Thursday, October 25, 2007

Le Car

After my senior year of high school I was ready to get my first bona fide car. I had driven a Chevy Vega that we bought from my grandparents for a dollar. I had driven my folks cars, the Buick Skylark and the Chrysler LeBaron; but now it was time for me to take the wheel of my own transport. I was going to be driving to college every day and it did not make much sense to continue to be a "renter."

My dream was to own a Jeep. In my eighteen-year-old mind that would be the perfect drive on the road and off the road. I wanted something rugged enough to handle the dirt roads on our hills but still be cool as ice when rambling up Dickson Street. The more mature adults in my world did not see my point. Everyone kept telling me, "Jeeps tip over." I think of this everytime I watch The Christmas Story in which Ralphie has his heart set on a Red Ryder BB Gun and the adults keep saying, "You'll shoot your eye out!" Ralphie got his BB Gun. I didn't get the Jeep.

If I had been able to come up with my own money to purchase a car worth anything over a dollar I could have been choosy. Not having enough money I had to depend on a complex money laundering scheme that involved a family loan, mysterious benefactors, and my uncle the bodyshop man. The car they came up with would not be my first choice. It was practical, extermely good on gas mileage, and would not tip over in a hurricane. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the 1983 Renault LeCar.

I felt a swirl of disappointment. Small, economical micro cars were not cool in the mid-eighties. This was way before the current popularity of the Mini-Cooper. Volkswagon Bugs were still cool in a hippie sort of way, but even Bugs did not look like something the Weebles would drive. Then there's the fact that this was a French car. If it were wine or dessert that would have been great, but French cars don't rate high with teenagers. And then the name . . ."Le Car?" It reminded me of the pseudo-French of the the Peppy LePew cartoons wherein every object has the article "Le" attached to it: "Le Skunk, Le Cat, Le Voom Voom!" At least this particular car did not have the words "Le Car" emblazoned on the doors like some (like the one in the photo). Of course it did not help that my relatives kept joking about the name calling it a "LEE-Car" with a definite emphasis on the "LEE" pronounced with backwoods Arkansas gusto.

I held on to the Le Car for quite a few years. It started college with me and graduated college with me. It survived a direct hit from a Buick Roadmaster in Hot Springs. When the clutch went bad my father labored tirelessly to work in the compact mess of French engineering to keep the little roller skate running. Le Car got the "just married" treatment from friends before Karen and I drove off from our wedding. It was broken into by a neighbor's relative and the $10 radio was stolen. I got my radio back and built a better relationship with the neighbor. Le Car made the trip with us when we moved to Abilene. It lasted for a while and that's where it finally died.

I wheeled the little car that could into our front driveway on Judge Ely Boulevard. It sat there for a few weeks until I finally sold it to a man for $150. He was buying it for his daughter. He thought it would be a practical and economical car. I pointed out that at least it didn't have "Le Car" emblazoned on the side of it.

I cannot say that I miss Le Car. If I could have any of my old rigs back this one would not be top of my list. Nevertheless, this car was there for some of my happiest years and it was a gift from family members who made an effort to provide for me.

Monday, September 24, 2007

They Shall Take Up Serpents

A couple of friends have asked me about a statement on my Facebook profile. I had never listed my religious views until recently. I avoided stating my religious views because I find it difficult to condense my religious views into a single word or two. I could fill in the blank with "Christian." That would probably be enough, but Christian is quite a broad category and others might want to ask what particular sub-set of Christianity I adhere to. Even that is hard to answer as it all depends on which way one chooses to slice the "Christian pie."

I could have simplified things even further by stating that I am a member of the Church of Christ. Yet my heritage in the Church of Christ compels me to resist such a "denominational" identification. One of the more inspiring slogans of the Churches of Christ has been "Christians Only." In the earliest years of the Stone-Campbell movement, Rice Haggard and Barton Stone advocated that the name Christian was enough. I appreciate that sentiment.

