Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Beware the religio-politico-economic complex

Evan Sparks of AEI congratulates the religious right on their "evangelical entrepreneurship":

Even evangelical churches that use “traditional” liturgies or are smaller than Saddleback organize themselves entrepreneurially. Hundreds of once-Episcopal parishes have, like The Falls Church and Truro, sought oversight from Anglican archbishops overseas, some joining formal mission dioceses set up by archbishops in Nigeria, Rwanda, Southeast Asia, South America, and Uganda. In these cases, technological innovation has aided evangelical entrepreneurship: dirt-cheap communications and relatively cheap travel have arranged previously impossible connections.

With its emphasis on innovation, experimentation, and change in the service of truth, evangelical theology has generated what one might call a favorable regulatory environment for religious innovation. Evangelical entrepreneurs say, “If you don’t like what’s around you, change! Leave! Try something new!” In this way, Protestantism has inculcated and preserved both liberalism and orthodoxy. At any rate, the evangelical entrepreneurs have ensured a wide variety of choice in religious belief and practice in the United States.

Do evangelicals really want this guy's help? "Try something new"?


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Debating (political) conservatives on a religious blog about climate change

For the last several days, I've been engaged in what I thought to be an honest debate with a range of conservative readers of the blog Titus One Nine on the subject of climate change. The thread, and accompanying story, can be found here (I'm "Matt").

Kendall Harmon, the proprietor of the blog, for some reason allowed our comment-debate to go on for a very long time without any direct moderation. I'm grateful to him for that, as I think it proved to be a constructive debate for me, one that required I spend a bit more time reading the available literature and sharpening my understanding of areas outside my immediate knowledge, issues like economic discounting and the global economic costs of doing nothing versus doing something, etc.

One expects to learn a great deal in such debates. What one doesn't expect is the depths to which some participants will plunge when faced with the challenge of actually having to do the hard work of debate, as you'll see near the end of the thread.

What was also surprising was the extent to which the climate change denialist camp -- represented by some of my fellow commenters on that particular religious blog -- doesn't base its denialism on Christian principles (since both sides try to argue -- one side more successfully than the other, in my opinion -- that great harm could come to a great many people by taking decisive action or inaction). Nor does it base its argument on the science, since essentially no one responding to my comments ever brought up a credible scientific reason to doubt anthropogenic climate change.

Rather, the denialist camp is comprised of ideologically driven small-government optimists. And they're like proverbial (not literal) rats cornered (name-calling, etc.) when they are faced with having to substantively support their position.

This is a useful lesson for me. The denialists don't want to debate the science. They are much more interested in the implications of the fact of anthropogenic climate change: that we might have to rely on our representative government to tell us what to do.

UPDATE: Jan 21, 2007, 19:02. Again, the value of these debates is that they focus the mind. So advantaged, I want to briefly add what I now think are the critical questions that any debate about climate change must address, and address honestly:
  1. Is climate change occurring, and, as a corollary, is it likely to damage human economic, cultural, and political systems?
  2. If so, are we humans the cause of climate change?
  3. If so, are we able to stop it, and when must we begin to act to do so?
  4. If so, would it cost us more to act than it would cost to do nothing at all? (I credit BillS on the thread for making me aware of what's at stakes in this last question.)
Any debate that skirts or confuses these issues can't really be considered honest.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

For those who wish to blame Islam for Nigeria's troubles ...

... there's this interesting bit of analysis from the Voice of America.

Bottom line: relieve poverty, promote economic equality, tamp down corruption, and repair massive environmental damage to the Niger Delta, and there will be no religious conflict.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A new strategy?

If you've read Thomas Ricks' Fiasco, you know that Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus is one of the good guys. Read Ricks' book if you want to know what I'm talking about (it's one of the few books critical of the Iraq War that leaves you feeling hopeful about the military).

I can in no way speak to whether there is anything that Petraeus can do at this late stage to improve the Iraqi disaster -- my gut tells me to be pessimistic -- but Bush could do far worse than to have appointed Petraeus to be the man in charge.