Monthly Archives: January 2012

On eve of Darwin’s birthday, states take steps to limit evolution

Portrait of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), author of "On the Origin of Species." February 12, 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. Image from the Religion News Service archives.

By KIMBERLY WINSTON
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) On the eve of the 203rd anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday, lawmakers in at least four states are taking steps to hinder the teaching of evolution in public schools, while other bills would do the same without naming evolution outright.

One of the bills, New Hampshire’s House Bill 1148, not only singles out evolution, but would require teachers to discuss its proponents’ “political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.” It is scheduled for a hearing in early February.

The author of the bill, Republican state Rep. Jerry Bergevin, has linked the teaching of evolution to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and Hitler’s atrocities and associates it with atheism.

“I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented,” Bergevin told the Concord Monitor. “It’s a worldview and it’s godless. Atheism has been tried in various societies, and they’ve been pretty criminal domestically and internationally. The Soviet Union, Cuba, the Nazis, China today: They don’t respect human rights.”

In many ways, the debate over evolution mirrors strategies adopted by opponents in the battle over abortion: If it can’t be outlawed outright, critics will at least try to make it more difficult.

Several atheist organizations have called for the withdrawal of all the bills, but are keeping an especially close eye on Bergevin’s. David Silverman, president of American Atheists, has called it “ignorant, infuriating bigotry.”

Ahead of Darwin’s birthday on Feb. 12, other current anti-evolution bills include:

— In the Indiana Senate, a bill would allow school districts to

“require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of

life within the school corporation.” That bill has already passed a statehouseˇ

committee and was scheduled for a vote on Jan 31.ˇ

— The “Missouri Standard Science Act” would require the equal treatment of evolution and “intelligent design,” an idea that the universe was created by an unnamed “designer.” A second bill would require teachers to encourage students “to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues, including biological and chemical evolution.”

— A bill in the Oklahoma Senate would require the state’s board of education to help teachers promote “critical thinking, logical analysis, open and objective discussion of scientific theories including, but not limited to, evolution, the origin of life, global warming, and human cloning” if a local school district makes that request.

— A second bill in the New Hampshire House would require science teachers to instruct students that “proper scientific inquir(y) results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established.”

— A bill in Virginia would make it illegal for state colleges to require a class that conflicts with a student’s religious views. Critics say that would enable a student to receive a biology degree, for example, without studying evolution if he or she objected to it.

— A second bill in Indiana would require the state board of education to draft rules about the teaching of ideas in science class that cannot be proven by evidence — a clear doorway for the teaching of creationism and intelligent design, critics say.

While all the bills have drawn the attention of several large atheist groups including the Center for Inquiry and the National Atheist Party, Bergevin’s bill in New Hampshire has raised the most eyebrows.

“Evolution is not just for atheists, and has been accepted as fact by many religious institutions, including the Catholic Church,” Silverman said. “It is clearly an attempt to create religious discussion in science class, and to somehow make science ‘not for believers.'”

Even if the bill were to become law, some expect it to be short-lived.

“In the unlikely event it would pass, it would quickly be struck down by the courts as unconstitutional,” said Rob Boston, a senior policy analyst at the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“It is just warmed-over creationism, which the Supreme Court has already said is unconstitutional, and the government cannot require anyone to stand up and explain where they stand on a religion or a philosophy.

Ready for the Souper Bowl?

By Contributor Andy Lee

Are you ready for the Souper Bowl? No, that’s not a typo.

I’m not talking about football. I’m writing about the Souper Bowl of Caring. If you listen to the Christian radio station, K-LOVE, you might have heard about this national movement. Young people all over the country are fighting hunger and poverty in their hometowns by soliciting donations of canned foods and money to be given to local food pantries and shelters.

Souper Bowl of Caring

Souper Bowl of Caring sign. Image via Wikipedia

The Souper Bowl of Caring hopes to score big for the hungry this week prior to one of our nation’s most-watched football games, the real Super Bowl.

Time is counting down! As the Giants and the Patriots prepare for their big competition, let’s help make the Souper Bowl of Caring a great success by donating to our area food pantries.

In case you don’t know where to take your canned food, here are a few places where you can drop off your donations.

One spot is the Holy Grounds Coffee House located at 2841 Carolina Beach Road. It’s a nonprofit business with a big heart linked to Calvary Chapel of Wilmington. Each Saturday they open 9-11 a.m. as a food pantry for those in need.