Nevertheless, I did not want to leave the "religious views" entry on Facebook empty. So with my frustration building over my inability to define my faith and practice as a follower of Christ in a single word, I began to wonder if anyone could truly reduce their spirituality to one term. Then it struck me that the most honestly and simply labelled of any faith groups are those backwoods literalists the snake-handlers. They take the whole Bible quite literally - including Mark 16:18 which encourages the truly faithful to take up poisonous snakes without harm. No wiggle room here. This bunch truly believes that if God said it that settles it. I don't know if these churches accept the label "snake-handler" or if they find it derogatory, but somehow I don't think a person who regularly carries a live copperhead around in worship really gets offended by too much at all.

My Facebook entry is a sort of nod to the snake-handlers. I suggest that snake-handling has been overlooked for too long and more congregations should consider the practice. Forget the worship wars and the endless debates on contemporary versus traditional worship; just bring in the box of angry rattlers. I doubt that there would be too much concern about praise teams or clapping during hymns if we opened a box of cobras in the assembly. Preaching takes on new vistas when one considers snake handling. Who cares about the proper execution of homiletical moves when you are holding a cottonmouth above your head! Of course the greatest potential for snake handling is in the area of church discipline. Church members might strive to be more charitable and sober-minded when given the option of personal accountability or a dance with a diamondback rattler.

So, my sarcastic, self-imposed religious tag on my Facebook profile is simply a jab at any attempt to reduce one's Christian faith to a few words. No, I am not really snake handler. I couldn't do it. I am just not a good enough biblical literalist.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Teachable Moment

The following article is taken from the Granbury Church of Christ website. John Knox is a good friend who survived the Doctor of Ministry program with me. His wife Jan is a gifted writer and teacher. Her article inspires us to think about the people who taught us and the people we teach.

A Teachable Moment
Jan Knox

The miles seemed to fly beneath the wheels of the small, white car as mother and son traveled down the interstate. The Lord had granted us one last opportunity for an extended time of dialogue before I was to entrust my firstborn to the care of the college officials waiting at the end of this journey. What do a middle-aged mother and her 18-year-old son talk about for two hours while confined inside a vehicle stuffed with all his earthly possessions?

To my surprise, conversation flowed easily. We started off with the typical topics of movies, games and music. Then the discussion took a nostalgic turn as we reminisced about the various places we had lived and the people we had grown to love in those places. Somehow the subject of teachers came up, and my now “adult” son proceeded to reflect aloud about three Christian ladies he considered to be the best Bible class teachers he had been privileged to learn from as a young child.

I was struck by a couple of thoughts as he shared this revelation. One was the fact that a knuckle-headed, elementary schoolboy had not only taken notice of his Bible class teachers, but even remembered specific lessons they had taught. As a teacher attempts to impart Scriptural wisdom week after week, she sometimes wonders if it is ever sinking in. This conversation renewed my faith that all of the preparation and hard work is not in vain.

Second, as I pondered these godly women who comprised my son’s “Bible Teacher Hall of Fame,” I marveled at how diverse they were. Their teaching styles were very different. One focused on telling the stories of the Bible; another emphasized memorization and the accumulation of background information and Biblical facts, while the third utilized a hands-on, experiential approach. Yet each of them, in her own unique way, had left a tremendous and lasting imprint on my child. These teachers also differed significantly in other areas, such as age and level of formal education. In spite of their divergence, however, they all had one thing in common – they loved the Bible and had a strong desire to instill that love for God’s Word in the children they taught.

As I look now toward my own future as a teacher of the Lord, I am rejuvenated and inspired to put greater thought and effort into my task. May the Lord use me as His special instrument, “…as one speaking the very words of God” (1 Peter 4:11), to make a meaningful and eternal impact for Him on the lives of those I teach.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Magic Lantern's Light 2007

I just posted a backlog of articles I wrote about some of this summer's movies.

More are on the way.

Check out the companion blog - The Magic Lantern Show.

