Harris of White Plains, chairman of the Bible Department at the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, puts it: “It is pretty much a problem from A to Z having it on a Saturday.”

Huck using that evangelical appeal

We all remember how South Carolina’s Christian conservatives helped George W. Bush hold off John McCain in 2000.

This year, Mike Huckabee is hoping they’ll give him the same boost in tomorrow’s primary.

tjndc5-5ichmaea1muof03kg5c_layout.jpgThe Dallas Morning News’ Todd Gillman writes that Huckabee talked the evangelical talk the other day when campaigning at a Christian college in Tigerville, S.C.

Huckabee said he’s more concerned about decisions a president has to make in this life than what will happen in the next life:

“I have made arrangements for what happens after that, and it’s all good. It’s all good.”

But evangelical support in South Carolina is still unclear.

“There is no bloc. There is no unanimity,” said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of a church in Greenville, S.C.

The (local) inspiration for Vatican II

Can the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement take credit for Vatican II?

Why not?

As I wrote in the “Journal News/LoHud,”: today marks the 100th anniversary of the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,”: which started at Graymoor as a “Church Unity Octave.”

In the current issue of Graymoor Today, Father James Puglisi, the current minister general of the Friars of the Atonement, writes:

For 100 years, without ceasing, the Friars and Sisters have promoted this prayer for fulfillment of the will of Christ. This prayer, which does indeed transform, has taken root in the whole Christian world. One might even say that this prayer eventually led to the Second Vatican Council as Blessed John XXIII noted in the calling of the Council on January 25, 1959 — the last day of the octave of prayer.

So there you have it. The start of a simple prayer movement in Garrison, N.Y., 100 years ago today, a movement calling for sustained prayer for Christian unity, may have inspired the history-changing Second Vatican Council.

No one can say it didn’t….

I’m writing about Tom Cruise

So, I read a “Washington Post”: story this morning about some sort of Tom Cruise video on the Web, in which he talks about being a Scientologist.

Then I watched the “video.”:

images2.jpegI don’t know why. I don’t care at all about Tom Cruise. I pay little attention to celebrities. But I’m as curious about Scientology as anyone. So I watched.

My day is ruined. I won’t be able to think about anything else. I just hope that I don’t start to obsess about celebrities.

Some snippets from Tom:

You’re on board or you’re not on board. if you’re on board, you’re on board just like the rest of us. Period.

Now is the time. Being a Scientologist, people are turning to you. So you better know it.

If you’re a Scientologist, you see things as they are, in all of its glory, all of its complexity.

You’re either helping and contributing everything you can or you’re not. I’m carrying my load, but as much as I’m carrying, I have to do more.

It’s our responsibility to educate, to create the new reality.

It’s rough and tumble, it’s wild and wooly, it’s a blast.

Digging for biblical truths

The guy who wrote the very entertaining Blogging the Bible series for (a first-timer’s impressions reading the Five Books of Moses) has a new offering:

Digging the Bible.

David Plotz writes about attending an “archeology outreach” program in Israel.

As he explains:

I’ve spent much of the last year blogging the Bible for Slate, writing about reading the Good Book for the first time. Now I’ve come to Israel to see the Bible, to dig it. I’ve read the stories. Now I want to see where they happened and to learn if they happened—to experience the Bible through archaeology, history, politics, and faith.

That’s why I’m spending the day with Ian Stern. An American-born Israeli in his early 50s, Ian operates Dig for a Day, probably the biggest archaeology outreach program in the world. Every year, Stern’s dig here at Maresha is visited by 30,000 to 50,000 tourists—most of them American Jews. They do spadework for Stern’s academic research, get a hands-on crash course in archaeology, and experience their own history by digging in the dirt.