On the Souper Bowl of Caring website, there are 828 donation sites listed in North Carolina. About 27 of those sites, in addition to Holy Grounds, are in Southeastern North Carolina, including:

Carolina Beach Presbyterian Church in Carolina Beach
Changing Hearts Ministries in Jacksonville
Dixon Middle School Builder’s Club in Holly Ridge
Faithfully Fit ministry of First Baptist Church in Wilmington
5th Avenue United Methodist Church in Wilmington
Wallace First Baptist Church in Wallace
First Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville
Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Hampstead
Lake Waccamaw United Methodist Church in Lake Waccamaw
Little Chapel on the Boardwalk in Wrightsville Beach
Maple Hill A.M.E. Church in Maple Hill
Masonboro Baptist Church in Wilmington
Oak Island Presbyterian Church in Oak Island
Riegelwood Baptist Church in Riegelwood
St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southport
Shallotte Presbyterian Church in Shallotte
Southport Presbyterian Church in Southport
St. Andrews-Covenant Presbyterian Church in Wilmington
St. Mark Catholic Church in Wilmington
St. Matthews Lutheran Church in Wilmington
St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Southport
Verona United Methodist Church in Jacksonville
Water of Life Lutheran Church in Wilmington
Westminster Presbyterian Church in Wilmington
Westview United Methodist Church in Burgaw
Whiteville United Methodist Church in Whiteville
Windermere Presbyterian Church in Wilmington
Woodburn Presbyterian Church in Leland.

Let’s wipe out hunger one can at a time.

Tell them Andy sent you!

NEWS ANALYSIS: The end of ‘compassionate conservatism’?

Amy Sullivan is a writer and former senior editor at Time magazine who covers politics, religion and culture. RNS photo courtesy Amy Sullivan.

By AMY SULLIVAN
USA Today
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) The Republican presidential candidates competing for the affections of Florida voters have plenty of labels with which to tar each other: Influence peddler. Failed politician. Cayman Islands account holder. Aspiring polygamist.

But perhaps the worst smear they could lob at an opponent would be to call him a “compassionate conservative.”

There’s no place for compassion in this race, which has featured debate audiences cheering the death penalty and booing the Golden Rule.

Candidates have jostled to take the hardest line in opposing government-funded programs to help the poor, with Newt Gingrich

English: Newt Gingrich at a political conferen...

Newt Gingrich Image via Wikipedia

calling Barack Obama a “food stamp president” and Rick Perry blasting “this big-government binge (that) began under the administration of George W. Bush.”

Just three years after Bush left the White House, compassionate conservatives are an endangered species. In the new Tea Party era, they’ve all but disappeared from Congress, and their philosophy is reviled within the GOP as big-government conservatism.

Is this just a case of the Republican Party wanting to distance itself from the Bush years — or is compassionate conservatism gone for good?

Bush was not the first person to use the phrase “compassionate conservative,” but his adoption of the label in the 2000 campaign made it instantly famous. Bush and his advisers sought to soften the GOP’s image, which had taken a beating during the years of Gingrich’s speakership and the Clinton impeachment. Bush’s faith-based initiative was the signature policy to grow out of his compassionate conservative philosophy.

In 2008, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also ran for the GOP nomination as a compassionate conservative, refusing to apologize for supporting state tuition breaks for the children of illegal immigrants: “You don’t punish a child because a parent committed a crime.” Huckabee was fond of saying that he was a conservative, just not angry about it.

Like the Ecuadorian horned tree frog, a handful of compassionate conservatives can still be found, if you know where to look. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., who was involved with faith-based initiatives before Bush ever heard about them, is one. And former Bush aide Michael Gerson continues to preach the gospel from his perch as a Washington Post columnist.

After the Iowa caucuses, both Gerson and New York Times columnist

David Brooks hailed former Sen. Rick Santorumas the second coming of

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

Rick Santorum Image via Wikipedia

compassionate conservatism. And it’s true that in his victory speech in Iowa, Santorum sounded very much like a populist, arguing that Republicans need to offer more than tax cuts and balanced budgets to Americans who are struggling.

But when it comes to specifics, there aren’t many government policies — particularly domestic programs — that Santorum supports to help alleviate poverty. He cheered most of the harsh cuts in hunger and housing programs that House Republicans proposed this summer. Santorum, a devout Catholic, has said that he believes the U.S. Catholic bishops are wrong to back immigration reform, and he has confessed he is unfamiliar with the phrase “a preferential option for the poor,” which is an essential component of Catholic social teaching.

There is a meanness to the way many Republicans talk about the poor these days that was not en vogue during the Bush years. Unlike Huckabee, they are angry conservatives.