See you at the movies.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How to Rebuke Your Neighbor

I recently purchased a Bible. I wish I had chosen one that included the Apocrypha. I would love to have it at hand for no other reason than to read the Wisdom of Ben Sirach. There is much in Ben Sirach that could help us live as noble people.

In my studies of Ephesians 5 today I was trying to unravel the meaning of the word rebuke (vss. 11-13). I am concerned that "rebuking" is too often regarded as something of a bloodsport among Christ's people. I imagine that this is due in large part to my homiletical colleagues who understand that a good "rebuking" sermon stirs up the dust and scandal. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any salutory benefit to bludgeoning people with the error of their ways. Most of the time they tend to know how depraved and destructive their sinfulness truly is.

Besides, the Scriptures do not use the word elegchō with the same quarrelsome, cantankerous gusto that we use its common English translation "rebuke." Instead, the word has the sense of revealing, researching, and discovering the truth. Of course it is implied that this search for the truth will result in proper repentance if there is discovery of sin, but the proper rebuke begins with a desire to understand the truth rather than the arrogant position of moral superiority that pretends that the rebuker is always right and the rebuked is always wrong.

Now here's where Ben Sirach describes how it ought to be done so well. Notice how he assumes that the questioning process assumes two options: 1) I may have misunderstood or been told a lie and I need to get the story straight; or 2) the other person really has done something improper, but the goal of the dialogue is to keep them from doing it again.

I leave you with the wisdom of Ben Sirach 19:13-17 . . .

Question a friend; perhaps he did not do it;
or if he did, so that he may not do it again.
Question a neighbor; perhaps he did not say it;
or if he said it, so that he may not repeat it.
Question a friend, for often it is slander;
so do not believe everything you hear.
A person may make a slip without intending it.
Who has not sinned with his tongue?
Question your neighbor before you threaten him;
and let the law of the Most High take its course.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Gearing Up For New Studies

This Sunday is Fifth Sunday Family Night at West-Ark. I would really like to see this event become community discussion about our life together as believers. Typically, we give attention to the various needs and activities of the ministries within this church. I am all for that. I do want that to continue. Yet, I am eager to find a way to connect all of this with our faith and theology. My hope is that we will speak of what we do and what we believe as a seamless whole.

Fifth Sunday usually serves as a mile marker for me as I order my preaching and teaching schedule. On Sunday morning I will begin a series based on Ephesians 4 -6. It will continue many of the themes from the sermon that Charles Siburt preached on unity and the 1 Cor. 12 sermon I preached this Sunday.

This year I began teaching in the Sunday evening assembly. Sunday I just finished a nine-part study of the seven classical theological topics: theology, christology, pneumatology, hamartiology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. I was amazed that the group on Sunday evening received this so well.

I was stumped about our next study, until the eschatology lesson reminded me that I have never studied Daniel in any in-depth way. I have to admit that I read the whole book straight through for the first time that I can recall. I can see why the last part of this book can lead to a lot of misunderstanding. I understand why it is a field bed for all sorts of bizarre scenarios about the end of the world. I also observe that the language of Daniel 7-12 is foundational to the Gospels and especially Jesus' identity as the Son of Man. I look forward to this discussion.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Defining Reality

Krista Tippett writes the following on the Speaking of Faith webpage . . .

As perpetually horrified as we are of terror and violence, we are riveted by them and we let them define our take on reality. The communications miracles of the 21st century make wondrous connections possible, and yet they also bring us images of horror with an immediacy and vividness that are debilitating. Violent images seem altogether more solid and substantial, more decisive and telling, somehow, than kindness, goodness, and lived peace. It is easy to bow down before these images and give in to the despair they preach.

Tomorrow we will be reminded of the Columbine shooting. The connections between Columbine and Virginia Tech will be drawn. The connections to Waco and the OKC bombing may even enter the discussion. We need to remember. We need to pray for the families and those who have been wounded in so many ways. It is altogether proper to grieve, but let's not give in to despair. The shooters and bombers may have commanded the attention of the media camera, but they do not have the power to define reality.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Green Acres

I found an intriguing blog today. It's all about a man with three kids, a red tractor, and 170 acres. There is no intense drama or gripping plot to Joel Comb's Life on a Farm, in fact it is mundane in the real sense of the word - it's earthy.

Joel sets out to tell us where our food comes from. It doesn't come from the back room of the grocery store or the magic happy place where bacon is conjured up. It comes from the earth. It is grown, herded, and harvested by the sweat of the brow - though not always our own brow anymore.

As Joel tells his everyday stories, he gets into all the familial and financial details. His kids get the flu. His tractor breaks and he needs $400 to repair it. That's earthy.

There are many days that I suffer from Green Acres Syndrome. Like Oliver Douglas, I want to escape the rat race of the city and work in the soil with my hands like the American farmer. Thanks to Joel Combs, I can appreciate what modern farming is really about but I know that the grass is not necessarily greener on a farm in Pine Knot, Kentucky.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


While following the various NCAA conference championships in preparation for March Madness, I noticed how many of the NCAA conferences are "big." Six conferences make this claim: the Big East, the Big West, the Big South, the Big Ten, the Big Twelve, and the Big Sky. My question is, "What really makes them so big?"

I will begin my examination with the Big Sky conference. This conference can legitimately claim the word "big," but only if they include the reference to the sky. The sky is rather big out there on the plains where these schools are located. They did not invent the name "Big Sky." They just borrowed it. They are not the only ones to use the title "Big Sky." Big Sky Airlines operates out of Montana. Big Sky Ski Resort is located in Big Sky, Montana. Then there's the 1950's Kirk Douglas movie "The Big Sky." The Big Sky Conference is not trying to tell us how large or how great they are. They are just trying to tell us from whence they come. That's fair.

However, this isn't really the case with all the conferences pointing to "big" points on the compass. Where exactly is Big West, Big East, and Big South? Do you have to find Big Magnetic North with your Big Compass and then divide the dial into Big ninety-degree angles?

What makes the Big South so big? There are a number of NCAA conferences that connect themselves with the southern United States. The SEC, the Southern, the SWAC, and even the Southland conferences all have more members than the Big South. Likewise, the Big West is not any larger than the West Coast conference and just slightly smaller, in terms of member colleges, than the Western Athletic Conference. On the other hand, the Big East is bigger than the other conferences in the east. They deserve their name. It seems natural. Imagine some guys talking about these conferences long ago before they ever had names . . .

One fellow says, "How 'bout that athletic conference out east?"

"Which one?" his friend replies, "There's five or six of 'em."

"Oh, you know," says the first guy, "That big one out east with all them schools."

"Oh yeah," says the first fellow, "How 'bout that. They sure are big."

This conversation makes sense. The name Big East sticks. But it doesn't work where the other conferences are concerned. Let's drop in again on the conversation . . .

"How 'bout that athletic conference down south?"

"Which one? There's 'bout five or six of them."

"Oh, you know, the big one."

"You mean, one of the three big enough to have a north and south division?"

"No, not those! The other one. The big one - in the south."

"You mean one of them with schools in Texas? Texas is a big state in the south."

"No, no! Not those! This one don't have no schools in Texas. I mean the big one! The one that has that school Jerry Falwell runs. They got a champion Quiz Bowl team."

"What are you talking about? That conference ain't big at all."

Now when it comes to the Big Ten and Big Twelve, my literal-brained fussiness says that Twelve is bigger than Ten. But I could see where a Ten could be big as far as Ten's go. So perhaps they should change their name to the Relatively Big Ten Conference. Or if they insist on sticking with Big Ten, then I would think that the Big Twelve would need to change their name to the Bigger Twelve Conference.

But what makes the Big Twelve so big? There are plenty of conferences with twelve schools. Likewise with ten-school conferences. If the Big Twelve is big then are we to assume that the Conference USA could be the Little Twelve or the Medium-Sized Twelve? Should we rename the Missouri Valley as the Average-Sized Ten or the Petite Ten?