Gingrich spits out the words “food stamps” and implies they are gold coins showered on undeserving recipients. When debate moderator Juan Williams asked Gingrich whether his comments are “intended to belittle the poor and racial minorities,” he was roundly booed by the conservative audience in South Carolina.

The conservative Heritage Foundation released a report last September arguing that those living under the poverty line in the U.S. aren’t really poor because they have refrigerators and microwaves.

What happened to compassion? One answer is that it turned out to be expensive. Providing housing and food assistance, giving grants to charities that help low-income Americans, supporting job training programs — these all cost money. The federal deficit ballooned during the Bush administration, and though much of that came from funding the Iraq War and an expensive Medicare prescription drug benefit, Bush’s domestic faith-based programs and tripling of U.S. aid to Africa have been tagged with the blame.

In addition, the Tea Party movement has embraced what political writer Jill Lawrence calls “Darwinian conservatism.” You could also call it “Ayn Rand conservatism,” after the libertarian philosopher whose work many congressional Republicans praise. In 2010, Republican Senate candidates attacked programs such as Social Security, student loans and unemployment benefits, saying they made Americans lazy.

The debates in this election cycle have also encouraged the turn away from compassionate conservatism. Led by Gingrich, the candidates have played to audiences hungry for red meat. These party faithful lustily cheer attacks and boasts, and they boo any statement that carries a whiff of moderation.

Just before the South Carolina primary, a progressive Christian group called the American Values Network released an animated video, “Tea Party Jesus,” to mock the disconnect between popular conservative rhetoric and Gospel teachings. In a “Sermon on the Mall,” a cartoon Jesus stands flanked by GOP politicians and pundits as he declares, “Blessed are the mean in spirit … blessed are the pure in ideology.” It didn’t take long for a Tea Party site to promote the video instead of taking offense.

Tea Party activists might not have gotten the joke, but if the Republican Party rejects completely the idea of compassion for struggling Americans, it will be no laughing matter.

Editor’s Note: A version of this story originally appeared in USA Today.

(Amy Sullivan is a writer and former senior editor at Time magazine who covers politics, religion and culture.)

No more prayer in Jesus’ name? One pastor speaks about removing his name from commissioners’ invocation list

By AMANDA GREENE
Religion News Wilmington

It wasn’t offensive. It was just odd.

That’s how the Rev. Steve Hein of St. Andrews-Covenant Presbyterian Church characterized the recent clarification of a law that prohibits sectarian prayer in public meetings in North Carolina.

Attached to Hein’s annual invitation to pray at the beginning of New Hanover County Commissioners meetings was a note.

“It said I could do a generalized prayer but could not use Jesus or Christ in it,” he said in a phone interview. “My response was that my prayers are done in the name of Jesus so it seemed fruitless to say them in any other way.”

The law states that prayer at public meetings cannot favor one specific deity that is identified with a particular sect or religion. Read more about the law here.

So Hein removed his name from the invocation list. Another five pastors around the city have also removed their names in protest, said County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield last week.

Prayer to start public meetings is a widespread practice throughout North Carolina at boards of education, county commissioners and city council meetings. Sometimes local clergy are invited to give the prayer, and other times board members give the prayer.

Hein said he understood the idea of the separation of church and state.

“No, we’re not supposed to have a state religion. I get that. But I don’t see how one prayer at one meeting establishes a state religion,”  he said.

Hein is worried that the law could hamper a pastor or spiritual leader’s freedom of religion.

“It seems like there’s a specific prohibition against praying to Jesus Christ,” he said. “If a person wants to talk about their faith in a public place, that shouldn’t be offensive. It’s just very odd. If it’s who they are, they should be allowed to express who they are.”

Is Tibetan self-immolation an act of love, protest or an act of self-hatred?

By Contributor Steve Lee

As a socially-engaged student of Buddhism, what do I make of self-immolation, a protest method where a person sets oneself on fire?

Some Tibetans choose this practice to protest suppression of their people at the hands of the Chinese government. The Dalai Lama calls it “cultural genocide.”

Here in early 2012, these horrific acts of protest started again late last year and continued last week. And the Chinese crackdown grows ever more violent.

When asked about the self-immolations in November of last year, the Dalai Lama’s thoughts were recorded in a BBC interview.

Read a partial excerpt here:

“There is courage — very strong courage’ by the people who set themselves on fire, he said. “But how much effect? Courage alone is no substitute. You must utilize your wisdom.”

He said many Tibetans of all walks of life have died for a more free Tibet, and the Chinese authorities’ response is to clamp down harder on the population.

“Nobody knows how many people (are) killed and tortured — I mean death through torture. Nobody knows,” he said. “But a lot of people suffer. But how much effect? The Chinese respond harder.”

Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama

The other international pillar of Buddhism—Thich Nhat Hanh—spoke about self-immolation as protest as reported in Matteo Pistono’s blog…

“Fellow monk and countryman Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a few years after the incident, ‘The Vietnamese monk, by burning himself, says with all his strength and determination that he can endure the greatest of suffering to protect his people. What he really aims at is the expression of his will and determination, not death. To express will by burning oneself, therefore, is not to commit an act of destruction but to perform an act of construction, that is to suffer and to die for the sake of one’s people.”

Thich Nhat Hahn
Thich Nhat Hanh

Hmmm… The two most quotable Buddhists of our day disagree on the issue. More reflection on the issue—and a little research—pushed me towards the Dalai Lama’s perspective. As I reflected on the Buddhist precepts that guide moral development, I recalled the interlocking steps of the Buddha’s prescription for liberation, also known as “the cessation of suffering.” These steps are called “The Noble Eightfold Path.” A large part of Buddhist practice consists of learning these steps, practicing them and then, making them “real” in one’s life.

One of these steps is called Right Action. What does the principle of Right Action have to say about self-immolation? Well, nothing directly. The sutras—Buddhist scriptures—appear ambivalent about suicide but not ambivalent about taking life. Right Action is often expressed in terms of abstinence, and the foremost stricture of Right Action is to abstain from the taking of life. Bhikkhu Bodhi explicates Right Action thusly…:

“The “taking of life” that is to be avoided is intentional killing, the deliberate destruction of life of a being endowed with consciousness. The principle is grounded in the consideration that all beings love life and fear death, that all seek happiness and are averse to pain. The essential determinant of transgression is the volition to kill, issuing in an action that deprives a being of life. Suicide is also generally regarded as a violation, but not accidental killing as the intention to destroy life is absent. The abstinence may be taken to apply to two kinds of action, the primary and the secondary. The primary is the actual destruction of life; the secondary is deliberately harming or torturing another being without killing it.”

In researching the question, I found that Michael Attwood in “Western Buddhist Review” has a more nuanced take on suicide, although self-immolation is not specifically discussed either. His article is well-worth a read for its own sake, but one passage stands out for my discussion:

“Violence in any form is not simply a breach of the precepts in a legalistic sense; it actually increases the suffering in the world. In general any action that is based upon unskillful states of mind, such as despair and grief, leads only to more suffering.”

Even if I assume the highest possible intentions behind self-immolation as protest, I still wind up here: the one-who-burns does so because she or he wants things to be other than what they are and is willing to kill in hopes that the killing will change the prevailing social order.

This does not sit well with me. Means and ends are one and the same for me. Just as the wheel follows the ox, so does violence follow violence. Violent means beget violent ends. This is actually happening right now; the Chinese have used increasing force to prevent more immolations.

One other sutra informs this subject, speaking directly to the end of violence:

“The Buddha said, ‘Never in this world is hatred quenched by hatred. By love alone is it quenched; this is an eternal law.’ (Dhp, 5)”

The violence of self-immolation may not be hatred, but it is not love either. Perhaps it even engenders self-hatred in the Chinese oppressor. I could see that. As such, the act of self-immolation could not be an act of love.

Wilmington’s Pro-Life Prayer Vigil in photos

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By AMANDA GREENE
Religion News Wilmington

Deep passion fueled Pastor Tony McGhee’s words as he spoke Saturday about what he believes is a national erosion of religious freedom embodied in legalized abortion.

In his speech at the 19th New Hanover Pro-Life Council’s Prayer Vigil for Life, Wilmington Christian Center’s pastor said he blames the continuation of legalized abortion on the policies of President Barack Obama’s administration.

“We have a radical administration in office today that despises Christianity,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad America has matured enough to elect a black man to the highest office in our country. I’m just telling you he was the wrong black man.”

About 50 people attended the rally Saturday in Riverfront Park on Water Street in downtown Wilmington.

Abigail Reimel, a co-coordinator of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh‘s Cape Fear Deanery chapter of Teens for Life, spoke about her experience recently at the national March for Life in Washington.

“I think a lot of times in our good intentions to save the baby, we don’t care enough for the woman,” she said. “We are a movement of love, and we want to encompass these women in love, especially those who are so sorry for their abortion and are suffering with their decision.”

N.C. man arrested in Wilmington for involvement in beheading plot

The Associated Press reported Friday that a North Carolina man was arrested in an alleged plot to behead three witnesses from his brother’s recent terrorism trial.