I hope you see the problem. Some have thrown the adjective "big" around too freely. But what's stopping anyone? If your conference has ten or twelve schools then you've missed out. You weren't the first to claim "bigness." But if your conference calculates a different member total then get with it! The Sun Belt and Horizon Conferences should pay attention here and rename themselves the Big Thirteen and the Big Nine. No one but me is counting, so you can be as big as you like.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Groucho or Spambot?

Now it's time to play the game sensation that's sweeping the nation! Read the name and ask . . .
Is it a Groucho Marx movie role or a bogus Spambot E-mail name?

1. Tibias Q. Gently
2. Emile J. Keck
3. Rufus T. Firefly
4. Figueroa O. Emery
5. Kriebel H. Stetson
6. S. Quentin Quale
7. Capt. Zongo Savimbi
8. Gentry Q. Seascapes
9. Hugo Z. Hackenbush
10. Auditor U. Crockpot
11. Otis B. Driftwood
12. Lionel Q. Deveraux
13. Hastings L. Roominess
14. Mahle D. Crunk
15. Wolf J. Flywheel
16. J. Cheever Loophole

Bogus Spambot Email Names: 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 13, 14
Groucho Marx Movie Roles: 2, 3, 6, 9, 11, 12, 15, 16

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Roll Tide!

Let's stick with our sports theme . . .

Reasons Nick Saban left the Miami Dolphins to coach Alabama’s Crimson Tide:

1. He prefers college coaching to pro coaching.

2. Thirty-two million dollars.

3. The chance to affect young people’s lives.

4. Thirty-two million dollars.

5. His heart wasn’t in coaching the Dolphins.

6. Thirty-two million dollars.

7. He and his family really like Alabama.

8. Thirty-two million dollars.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Basketball Jones

I just caught the end of the OU vs. Texas basketball game on ESPN U. That was a spirited game. I admit I was pulling for OU since I now live on the Oklahoma border and also because the Arkansas-Texas rivalry is ingrained in my Southwest Conference Athletic DNA. Texas earned their win however and I salute them. It was a good game; and now I am watching the final seconds of LSU vs. Florida. I cannot believe that LSU is going to win this one - they don't even have "Big Baby" on the floor!

This weekend and next weekend hold out the promise of excellent college basketball. All of this is a prelude to March Madness. I am not a sports fanatic, but I love the end of the basketball season for two reasons: nostalgia and hope.

Of all the sports I am most nostalgic about basketball. I remember watching the Razorbacks on TV with my family as a child. We anticipated the nights and weekends when the Hogs would be on TV. It was always one of our major family events. As a teen, I can recall going to Barnhill Arena with my father, grandfather, and friends and getting caught up in the enthusiasm of those days. I don't think they've been able to reproduce the excitement of those days in the new arena - not even during the winning season of 1994.

I am somewhat maddened that Razorback athletics have been mired in rumor and shame over the last few years. Ever since the controversy between Nolan Richardson and Frank Broyles there has been a certain taint to what ought to be good honest diversion. The "Nutt-Malzahn-Mustain" triangle has further tainted what should be a positive turn in UA athletics. Such is the problem with nostalgia, it is too often vulnerable to controversy and scandal. I understand that people have grievances, but it is a shame when the scandal overshadows the sport.

I also love the March Madness season because of hope. Unlike the disappointing and confusing Bowl System in football, the NCAA tourney creates an opportunity for real competition and stunning upsets. It is always possible for #65 in the standings, the ultimate underdog, to come in and win the entire tournament. Someone will say, "Oh, that'll never happen." Please don't make me delineate the difference between possible and probable. Is it probable that any 16th seed will win the whole series? No, but it is always a possibility no matter how slim a chance they have. This tournament is so potentially thrilling because it creates that sort of hope. It is the athletic equivalent of the Year of Jubilee when slaves were set free and debts were cancelled. Jubilee created the possibility of reversal which gave even the humblest of the humble a taste of triumph. Now, if Arkansas can get just a 16th seed and beat the odds my madness will become gladness.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Italian Bicycle Companies or Chico Marx Movie Roles?

See if you can guess which of these are Italian bicycle companies and which are Chico Marx movie roles?

1. Corbaccio
2. Ravelli
3. Bianchi
4. Panello
5. Colnago
6. Pirelli
7. Cinelli
8. Binelli
9. Fiorello
10. Bellesi
11. Baravelli
12. Pinarello

Itallian Bicycle Companies: 3, 5, 7, 10, 12
Chico Marx Movie Roles: 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Breaking Up With Pluto

In honor of the dark side of Valentine's Day, that is break-ups, I submit the following take on the most cosmic break-up of the previous year.

Ways that the International Astronomical Union might have broken the news to Pluto that it was no longer a planet.

1. It’s not you, you’re a fine planet and we are sure you’ll meet another lucky Union someday.

2. Let’s be honest, you are not the planet we met all those years ago. Maybe we’re a bit shallow but we just love a nice hydrostatically balanced figure in a planet.

3. We’ve given you adequate time and opportunity to improve your elliptical orbit and you just don’t seem to be making any progress.

4. Well, it came down to you and Xena and we just felt that Xena was more of what today’s kids are looking for in a planet.

5. We’re sorry but we just do not understand this whole trans-Neptunian thing you are into.

6. We think you are a negative influence on Charon, Nix, and Hydra. They shouldn’t have to think that everything revolves around Pluto. [Hint: Charon, Nix, and Hydra are Pluto's moons. Get it?]

7. You have a great future ahead of you, but with the economy the way it is we just simply cannot afford a ninth planet.

8. We've heard rumors about you and Venus and the Union has strict guidelines about interplanetary fraternization.

9. You seem to be more frigid lately.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

What Is The Gospel?

What is the Gospel? It is forgiveness when I have been foolish. It is clemency when I have been conceited. It is mercy when I have been murderous. It is God’s protection against my self-preservation. It is God doing the impossible and in doing so he makes much more possible.

What is the Gospel? It is the shocking news that God changes what we know. It is hope for childless parents. It is the favor shown to a slick, self-indulgent scoundrel. It is God sticking with the scoundrel and ushering him into a cosmic agenda greater than he could have imagined. It is the blessing of a new, unstained name. It is the vindication of the golden boy who is unfairly criticized and mistreated. It is mercy and provision for jealous critics. It is freedom from tyrants and liberation from captivities that make us less than human.

What is the Gospel? It is God’s forbearance when I have been forgetful. It is God’s extreme patience when I have been downright stupid. It is God’s willingness to listen to my prayers and maybe even be convinced by them.

What is the Gospel? It is God using me to bless others. It is God entrusting an ordinary, average person with the care and protection of precious souls. It is God graciously not “stripping me of rank” when I abuse my authority. It is God not taking me away from my people or taking them away from me. It is God standing close by even when I know I have failed him. It is God cleansing my heart from the scum of sin.

What is the Gospel? It is God giving wisdom for nothing but the asking. It is the promise that punishment does not last forever. It is the promise that things will get better. It is the restoration of hopes and dreams. It is the joy of hard work doing what God has called you to do. It is purpose that gives meaning to struggle.

What is the Gospel? It is hope within scandal. It is the underclass turning the world over. It is a new reality of a world ruled by this same God. It is a king who fights for me. It is the death sentence for death and the end of evil. It is an “in-your-face” humiliation of the destroyer. It is the old and dying born again. It is the beginning of eternity.

What is the Gospel? It is you and I living in peace and truly made friends. It is my loved ones and I no longer afraid of others. It is the freedom to be a slave. It is the wealth of sacrificing. It is the abundance of self-denial. It is a God who does the impossible and in doing so makes much more possible. The gospel is hope kept alive, happiness restored, and love enduring forever.