The story stated the man and his mother met government agents posing as a hit men in the parking lot of a Wilmington, N.C., grocery store in order to a arrange payment.

Read the story here.

A group from the family’s Raleigh mosque planned a rally in Wilmington in support of the family.

– Amanda Greene

Some pastors remove their names from local government meeting invocation list in protest

By AMANDA GREENE
Religion News Wilmington

A half-dozen local pastors have removed their names from the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners’ invocation list since Monday’s meeting, according to one county official.

New Hanover County Commissioners Vice Chairman Jonathan Barfield

Commissioners Vice Chairman Jonathan Barfield said he’d gotten several emails from pastors who protested the commissioner’s decision not to allow sectarian prayer, or praying to a specific deity, to open its meetings.

“The idea was that Jewish rabbis wouldn’t be praying to Jesus Christ. And a Muslim imam wouldn’t be praying in the name of Jesus Christ. So we should just say Amen and not ‘in Jesus’ name,'” Barfield said. “If that is the law, that is the law. We have to follow the law.”

He said the pastor who was supposed to be there to give the invocation on Monday didn’t show up so Barfield, who is an ordained pastor, had to give the prayer.

The Commissioners’ action followed a U.S. Supreme Court decision last week not to hear an appeal from the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners’ in Winston-Salem, N.C. Lower courts previously ruled that Forsyth County’s Board of Commissioners had endorsed Christianity at their meetings by allowing prayers with too many references to a specific deity, Jesus Christ.

Barfield and several area pastors weren’t the only ones upset by the decision. The Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation sent a “Prayer and Action Alert” email to its constituents linking to a WECT news story about the nonsectarian prayer requirement.

“There are three options to petition this ruling – including going to the Supreme Court. Urge the Commissioner of New Hanover County to fight for your religious liberty,” the email stated. “You can call and ask the fourth district court of appeals for details here. It’s up to us to do something.”

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, the North Carolina American Civil Liberties Union said it will be sending letters warning counties across the state to cease their sectarian invocations.

But the state’s ACLU legal director said her office wasn’t planning on sending any such letters to New Hanover, Pender or Brunswick counties.

“We haven’t received any complaints from those areas,” said N.C. ACLU legal director Katie Parker. “We were contacted by the New Hanover County attorney just for clarification, just to make sure they’re doing what they need to do.”

But, to Barfield, the new law links to the loosening of religious ties leading to the end of days in the Bible.

“In my opinion, we’re getting further and further away from the Lord,” he said. “It’s like the passage in Romans, every tongue shall confess and every knee shall bow and confess he is Lord. To me, it’s all biblical.”

Confession – how many times have you passed by a homeless man or woman without helping?

By Contributor Andy Lee

I can’t get him out of my mind.

As we parked at the Kentucky Fried Chicken, I saw his thin frame limp into the brightly lit restaurant. His bulky winter coat, knit cap and backpack seemed out of place on this fairly warm winter night. His attire made me wonder if he had a home. He definitely did not have a car.

We ordered our thirty hot wings and mashed potatoes and then sat at a table to wait for our order. Our time was limited. The football game resumed in ten minutes.

Across the room, he sat alone in the corner booth. His weathered face was golden from the sun. His wrinkles told a tale of a long, hard life, but his smile denied their story. His countenance brought joy into the room.

With each bite of his order of fries, he closed his eyes as if he were eating lobster and steak tartare. He savored each ounce of his minute meal.

How long had it been since he had eaten? Where did he live? How could I help?

Did he need my help?

The same thoughts and feelings penetrated my heart similar to those I experience when I pass ragged men on corners holding cardboard signs. He held no sign. But maybe his meal had been provided by someone who had actually stopped to give him a dollar.

My husband and I walked out of the restaurant and headed back to a comfortable, warm home. And I made a resolution to actually do something next time.

Again.

What do you do in these situations?

Cheers for WHQR FM, Religion News Wilmington’s second media partner!

This week I had my first official voice training lesson for radio.

I’ve been singing in choral groups and on karaoke stages for about 20 years. And that’s how I lost my stage fright and most of my Southern accent.

But facing a radio board full of slide buttons and audio recording equipment, all while trying to keep my voice steady, was a little more daunting.

My thanks to WHQR FM’s anchor Bob Workmon for showing me the ropes.

I am pleased to welcome WHQR FM as Religion News Wilmington’s second media partner, in addition to the StarNews.

If you tune into Wilmington’s NPR affiliate, 91.3 FM, each week, you’ll hear news spots and features from Religion News Wilmington’s staff or contributors.

Listen for my first news spot next week.

– Amanda Greene