What is the Gospel? Just when we have known the evil that we thought would never happen, the gospel is the good we thought could never be possible.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Coining Phrases

I offer some handy new phrases in the midst of the University of Arkansas football soap opera.

Recalling how the media often refers the news about celebrity couples with a single name such as "Brangelina" and "Bennifer," I recommend that "Gustain" might be used to describe the latest regarding our now departed coach and quarterback.

We need a similar name for our head coach and athletic director but I cannot decide which is better: "Noyles" or "Frankston." Not really jazzed about either one of those.

Since the whole story is likened to a soap opera I recommend the following:

All My Quarterbacks
Days of Our Linebackers

. . . . or going the old political scandal route:


I know its sad and maddening, but we gotta have some sense of humor.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Critique of Belief

Copied below is an article from the Wall Street Journal that analyzes the nature and attitude of some contemporary atheists. See my comments following . . .

Without God, Gall Is Permitted

Wall Street Journal
January 5, 2007; Page W11

When the very first population of atheists roamed the earth in the Victorian age -- brought to life by Lyell's "Principles of Geology," Darwin's "Origin of Species" and other blows to religious certainty -- it was the personal dimension of atheism that others found distressing. How could an atheist's oath of allegiance to the queen be trusted? It couldn't -- so an atheist was not allowed to take a seat in Parliament. How could an atheist, unconstrained by a fear of eternal punishment, be held accountable to social norms of behavior? Worse than heretical, atheism was not respectable.

In the 21st century, this no longer seems to be the case. Few acquaintances of Dr. Richard Dawkins, the world's most voluble public atheist, wonder, as they might have a hundred years ago: Can I leave my wife unchaperoned in this man's company? Indeed, the atheists are now looking to turn the tables: They want to make belief itself not simply an object of intellectual derision but a cause for personal embarrassment. A new generation of publicists for atheism has emerged to tell Americans in particular that we should be ashamed to retain a majority of religious believers, that in this way we resemble the benighted, primitive peoples of the Middle East, Africa and South America instead of the enlightened citizens of Western Europe.
Thanks in part to the actions of a few jihadists in September 2001, it is believers who stand accused, not freethinkers. Among the prominent atheists who now sermonize to the believers in their midst are Dr. Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett ("Breaking the Spell") and Sam Harris ("The End of Faith" and, more recently, "Letter to a Christian Nation"). There are others, too, like Steven Weinberg, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Brooke Allen (whose "Moral Minority" was a celebration of the skeptical Founders) and a host of commentators appalled by the Intelligent Design movement. The transcript of a recent symposium on the perils of religious thought can be found at a science Web site called There are many themes to the atheist lament. A common worry is the political and social effect of religious belief. To a lot of atheists, the fate of civilization and of mankind depends on their ability to cool -- or better, simply to ban -- the fevered fancies of the God-intoxicated among us. Naturally, the atheists focus their peevishness not on Muslim extremists (who advertise their hatred and violent intentions) but on the old-time Christian religion. ("Wisdom dwells with prudence," the Good Book teaches.) They can always haul out the abortion-clinic bomber if they need a boogeyman; and they can always argue as if all faiths are interchangeable: Persuade American Christians to give up their infantile attachment to God and maybe Muslims will too. In any case, they conclude: God is not necessary, God is impossible and God is not permissible if our society -- or even our species -- is to survive.

What is new about the new atheists? It's not their arguments. Spend as much time as you like with a pile of the recent anti-religion books, but you won't encounter a single point you didn't hear in your freshman dormitory. It's their tone that is novel. Belief, in their eyes, is not just misguided but contemptible, the product of provincial minds, the mark of people who need to be told how to think and how to vote -- both of which, the new atheists assure us, they do in lockstep with the pope and Jerry Falwell.
For them, belief in God is beyond childish, it is unsuitable for children. Today's atheists are particularly disgusted by the religious training of young people -- which Dr. Dawkins calls "a form of child abuse." He even floats the idea that the state should intervene to protect children from their parents' religious beliefs.
For the new atheists, believing in God is a form of stupidity, which sets off their own intelligence. They write as if they were the first to discover that biblical miracles are improbable, that Parson Weems was a fabulist, that religion is full of superstition. They write as if great minds had never before wrestled with the big questions of creation, moral law and the contending versions of revealed truth. They argue as if these questions are easily answered by their own blunt materialism. Most of all, they assume that no intelligent, reflective person could ever defend religion rather than dismiss it. The reviewer of Dr. Dawkins's volume in a recent New York Review of Books noted his unwillingness to take theology seriously, a starting point for any considered debate over religion.

The faith that the new atheists describe is a simple-minded parody. It is impossible to see within it what might have preoccupied great artists and thinkers like Homer, Milton, Michelangelo, Newton and Spinoza -- let alone Aquinas, Dr. Johnson, Kierkegaard, Goya, Cardinal Newman, Reinhold Niebuhr or, for that matter, Albert Einstein. But to pass over this deeper faith -- the kind that engaged the great minds of Western history -- is to diminish the loss of faith too. The new atheists are separated from the old by their shallowness.
To read the accounts of the first generation of atheists is profoundly moving. Matthew Arnold wrote of the "eternal note of sadness" sounded when the "Sea of Faith" receded from human life. In one testament after another -- George Eliot, Carlyle, Hardy, Darwin himself -- the Victorians described the sense of grief they felt when religion goes -- and the keen, often pathetic attempts to replace it by love, by art, by good works, by risk-seeking and -- fatally -- by politics.

God did not exist, they concluded, but there was no denying that this supposed truth was accompanied by a painful sense of being cut off from human fellowship as well as divine love. To counter it, religious figures developed a new kind of mission -- like that of the former unbeliever C.S. Lewis: They could speak to the feeling of longing that unbelief engenders because they understood it -- and sympathized not only with atheism's pain but with the many sensible arguments in its favor.

There is no such sympathy among the new apostles of atheism -- to find it, one has to look to believers. Anyone who has actually taught young people and listened to them knows that it is often the students who come from a trained sectarian background -- Catholic, Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, Mormon -- who are best at grasping different systems of belief and unbelief. Such students know, at least, what it feels like to have such a system, and can understand those who have very different ones. The new atheists remind me of other students from more "open-minded" homes -- rigid, indifferent, puzzled by thought and incapable of sympathy. The new atheists fail too often simply for want of charm or skill. Twenty-first century atheism hasn't found its H.G. Wells or its George Bernard Shaw, men who flattered their audiences, excited them and persuaded them by making them feel intelligent. Here is Sam Harris, for instance, addressing those who wonder if destroying human embryos in the process of stem cell research might be morally dicey: "Your qualms...are obscene."

The atheists say that they are addressing believers. Rationalists all, can they believe that believers would be swayed by such contumely and condescension? They seem instead to be preaching to people exactly like themselves -- a remarkably incurious elite.

Mr. Schulman is publishing director of the American, a magazine of ideas for business leaders.

My Comment:

I appreciate the observation that the atheist writers mentioned seem to regard all religious believers as extremists and fanatics. In fairness, I do not want to make the same type of prejudicial mistake in assuming that all atheists are unsympathetic elitists. Nevertheless, Schulman's article is a worthy critique of recent "pop-atheism" books.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Bizarro Bowl

As long as we are stuck with the ineffective Bowl Championship Series and have no hope of a playoff I say we at least add one more bowl game to the series. This Bowl would go to the teams with big goose eggs on the W side of the column. For instance, this year it would allow Duke (0-12) and Florida International (0-12) to match up.

Think of the wonder of it! Everyone loves the underdog, so why not put two underdogs in the pit. The struggle would be dynamic because after it is over there would be a clear national loser. No more with the endless debates about who has the "losing-est" team.

The toughest part will be finding a corporate sponsor.